Reaching for the stars

Professor Charles P. Skene OBE looks at the importance of inspiring the next generation, after the recent NASA visit 
to Aberdeen.

Entrepreneurship has been defined as “the relentless pursuit of opportunity”, but meeting NASA representatives during their recent visit to Aberdeen underlined for me that it is also about reaching for the stars.

These truly inspiring individuals did a first-class job in doing something all of us should all seek to do to some extent or another – firing up the next generation and illuminating them on how to be the best they can be.

For me, my lifelong passion for business has remained unrelenting for over 60 years, and the “buzz” of doing new things and meeting new people is as important now as when I joined the family business at the age of 20.

But in my own education, business and entrepreneurship were never mentioned and I doubt if I had any real concept of what the latter meant as a schoolboy.


My eyes were only opened to the possibilities when, by chance, I read a library-borrowed biography of Andrew Carnegie and was both captivated and awakened. Later in my career, and eager to share what I myself had learned through reading about Carnegie (and others), I subsequently implemented a variety of projects and strategies focusing on nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit in young people in Scotland.

Over the years, I have invested in excess of £300,000 in enterprise promotion in primary schools and tertiary education. The rewards of opening young people’s eyes to what they can achieve if they try hard enough are manifold, and there really is nothing more exciting than listening to a school pupil talking of their ideas for setting up a business in the future, or a student explaining the business they have set up while in education.


Within our own organisation, developing the next generation is important too, and The Skene Group remains very much a family affair. I am very proud that my children all work for the business – my elder daughter Jennifer is deputy chairman, my son Richard is group development director and my younger daughter Pamela is group HR director.

However, it is worth remembering that entrepreneurship is in the mindset. It naturally exists within the individual so, while it can’t necessarily be taught, it can be encouraged and developed. Entrepreneurial spirit is largely innate and there is more to it than academic success – the successful entrepreneur may not have excelled in academic subjects at school.

So, young people need to remember that as well as thinking creatively and being prepared to take risks – very often, the idea and the desire to pursue it will come long before the all-important number-crunching in the mind of the entrepreneur.

Additionally, I think it is important for the up-and-coming generation of businesspeople to remember that their success is not dependent on education, necessarily, but on the desire to go out and be successful at something, to be the “dreamer who does”. In my case, my parents were astonished to see an aptitude for business which had never been apparent during my education.

Like space, the possibilities for the entrepreneurial-minded are limitless, and my own experience shows that while the journey may be simultaneously exciting and challenging, the rewards might just be astronomical!

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