My Biggest Mistake: James Robson

MY BIGGEST mistake was made in 1991 when I mixed business and personal affairs in a way that still causes me embarrassment and not a small amount of anger.

It was a situation that I should have seen coming: a heartwarming appeal from a close friend of an even-closer relative; my self-indulgent wish to help 'one less able' to help himself (in the process giving a new dimension to the term 'help himself'); and the capacity, through new-found success, to use money as a problem-solver.

If my business had not been successful I simply could not have been caught in this trap. Picture the situation: a long-standing and close friend (call him Uncle Ben) of a dear relative (call her Aunt Maud) falls upon hard times. Apparently misunderstood by his co-director, Uncle Ben seeks a desperate cure for his modest overdraft by apparently forging a signature on his own company's cheque. Although bound to be found out, he promptly deposits pounds 60,000 into his bank. This spells big trouble and a plea goes out within the family for help to assist misunderstood Uncle Ben.

This is where I come in. Uncle Ben is a good man, just acting out of character. So, when asked to intervene, I do. I bail him out with an expensive glow of pride.

How did Uncle Ben become so impecunious, despite a modest lifestyle and a relatively large salary? None of us asked, and none of us knew.

Uncle Ben was given a clean start, still trusted by the family, with a newly refurbished business and a brand new director - me.

It was a new era for Uncle Ben, but I should have known life is never so easy. My first big mistake having been made, here came my next.

As collateral for helping Uncle Ben, I had received some of his shares and had agreed to buy the rest at a price equal to his modest overdraft - 'a few thousand pounds'. This seemed to be a fair deal - until his hitherto silent bank manager confirmed that Uncle Ben had debts well beyond 'a few thousand'. Indeed, to my astonishment, he owed the bank pounds 125,000. I had been caught, hook, line and sinker.

Clever old Uncle Ben was not quite the innocent we had all presumed - still likeable, of course, but a little more astute than expected.

To crown it all, in my determination to right wrongs, I had inadvertently become the director of a debt-ridden company, with a head office that resembled a dilapidated Victorian workhouse, producing products in a rapidly declining market.

If only the building had been in Chelsea, but luck was not running my way. The site turned out to have little value, either as a commercial or residential base.

This was indeed a big mistake all round. My investment in faith had been made after I had completely ignored the best advice of lawyers, accountants and friends. Infallibility does not come easily and on this occasion I proved the point beyond question.

Would I do it again? No. But at the time it seemed like the thing to do.

As with all good mistakes, there are useful lessons that help you to become more successful as time goes by. Today I know how to make a brush for cleaning out the gun barrel of a Chieftain tank. And it taught me to pick my relatives more carefully.

James Robson is chairman of Colleagues Direct Marketing

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Executive

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Online Customer Service Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Online customer Service Admi...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global, industry leading, ...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk