Monthly Archives: March 2012

The business of life (Chapter 4 – in which I encounter success)

That first Monday morning of my new job, suffering from the shortest haircut I had ever had, I waited nervously in ourLondon training department with my fellow recruits for our tormentor to arrive.   Having all assembled ridiculously early we compared notes and discovered we had, without exception, suffered similar fates at interview.  McColl had not arrived by 9.00am, our advised start time and we grew more nervous by the minute.  Finally, at 9.15, the door burst open and in he bounded with an energy that belied his advancing years.  Silence didn’t break out; we had all sat wordless since long before 9.00am barely daring to breathe.  He stared at us with that awful unblinking gaze and proceeded to inspect each one of us in minute detail before taking up position at the front.  We waited.

Image courtesy of oldwoodies.com

“This course is entitled “An approach to selling,” McColl barked at us.  “But it could just as easily be called an approach to f***ing!  If you don’t ask for the order, you won’t bloody well get one and if you don’t ask for a f***, as sure as hell you aren’t going to get one either!  So, don’t waste time in the evenings this week,” he went on slowly breaking into a broad grin, “get out there and try your luck, it’s bloody good practice.”  We roared with relieved laughter. During each day that week McColl worked us hard (and we worked equally hard at our homework).  By Friday evening we were pronounced fit to be junior salesmen for the London Division.  And it is no exaggeration to say that by then Rex McColl was our hero and every one of us would have followed him into hell.

An interesting footnote to that initial course was that it was the very first in our company to produce salesmen that didn’t employ the scripted approach.  The accepted wisdom in all major firms until that time was that the sales message was simply too important to be varied; it had to be learnt and delivered word-perfect.  Every potential objection had been envisaged and answers scripted that had had to be delivered verbatim.  Woe betides any poor soul who forgot his lines when accompanied by his manager!  My cohort was the first to break free and be allowed to use our own words (within guidelines) to sell ourselves and to win the orders.  All these years on I laugh when I receive the dreadful, scripted telephone cold call; what goes around comes around (but it hasn’t been improved).

The following Monday I collected my very first company car (a Morris Minor Traveller, for those interested in such things, which was then the only new car in our road) and began a week of shadowing a number of the old hands.  Now a member of a 350 strong national team, it was still a fairly mechanistic process calling on large numbers of grocery outlets, counting stock, calculating sales and order requirements and selling-in whatever special offers or new products there were that visit.  As a junior salesman my role was to cover for the territory salesmen absent on holiday or sick leave (no ladies in our team then).  Our company was at that time a force to be reckoned with.  Brand leaders across all of our ranges, we as manufacturers, ruled supreme over mere retailers.  Tesco or corner shop, if we were on TV with a new product, you simply had to have it; and they did.  We even got to the point where we controlled the layout and space allocation of our products and even allotted space to competition.  Halcyon days for manufacturers.

It wasn’t long before I was assigned my own territory, making anything up to 28 sales calls in one day.  I quickly learnt the ropes and found that if I managed to make my first call by 7.30 am (usually a large supermarket accessed by the goods entrance) I could usually finish by mid-afternoon.  That first summer I worked on my tan in many of London’s parks and had the first of many car crashes (usually due to letting my attention wander in traffic – this was the dawning age of the mini-skirt).  I forget how many accidents but it was far too many.  Finally, after suffering a collision, when someone drove into me whilst I had parked, I was admonished by the lofty figure of Frank Cryer: “You might well have been parked, with the handbrake on, but you would have done well to ask yourself if you should have been there in the first place.  Your luck is running out here!”  Shortly afterwards the company announced that all salesmen had to undergo the Institute of Advanced Motorists test; I passed at first attempt and again two years later when we were all required to undergo a retest.  Despite the advanced driver training, I still drove far too fast and was soon caught in one of London’s first radar speed traps.

In those days supermarkets were in their infancy with none of the giant stores we have today.  But lack of sheer size was more than compensated for by some of the characters managing them.  There was one infamous character managing a Tesco store in Clapham Junction I had heard plenty about but had yet to meet.  Breezing into his store before official opening time one morning, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the PA system booming into life; “Get off my f***ing clean floor , you stupid c*@&!  Can’t you f***ing well see it’s just been washed? F*** orf.”  I somehow never did manage to forge what might have passed for a relationship of equals with him and some time later he was stabbed by a shoplifter he was trying to apprehend.

