If I had to start again... Toyota's Sir Alan Jones

If I was starting out in business today, I'd still choose the science and engineering route.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

With the problems we have today, this is the only way out, and because of the speed of change, the opportunities are incredible.

When you're older, you see when change is needed. I wish I'd read some of the warning signs for UK plc a bit better. Ten million adults don't hold the equivalent of a basic school-leaving certificate; 17 million have difficulty with numbers; and five million in the working population aren't functionally literate. This is probably the biggest challenge facing us. So I wish I'd got involved in skills and communities earlier. To make your mark in these areas takes a lot of time.

As I child, I was told that 'If "ifs" and "ands" were pots and pans, there'd be no need for tinkers'. It means that what happens teaches you a lesson, so you shouldn't worry too much about the past. If there's a fork in the road and you need to decide to go left or right, it should be you who makes the decision - but that's about it. Try to make the best of opportunities and learn from mistakes. A long time ago, I delivered fish on a bike, and one day I set off without checking my brakes. They weren't working and I wound up peeling plaice off the windows of the Co-op. I always checked my brakes after that.

I also worry about the state and image of science, manufacturing and engineering in the UK: 40% of the workforce in these areas is over 45. Where will the new people come from? For my generation, it feels like we blew it. We didn't understand how much we needed to invest in R&D, training and capital equipment. On a personal note, I'd spend less time driving around in gas-guzzling cars - but I've enjoyed it.

When I joined Toyota, there was almost a farming culture there and a real belief in continuous improvement (kaizen). I'd try to impress on people that they can make a difference. I'd encourage that desire to find exciting opportunities. Why can't we inspire people to believe they can change the world? - because they damn well can.

Sir Alan Jones is chairman emeritus of Toyota UK

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