Ben joined Langley in Year 6 in 2007, finishing with A-levels in Chemistry, Physics, Design Technology, and Further Maths. Here, Ben tells us about launching his own design consultancy and how working in technology took him to Japan for a particular project.
At school, did you know what career you wanted to pursue?
My ambitions changed several times during my time at Langley; after GCSE I had my mind set on being a Chemical Engineer, but during Sixth Form it became clear that I wanted to work in a more creative form of engineering. I always had a fascination in tearing things apart, and spent my spare time working on motorbikes or on bicycles mechanically. Most of my part-time weekend jobs were in electrical shops or bike shops, so a passion developed in my later school years for electronics and technology too. The D&T department at Langley became my home, the access to machinery and materials there was beyond anything that could be experienced at any other school. It even rivalled most university engineering departments.
Which of Langley’s extra-curricular activities were you involved in?
I was a keen Rugby player throughout my time at Langley, competing for the school in county tournaments for 15-a-side and 7s. I also represented the school at county level for Athletics, and found myself competing in anything that involved sprinting. I had a short period of time in CCF, which is one of my fondest memories, and taught me a lot about basic survival skills but also about leadership and creating bonds with those around you.
The D&T department at Langley became my home, the access to machinery and materials there was beyond anything that could be experienced at any other school. It even rivalled most university engineering departments.
Have these activities helped you since school, for example via transferable skills?
Absolutely. Team sports and activities require hard work, discipline and trust in those around you. All of which you use daily in the workplace, whether you are in an office, or an entrepreneur. It’s not all about sports, any team activities you can get involved in will benefit you in the same way, and you should take those opportunities with the same passion.
What did you study at university?
I studied Product Design at university, with a placement year in industry halfway through my studies. I highly recommend a course with a placement year if it is offered! Product Design courses offer a huge array of modules to choose from and, in my opinion, is one of the most well-rounded courses you can leave university with. You become a jack of all trades; from creative design, to engineering and mechanics. I personally found a passion for electronics, smart technology, and designing products that allow people to improve their lives in some form or another.
How did you career begin?
In my final year at university, some friends and I decided to set up our own design consultancy. We had a wide range of talents and thought that, combined, we could create products to impact people’s lives for the better. We designed a device that allowed paralysed or severely disabled people to paint on a canvas on the floor below them, using the movement of their wheelchair. The design was tested by some volunteers with MS and, after some good press, we found ourselves gaining funding from Santander bank to progress the project. As a consultancy, we branched out into graphic design, and even designed some arm protectors for British Paralympic Skiers.
After that year, I was offered a job at a large corporation, who at the time made cigarettes. The business knew that the cigarette world was coming to an end, and rightly so. They offered me an opportunity to work in a new part of their business, developing products and scouting the world for new technology that helped people quit smoking in new ways – beyond e-cigarettes and into far more advanced systems. I could not turn down such an exciting job, and so parted ways with my consultancy (although I still act as a non-executive director).
So far, what have been your post-school highlights?
One of the products I have helped develop was released in Japan last year and has sold hundreds of thousands of devices. E-cigarettes are strictly regulated in Japan, so can’t be used as a way to help quit smoking. The device we developed is very different, and its 95% less toxic than a cigarette, but still uses real tobacco, helping people quit far more easily. I had the chance to travel to Japan to observe people using it and saw them talk about the positive impact it would have on their lives. Nothing compares.
On reflection, did your time at Langley help your attitude towards career choices and progression?
Langley taught me to become independent. The teachers presented me with opportunities to improve myself, take responsibility, acknowledge my mistakes, and learn from them. All of these were vital to the decisions and paths I took in life. I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t the easiest student to deal with at school. I was always keen to learn and work hard, but I loved to question the purpose of everything I was presented with. On reflection, Langley did well to feed this curiosity in the right way and, after leaving, I found a sense of empathy that I wish I had the maturity at the time to express.
What advice you would give to students considering their A-Levels or careers?
The world is now a very demanding place, and most career paths look for an individual that can perform a variety of tasks, rather than specialise deeply in just one. Some career paths do need a specialism in Sciences or Math but, from my personal experience, developing a wide set of talents is key to standing out. Choose A-Levels that don’t narrow your field too much and tend to feed your passions. You will always naturally work harder at subjects you have true belief behind, but don’t lose focus on making sure you’re a well-rounded individual when you leave school – that means making sure you’re friendly, polite and approachable too, not just intelligent!
Final thoughts on Langley
My fondest memory was winning the county Rugby 7’s tournament – I wonder if Wymondham College are still the bitter rivals?! The Sixth Form centre was brand new in my last year at Langley, and is one of the most incredible things we experienced!