My Biggest Mistake: John Roskalns
Sunday 14 November 1993
It was 1976 when I joined the board of a small company that made all sorts of terracotta products. I was 22 and felt very important. The chairman was a chartered accountant, so he looked after the financial side of the business. As general manager, I had enough to do dealing with sales and marketing.
It isn't easy trying to make terracotta in the UK because of the climate. That's why it is usually manufactured in Spain, where it is easier to dry the product before firing it.
We were selling to stores such as Habitat, so it was important to get it right. Unfortunately, the production problems meant that our target sales figures were not achieved. And even with my limited experience it was fairly obvious that we were not able to fund the business sensibly.
We struggled through the next nine months, during which I became increasingly concerned. Eventually, in a very stormy meeting with the chairman, I made it clear that we could not continue letting customers down.
He responded by saying it was time for us to part company. I was out there and then; I had to leave the company car, everything.
Six months later, by which time I was working at Charnos, I got a call from the Inland Revenue saying it wanted to come and talk to me. It claimed that considerable amounts of tax that had been deducted from salaries had not been paid over. The Inland Revenue doesn't mess about: it promptly issued a writ against me for pounds 18,000. Luckily, I had kept copies at home of all the minutes from the board meetings. They demonstrated that I had been told by the chairman that I must spend my time on sales and marketing and that he was looking after the business side.
I issued a counter-writ defending myself. As a result, the Inland Revenue withdrew its claim against me and pursued the chairman instead. The outstanding sums were eventually recovered.
I had been so impressed with the idea of running a company that it never seemed important to me to find out about its finances. I never realised that if anything went wrong when it came to the Inland Revenue or preferential creditors I could be personally liable.
Looking back, I was extremely lucky. Many people have been bankrupted by making the same mistake.
The moral is: if you're offered a directorship you should first get your hands on all the figures for the last three years. You have to make sure you are involved enough in the company to know what is going on.
It was a very good lesson to learn at such an early age. It gave me such a fright that I spent a lot of time and effort learning how to understand balance sheets so that I would never get into that corner again.
I still come across a lot of people - both young and old - who believe that being on the board is somehow glamorous, without realising the responsibilities involved.
The fact is, whether you are an executive director or a non-executive director, you must stand by those responsibilities. Otherwise you will be brought to book.
The managing director of Debut worked in a variety of businesses before joining the Lycra clothing maker as sales and marketing director in 1985. It turns over pounds 4.5m and is in the Independent on Sunday's survey of leading private companies.
- 1 Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
- 3 The Simpsons death: Creator Al Jean would 'kill himself' before character like Homer or Lisa
- 4 British man raped while urinating in bushes at Oktoberfest beer festival in Germany
- 5 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
Isis an hour away from Baghdad - with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
British man raped while urinating in bushes at Oktoberfest beer festival in Germany
George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin wedding: The famous congratulate actor and human rights lawyer after Venice nuptials
Isis, we are told, is a 'clear and dangerous threat to our way of life'. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
'Women, walk wherever you want' posters taken down in Stamford Hill following 'unacceptable' signs separating men and women
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
- < Previous
- Next >
iJobs Money & Business
NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...
£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £30000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...
Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - Law Costs Draftsperson - NICHE...
£300 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer (Stored Procedures) Watford...