Ryan Davies is not great when it comes to being told what to do.
He knows it.
But it’s a characteristic that has determined his outlook on life, affected his career, and turned him into the entrepreneurial boss of a company now turning over around £1million.
Not bad for a lad who only left school with one GCSE.
On Monday Ryan, Managing Director of North East-based company Surge, returns to the University of Sunderland where he studied to inspire and speak to students.
Ryan graduated in 2005 from an Electronic Media Design programme at the University. The preceding three years gave him the foundation he needed to succeed – and succeed on his own terms.
“I was never any good at taking instructions,” adds Ryan. “So I guess starting my own business was something I’d always considered doing.
“But I wasn’t academic at school and left with virtually no qualifications. I went to college and ended up on an art course.”
The art course, at Accrington & Rossendale College, inspired the young entrepreneur enough to send him packing to the North East where a graphics design course at Newcastle College led to a place at the University of Sunderland.
The programme would be the spark that lit a fire inside Ryan and, after three years, he was inspired, motivated, and armed with the necessary tools to begin freelancing.
“At first, I was doing flash websites, back in the day,” recalls Ryan. “That lasted about eight months before I was taken on by North East games company, Eutechnyx, staying there for more than two years.
“We were working on games like Ferrari Challenge and Pimp my Ride; it was good, I enjoyed it.”
But that fire in Ryan’s belly pushed him on, and when the offer of a job on the Isle of Wight came calling, he headed south.
“But the job never materialised,” added Ryan. “I ended up living in my girlfriend’s sister’s caravan. It was a bit of a nightmare.”
More freelance work followed before Ryan was taken on by Stainless Games, where he worked on projects including Happy Tree Friends and Atari Classics.
But always looking for the next challenge, Ryan returned to the North East and achieved what he had always set out to do – starting his own business.
In 2010 he co-founded app-development company Gospelware which, over the next eight years, grew to employ 20 people.
By 2018, new challenges beckoned, and so Surge came into existence.
Ryan describes the company – which falls under the banner Stealth Industries – as a ‘management consultancy that makes things better for businesses using technology’.
Sitting alongside Surge is the product division of Stealth, Arcems, which creates compliance software for emergency helicopter services.
The company went from having four employees to 19 in just two years. It’s been a huge success story for Ryan but, as he is first to point out, it didn’t come without taking risks.
“When I left the University I was single, had no children and no mortgage,” he recalls. “But when I started Surge I was married with two kids and a house to pay off.
“I suppose what I’m saying is that there’s always that risk. The risk of failure, the risk that something won’t succeed.
“When I speak to the students I want them to know that it is a risk worth taking.
“Yes, they will make mistakes, yes, they will fall down, and yes people will tell you that you can’t do it. Don’t believe them – you can.”
And Ryan did.
At 38 he now knows what he wants out of life and, more importantly how to go about getting it.
But when he looks back, he can still see where those early seeds of ambition were planted.
“University gave me the time and support to create a portfolio of work, to give me a direction to go in,” he recalls. “I worked hard, sometimes morning until night, but it was a brilliant three years and a time I will never forget.”