Thousands of students across Greater Manchester received their A-level results on Thursday. For many, it will have been a day of celebration and relief as they held the piece of paper or clicked on the email securing their future.

Whilst some may have gained spots at top universities, or taken the next step in their career - others will have been left disappointed. Some will have been left questioning what their future holds and wondering whether A-level grades are their only route to success.

With that in mind, the M.E.N spoke to three successful, Manchester-based entrepreneurs, who left school with little or no qualifications and went on to great success.

Steven Bartlett, who got bad grades at his A levels is the founder and CEO of Global Social Media and Marketing Agency, Social Chain.

Steven Bartlett is the founder and CEO of Social Chain Group - a Global Social Media Marketing Agency with offices in five different countries.

Steven was predicted 12 A*’s in his GCSE’s but focused his time on starting small businesses rather than studying for exams.

After scraping into Manchester Metropolitan University, he attended one lecture and dropped out, moving to Moss Side without a penny to his name.

He muddled through, working night shifts in a call centre and eating leftovers from takeaways before setting up his social media empire at the age of 21.

Now, four years later - he employees 260 people and has offices in Manchester, London, New York and Berlin.

Speaking to the M.E.N, Steve said: “I was predicted 12 A*s at GCSE but I didn’t turn up to many lessons and scraped into sixth form where I was expelled because of poor attendance.

“They allowed me to sit my A-Levels but I got bad grades and managed to get into Manchester Metropolitan university.

“I went to one lecture and dropped out. I told my mum and she didn’t speak to me for another two years."

“At the age of 18, I moved to Moss Side with absolutely no money and attempted to start a website.

“I was four months late on my rent so took a job in a call centre, but I was fired from there after I was caught working on my website.

Steven employs 260 people and has offices in Manchester, London, New York and Berlin (Image: Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.)

“The next stage of my life was working out how to set up a business. Three months later, I found an investor.” After months of trying to attract users to his website, Steve realised that social media was the answer.

He ditched his website and set up Social Chain - a digital publishing house which now owns some of the largest media assets online, reaching over 400 million people.

Steve has become an award winning entrepreneur, being voted by Econsultancy as the ‘Most Influential Industry Figure’ in 2018.

He added: “At the age of 21, I flew across the world and started hiring people - 90% of them still work for me now."

“Now I have 260 employees working in five different countries."


“I would say that life grades you on things much greater than letters on a piece of paper - your attitude, your people skills and your self awareness."


“If you become good at those things, they will far exceed getting three A’s on an exam."

“We are taught to start one career and stick with it - but the fun part is not knowing what you are going to be doing next."

“When I look to hire people now, I don’t ask for their degree or their A-levels, I look at their experience."

“For the vast majority of people, your grades won’t define your life.”

Jim Gempton is a director at BDO accountancy firm (Image: Jay Cain photographer)

Jim Gempton’s dreams of studying history at The University of York came crashing down when he failed his A-Levels in 1982. The now 54-year-old believed at the time that this was the end of the world...

Now, he is a director at global accountancy firm, Binder Dijker Otte - despite having absolutely no accounting qualifications, let alone a degree.

He said: “I was all set to go to York university, but on results day I learnt that I had failed spectacularly in two subjects."

“I ended up going to a college in Merseyside which certainly wasn’t the typical red brick uni I had been on track for."

“After finishing there with a middle of the road degree, I really struggled to get a job."

“Eventually, I ended up moving down to London for a job with HM Revenue and Customs. I didn’t have the qualifications, so just sat a civil service exam and went from there."

“It was only really after that, my career took off.”

Jim failed his A-Levels in 1982

In 1990, Jim moved to Manchester and started working for an accountancy firm. After years of grafting his way up the business, he became a manager and then a senior manager. Now he is a director.

Jim added: “I think I probably would have ended up doing something completely different but the failure to get the right grades actually worked out really well for me."

“I met my wife whilst at college and we have just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary."

“Even though I felt devastated when I got my results, I wouldn’t change a thing now."

“I would advise people to try as hard as they can but if they don’t get the grades they want it is not the end of the world and there is always some other alternative.”

Adam Frisby (Image: Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.)

Adam Frisby is the founder of In The Style, a popular women’s clothing brand, and has collaborated with celebrities such as Charlotte Crosby and Binky Felstead.

Despite leaving school at 16 with no GCSEs - last year his business turned over £30 million.

The 31-year-old spent his late teens and early 20’s working a variety of different jobs from Burger King to a recruitment consultancy. He moved to Manchester 11 years ago where he began working for a company who helped disabled people find work.

After being made redundant, at the age of 26, Adam started what is now a hugely popular online clothing business.

He told the M.E.N: “I had £1,000 in my bank and started up In The Style in one afternoon."

Adam and Binky Felstead (Image: Permission to use Adam Frisby)

“I got a friend to help me set up the website and bought six dresses to start with and slowly after about three months, the site started building."

“It was then that I looked into collaborating with influencers and in 2013, I teamed up with The Only Way is Essex star, Lauren Pope.”

Since then, Adam has collaborated with dozens of female celebrities and bloggers and talks of plans to team up with Love Island star, Dani Dyer.

He added: “Exam results don’t stop you from achieving what you want to achieve."

“I am a prime example of someone who had nothing. But, if you put your mind to it and work really hard, it won’t stop you.”


Published 19th August 2018 by Sophie Halle-Richards for Manchester Evening News