Another well known terroriser of humble salesmen was the manageress of a rather scruffy but busy supermarket in Brixton.  Having suffered meekly several verbal onslaughts from her, I found myself at the receiving end of one of her merciless outbursts one afternoon (when I was probably a little under par).  I forget the details of the actual exchange but I stood my ground and gave as good as I had been given, storming out after informing her that I couldn’t deal with someone as ignorant as her.  Racked with guilt (and the implications)  over the following days I went back, looked her in the eye, and made an abject apology.  She stared at me for what seemed an eternity before grinning broadly and informing me “Well, I would never have thought you had it in you.  Would you like a cuppa?”  We were best mates after that.

The supermarkets in the 60’s were like the Wild West in comparison to today’s slick operations.  Thieving was going on both sides of the tills.  Head offices ran the branches as a cost centre billing the branches for goods at the official selling out price, which was supposed to be strictly enforced.  But with ‘shrinkage’ (damaged or spoiled goods and loss from shoplifting) running at an average of 2.5% nationally, managers would have to employ more than a little ingenuity to get the books to balance.  One of the easiest ways was to lean on salesmen to issue credit notes for stock damaged on delivery that didn’t exist.  However, a good trick was ‘buncing’ – putting an extra amount here and there on prices to offset the losses.  Officially frowned upon as a practice, managers could get away with this as area directors’ main concern was also balancing the books.

The more adventurous managers found that a penny here and there (so to speak) could easily be diverted into their own pockets.  For example, stores had to cash up each day and bank the contents of the tills and this sum had to tally with the till rolls.  More than one store had the idea that if they closed off the tills an hour earlier each day they would end up with a surplus set of till rolls and takings.  One legendary manager even had the nerve, when his new, extra large store was being built, to fit in an extra till; his very own.

Over and above learning to be street-wise and survive the rough and tumble of life in the stores, I worked hard at my role and took pride in my work and sales results.  However, at my first annual appraisal I was complimented on the sales results but taken to task over my ‘appalling administration’.  Horrified, I determined to improve and did, managing the following year to be patted on the back for the best administration in the division.

I was succeeding and I was enjoying myself.  How long could this happy state of affairs last?

The business of life (part 3 – another false start)

My sister worked at the time for Unilever in the grandeur of corporate headquarters in Blackfriars.  Home one evening, she announced that having spoken with the personnel department they had said they would interview me.  Having spent the last three months convalescing and generally treating myself gently (very gently in fact) I had to admit that I should really start the process of getting back to the world of work.  Meanwhile, my consultant had sternly instructed me that brass instruments were no longer a part of my life:  ‘Too much pressure on that lung, laddie’.  So, the much loved trumpet had been part-exchanged one afternoon in the Charing Cross Road for a classical guitar and I was already making great progress with my lessons.

Suitably sombrely suited, my interview went well enough and I found myself taken on as a trainee accountant in the Central Accounts Group.  My new boss was a remote ex army officer who barely recognised the existence of his new lad and I was quickly assigned to Mr. Crabbe his chief clerk.  Nothing much seemed to happen in our office for the first couple of weeks and a stultifying boredom soon settled upon me, interrupted only by dear old Crabbe’s routine.  At precisely 11.25 each morning, he would rise, take his paper and disappear off for precisely 35 minutes (I later found this was to Lyons Corner House where he ate the same dish at the same table each day).  When he returned he would sit upright in his chair and close his eyes for the remaining 25 minutes of his lunch hour.  With nothing else to do each day I was told to busy myself with the FT,  Stock Exchange Gazette and the Investor’s Chronicle.  Unfortunately, not a lot stuck.

