Matt Jones has been an entrepreneur since his teens. In 2015 he founded Birmingham-based Oxbridge Home Learning and has big plans to grow it into a world-leading learning provider.
What is it the company does?
Oxbridge Home Learning is an online learning provider that gives people the time, freedom and flexibility to mould their future through education. Reaching thousands of learners worldwide, we deliver a diverse selection of accredited courses, from A-Levels and GCSEs through to professional qualifications for Teaching Assistants, Nursery Nurses and Bookkeepers. Supported by expert tutors, our courses equip people with the skills they need to succeed in the real world.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
My role is to provide support and leadership. Our team is highly capable and at the top of their game so they don’t require micromanagement. I’m continually encouraging my team to get the best out of them, as a motivated team is a productive team. With passionate people behind me, I make quick, informed decisions, and I’m not afraid to pivot on ideas when necessary. If something isn’t working, we change it quickly. I’m always listening and absorbing information from various sources and use the information to make better decisions for the benefit of the business, team and our learners.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
Ever since I was young, my future was destined for entrepreneurship. My parents ran a successful business for many years, so I had good role models. My first endeavour was undertaking odd-jobs for my parents or neighbours. During this period, I’d already learned to become a shrewd negotiator.
Reaching my teenage years, I started my first business trading electronic components in the bargain pages. I’d also invest in faulty lighting equipment, restoring and selling them for profit. This was before the internet became a major trading platform, meaning everything took a lot longer. I’d later use my skill working for a company offering lighting and sound services to theatres, arenas and concert venues.
Mid-twenties, I’d founded Open Study College in 2007, which focused on improving people’s lives through education. Always keeping a keen eye on the bottom line, the business was founded in a spare bedroom at my parents’ house. I helped support over 40,000 students before moving in a new direction in the sector in 2014.
I always felt several areas of distance learning were wrong and could be improved, but it would take a radical approach to fix these industry-wide problems. I wanted to create a truly inspiring distance learning experience: Examining course design through the eyes of the learner. After over a year of concentrated research discovering people’s expectations in today’s learning environment, I established Oxbridge Home Learning with a vision of creating a fully-integrated, global learning experience.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Four of the attributes that I believe make a good leader are: Decisiveness, Courage, Integrity, Introspection.
A great leader should be able to make quick, informed decisions, even in difficult situations. They should be visionaries, always thinking ahead, with the nerve to take risks and embrace change. Self-reflective, a true leader knows their strengths and weaknesses, where to seek support and how to support others. Most of all, they have integrity and remain courteous, humble and down-to-earth even when successful.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Finding the right team members. We believe in hiring people who share our passion for education and enriching people’s lives but also identify with our company’s ethos. Simply having the right skills isn’t enough. As a new hire can make or break your business, especially in the early days, I can’t stress the importance of hiring the right people.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I enjoy my 45-minute commute. It really gives me a chance to unwind, take in the scenery and listen to music or audio books. Sometimes, my best ideas come to me while driving. More people should take advantage of traffic jams. I find that as long as I’m not late for something, they’re great opportunities to process ideas. You’ll be amazed what can be accomplished on a car journey
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I spent my younger years wanting to be a BBC Lighting Director. I remember driving my parents mad by messing with the lights in our house and turning the living room into a lighting studio - never a wise decision during episodes of EastEnders. My fascination with lighting saw me working in the industry for several years when I left school. I had a lot of fun, got to meet plenty of famous faces and travelled to amazing places. While I’ve moved onto education, through various roles, I never regret the journey I’ve taken to get here; it’s made me who I am today.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
There are three pet peeves: Untidiness, Office Politics, and Poor Communication.
To combat untidiness, we’ve incorporated several amusing policies, like ‘Dirty Cup’ - If you leave dirty cups on your desk before going home, you automatically volunteer to make coffees for everyone the next day. As you can imagine, it doesn’t happen often! After all, clear desk, clear mind!
We evade office politics in part by recruiting people who share similar principles and values. Conflict is rare in the office because we’ve built a sociable and collaborative culture here at Oxbridge Home Learning and try to alleviate anything that jeopardises the fantastic working relationships we share as a team.
I find the traditional way of working in hierarchies quite restrictive as it limits creativity. So, I encourage the team at all levels to communicate directly with one another. Sometimes the best ideas come from the bottom up, so it’s essential to have plenty of lines of communication to avoid becoming stagnant.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
Our vision is to grow Oxbridge Home Learning into a world-leading learning provider. A bold statement, but we have already implemented measurable steps to make good ground by 2022. We want to significantly increase our turnover and grow our team from a team of 25 to 50 plus.
We’ve proven that business performance, KPIs, and controlled growth can be sustained when you have a formula that works and offer the right staff incentives. The team has been amazing, so we’ll continue to offer them what they want to retain and attract the right talent, which will impact how we innovate and manage student expectations.
Innovation is vital for the business. So, we’ve started taking advantage of the 4th Industrial Revolution by researching how technology can benefit the online learning industry. Our learners are worldwide, so if we can improve their education with artificial intelligence, machine learning, and assistive technologies, we’ll do our utmost to combine these into our offering. It’s also a reason why we’ve already got a bunch of tech events penned in the diary. In five years, we will be at the forefront of the industry.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Listen and learn. Pretty much every mistake you are going to make has already been made by someone else. There is a wealth of information, knowledge, and experience available to you, much of which people will impart to you for free. A good leader doesn’t have to take control or take over in every situation, sometimes holding back and listening can gain far better results.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Be patient. Very little happens overnight when starting a business. Things will often take a lot longer than you expect them to, so make sure that you plan accordingly for this. Never scrap ideas that don’t instantly identify with your vision; they might come in handy later. You’ll also encounter people who don’t get your dream, so take criticism in your stride. You need to develop a thick skin and plenty of resilience. Always remember that this is your personal journey.
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