My Biggest Mistake: Howard Mighell

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The Independent Online
Howard Mighell, 36, studied accountancy at Bristol and joined accountants Binder Hamlyn in 1984. He worked for them in New York for two years, and left in 1994 for electronic security firm IES as financial director. He joined John Hall in 1997 to found Moving Waves, and they took over Metrodome, a group in film distribution, video rental and records

PERHAPS MY biggest mistake was reading accountancy at university - and staying in accountancy too long. The studying was a disaster. I passed my professional exams easily, but in terms of broadening my horizons, it closed an awful lot of doors.

I moved into corporate finance quickly. When I came back from New York, I was 29 and spent three years within corporate finance: I wasn't happy, but then I had no real aspirations to find myself another partner to work with. I didn't really quite know how, or have the balls to go out and do it.

I think I knew, as soon as I got back from the States, that the politicking of the accounting partnership was not something that appealed to me. I enjoyed my job and it was a challenge, but it wasn't going to satisfy me from a personal point of view.

I was waiting for the right opportunity. A number presented themselves, but how hard was I looking? I had to decide: was I going to commit myself to the profession for the rest of my life? There was no guarantee of partnership, and I'd be striving to achieve that. The prospect of being a career senior manager, albeit well paid, didn't appeal. I wanted to make my mark on the other side.

The move I made to IES didn't turn out to be the right one but, even then, I never thought I would go back to the profession. It was a question of taking the opportunity that was offered me.

After I said I was leaving Binder Hamlyn, one or two of the partners were keen to keep me, but they said: "We're surprised you didn't do it ages ago." Since then, I have never questioned that I had made the right decision.

Having got a taste of a smaller company at IES, I left there and started to build my own concept. John and I met, and after that it was a question of doing the right deals.

Now, when I have a drink with my former accounting colleagues, they drive me mad. They say the same things they said six years ago. I would be doing the same - working silly hours but not getting an awful lot of satisfaction, then spending two hours in the pub moaning about it.

I see people now who are four or five years younger than me, and it makes me think those last three years as an accountant were wasted.

You ought to know fairly early in your profession whether you are going to be a profession-person - otherwise you have to look elsewhere. Once you have decided that, and once the learning curve starts to flatten, that's the time to move.