At university, I got sponsorship from Associated British Foods who gave me jobs in different parts of the company during my vacations. I would be canning peas in Kings Lynn, baking bread in Bristol or milling flour in Liverpool. When I graduated, they gave me a job in Wales where I supervised a production line making chocolate wafers. There I was as a graduate working with these lovely Welsh ladies - it was great exposure. When you arrive they think you are a complete idiot but no matter how posh you speak or wherever you are from it cannot be a barrier because you have to get involved. If you want to swan around as a high flyer, you won't get very far, to solve problems and motivate people, you have to behave like a normal human being. I think sport taught me that - it's not what you do it's what you and 14 others do.
I got fed up in Wales because I thought everybody in London was having a great time. You think the girls are prettier, and there you are miserable out in the sticks. I told the company I wasn't happy and they sent me to Devises where I managed a pizza base production line. The bases weren't coming out round so I had to sort that out. Then I was put in charge of a frozen gateaux factory where the wastage levels were a disaster. Within two weeks the margins were coming out right but I had done nothing. I discovered that my predecessor had been filling the boot of his car with cakes and selling them at the market.
Associated British Foods then sent me to business school but when I came out they were expecting me to go back to the same jobs after doing all that extra training. So I wrote to the boss at Argyll Group and he gave me a job in Stockport doubling my salary. I think short, sharp approaches to people are the best, one side of A4 at the maximum, you need to get to your message very clearly - that got me in front of people who offered me a job. I was made Operations Director of a frozen food business called Cordon Bleu. I was 24, so it was a great break. Two years later, after I had become a Distribution Director for Argyll, I saw an advert for Area Manager of Tie Rack. I rang the boss and said: "I don't want to be an Area Manager - what else is going on?" They had this idea about franchising and they put me in charge, it all happened very quickly. Three years later, I was asked to run the company. It was great fun because we had a lot of like minded people really pushing on and making it work.
We began opening stores all over the world but it went wrong when we hired a man to run the English operation whose value system was different to ours - I was very unhappy. Then I was introduced to the chairman of Whittard. I bought half the business in 1988 and we took it from three stores to the 109 we have today.
You have a responsibility to have a go, what does it matter if you fail? I have four children now and I don't care what they do as long as they try. Don't be pushy, be confident, if you want the job say so and say why.
Interview by Michael GreenwoodReuse content