At 21, the world was my oyster and stardom beckoned — having accidentally secured myself a role in my first and only Bollywood movie.
While it wasn’t quite the smash hit, it provided me with a great story to roll out to my daughters who, of course, greet all of my escapades with great enthusiasm.
My movie debut came about in Mumbai, following my graduation from Durham University, after which I decided to take a gap year and backpack around Australasia and South East Asia – something I’d greatly recommend.
The travelling experience saw me try my hand at a number of jobs and top up the obligatory beer fund so that I could spend my time doing what many 21-year-olds do best.
It also helped me learn some valuable life lessons such as, ‘never take a gardening job in Australia’. Let’s just say that the local wildlife provided more than a few hair-raising moments!
Other less traumatic jobs included being a barman at Sydney Races, working in house removals, and a failed audition for a TV commercial set in an office because I didn’t resemble a ‘believable’ office worker!
All in all, they were great life experiences, where I learnt to stand on my own two feet and understand the working world that little bit better.
More importantly, it exposed me to different cultures, first hand. I learnt about the full spectrum of humanity, and I realised — more than ever — just how privileged we are in the West to have our basic humanitarian needs met.
Like many young people, back then I was the centre of my own universe. I didn’t have a mortgage or bills to pay, there was nobody else to look after.
No more ‘them and us’
But being away gave me a renewed sense of perspective, and I really begun to appreciate what I had. Regional differences seemed trivial and the planet felt a lot smaller when I got home – there was no ‘us’ and ‘them’ any more, only us.
Armed with all of these new experiences, I returned from my travels and embarked on my first ‘proper’ job at professional services giant PwC, where I achieved my chartered accounting qualification before moving into mergers and acquisitions.
My time at the company gave me a really strong grounding in business, and an understanding of some of the financial aspects that underpin a successful organisation.
It was from there that I went on to join the family business — starting as a project manager and moving around different companies in the group, before graduating to commercial director, then MD, and latterly as CEO.
It wasn’t all plain sailing – in fact, far from it. Having become a dad for the first time just three months prior to my first foray into ‘MD-hood’ in 2009, as many parents can probably attest, life was, quite frankly, a bit of a whirlwind.
Still, amid the sleepless nights, we made the move from St Albans to York — a place where we knew absolutely nobody, at a time when we probably needed them the most.
Helpfully, it was also the start of the financial crisis, which meant I also needed to face a company restructure.
Advice from my father
I remember wondering how on earth we were going to cope. Well, we got through it — but not without some sage advice from my dad, and something I still tell myself to this day: “Nothing is ever as good as it looks, and nothing is ever as bad as it seems.”
The truth is usually somewhere in the middle. The worst case usually never materialises. And as for the best, it’s never exactly how you imagine it to be.
There’s always some incident or unexpected challenge to conquer.
As the difficulties continued to come thick and fast – unlike my hair – I learnt to compartmentalise things.
To say it was one of the harder times in my life would be an understatement. But would I change it? Probably not.
Until you go through something like that, you don’t know how you’ll respond. And I feel that, having come out of the other side, I’ve learnt some vital lessons and I’m better off for it.
Don’t worry about not having all the answers
As for the advice I’d have liked to have given to my younger self, I would say this: Don’t be afraid to not have all the answers, because you probably never will. I certainly don’t.
It’s easy to look around when you’re young and assume that everyone knows more than you do. To feel that you’re bluffing constantly and, often, just waiting to be found out. As a result, you probably project much more confidence than you feel.
But there’s nothing wrong with vulnerability and humility. Everyone has things they’re not confident about and it’s ok to say that you don’t know the answers. We’re all – to some extent – just making it up as we go along.
And now, at 43, I’ve had my share of ups and downs and I’m comfortable asking for help, because there’s always a different perspective, or alternative view and an opportunity to work things out together.
So, worry less. Enjoy the victories. And, most importantly, wear hair gel while you still can!