Education: They said I was useless, but look at me now: A failure in exams; a success in software

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The Independent Online
PETER SELDON, 41, is the managing director and major shareholder of the Information Systems Group, a company producing software systems for large corporate computer networks, with a staff of about 70. Mr Seldon has built the business up into a multi-million pound operation with healthy profits. But his academic start in life was a near-disaster.

I HAD a privileged education, prep school followed by independent secondary school, which taught me very little. I left school at 16 with only one O-level, in physics with chemistry, and failed everything else. Somehow, I just didn't seem to grasp things.

It was a very dull period of my life: I just wasn't turned on by education. My reports said: 'Peter doesn't take life seriously and finds it difficult to concentrate. In short, he is a slow developer.' The paradox was that whilst I was not motivated to work, I didn't want to be a failure. But I never fully understood the connection between school work and success in the outside world.

My parents, both highly intelligent and academic, became increasingly depressed. So they sent me to a crammer, where I managed to pick up a few more O-levels. But when I went on to further education college to take three A-levels, I failed the lot.

I was 19 and it really seemed to be the end of the road. I felt guilty because my parents had spent so much money on my education and made sacrifices. But I certainly didn't want to be a failure. Fortunately, something in my brain said: 'Go into something where you can use communication skills.' So I scoured the papers and noticed that Olivetti were taking on young people to train them into sales positions. Evidently my determination came across because they took me on and trained me to sell typewriters and office machines.

For the first time in my life I felt really charged up and did very well, moving on to work for Honeywell and ICL in sales management positions.

Then I started getting frustrated because I wasn't in a position to influence product strategy and had no budgetary responsibility. So in 1982 I took the plunge and started up my own business with a partner and a large bank loan. It was frightening initially, but I was determined to make a success of it.

Basically, I am a generalist - not a specialist - and I suppose I have a flair for selling. To some extent I think the ability to sell is innate: it's all about psychology and being persuasive. My skill is in conceptualising, assessing the market and being able to recognise opportunities.

I can honestly say my education is irrelevant to what I am doing now, although I suppose I must have developed some communication skills. If anything, having failed at school made me determined to succeed.