In Peter Jones’s brave new world, six-year-olds will learn business techniques, teenagers will be taught to become tycoons and a generation of Brits will grow up saying “I can” rather than “Can I?”
Last week the telecoms multimillionaire announced that he is using several million pounds of his fortune to set up an academy where 16 to 19-year-olds will be shown how to launch their very own company – just as Jones himself did, when, at 16, he founded a tennis coaching school.
Once the national enterprise academy near London is up and running – it opens its doors to its first batch of students next year – a second centre will open near Manchester and then satellites are due to be rolled out across the country. Jones, star of the business reality TV show Dragons’ Den, hopes some of the business lessons will even be taught in primary schools.
Stretching out behind his desk in the Mayfair office of one of his companies, Jones reveals that the “Tycoons academy”, as he calls it, is a long-held ambition. “I put a team onto it a few months ago – now government has come in too, but I was going to do it anyway.”
Ever the competitor, he has in his sights nothing less than an overhaul of timid British attitudes to risk-taking. He wants to make Britain rather than America “the best place in the world” to set up a business.
His aim isn’t just helping teenagers to launch UK companies – but ones that can go global: “not just opening a shop on the corner but opening shops in every country in the world”.
And even though his new academy is being backed by government to the tune of £3m. The man who decided not to go to university – figuring that a degree wouldn’t close the gap fast enough on his ambition of making serious money – was just as forthright when he was summoned to see Gordon Brown last year.
Jones, a father of five, told the prime minister that if entrepreneur-ship is to thrive in the next generation “there needs to be a cultural mindset shift. To do that we have to take the boardroom back into the classroom”.
In his book, Tycoon, Jones writes about bunking off his private school, aged seven, to sit in his father’s leather swivel office chair to daydream about being a hot-shot boss. His first really successful business, a computer company, made him a millionaire in his twenties. However, he lost everything – including his first marriage and his house – when clients went bust.
Dusting himself down, after a brief stint working for a mobile phone company, he set up Phones International, and had built up a £200m business empire by the age of 35. Now his portfolio includes companies in media, telecoms, recruitment and publishing.
Television shows such as Dragons’ Den, The Apprentice and Tycoon have already helped to make the world of business seem glamorous, countering previous teen preferences for careers in sport, fashion or pop music.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2017