How Mark Blythe sold businesses to students

Seeing an opportunity to make their fortunes in introducing companies to graduates, Mark Blythe and his university chum took their idea on the road.


Mark Blythe, Group GTI

When Mark Blythe, 43, was at university, his career path looked sorted. It was 1986, he was studying estate management and Margaret Thatcher's housing boom was in full swing.Moreover, because he was at Reading University, the best in Britain in this field, property development companies were queueing up to offer graduates jobs.

But the clumsy overtures these companies made him see another, more lucrative, opportunity.

"Back then firms had a very basic way of contacting students. They would just put something up on the department noticeboard." With a friend, Blythe developed a student yearbook with articles on relevant job markets and advertisements from employers. They began putting the book together and contacting employers.

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"They loved the idea. We made a few mistakes on the way, but they were prepared to give us a second chance because we were young and they saw the potential."

One mistake proved fortuitous. Blythe contacted construction firm Balfour Beatty, believing it was a property developer. "It was embarrassing when we realised we'd made a mistake, but then they asked if we could do one for construction too." The pair realised their idea had big potential.

Graduation freed Blythe and his partner to work on the business full time. They set up Group GTI and targeted other degree courses, soon realising they'd need to get on the road. "Finance was taking over as one of the fastest-growing industries for graduate recruitment, but the banks wouldn't find the top candidates in Reading."

They approached Cambridge and Oxford universities, who let them distribute a new version of the book to their students. Soon the firm was producing specialised yearbooks on a range of subjects. "The great thing about the business was that every year you'd have a fresh group of students who companies would want to target."

With business booming, the pair had the funds to roll with industry changes, such as the rise of online recruitment, and set up international versions of the book. "Germany and Ireland went well France was less successful."

By 2006 annual sales hit £10m, but Blythe and his partner were ready to sell. "We felt we had taken it as far as we could." A private-equity firm bought GTI for an undisclosed sum and Blythe was a free man. This didn't last long.

Always a keen sailor "I grew up on the south coast" Blythe invested in OceanLED, a struggling start-up pioneering the use of LED lights in superyachts. Initially, he was a silent partner, but, when he saw the advances in LEDs, he began to look for other ways to make money from them.

"LEDs are more energy efficient and require less maintenance than traditional bulbs. When I first got involved they were prohibitively expensive, but the price started coming down."

Blythe's original degree course came in handy as he realised LEDs' low running costs would appeal to firms running large, multi-site estates. He funded a new division of the group called Lietcorp and put together the research and development team needed to develop new LED light applications and fittings.

So far he's sold shelf lights to Boots and helped light up the All Bar One pub chain. With energy bills rising, Blythe is confident he's on to another winning idea.

James graduated from Keele University with a BA (Hons) in English literature and history, and has a NCTJ certificate in journalism.


After working as a freelance journalist in various Latin American countries, and a spell at ITV, James wrote for Television Business International and covered the European equity markets for the London bureau. 


James has travelled extensively in emerging markets, reporting for international energy magazines such as Oil and Gas Investor, and institutional publications such as the Commonwealth Business Environment Report. 


He is currently the managing editor of LatAm INVESTOR, the UK's only Latin American finance magazine.