My Biggest Mistake: Michael Day

Michael Day, 46, is chairman of The Huge Cheese Company, and Britain's only Prevot of the Guilde des Fromagers. His career began in a meat paste factory, then after three miserable years in a merchant bank he was persuaded by his father in 1974 to take over the running of Harvey and Brockless, a cheese delivery firm in Sussex. In 1982 the firm was sold and he set up The Huge Cheese Company, which today has a turnover of pounds 2m, supplying more than 300 top restaurants, hotels and corporate dining rooms including the Ritz, the Savoy and the Inter-Continental Group.

MY BIGGEST mistake was about six years ago, when I took a trip to the Netherlands to see if we could sell to the Dutch Prime Minister, Ruud Lubbers.

We were already supplying Margaret Thatcher and President Mitterrand, and I thought it would be fun if we could sell to all the European leaders.

My girlfriend, whom I had met on a blind date at a Masters of Cheese dinner in Switzerland, worked in the Dutch parliament, and she had set up a meeting with the Prime Minister's secretary. So I boarded a plane with 30lb of Cheddar and 25lb of Stilton and went to The Hague.

I had to wait outside the parliament building for quite a long time, and since I was only in the Netherlands for the weekend I was growing a bit impatient.

About half an hour went by and still nobody came. The whole trip seemed futile and I was extremely irritated. Eventually somebody came and took us upstairs. He led us into a spectacular octagonal room overlooking a small lake, and we chatted over a cup of coffee.

I was still thinking this was a big waste of a Saturday morning, wondering who this clot in front of me was and why he had made me wait, when after about five minutes, he said 'What is it you actually want?'

Assuming that he was Ruud Lubbers's secretary, I gave him some cheese as a backhander and asked him to see that the Prime Minister was given the rest.

At this point, my girlfriend said 'This is the Prime Minister.' I carried on explaining that we were supplying Margaret Thatcher and President Mitterrand, when it suddenly sank in.

With a terrible flush of embarrassment, I realised I had made a complete idiot of myself. I leapt to my feet, said 'Sir, how do you do?', and started stuttering.

It just seemed so extraordinary that the three of us were sitting around having a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning, when most prime ministers would be busy running the government or having important people to see.

He obviously regarded it as a bit of light relief and just laughed. I think he quite enjoyed not being recognised, and then seeing my embarrassment.

I realised he was mortal, like the rest of us, and he certainly had a sense of humour. I have been a fan of Lubbers ever since.

After we left I was slightly hysterical. If I was going to try to sell cheese to him, I should have made sure I recognised the man. I should have done more research, been better prepared.

But in some ways, being naive and unaware of his status made it easier. I felt less intimidated, because he was such a natural, relaxed person. If I had known who I was going to meet, I would have felt much more stressed.

I wasn't in awe of him because I thought he was the secretary, therefore we were able to talk as equals. In fact, because of the positioning of my cheeses throughout Europe, I was probably quite arrogant.

But while it made me feel humble and foolish, and determined not to be quite so disorganised next time, it has not really changed the way I do business.

Most important people find spontaneity quite refreshing. You can usually make them laugh by not behaving in a subservient way.

I don't mean to be impertinent, but I think a little bit of enterprise gets you a lot further than just following in line with everybody else.

(Photograph omitted)

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
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

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

Technical Support Analyst (C++, Windows, Linux, Perl, Graduate)

£30000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global leader in trading platforms and e...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice