How did you first become interested in economics?
I think it's the same for most people – a certain subject grabs your attention more than others. I was always interested in the wider business world and intrigued by the implications of decision-making within companies. A-level economics, although basic, was more "real world" and career applicable than my other subjects, so this was an easy one for me and very quickly made my mind up to pursue economics at university.
Why did you choose to study at the School of Economics at Nottingham?
For me "gut feel" is important in big decisions. I went to visit Nottingham and just thought it was the place for me, especially with the glowing reports from some school friends already there. The focus on everyone helping to create broad students was critical, and I think that's why many of us are still such good friends long after graduating.
What are your fondest memories of your time at the school?
The people make it. Our year felt special. Apart from exam time, we had a lot of laughs. There was a sincerity and an authenticity among us – we helped each other and genuinely wanted everyone to do well, which is a feeling I don’t think exists at every university.
The staff were also great. I travelled a fair bit because of what I was doing in South Africa, but I always had the backing and understanding of my personal tutor, Professor Richard Disney, and the school's support staff – especially Hilary Clayton.
What advice would you give to someone considering or about to start a course at the school?
Throw yourself into it, pick subjects that interest you and, most importantly, befriend your personal tutor!
So tell us more about Fives.
I launched the company between my second and third years. Being a student and an entrepreneur can be a difficult balancing act, especially with so much travelling involved – but, like I said, the School gave me all the support I could have hoped for.
After graduating I moved out to South Africa to run Fives full-time. Emigration and running a start-up have made for another exciting challenge, to say the least, and you have to be quick on your feet in a fast-developing environment.
What's your current role with Fives?
I'm the CEO. Fives is now the largest five-a-side football operator nationally, and our mission is to provide top sporting facilities to communities through a sustainable business model, affordable pricing and partnerships with brands like Adidas and Coca-Cola.
But it's about much more than sport, isn't it?
It is. You need an instigator to challenge social issues, and ours was football.
For a start, there's a focus on creating jobs in a country where unemployment is a major issue. We now have a hundred employees, seven locations and 50,000 customers a month – all of which should double inside the next 18 months. It's also about bringing about social change, often in poor neighbourhoods, which is why we've had so much interest from charities and NGOs.
What do you enjoy most about your work and what are the main challenges?
I enjoy working for myself – though starting off in that manner means I'll be unlikely to work for anyone ever! The flexibility and responsibility are arguably a blessing and a curse. It's fantastic to oversee all aspects of a concept, from marketing to finance to HR, but at the same time it's a high workload that involves a lot of day-to-day management. Growing a team is great but challenging, especially when you have to make tough decisions that impact on people's lives.
I think what I most enjoy at a top level is deciding the strategy alongside deal-making from start to finish. We do long-term leases for our facilities, so it's critical that the terms are suitable and work with a range of multinational sponsors that we have to keep happy.
All in all, to have a job that doesn't feel like work means I feel very lucky.
Have your experiences at the school helped shape and develop your career?
Time management and organisation have certainly been critical. During my degree, because of all the travelling and because I wanted a social life as well, I never had the luxury of wasting time, and that has translated well into the working world.
Also, being able to converse with and relate to a range of people from diverse backgrounds creates a worldliness and understanding of the larger society out there. They often say it's the intangible skills learnt at university that shape careers, and to some extent that's been true for me.
Are you still in touch with your fellow alumni?
Of course. Lifelong friendships are made at university, so how could you not place value on them? We rely on social media a lot – I live 10,000km away from most of my fellow alumni, after all – but there have been some visits as well.
If I'd started a business in Timbuktu I would probably have had fewer visitors. But Cape Town is currently a top destination, so people hear the phrase "free accommodation" and hop on a plane!
Have you been back to the school since you graduated?
Not yet, mainly due to such limited time in the UK, but I plan to soon.