My Way: Chief executive Raoul Shah gives advice on how to succeed at work

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The Independent Online

Raoul Shah is the founder and chief executive officer of Exposure, a multi-disciplinary communications agency with offices in London, New York and Los Angeles.

What did you want to be as a child?

A painter. I saw some builders painting my parents' house a weird olive green and I thought I'd like to do that.

What did you realistically think you'd end up doing?

In the back of my mind, I sensed that my parents wanted me to be something conventional like a lawyer or accountant, although this was never discussed. My passion as a teenager was conservation and I thought I might work in a zoo.

You did a BSc in textiles, economics and management at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. Was it worth it?

It was fantastic. What was really useful was learning to organise information into a single body of work.

What did you do next?

My first full-time job was with the Pepe Jeans Group; I applied for their graduate training programme. The worst part was spending three weeks in data processing, sitting in front of a machine spewing out data. The best part was working in the advertising and promotion department. That meant the opportunity to get experience in a French subsidiary and become marketing manager.

How did you manage that?

I listened and I didn't wait for people to tell me what to do, I tried things out and I had a boss who allowed me to do this. When Pepe was for sale there wasn't much of a marketing function, so I thought it was time to move on. I set up my own little consultancy at home, using five years' worth of contacts to put people together into a network.

Was it a risk?

It was a huge risk. I had no business plan and I didn't actually know what I was doing, I was just driven by instinct. My only overhead was replacing my phone with a fax phone.

Do you consider yourself successful?

My business has achieved a lot but there's more to achieve. Am I satisfied and motivated? Yes. Do I have the ambition to do more? YES, in capital letters!

What are your interview tips?

I look for true energy and enthusiasm.

And your CV tips?

It should be creatively laid out and visually arresting. Get it across in a page and save the rest for the interview.

Who are your heroes?

David Attenborough. He makes mundane things interesting; he's the greatest teacher of our time. Also the stylist Ray Petri, his Buffalo look of the 80s influences fashion today.

How do I get to be where you are?

There are courses today that weren't around 20 years ago, in communications, marketing and branding. So you could do that, coupled with work experience. Most of all you need to be interested in the world of communication.

Is that why you collect hotel Do Not Disturb signs?

Yes, I have hundreds of them! They are symbols and souvenirs. I love them. In today's world maybe what we're looking for is five minutes of peace.

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