An organ playing bachelor of advancing years Crabbe was a man of stern habit.  The first week of a new year would see him off to his tailor to be measured for a new suit which, when delivered, would form his ‘best’ for the serious responsibility of organ playing at his local church.  The old, best suit would then be worn to the office for the next year each day. Finally, his old office suit would then become essential garb for gardening duties.  Finally, the previous year’s gardening suit would soon be on its way to the church jumble sale.  Crabbe soon had me carrying out a regular programme of mental arithmetic each day and Mr. Michael, my boss soon had me crunching endless numbers for his new investment appraisal tool – the discounted cashflow.  I was never informed what the purpose of these number s was but got into trouble one day for shrieking with laughter when I read the detail of one project that referred to “a massive erection in Yorkshire” (it being a grain silo). For one week each month and three weeks each year the office routine became hectic as we went through the process of monthly and annual consolidation of the many operating company accounts and budget.  Staffed up for the peaks, the age of cost-cutting had yet to dawn.

With the sole window in our office looking out onto a light well, my horizons were literally inhibited (although the same was not true of my efforts to acquaint myself with the better class of young female employees this vast conglomerate employed).  Lunchtimes saw my cohort of fellow serfs (which now included said female company) dining well in our allotted staff restaurant of which there were 5 levels of ascending quality for the many layers of management.  Evenings called for study in book-keeping and economics.  I told myself I was living a more wholesome life, going early to bed, keeping good company and bettering myself.  The saving graces were that my guitar playing was progressing well, the company dentist had put right my years of oral neglect and I had acquired my first car and passed the driving test.  New horizons beckoned.

Worthy as the accountancy profession undoubtedly was, I decided it just wasn’t for me; I just had to get out into a more exciting and challenging world.  With not a word to my boss, I marched into the personnel office one day and announced that I thought that my talents would be much better employed as a salesman in one of the operating companies.  ‘Well,’ they said without to-do, ‘If that is what you think you are suited to, we’ll have to organise some interviews for you.’  True to their word, a week later I was informed that I should present myself for interview with a Mr. McColl the Sales Training Manager at the offices of Van den Burgh and Jurgens, the group company that made and marketed edible fats and oils (margarine and cooking fats to you and |).

Shortly before the allotted hour, I presented myself at the reception desk resplendent (I thought) in my very newest and most sober suit and was told to proceed to the 8th floor.  Waiting for the lift, I noticed a dour looking and completely white-haired elderly man limp across the lobby straight towards me, whereupon he stopped, stared intently at me with the most piercing blue eyes I had ever seen, walked a complete circuit and barked, ‘Hair’s a bit long, laddie!’  We proceeded in silence to the eighth floor where I realised, with some horror, that this was the said McColl when he ushered me into his office.  I was directed into a chair opposite his with the mid-morning sun directly in my face.  What followed was a series of quick fire questions that I thought I handled very well.  Then, with an engaging smile, he asked my about my interests. I let my guard down and mentioned cars, amongst a few other things.  Seizing upon the motoring interest, I was immediately probed as to the exact number of time the pistons went up and down in a four stroke engine; I replied ‘twice’ getting confused under a very swift change of mood.

What followed were some of the worst moments of my young life.  ‘You’re wrong, laddie!’ my tormentor spat out, ‘And, worst than that, you’re bloody arrogant with it!’  My memory is still tortured at the defence I put up, frantically trying to explain that I had been referring to the number of complete cycles of a piston. ‘Enough!’ he roared at me, ‘This is a bloody farce and I’m going to get our Divisional Director down here to see the rubbish I’m being sent these days.’ He reached for the phone and made the call in even more explicit terms ending with, ‘You should get down here now and see for yourself before I throw him out.’  Long minutes passed in complete silence as McColl’s pure blue eyes continued to bore into me, I swear without ever blinking once.  The door then burst open and in came an equally white-haired and very distinguished Frank Cryer.  The grilling continued for what seemed an age whilst I tried to convince them both that a simple error had occurred, I wasn’t arrogant in the slightest and that I did really have what it took for a career in sales.  Silence followed for what, again, seemed an age.  They, then, both looked at each other, smiled and Frank Cryer said, ‘Well, done.  We’ll get you on the next training course.’ And rose and shook my hand.

 A career in sales was about to start; could I hack it?

