If childhood sets a precedent for later life, I'd have an erratic career involving plenty of international travel. My father was a brigadier in the army and I spent my formative years traveling the world. My family was never more than two years in any one place: we hopped from Australia to Canada and Gibraltar to Germany. By comparison, my career has been fairly steady: I've just hopped from accounting into investment banking and back.
Initially, I did want to go into the army. I went to Exeter University to study economics on an army sponsorship. However, after several weekends stumbling around the moors, it became apparent that I couldn't read maps. Map reading is essential for army life: it obviously wasn't for me.
Accounting seemed a good option while I decided what to do instead. When I left university in 1985 with a 2.1 in economics, I joined Price Waterhouse where I took the ACA exams and qualified first time. Then, while I contemplated joining the insolvency practice or breaking into venture capital, I stumbled into a job in investment banking.
I went to a few banking interviews, more for interview practice than anything else, and ended up with job offers from a handful of now extinct British banks: Barclays de Zoete Wedd (BZW), Hill Samuel and Samuel Montague. In 1989 I joined BZW, and got on the upwards-only escalator of investment banking in the 1990s.
Banking escalator up and down
At that time, graduate training programmes weren't well established in banks. There were very few recent graduates, very few MBAs and very few lawyers. Like me, most juniors were accountants. We had the odd negotiation and presentation course, but it was mostly a question of learning on the job. This suited me: I tend to be fairly gregarious by nature and thanks to my peripatetic childhood I've got an innate ability to make the most of things.
I was in the 'Growth Cap Companies' team. We worked with fast growing companies like ACT, a fast-growing, very acquisitive computer software company, and Reg Vardy, a motor distributor company attempting to consolidate its market. I loved it. It was very hands-on, and I've always enjoyed being a bit of an owl and a lark - working long hours with little sleep. This was fortunate as time to sleep was in short supply for corporate financiers in the 1990s.
In 1997 I did several things at once: I got engaged, got married, had a baby, and moved to a new job. I was headhunted to join what is now known as UBS, the Swiss bank, one week after the merger between Swiss Bank Corporation and SG Warburg. It was a strange time to start: I turned up just as everyone was fighting for their job, which made life difficult.
I joined the UBS Warburg combined media team with Simon Walshall and two others. We started hiring, and by 2000 the team had grown to 16.
We worked on some great deals, including the aborted merger between Carlton and United News and Media. I had a mandate to develop the media business for Warburgs and traveled a lot in Europe, particularly to the three M's - Madrid, Milan and Munich. In Italy I worked with the Fininvest Group, owned by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. I once met Berlusconi; he was wearing a green cashmere shell suit at the time surrounded by his core management team!
Warburgs was good, until the upwards escalator went into reverse. In 2001 and 2002 life as a banker became fairly difficult and unhappy across the board: there weren't many deals and banks were cutting staff.
FD at Formula One
Around that time, I met Sir Frank Williams, managing director of the Williams F1 Motor Racing team. Bernie Ecclestone, the owner of Formula One Management (FOM) was in talks with the now bankrupt Kirsch Group, the German media company that became a shareholder in FOM, and as a media banker I was involved. Frank mentioned they were looking for a finance director and before long I started talking in earnest about making the move.
In January 2003, I joined Williams F1 as finance director. It was a wonderful change and exactly what I needed after a decade in banking without pause for breath. I was out of the City, and out of London.
It was also an interesting time to be at Formula One. The company was embroiled in an ongoing battle over the division of spoils from the lucrative commercial rights. To put it briefly, the Grand Prix teams felt they are getting a raw deal from Bernie, who owns the rights.
Life at Williams F1 could be frustrating, mainly because of the inability to extract more money from Bernie. Nevertheless, I was happy and didn't plan to move on. However, in July 2004 I was looking at job advertisements in search of inspiration for an advert I was about to run for a financial controller, when I saw an advert for an FD at Haymarket. The existing FD, David Fraser, was retiring after 36 years.
I was the first person to apply, out of over 100 applicants, and I got the job after a thorough selection process. It seemed ideally suited to me: it was a finance role in a media company, which was privately owned. I went from working for a knight to a lord (Haymarket's owner is Lord Heseltine).
I've now been here for two months, and plan to stay a lot, lot longer. It's an interesting role with its own set of challenges, especially given the sheer breadth of the business portfolio, from B2C publishing to B2B publishing, exhibitions and consumer publishing in diverse areas such as the US, Hong Kong, China, Asia, Australia, Germany and India.
I can say for certain that I won't be going back to investment banking. It's become far too Americanised and far too pressurised. I'm not averse to pressure, but I think the industry's in some kind of fundamental trouble - there are too many banks chasing too few fees; it's not pressure of a good kind. I had some very happy times there, and made a number of friends for life, but as with all things it was time to move on and I couldn't be happier at the moment. I'm getting remarried to the love of my life and have a house near Oxford.
If my childhood taught me anything, it was to be a self-starter. You need to take the initiative if you want to do things in life. I took the initiative to leave banking, and I like it here.