My Biggest Mistake: Mischa Alexander - Success made me slow to change

Mischa Alexander, 39, studied law at Nottingham, but left to join a company selling property in Florida. He was an estate agent for four years, then joined advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi. The agency HHCL recruited him to lead the launch of First Direct bank, and he set up its sister agency. Two years ago, he became managing partner of his own venture, the Advertising Brasserie, which offers clients an alternative way of working to traditional full service agencies

MY BIGGEST mistake was letting success in one field make me reluctant for so long to take on a new challenge. I had stumbled into estate agency by accident; I'd opted out of university and was looking for work in the States. I was offered a job with an English estate agent in Florida. Being US-based was the attraction.

Then Freddie Laker went bust and the pound collapsed and the UK residential market in Florida disappeared overnight. The firm said, why not swap Miami deco for Perivale deco and join our commercial division, selling factories and warehouses?

In the next few years, I was very successful. It was essentially commission- driven and I was good at the upfront marketing side of it. The bit I didn't like was trudging round these industrial sites and doing cold- calling - the executional side. Then I was offered a serious amount of equity in the firm. But I was suffering from inertia. If you have put time into something and feel you've started to get a return and a professional respect, you have to really push yourself to risk it all. Ultimately, you have to enjoy what you are doing, and when you start to question and worry about it, that's not healthy. You have to be honest with yourself.

My wife was working for a production company, and I became interested in working for an advertising agency because I was good at marketing and it sounded fun. When I went to see someone at an agency they told me I was unemployable at 24, and I was earning too much money, though I was prepared to take whatever salary was on offer.

I thought, this is ridiculous. The challenge lay in the fact that someone told me I couldn't do it. I decided if I was going to switch careers, I would be employed by the best agency. So I badgered Saatchi's for six months, until they gave me a job. They employed me as an account executive for Wimpey Homes because I had experience in that market.

When I left the estate agency, I felt a different person. We spend so much time working, it's important to pour your energies into something which is more than just fulfilling financially.