Image courtesy of Stanhope Plc

My life in business (chapter 2 – a false start)

You could say that I had it easy when, at the age of fifteen, I walked straight into an office job.  Many of my neighbourhood contemporaries followed fathers and uncles into ‘the print’ (nepotism was and is not the exclusive practice of the upper classes it is portrayed to be today).  Still they earned comparatively vast sums, sharing the cash proceeds of additional & fictitious men signed on for the particularly lucrative Saturday night-shift under such names as M. Mouse & D. Duck.  Little did they know their future as they waited unknowing for Messrs Shah and Murdoch to make dinosaurs of them.  Well, perhaps I did have it easy at first; with unemployment hovering around a genuine level of 350,000, competition for jobs was low.  But did it ensure I was set up for life?  Did it mean career success would surely follow?   That was something else, which as we’ll see was far from straightforward.

 Work in the swinging sixties started well for me.  Learning the basics of clerical work in the world of industrial and consumer finance at the Mercantile Credit Company was easy enough.  The language, culture and scams of the industry were quickly assimilated and I was soon made assistant to the office manager and commuting into central London on my first motor bike (my first experience of the NHS A & E service following soon after). The routine was stultifying and even the typists were boring.  One highlight full of excitement was being despatched to repossess an ageing Lambretta from an unsuspecting debtor.  But parallel to my commercial endeavours was a social world that was exploding into espresso bars, pubs, rock and roll, jive, miniskirts and a growing lack of deference to the establishment that was especially refreshing to an ex catholic organ pumper fluent in church Latin pronunciation.  Penguin’s publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover did much to provide additional and extremely relevant study material.

London’s music scene was exploding.  My haunts soon became the 100 Club, the Marquee, the Flamingo, the 51 Club and Eel Pie Island.  Flush with money, or so it seemed, I lived a double life.  I spent money on sharply tailored bespoke suits for the office where I tried hard to appear successful, but office hours over, a carefully cultivated downbeat style was adopted for nights out.  I still drank with my old South London friends in various local and East End pubs on Friday nights but my alter ego would meet with a group of more eclectic friends in a variety of West End and Hampstead coffee bars and pubs. I was never much of a drinker though, and it would be a rare occasion when I was not sober.  A hard drug scene had also blossomed into the mainstream of the London club scene but it never, ever, even tempted me.  My avid reading of the lives of my jazz and blues heroes had taught me that it was drugs that usually destroyed talent.

Carried away with the London jazz scene, I bought a trumpet and having soon gathered sufficient fellow adherents to the New Orleans style, I formed a band, the Storyville Shakers.  With enthusiasm exceeded only by an execrable lack of talent, we tried hard to swing into the London scene with a Sunday lunchtime appearance at a pub in decidedly unfashionable Lambeth.  The experience soon provided my first encounter with an iron law of music; organising a band is worse than herding cats – leadership 0, anarchy 1. I continued playing, sitting in with any bands I could.  A highlight was an afternoon spent playing in a band on the Aldermaston CND March.  I still remember a soaring solo I made (cribbed note perfect from a treasured record) on ‘Just a closer walk with thee’ as we marched past the Houses of Parliament. I had rebelled enough to have made a statement (or so it seemed at the time).

Soon, a serious manifestation of the World’s risky existence settled on my consciousness in the form of the Cuban Missile crisis.  Huddled over a pint in the Lamb & Flag in Covent Garden with the Evening Standard trumpeting imminent nuclear annihilation, I feared my life was over before it had begun.  However, a few long days later, the crisis passed when Khrushchev blinked first.London resumed its swinging and I was able to concentrate on succeeding in both job and social life.  But, despite the success of the social revolution, there were still only 24 hours in a day and every one was taking its toll on me.

On a rare evening when I had actually gone to bed before midnight (if at all), I woke choking and coughing violently.  Switching on the light revealed a scene more a slaughterhouse than a bedroom; I was haemorrhaging. The coughing itself was nothing new; it had been with me for months along with a severe reduction in weight.  A few days before, finally realising all was not right, I had taken myself off to the doctor, been examined and referred for an x-ray that same day (things in the NHS worked back in the Sixties). Seated that afternoon in front of a fatherly looking consultant, he informed me that I had a shadow on my right lung and that it was TB.  The shock ratcheted up when he wanted to hospitalise me that same afternoon.  Blind panic set in; my world really was ending.  How could I just go into hospital that same day?  I argued and pleaded for a few more days to pull my mind and my affairs together. My pleading worked and I spent the next few days telling my girlfriend, band, other friends and employer that I was going to be away some time. That delay was a big mistake.

