Not every just gets to have breakfast with Richard Branson, but those are the kind of people you suddenly become exposed to or become accessible when you become part of the NEF programme.
Today I continue with my interview series with Ravi Patel - who currently works at Virgin Active's head office.
Hi Ravi, It’s great to have you on YHP, How are you doing today?
Hi Joseph, I’m doing well thanks. Refreshed after the Christmas and New Years break, ready for the challenges in 2012!
Can you give us some brief background information about yourself before we dive into the interview properly?
I left London after my final year of school to go to Warwick University, where I studied Finance and Accounting for 3 years. After an internship at a top European bank in the summer 2010, I left the banking industry feeling disillusioned at the gap between what was promised and what was actually delivered. In my final year at university, I set up a company called Eagle Entertainment along with two other friends. It was a student events management company and we hosted student club nights, charity and society events and in our final ever week of University, we hosted an outdoor concert. This experience really sparked my interest in running my own business after university.
What would you list as some of the key things that you took from your university experience?
I can say the best thing I have taken from University is a network of friends who are also the best support network I have. As group of 10 or so close friends, we have had a lot of fun experiences, whether at university or when travelling together. Since university however, when it has come to becoming more independent and thinking about our careers, we are all similar. We are driven and ambitious and appreciate the hard work and effort we need to exert in order to be successful. I think it just shows that whilst at university, you may start of with a wide social network but after 3 years you will naturally narrow this down to a select group of like-minded individuals.
So how did you get involve in NEF? How did you find out about it?
After my banking internship in the second year of university, I looked at the career options available to me and wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do. Being part of the Warwick Business School, it was easy to get drawn in to looking at jobs in the accounting, banking and consulting industries. However, I came across the NEF scheme via an email from a recruitment company and it sparked an interest in me straight away. I had never actually looked at running my own business as a career option- purely because I believed that with my degree I had to look at banking and accounting jobs. When I saw this opportunity however, I thought it was a perfect chance to test the SME/ entrepreneurial waters.
You currently placed at Virgin Active, how has the experience been so far? What role do you play in the company?
I am working at Virgin Active head office but I haven’t been set a defined role as such! If I had to describe my role I would say “strategy” but essentially I research and look at new markets, new competition and current and future challenges the company is facing and provide ideas and strategy opinion, based on my own opinion and research. I would say my role definitely allows for intrapreneurship within Virgin Active and as such, I love being able to organize my own projects and make my strategic proposals be as innovative as possible.
What has been some of the most valuable things that you’ve learnt so far?
Virgin’s company culture is pioneering; treating your staff well means that they are motivated to provide excellent customer service, which in turn keeps the shareholders happy. The role has definitely taught me that some companies thrive when employees are treated well and empowered to come up with their own ideas. I have also been lucky enough to sit through the post-acquisition phase of a takeover that Virgin Active has completed of another gym operator, Esporta. Staff are naturally worried about job security and some are averse to structural changes through times like this. It has highlighted the need for clear communication to all staff members and the importance of an efficient HR function in delivering this.
What value would you say being part of the NEF programme gives you?
For me, the best thing about the NEF is the networking reach of the scheme. The backing that the NEF has from entrepreneurs, VCs, SMEs and large corporations means that it has the NEF brand has provided me access to a large network of experienced and aspiring entrepreneurs.
To anyone thinking of joining the programme, what value can they expect to get from it?
The New Entrepreneurs Foundation gives you the chance to learn how small organisations are created and grow organically. Being able to work with senior management, rather than just for them is a unique selling point of the scheme. Be prepared to work hard and pushed to challenge the norm within your firm. You should be able to provide innovative and fresh new modes of thinking but make sure you have fun too!
What has been your most memorable moment up to date?
Breakfast with Richard Branson! I emailed his PA and was lucky enough to meet him for an hour so. We spoke about his new book, his plans for Virgin Money and we also spoke about my entrepreneurial aspirations. An amazing moment!
What can we be expecting from you in the future, especially after the NEF programme?
I am working on 3 different businesses (within fashion, recruitment and education) and I hope to have at least one of them set up by the end of the scheme. I agree with Luke Johnson when he sys that “freelancers have a unique advantage in launching a startup- they can maintain a steady income flow whilst building their startup in the evenings and at weekends.” The NEF opportunity and working for Virgin Active has given the opportunity for me to do this so I am making the most of my time whilst I can!