After Jesus College Cambridge he did his national service and was disappointed when he was not selected for officer training because, he says, he did not have leadership potential.
He then trained as an accountant and still boasts that he won distinctions in his accountancy exams. He caught the spotlight as a bright young senior partner at Cooper & Lybrand.
When, in 1990, the accountancy industry endured a painful consolidation, Mr Gough became determined to make Coopers Britain's pre-eminent firm. He drove through the merger with Deloitte Haskins & Sells with what is now viewed as characteristic aggression.
Job losses associated with the merger are said to have shocked senior partners of the firm.
Associates say he is an intensely shy person, uncomfortable in small groups. But his sense of competition is unimpaired and his friends agree that he had been looking to move on to a senior post at a City bank for some time.