After last week’s interview with Wasps rugby player Sam Jones, this week’s O.A is another who had a promising start in the game, getting within touching distance of an England Schools’ cap while at AGS. Paul Rogers (Ridley, 70-78) eventually went into the business world instead though, and he’s now the top man in the UK for one of the world’s biggest consultancy firms. He’s the UK Managing Partner for Bain & Co and leads the company’s Global Organisation Practice, so he’s done OK for himself away from the rugby pitch…
Paul studied English at Cambridge after leaving AGS, where he captained the rugby team and was given an open exhibition of his work. Prior to joining Bain he was the European brand manager for Procter & Gamble, and he’s co-written a book called Decide & Deliver which offers advice to businesses on how to become more effective in their decision-making. He’s also an Arsenal supporter, but nobody’s perfect.
Hi Paul. What are your memories of AGS?
I have a lot of very personal memories of the school. The first that comes to mind first is sitting in class on a Wednesday afternoon watching the first XI play cricket, I used to look forward to it every week! I think I was supposed to be concentrating on the Spanish lesson, but it was always a highlight for me. Second is playing football every lunchtime, without fail. Third, Saturday morning rugby, which I loved. I never, ever left school at 4 o’clock because I was always doing either sport or drama, I was very active and I didn’t want to restrict myself to just the academic side of things.
Of course, you then get to the people. There were some very inspirational teachers at AGS and I made a lot of good friends.
I used to really look forward to coming into school every day because I knew it was going to be fun. I don’t know if I was just lucky but I had brilliant classmates, and by the time I’d been there for 2 or 3 years I had a great group of friends, so it was always fun to be with them. My best friends today are still the friends that I made at school.
How would you describe yourself as a pupil?
I was quite rebellious actually, not seeking to undermine the system but I really, really just wanted to be myself. So I did occasionally clash with authority!
I got suspended twice. There was one night after the end of the rugby season where a bunch of us went to the pub, then somebody decided that it would be a good idea to run the captain’s trousers up the school flagpole. In the process of doing that the pole snapped in two, so we hid it round the corner! We realised that we had to come clean, but KD Smith (the Headmaster) didn’t think it was that funny…
A few of us came back for an extra term after Sixth Form, which was pretty normal then, mainly just to play rugby and for Oxbridge exams. I’d already made my Cambridge offer so it was kind of play time; we went round local pubs every Tuesday lunchtime and compiled a beer guide which we sold for charity at the school dance. Being an idiot I sold one to KD, and that was my second suspension right there.
I think most teachers, even KD, would have spoken positively about me though. I really liked the lessons and I really liked the school, but I was just enjoying myself by rebelling a bit.
Did you have a favourite subject during your time at school?
My favourite lessons were English and Spanish. I’ve always liked reading, ever since I was a small child. It was obvious to me from about 13 that English would be my subject at university, I really liked it and seemed to be quite good at it. I find it so enjoyable just to read good books, it takes you into another place, and I loved getting into the analysis of what a writer’s trying to say.
Who were you favourite teachers?
My favourite teachers were Bill Hunt, who was the single most inspirational teacher for me during my time there, and a guy called Ian McLeod, who was my English teacher and who I still see today. I named the school’s English prize in his honour.
They both knew their subjects and were very competent so you could engage intellectually, but they were very approachable, quirky and independent thinkers too. I found that very refreshing, they made it enjoyable and made it possible for you to make the subject what you wanted it to be instead of just lecturing. They were very good at what they did, and my self-perception then was that I was a bit outside of the system which I could see in them too.
Is there one moment in particular from your time at AGS that stands out as a favourite?
My friend and I, with Ian McLeod, put on a production of Harold Pinter’s ‘The Dumb Waiter’ because we’d been in the school play ‘Richard II’ and enjoyed it so much that we decided to do another as a spontaneous thing.
We put it on for parents for just one night and it was a fantastic, brilliant experience. Acting was pushing me and we felt like we gave a good performance, so there was a great sense of achievement there.
Did you have any idea of what you wanted to do in the future when you were here?
Going through school I went by the motto of ‘follow your passion’ instead of having a grand plan.
Whilst at school, and since, I’ve always thought that if you are enjoying something and it’s moving in a good direction then you don’t need to worry about the next move. I never looked far beyond university, I knew that I had a lot of growing up to do before then.
How do you feel the school has influenced you since you left?
I think what I really took away from those 8 years was learning to channel my energy in ways that were going to be productive and enjoyable. I learned to work hard, that people matter and that you should enjoy everything as you go along.
Also, school is where I discovered Shakespeare, Beckett and Camus, all of whom have been part of my life ever since!
Do you have any advice for the boys that are at the school now?
It’s hard to avoid the cliché here… I would say that you should follow your passions, within reason. If you enjoy something it’s much more likely that you’ll be good at it and be able to commit the energy that you have to give. Do things that you enjoy doing and a lot of the rest will take care of itself.
I’m a big believer that you get out what you put in, whether that’s school, uni, jobs or relationships. You don’t want to be standing back as a spectator, you want to participate, but the only person who can choose to participate is you. The opportunities are there – engage and enjoy them.
You can read interviews with a great range of other O.As here: http://www.ags.bucks.sch.uk/old-aylesburian-of-the-week/