Now Teacher James Neophytou, Cohort 2020, describes his main motivation for moving from being an Executive Partner at IBM to teaching maths.


“If you are receptive and humble, mathematics will lead you by the hand.” 

– Paul Dirac, Nobel Laureate in Physics, 1933


The trigger

In January 2020, the World Economic Forum published a report called “Schools of the Future: Defining New Models of Education for the Fourth Industrial Revolution” as part of its ‘Education 4.0’ initiative. 

They explained that the phrase ‘Industry 4.0’ was coined in Germany to describe their new industrial strategy. It means the convergence of digital technologies, automation, connected systems, data science and machine learning.

The “4.0” reflects the next wave of industrial development following the first industrial revolution. It goes something like this: Industry 1.0: mechanisation (the 1800s); 2.0: mass production (early 1900s); 3.0: computerisation (1960s) and now 4.0 being today’s interconnected world.

The report placed the UK quite low down in countries with the digital skills to master this Fourth Industrial Revolution.

At the time, I was an Executive Partner at the technology company IBM.  I led the division called Intelligent Connected Operations. Around 90 of us delivered services to energy clients using Artificial Intelligence and Connected technologies – in power stations, oil rigs, manufacturing plants, water treatment facilities and electricity distribution grids. This is known as ‘Critical National Infrastructure’ – life would grind to a halt if it stopped working. 

I saw the report as a call for help and considered that my three decades in the corporate field could be harvested for value beyond my immediate clients.

The impulse

I had by that time already been to a couple of Now Teach events to listen to Lucy Kellaway, Katie Waldegrave and their guests speak about the move from the corporate world to the classroom. I was blessed in my Act I and needed an Act II. 

I said to myself: I could either continue going to these pleasant cheese and wine evenings and doing nothing about it, or I could make the leap. 

After some personal financial engineering and planning, I decided to jump. I considered that I had enough runway for one more career.

I haven’t looked back for a single second.

The move

I chose to teach maths for two reasons. Firstly, it is a ‘shortage’ subject. I had heard about teachers of other subjects covering maths lessons and allegedly struggling to teach it. There were bursaries on offer, and there were salaried positions in schools. Clearly, a crying need. And secondly, it is the heartbeat of our digital world and the basis of the data science and algorithms that guide every movement of our lives.

According to a recent report by the Institute for the Future (IFTF) and Dell Technologies, around 85% of the jobs that today’s learners will be doing in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet. Our students will go out into cyber-security, autonomous cars, intelligent communications, and digital collaboration. I could make a difference using this most fundamental of building blocks: mathematics. Maths is everywhere, and it carries a heavy load.

I also knew about so-called “maths anxiety.” People often boast or apologise (I can never tell which it is) about their lack of maths skills.  There is no reason for this.  It’s a beautiful subject. Elegant, pure, honest, completely unbiased and objective. And true. And everyone can do it.

I went for the School Direct route, employed by a school as a trainee teacher. First term: watching and listening. Observations. Tentative first steps. Making mistakes. Trying again. Failing again. Failing better. Growing confidence. Faking it until I could make it. Learning to juggle seven things at once: that is what teachers do, several times a day.

My school has an established training programme. I had eight other trainees around me in various subjects. We have superb support and coaching from the best role models in the country.

Not long into my employment, I asked about using my corporate experience to teach maybe economics or business. In the blink of an eye, the Head of Department bit my hand off – I was teaching an additional four hours a week to help an understaffed economics team. I could talk about my real experiences with operations, finance, cash flow, supply chain, HR, technology, and the ‘Marketing Mix.’ Hopefully, without being a tedious bore.

I believe that intergenerational connections benefit both older adults and youth. I would encourage anyone considering what to do with their own Act II to focus on sharing your knowledge and preparing the next generation for the world of work. This could be by becoming a teacher or through any combination of mentoring, coaching, training, tutoring or community engagement.

After so many years spent contemplating changing career, I can say now that it was the best decision. Knowing that I am helping address the need for teachers of STEM subjects is very rewarding and it has given me a renewed sense of purpose.     

If you'd like to hear how another Now Teacher moved from the corporate world to teach a STEM subject, check out this blog about former Investment Banker Atish Mistry.