Well behaved women seldom make history

Let me introduce you to Paul. He’s around 40, runs his own business and thinks of himself as “reasonably successful”. Paul left school at 16 – although whether he left voluntarily or was expelled is a moot point. He has no formal qualifications, apart from one: he holds a 50m swimming badge. But as Paul says, “I put my foot down half way so it doesn’t really count…”

Paul employs around 50 people and he’s worth somewhere north of £10m – that’s his definition of “reasonably successful”. Have to say it would do for me…

And here’s Mike. Head boy at a local grammar school. Rugby, cricket, homework in on time, ticked all the right boxes, never in trouble. Manager of a local building society branch, member of Rotary and – to paraphrase Achilles in Troy – no-one will remember his name.

I thought about Paul and Mike when I stumbled across a quotation someone had re-tweeted: Well behaved women seldom make history. It’s actually the title of a book by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: here’s the link if you’re interested .

The theory is obvious – and as we all know, it doesn’t just apply to women. The list of successful entrepreneurs who’ve not exactly covered themselves in glory at school is endless. As Richard Branson’s report famously prophesied, ‘He will either become a millionaire or he will go to prison.’

We’ve looked at whether university is necessary (or even desirable) for business owners in a previous blog. If you didn’t pursue your education and you’d like confirmation that it really was the best decision, have a look at this site: http://www.collegedropoutshalloffame.com/. The list is impressive – from Roman Abramovich to Mark Zuckerberg.

But it’s school that interests me – and the simple question of whether you need a certain readiness to break the rules if you’re going to be successful in business. I had a fairly conventional school career – until I discovered the delights of grape and grain, after which I seemed to be in trouble on a fairly regular basis.

Talking to friends it’s a similar pattern – the ones who are now the most successful seem to be the ones who struggled at school: either with the discipline, or with the lessons. The two comments that you seem to hear over and over again are: ‘I just couldn’t stand all the stupid rules and regulations any more’ and ‘I knew what I wanted to do – suddenly everything else seemed irrelevant.’

I’d be interested to hear your views on this – whether it’s your own story, or reflections on how your classmates have done. And as parents, maybe we ought to relax a bit. If your child brings home a less-than-perfect report in a couple of week’s time, it won’t be the end of the world – in fact, it may well be the beginning.

Let me leave you with these gems: they’re comments from the school reports of Messrs Churchill, Fry, Lennon and Morecambe. See if you can put them in the right order…

He has glaring faults and they have certainly glared at us this term. English: bottom, rightly.

Certainly on the road to failure…

Will never get anywhere in life…

He has no ambition…



  1. Simon Hudson (@simonjhudson) · March 16, 2012

    Not that I’m holding myself up as a paragon of success, but I had a fairly low profile at school; very rarely in trouble, not known for disruptive behaviour or breaking the rules.
    ‘Not known for’ is the key phrase there; in fact I frequently broke the rules and was, from time to time, caught doing things what, while hardly immoral, were most assuredly verboden. The trick I learned was to either not get caught or have my story prepared in advance. On one occassion I recall being rewarded for being caught on the school roof based on my claim that I was retrieving lost rugby balls (very not true, but I had a ball under my to lay credence to my claim).

    So my learning has been that rules are a great educator and that you can readily break, avoid or bend then by outsmarting the system or at least making sure you don’t get caught.

    Being badly behaved is not the same as being in trouble.

    • edreidyork · March 16, 2012

      I think the “not known for” element demonstrates a certain set of abilities which I’m sure occasionally still come in useful when running your own business (forward planning etc etc). Thanks for your thoughts Simon

  2. Rory Ryan · March 16, 2012

    Another good point Ed. I was recently talking to a member of the rugby club who is a rugby correspondent for a national newspaper. We were talking about a minis coach and my mate said ‘he wasn’t much of a player – too normal’. I asked him what he meant. He told me that he believed good rugby players have to be a bit nuts.
    I think it holds true for sport and business. A little madness goes a long way!

    • edreidyork · March 16, 2012

      Ha ha – the rugby man from Dublin talking up the benefits of a little madness. I think a lot of entrepreneurs would acknowledge there’s often got to be a some “off the wall” thinking; otherwise we’d all be employees, wouldn’t we? Thanks Rory – speak soon

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