Fast Track: CV Mark Dixon - On the trail to success

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The Independent Culture
MARK DIXON, 37, is executive chairman and founder of Regus, Europe's largest operator of business centres. He left school to trek around the world in search of learning experiences. He obviously picked up a few things - Regus now has a turnover of pounds 128m.

At 16 years old, when I'd reached the top of my school, I decided that the education system was a little slow for me. I knew that my contemporaries would be going to college and I wanted to have really got somewhere by the time they were leaving.

My first project was setting up a simple business called Dial-a-Snack, delivering sandwiches on a bike. It was great, but I soon realised that if I just earned money without learning anything, I wasn't going to make it. So after six months I sold the business and went off to trek around the world.

The first stop was France. My parents were mortified and thought I had thrown everything away. But I wound up getting a job in Papagayo, probably the most famous bar/ restaurant in France. I quickly learnt everything there is to know about running restaurants and clubs and dealing with lots of people. It was to stand me in good stead for ever.

After eight months, I prepared for my next venture - back-tracking across Asia. Then, at 18, I went walking around Australia, where I also wound up selling encyclopaedias, working in an iron mine, and becoming a lumberjack.

When I got back to England, I started up in the hot-dog van business. I quickly went from having one van to six vans. A couple of years later I moved into making hamburger buns - that became the third biggest firm, making 8,000 buns a week and employing 100-plus people. It broke my heart, but I sold it after five years for pounds 800,000 - my first big sale.

Next, I decided I wanted to do business in Europe, so in early 1989 I moved to Brussels and looked around for the right kind of business. I opened Regus in September.

There were two main things that attracted me to the idea. First, business centres at that time were catering to small firms, whereas they should have been after middle-sized and big ones. And secondly, the property business was, and still is, one of the last bastions of not "talking to your customer" and finding out their needs. One of our key strategic goals now is to open a centre in every country in the world.

My travelling years really set me up; they taught me how to get things done and be resourceful. There is no safety net. Nothing has daunted me since then. But you've got to have a strict plan. You can't just bum around or you end up wasting your life. I could have stayed in the south of France - it's a good life. But I knew that one day, I'd want something more.

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