Whisked away in an ambulance with bells clanging (that’s what they did in those days) I was incarcerated in Grove Park Hospital, a TB sanatorium in South-east London, for what was an indefinite period.  Originally built as a workhouse over a century before, the building retained an all pervading grimness throughout.  The initial shock of restriction of liberty was far greater than that of the bloody incident itself.  Once I adjusted and gave myself over to my narrowed horizons, life was not too bad; apart from my backside which was fast becoming a pincushion from daily injections of the then wonder drug streptomycin (which was going to have very unfortunate side effects years later).

Daily ward routines were made tolerable by a delightful young Irish trainee nurse who used to chat to me (whenever Sister was safely out of sight) and share tales of her fumbling attempts to learn the art of injections with the aid of an orange.  Several days later Bridget arrived looking exceptionally nervous.  Sister declared that nurse would be giving me my injection that day.  Oh, shit! Her very first live attempt!  Buttocks bared, teeth & cheeks clenched and desperately trying to remember which of the many saints to whom prayer was likely be the most efficacious, I was most painfully impaled.  Slowly, over the next few weeks, the cough departed and weight started coming back.

My fellow inmates and I soon settled into a routine of sorts.  We all had to produce a urine sample on a weekly basis and much discussion and ribaldry centred on the varying colours and hues of our productions, lined up on the window ledge in the bathroom on Monday mornings.  Ours was a large ward with few patients, simply me and a young Jamaican lad, two Pakistani seaman and a middle aged Greek shopkeeper whose command of English seemed to be based around the ceaseless use of the interrogative “innit?”  One day a month or so into my confinement our tranquil existence was shattered by the arrival of an Irishman of the peripatetic persuasion.  Possessed of a particularly aggressive nature, he soon disrupted our harmony and confirmed the stereotype by disappearing one afternoon only to return late that evening.  He was not just drunk but roaring drunk, alternating bouts of atrocious singing with random acts of aggression.  The night sister merely attempted a feeble admonishment before locking the ward doors and leaving us to it.  A wretched and sleepless night followed.  My first encounter with the caring side of the nursing profession.

 One afternoon my old boss arrived and stayed long enough to tell me that I had been fired, leaving me with my ‘cards’ and a bag of grapes.  After several months I was informed that I would be able to take short walks in the grounds; oh, joy!  Clad in now ill-fitting clothes I wandered the gardens surrounding the hospital soaking in a state of semi freedom. Illcared for and downright scruffy the gardens might have been but to me they were a paradise found for reflective thought.  I soon decided that life was going to have change completely.

One bright winter morning some weeks later, I was discharged back into the world as a changed person with no career.  What now?

Image courtesy of FFFFound.com

My life in business (chapter 1)

I grew up in central London.  No, not the genteel bits ofWestminster, Pimlico and Chelsea but the deeply unfashionable parts a couple of miles south of London Bridge and west of the Old Kent Road.  We lived in Walworth, just south of that wonderful landmark, the Elephant and Castle,  a traffic clogged island, and now home to probably the worst example of a shopping centre ever created (due for demolition this year – worth a miss).  The area didn’t even have the dubious dignity of being within the sound of Bow Bells, so I can’t even lay claim to being a proper Cockney (even though I am still clearly recognised as a Londoner).

To say I grew up as an example of childhood poverty would rob my family of the dignity we had, be an attempt to misrepresent the love I received from my parents and anyway, the family life we enjoyed was in blissful ignorance of such social-political phraseology.  Certainly, a tin bath in front of the fire on Friday evenings never did any of us any harm and weekly bathing was still the norm in our street.

My early playgrounds were the bombsites that still littered London in the 50’s and well into the 60’s.  Superficially ‘cleared’, these acrid smelling sores contained a profusion of weeds, half-uncovered cellars (under the ubiquitous clogging Bindweed) waiting for the unwary and made convenient shortcuts between streets.  Later, when I was a little older and trusted to navigate by myself on London’s buses and on my hand-me-down bike, I ventured out to the many parks that breathed life into our capital, soaking up the sights and sounds along with the sun that always seemed to shine.  A favourite was BrockwellPark, home to that wonderful lido (first port of call on a bunked-off summer school day).

