CV: Nick Austin, former md of Matchbox toys and now chief executive of vivid imaginations

The toy firm Nick Austin, 40, launched six years ago now turns over pounds 28m a year.
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The Independent Culture
For me this is the dream job. It's permanent Peter Pan status, where I spend my whole professional life projecting myself into the mind of a six-year-old. I still have to pinch myself at the success of Vivid. It's a fairy story which I thought only happened to people who were top academic achievers - I thought entrepreneurs were another breed.

I was not particularly academic at school, I failed my eleven-plus. Just before my O-levels I woke up and realised if I didn't get my act together I would be in trouble. I was at a comprehensive school in a tough area of the West Midlands where you could see what happened if you didn't make it. I muscled my way through A-levels but it was at Portsmouth Polytechnic that I clicked into gear. I got a 2.1 in Business Studies.

British Steel sponsored my degree so when I graduated I took the job they offered me in Sheffield. But it didn't fire me up. On my first day as a graduate trainee I was seconded to the industrial relations department right in the middle of a strike, so my first days were spent being shouted at and called a "scab". It was a rude awakening.

A friend who worked for Procter & Gamble was having a much better time so I applied to work for them in sales. I got the job and somebody there motivated me, I learnt that life is about finding something and going for it - from then on that's what I did.

After two years I was head-hunted by the toy firm Palitoy, which was then making Action Man and Tiny Tears. Then I moved to Matchbox and managed various departments before becoming managing director at the age of 29. I had a feeling people were whispering that I would never make it because I was so young. When you think someone is challenging you like that it spurs you on.

Just after we launched the Thunderbirds toys at Matchbox the company was bought out by the American firm Tyco. It was then I knew it was time to go it alone. I realised you don't have to be a superman to break free. You just need a belief, finance and good people around you.

In our first year with Vivid we budgeted for a turnover of pounds 1.5m, we ended up with pounds 9.8m and now we are one of the fastest-growing companies in Britain. At the moment we make toys of The Simpsons and Animal Hospital but the Captain Scarlet dolls were the toys that launched Vivid. I still have one of the dolls in my office.

My advice to young people is to start thinking as early as possible what you want. Get summer jobs that give you a feel for something and if you decide you don't like it you have still progressed. Never get disillusioned with your first job, you have plenty of time to try things out.

Sometimes at dinner parties I hear people curse their jobs. They say the money is good but they would love to leave. You cannot go through life being a mercenary like that, you have to do something you can put your heart into. My wife and I have just adopted two children and they will probably become my in-house research team. They think all daddies make toys but I'll have to teach them that that just isn't the case.

Interview by Michael Greenwood

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