10 Questions: John Martin St. Valery
EO U.A.E., EO member since 2007
Founding partner and CEO of The Links Group
What's something people would be surprised to learn about you?
JS: Despite having quite a posh name and speaking the Queen’s English, people may be surprised to learn that I grew up in a family with very little money. Both of my parents described themselves as fallen aristocrats, but with no money! This was the root of my determination to succeed and restore the family name and fortune.
In your opinion, what are some key characteristics every entrepreneur should have?
JS: They’ve got to have absolute belief or conviction. It is no good just to hope to succeed. You must truly believe that you will. A few knocks and failures along the way are pretty essential, too. And energy— a lazy entrepreneur is not an entrepreneur!
What three adjectives would your friends use to describe you?
JS: Well, after ‘modest(!),’ I would hope ‘amusing,’ ‘generous’ and ‘enigmatic.’
What gets you up and going in the morning?
JS: My wife, Carolynn, inspires me every day to follow my dream. The dream changes from time to time, but my 24-year marriage and two wonderful kids are my reason.
Where do you see yourself 20 years from now?
JS: Probably being a nagging influence on my grandchildren to do something ‘different,’ I expect, whilst growing old disgracefully myself. Seriously, I hope to be able to mentor and support fledgling businesses of interest in the future.
When you were 15 years old, you enrolled at the Metropolitan Police Cadet College in London. What were you hoping to get out of this experience?
JS: At that age, the majority of my school pals were looking forward tothe summer break before heading back to school. I didn’t have such academic aspirations at the time. I wanted to explore, to fly from the nest and make my own way in life. During a school trip to London, I walked past New Scotland Yard in Victoria and saw an advertisement luring young men and women to the police service. This was an opportunity to finish my secondary education in a vocational environment, and I was immediately hooked.
What life lessons did you take away from your years as a “copper”?
JS: Never read a book by its cover. What you think you’ve just seen or heard may not be what you’ve actually seen or heard. This has been a great business and personal tool in learning to be responsive, but not too reactive, in one’s haste to get something done.
Did any of your police experiences help you become a better entrepreneur?
JS: In my view, being an entrepreneur is about developing opportunities that others may not go for— some call it calculated risk taking. The best detectives that I worked with had an ‘instinct.’ You cannot learn instinct; it’s either part of your DNA or it’s not. Whilst being involved in covert surveillance work, I was able to sharpen my instincts for noticing people, things or opportunities, which has helped me greatly in my entrepreneurial life.
What is the best life or business decision you’ve ever made?
JS: I honestly believed that I had a job for life in the police service, and I still think I would have done well in that role. Had I stayed in, I would be retiring from the service next year on full pension. My best decision was to take that plunge from the ‘known’ to the ‘unknown,’ when I left public service for the world of commerce. I have no regrets at all, and I respect those who continue to serve.
If you were to write a book about your life, what would the title be?
JS: It’d be about a British entrepreneur in the Middle East titled, ‘The Persian Version.’