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.


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