These days a lot of people are convinced that the way to business success is head to a name school, get an MBA in another name school, and then go out and conquer the world.
Only, it doesn't necessarily work that way. There are MBAs without the slightest lick of sense who could turn gold into dross. And there are people whose time in academe was less than productive and who made things work anyway. Chris Dawson, who founded British retail giant The Range, is an example.
He doesn't email or text his managers. He might not be able to. He dropped out of school "without qualifications," which translates into U.S. English as not even a high school diploma. "Dyslexic is a polite way of putting it," Dawson told the Telegraph, "I just didn't have a bloody clue." He can't even read the GPS navigation on his Rolls Royce.
Instead, he's on the phone with them early. Obscenely early, as in Dawson wouldn't hesitate to call at 3am. It's not that he's trying to browbeat someone so much as when he has an idea he "just can't contain it" and needs to talk then.
But D really gets numbers and can go through a balance sheet easily. He also knows retail and when something works, or doesn't. Dawson's also unconventional in his thinking. Forget a fancy office. His headquarters are on the outskirts of a city near a noisy airport. Why? Because he can negotiate the rent downward.
Dawson started his career working with his father and also selling tea to workers at construction sites. Then it was selling watches out of a market stall and then anything and everything from a truck.
Dawson made so much he was able to open his first The Range store in 1989. They sell toys, housewares, furniture, do-it-yourself and crafts, clothing, and even pets.
From early on he understood the dynamics of retail, as he indicated in a story he told the BBC about buying used plimsolls (lightweight sneakers with canvas tops and rubber soles) from a charity shop as a kid, polishing and painting them, and then selling them in front of his school.
"She said you should not be taking money off the church. But my brain knew even then that I had to have a low cost base. "And I needed to change the offer - I had to make the plimsolls nice and shiny - and get in front of an audience where I stood out."
Constrain your costs, create something that wasn't available, and have your marketing and merchandising stand out: Dawson learned his lessons early.
In school, he would grab discarded scraps from the metal working shop, take them home, and sell them to a scrap dealer.
Leaving school behind him at 15, he kept wheeling and dealing, buying and selling anything legal so long as it was profitable. By 36 he opened his first store, opened some others but then closed all but the first done. He loved the energy of an open market. So moving that into a store became his concept of a discount department store. Others were trying to be discount department stores, "but I thought I could do it better," he told the BBC.
He's built the business up over the years on a "predatory instinct," ready to move in when the opportunity offered itself. No degree, just hard word, determination, and a belief that he could make it work.