FOR many 21-year-olds, getting up in time for college lectures is about as far as the concept of responsibility goes.

Following the sudden death of his businessman father, however, Chris Thomas had to learn how to take the lead in life.

Mr Thomas was just 18 when his father suffered a fatal stroke in 2016. In the days, weeks and months that followed, the young man stepped up to the plate, sorting out his father’s estate and business affairs. And, three years on, he’s the successful CEO of Incovo, the telecommunications firm Richard Thomas – the former chairman of Boxing Scotland – had spent 15 years building.

“In the last three years we’ve grown and flourished, expanding from five to 15 full-time staff. We're driving the business forward,” says the young entrepreneur, who lives in Edinburgh. “Our aim is to be the biggest and best independent telecoms company in Scotland.

“I came in as an engineer then moved into a management role, and since November I’ve been running the company."

Was taking on the business a difficult decision?

“I don’t remember making a decision as such," he explains. "It just happened. I knew what I had to do and just got on with it. I hope my dad would be proud of what I’ve done. I’m proud of myself – I’ve achieved a lot in a short time and there’s hopefully much more to come.”

With three offices, and staff and contractors working across Scotland, the UK and internationally, Mr Thomas is clearly steering the company in the right direction. But he is keen to acknowledge that he couldn’t have done it on his own.

“I’ve learned a lot from others over the last three years, especially our global solutions director, Ray, who worked with my dad for many years," he says. "The most important skill I’ve learned is how to listen. I realise now that every decision you make has a knock-on effect on your business and the staff.

“At first I worried about being the boss when most of my staff are much older. But most of the time we work as team.

“Most people don’t have an issue with my age. When you’re a forward-thinking business it’s all about collaboration. I know where we need to be and it’s all about how we as a team make that happen.”

Mr Thomas, who left school at the age of 16, says the thing he enjoys most about being an entrepreneur is the creative aspect, having ideas and seeing them come to fruition. And he believes in our increasingly digitally-focussed world many more young people have the skills and attributes to be their own boss.

“The gig economy highlights that you don’t necessarily need lots of money to start a business," he says. "What you need is knowledge and connections, and those things are achievable thanks to technology and social media. You need to be driven and focused. It’s the skillset you have plus your mindset that equals the business you can create. The key to it all is hard work – all successful people in history have that in common.

“The world is changing and we need to ensure young people learn communication skills. Ideas and creativity are becoming more important than qualifications.”

As for the future, Mr Thomas is brimming with ideas, and as well as growing Incovo, he hopes to find an entrepreneurial outlet for his passion for DJ-ing.

“There are so many things I’d like to do,” he says. “What happened to my dad has made me realise that we don’t have a huge amount of time – you have to make the most of it and do things you want to do.”