‘If you make so much as a Girl Friday, I’ll eat my hat.’

When I heard, in a recent Desert Island Discs interview, that these words had come from the mouth of a teacher of Jo Fairley – the founder of Green & Black’s, I began to think about just how many people in the world of business and entrepreneurship had been subject to similar throwaway comments by their own teachers.

I have now learned that Edison, inventor of the light bulb, was apparently told at the tender age of seven that he was ‘too stupid to learn anything.’ But that was way back in 1873. Surely things have changed since then? Twenty two years later, nothing had changed as Albert Einstein’s Munich schoolmaster is wrote in his school report, ‘He will never amount to anything’ and in 1932, Roald Dahl’s report described him as, ‘An illiterate member of the class.’

Nearly a century later, John Lennon, after passing his 11+, attended Quarry Bank High School in the early fifties was told, ‘Hopeless. Rather a clown in class. He is just wasting other pupils’ time. Certainly on the road to failure,’ and even in 1960, Alan Sugar was told, ‘Alan can do better than this. He has ability, but seems afraid to use it.’

Being told that you’ll never amount to anything, that you’re a troublesome pupil going nowhere, or that you are just plain stupid can, and should, be your defining moment. It should be the catalyst to prove someone wrong. 

Jo Fairley did just that. She is one of the UK’s brightest entrepreneurs-selling her iconic brand to Cadbury’s, co-founding the Perfume Society and product testing firm called Beauty Bible and continuing to inspire youngsters (and the not so young) all over the world.