We were a God-fearing family and it’s fair to say that religion played a strong part in my early life.  We prayed together and we stayed together.  The first real influence of my father came when he handed me over to the parish priest at the local church for regular lessons in the Latin of Catholic prayer and the rituals of serving at altar.  Being universally declared tone deaf by church and school, I was excluded from the choir but, instead, made chief pumper of the ageing manual organ, high up in the loft.  Memories linger even today of that curious and sickly mix of incense and body odour wafting past the old organist and I on its journey to the heavens.

Looking back, poor as we were, I realise that my father bequeathed strong influences and powerful gifts to me.  But by far the greatest gift was a love of reading.  Curled up tight in bed, I would listen intently to the stories he read to me.  Later when about seven or eight I was thrilled when he delivered me one Saturday morning to the library at Southwark Town Hall to join the Young Readers’ Book Club.  Gathered in a half circle around a pretty young librarian we listened enraptured as she read to us and then guided our choice of books for the week ahead.  By age ten I had exhausted the junior library’s stock of books and once more my father took me in hand, across the corridor, into the hushed, enormous room that was the adult library.  Being years too young, my father had cleared the way with the head librarian who nodded sagely at the sight of me and solemnly handed over my very own senior library tickets.  Roaming the adult library was, for me, like being let loose in the biggest sweetshop in the world.  For hours I would scour the shelves in the non-fiction sections for histories of war, of tortured victims, of great suffering and great escapes, long journeys and of adventure in far-flung places.

A cabinet maker born of Irish parents, my father (and son of Joseph of whom I have blogged ‘So you think we have it hard’), married my mother, the youngest of seven siblings from her Italian parents and the only one to be born in the UK.   Protective of me in an extreme, Mum and her side of the family taught me always to be welcoming of strangers and to offer whatever hospitality you had.  Somewhat an oddity, my father belonged to a rare group as a right-wing trade unionist who read the Daily Telegraph.  So, every Saturday morning after I got my hands on the paper, I would read the book reviews, make my pick of the latest publications and run off to the library, where for six old pence I could order and reserve my book choice (no budget cuts then).  Several weeks later a post card would come informing me that my book had arrived and a pristine new copy awaited me. The library also had a huge record section which I set about trawling from A~Z and it is from these old recordings that I found favourites that have stayed with me to the present day, of Bach and the Baroque, the great Italian tenors, through to Blues and Jazz.

My father was a solitary man, without friends, but he always seemed to make the right decisions over who I should be introduced to for guidance.  So, also at the age of ten, I was marched (father never merely walked) off to meet the leader of the local Scout troop, The 15th Southwark.  What followed were four or five years of bliss.  From the claustrophobia of London, scouting transported me into the countryside, which I loved at first sight.  Scouting gave me new skills and confidence, and provided me with leadership opportunities for the first time.  We must have been a typical bunch of local lads but only one of which was I ever to meet again.  However, one of my friends went on to become a future CEO of Sainsburys.  I wonder if anyone else of our past scouting colleagues achieved anything in business.

I must have been reasonably bright as I was the only child in my junior school to pass the Eleven Plus that year.  Memories?  Warm milk, the scrapes I got in on the way home, Betty my first crush, regular beatings in front of the class for continuous misbehaviours, one of which I still savour.  We had a very pretty young student teacher one year who wore very tight skirts which gave me more than one idea for a ten year old. I brought a carefully chosen scrap of cloth from my mother’s sewing box and, from my seat at the front of the class, I ripped it through as she bent down to pick up a dropped chalk; her reaction was better than I could ever have dreamt of and the subsequent beating a small price to pay!

Moving on to Grammar school my performance started strongly amongst the new competition but soon declined.  The school was all boys run by an obscure religious order, the Brothers of St. Francis Xavier.  Good teachers they were not but as wielders of the cane, our very own headmaster was a true sadist.  I learned to love English (the only truly inspirational teacher I had), art and athletics.  A crushing disappointment was music, where in my years at school, we played & listened to – exactly nothing.  Did I earn positions of responsibility and authority? No, but I learnt to fight back when bullied, to orchestrate mischief from the rear, to loathe religion and seethe with frustration when nobody could or would answer my continuing question; why?

