Simon Dolan owner and founder of SJD Accountancy and author of ‘How To Make Millions Without A Degree’ is a Dragon's Den Hopeful (Photo: Simon Dolan)
Simon Dolan owner and founder of SJD Accountancy and author of ‘How To Make Millions Without A Degree’ is a Dragon's Den Hopeful (Photo: Simon Dolan)

I suppose my early life was not untypical of most entrepreneurs.

I grew up in a comfortable house with two loving parents who wanted the best for me. I do remember my fascination with numbers starting at an early age - my parents would quite often find me in the cupboard watching the numbers go round on the gas meter - I guess it wasn't a massive leap from the numbers to pounds.

So from an early age I had a variety of jobs and ways of making money from my school friends. This includes selling scratch-cards I'd sourced for free from Exchange and Mart, selling the solution to the Rubik's cube I'd found and then photocopied on the school copier.

All this by the age of around 12.

You could argue that this indicates that entrepreneurs are born and not made.

I disagree - I had a natural predisposition maybe, but that doesn't mean that the skills needed to get a business off the ground can't be taught.

You'd think that perhaps my teachers would look upon my first little ventures with a certain admiration - but you'd be wrong.

My teachers, and I'm sorry to say most teachers, thought very little of my initiative and were far more interested in forcing me to learn ever more pointless "facts".

I use the term loosely as many of these "facts" are now considered untrue.

This was from how to conjugate the word "the" in Ancient Greek, to considering what Shakespeare really meant when we wrote those plays 400+ years ago, to a rather biased version of who discovered America.

Interesting maybe, useful, no.

From Expelled to Entrepreneur

For whatever reason I developed a rather irritating habit of looking at these things, considering whether they would be useful to me in later life, questioning the teachers as to why they thought they would be useful in later life, and then simply discounting them and switching off.

You can imagine how popular this made me with said teachers and it was really no surprise to be thrown out of school at 16.

College was next up where I completed a BTEC in Business and Finance.

I was wholly more successful in this as firstly, there were actually some relevant things I learned, secondly it was only a 20 hour a week course and thirdly, the girls were a whole lot more accommodating.

It was a 2 year course which could probably have been taught in about 20 weeks.

After that, it was a variety of low paying jobs (I earned less working full time at 18 than I did working part time at the market when I was 14), then through sheer desperation placing a little ad in the local newspaper to do peoples accounts.

20 years later that little ad turned into a business worth £100m and spawned a variety of other businesses from aviation to motor racing, publishing, engineering and a top London model agency.

Maybe I was right after all and my teachers would now admire that little spark of initiative.

I doubt it...

University is Open to All: This is Pointless

Uni could have been the next step after college I suppose, but in those days uni was meant for the really bright kids to go and do classics or science, so it really never occurred to me.

How sad now that uni is thrown open to everyone, regardless of talent, education or aptitude.

We now have these poor kids being sent through a tick box school system with the sole aim of getting good grades.

For what purpose? To make the school look good?

The selling point to the kid: "If you get good grades you can go to uni".

And why do I want to go to uni, the bright kid might ask?

"Because if you get a degree you'll get a better job".

Except you don't.

The stats prove this time and time again. I suppose this didn't matter too much when it didn't really cost anything, but it's a whole different ball game now.

Essentially your 2012 student will be looking at coming out with around £60,000 worth of debt to obtain a degree which is of no use at all, and 3 years less experience than the person who started on reception aged 18.

The whole uni system now is a con - a giant, unchallenged lie to keep unemployment numbers down and to make lazy politicians look good when they point to the fact that we have more graduates now than when we used to.

What's the Point of University?

Am I against Uni for everyone?

No, of course not - my lawyer and doctor have a degree and rightly so.

Can you only get on management trainee schemes with big companies if you have a degree - yes, it's true, but the point is you need a top class degree from a top class uni - not a 2:2 in Media Studies from an polytechnic.

Let's get rid of these class driven, politically motivated lies and go back to uni being the place for the brightest of kids to do the hardest of subjects, and get the rest of them in work, on apprenticeships actually learning something useful.

What about the argument though that Uni gives you a broad range of experience of life, and meeting great people, socialising and so on?

My retort to that is, what is to stop you meeting interesting people and socialising whilst you are working?

Do we all stop being interesting and cool when we start work? Let's face up to it - the reason the vast majority of kids go to uni these days is because they can put off work for a few years, and stand a better chance of getting drunk and laid on a regular basis.

I know you are all throwing your hands up in horror - but let's face it - it's true.

Looking back, how important do I think a degree would have been for me?

Well, I have never been asked if I have one, except in interviews, and I more importantly have never even considered the notion of a degree when I've employed over 300 people in the last few years.

I look for the person best suited for the job, whether they may be a graduate or non-graduate, black, white, old, young, fat, thin, male or female.

So, what would I like to see teachers do?

I'd dearly love them to put some thought into how to develop the child as an individual, by building their confidence, their social skills, their empathy - everything that makes us successful in all areas of our lives from business to relationships with our loved ones.

How much better would our society be, if the emphasis was put on these skills rather than learning by rote facts, which any 6 year old could find on the internet in five seconds!

I get asked a lot whether I would like my children to go to uni.

My answer, and this applies I think to everyone, is that I would consider the purpose of them going. Is it to get a job, and if so, would the degree actually be the only way to do that, or could there be another way?

Is it to learn something they find fascinating - if so, consider the cost of that and again, whether there could be another way of learning the same thing.

Or is it to get drunk and laid, in which case you may like to consider far cheaper and more reliable methods ...

Simon is founder, owner and MD of SJD Accountancy, Easy Accountancy and Contractor Umbrella. He is the author of his autobiographical guide, How To Make Millions Without A Degree