Credit: Dave Eastbury

'Results give you options' - John Roberts, AO World

The online appliance entrepreneur wanted to be a double glazing salesman, and always enjoyed fast maths.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 18 Aug 2016

Name: John Roberts, founder and CEO AO World

Age: 41

What grades did you get? I got 2 As, 3 Bs and 3 Cs at GCSE, but failed my A levels, which were in maths, geography and economics. It had nothing to do with the way I was taught. At the time, I was working 40 hours a week as a hotel waiter. I enjoyed it and would often choose that over attending classes.

What was your favourite subject? I was always great at fast maths. It’s been hugely useful to my career. If you need to make a quick decision and can’t work out, say, 14% of 2,685 quickly in your head, people can kid you. It’s interesting how many analysts need to reach for a calculator. When I got to A level, I couldn’t see the point any more. What’s the equation to get from point A to point B? Who cares?

What was the worst thing a teacher said about you? My headmaster at Bolton School interviewed me about university applications. I said I didn’t want to go. ‘That’s disgraceful,’ he said. ‘What are you going to do with yourself, boy?’ I replied I wanted to sell double glazing, which was my dream at the time. He told me I’d never make anything of myself and to get out of his office. I never did end up selling double glazing incidentally. After dozens of interviews no one would give me a job, so I ended up working in a warehouse instead.

What advice would you give your teenage self? Results give you options and failing my A levels stole them from me. You have to attend anyway, so you might as well give it your best shot to give yourself choices down the line.

Return to MT's exams special page to find out how the others did.


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