At age fifteen I started a Saturday job as a junior salesman at John Collier Tailors and found I could be very persuasive and earned, what for me, was a large amount of commission on my sales. Later that summer, still only fifteen, I skipped school one day, took a number 12 bus to Oxford Circus, walked into the first recruitment office I found and announced I wanted a job.  After a short interview, I was sent that same day to the offices of a large finance company just around the corner and was offered a job as a junior clerk.  

My commercial life had started.

My life in business (Introduction)

About 20 years ago when my career was going through a patch of the doldrums, and being bored beyond belief, I started writing.   A short story roared off the pen in double quick time and then ‘the novel’ loomed large in my ambitions.  An outline was quickly sketched out and an initial series of chapters flowed before I hit the wall.  There was a need to do some serious research (background for a critical chapter) but I never got round to it as the career took an unexpected lurch forward once more.  Despite constant revisions of the material I had already written over the intervening years it progressed no further (as the research remained neglected), languishing in the dusty recesses of one hard drive after another.

 Following my retirement last year the keyboard beckoned once more as I started to map out my ‘third age’.  The sudden transition from working flat out for so many years to having all the time in the world was not an easy one. Writing was the one thing I had always said I would take up when I retired; but where to start?  I wasn’t ready to resume work on ‘the novel’ (the research remaining undone). However, having investigated social media for my last business, I decided to take the plunge and The Retrospective Entrepreneur eased into the blogosphere in the middle of last year followed shortly by my first tentative tweets.

 The last 6 months have been a revelation to me.  Followers have been won, friends have been gained from both sides of the Atlantic and views from across the spectrum have been obtained The welcome I have received from you all has been humbling and I have learnt that opinions I have taken for granted are but a small voice in the vast and varied world of social media.  Exposing myself to views from the opposite end of the political spectrum remains challenging and brings home the irreconcilability of views on many subjects.  However, these differing views have given me insights that I would never otherwise have been exposed to and I am learning, slowly, to think before I hit the send button.  I have also been driven to tears on more than one occasion at the sheer determination shown by ordinary folk in the face of far more serious obstacles than I have ever experienced.  I have roared with laughter at the humorists amongst you and at the depth of experience and insight voiced on political, economic and social issues on a daily basis.  I’ve been put in my place more than once and learnt a great deal in the process.

In just over half a year I have notched up 40 blog posts covering a wide variety of subjects including many anecdotes from my career, trying to be relevant on topics of current interest.  Taking stock of my posts I can see that the posts and subjects covered are but glimpses of experience and knowledge gained at various points in my career.  I can now see that these posts lack a unifying timeline and narrative to enable them to make more sense.  The things I have done, the successes I have had, the failures and setbacks I have experienced have made me the person I am today.  My parents and ancestors provided the genes and the personality I possess; my parents, educators, business and society have given me a framework against which to test that personality.  I am privileged to have had a great (if somewhat unconventional) education and many chances to learn the good and the hard lessons that life can throw at one.  It has taken me a great deal of time to find the details of some members of my family that I never knew and I regret bitterly all the questions I never asked of far too many I did know.

So, I have started to write my autobiography.  Not an outpouring of the most personal details (they belong, quite rightly, within my family) but a narrative covering my business career, as faithfully as I can. I have written the first series of chapters and  I am going to start publishing on my blog.  Some of the experiences and subjects I have touched upon before but, hopefully, putting them into a chronology and providing additional detail will enable a fuller picture to emerge of where I have been and why I am the person I am today. Some of the characters you have met before but many who have had a formative influence upon my career are new.  Some of the characters enter the narrative as themselves and some will (as before) assume new identities to protect the innocent and the guilty.  Whether I can sustain the narrative and whether you will have the interest or patience to stay with me, we shall just have to see.  I don’t hold out my career or experiences to have been better or worse than others.  But they are my experiences; it is my career, it has made me who I am and I can only hope that it has some relevance in a world that is changing so rapidly.

Do let me know what you think of my recollections, favourably or otherwise. Feel free to share your own opinions and experiences.  I’m not giving myself a time schedule; we’ll just see how it goes.  First chapter this week.

Image courtesy of Fanpop.com