My best teacher - Peter Jones

29th January 2010 at 00:00
Far from being a source of frustration, school pressed all the right entrepreneurial buttons, starting with a Porsche-driving English teacher who employed the 12-year-old dragon as a tennis coach

Not many people can say this of themselves, but I thoroughly enjoyed school. I wasn't a particularly studious boy, but I had a bit of intuition and liked to achieve. Although there were several subjects that I struggled with, I could not wait to get into school each day.

The first teacher who really influenced me was John Woodward at Desborough School in Maidenhead. He was an extremely clever and very entrepreneurial man - English teacher during term-time, he ran a flourishing tennis academy during the summer holidays. While all the other teachers came to school in their standard cars, he drove a Porsche. I immediately knew I wanted a piece of that.

I was a county tennis player and got to know him better while playing at local tournaments. At 12 years of age, I started to help him teach tennis during the summer holidays. While my friends were getting up at 6am to do their milk rounds for three and sixpence, I helped Mr Woodward during the day, and got paid a good amount of money.

He often used me to demonstrate a good backhand in his lessons, which boosted my confidence. I felt as though I was being put on a pedestal, which made me feel good about myself.

I watched his every move: I saw how he conducted himself with clients and how much he charged for tennis lessons, which provided me with the basic knowledge I needed to start my own business.

At 16, I applied for an official coaching qualification and within a year of having left Desborough I was running my own tennis academy. I was coaching after school and at weekends and was absolutely booked up.

I did my A-levels at Windsor Boys' School. This was where I met the teacher who inspired me most in terms of my career. He taught economics and his name was Mr Langley, but we used to call him Bloggers. He looked well lived - the lines in his face and his red nose indicated that he enjoyed his red wine. He wore a pair of half-cropped glasses right on the tip of his nose. His waif-like hair made him look as though he had been dragged into the classroom by his feet.

When he pulled those glasses down and looked at you over the top of those frames, you knew you were in trouble. Being told off by Bloggers was quite a daunting prospect. I used to sit at the back of the class and when my attention strayed a little bit I heard him shout, "Jones, lad - what do you think you are doing?" It used to make me jump out of my skin. The level of strictness was there, but you felt you wanted to achieve for him.

He was a real stickler for time and delivery. He was highly academic, but managed to convey the subject matter in a way that was incredibly inspiring - he got very excited about it himself. Mr Langley made me understand - from an economic perspective - how I could realise my business ideas.

After school, he used to sit in the pub and my friends and I would sneak in. You were never allowed to walk to the pub with him, but he would always ask us over to his table when he saw us. I felt that he treated me as an equal, which was unusual in those days. When I became more successful aged 19 I saw him in the pub again and I put money behind the bar to pay for his drinks for the next couple of months.

Peter Jones, entrepreneur and chair of Enterprise UK, is challenging young people to make a profit and a social impact with the Make your Mark for a Tenner campaign. Registration closes on February 11. Visit www.enterpriseuk.orgtenner for more information. He was talking to Friederike Heine.


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