Each lesson is a direct personal experience. My 45 year career was packed with memorable happenings, but the people – whether colleagues or customers – taught me there was a right way to do good business, whilst making friends and helping organisations grow and prosper along the way.

The Poisoned Chalice

At the age of 21, when my career as a fledging accountant had foundered on the rocks of unsuitability, I changed paths into a career that could use what I had learned, but in a more practical way.

The company which I joined had a fine reputation for investing in their new employees by training them thoroughly in all aspects of the business. They didn’t let me down on that score, but, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

My chosen path was to provide companies with accounting machines (as they were known back then, and before the electronics boom which began in the mid 1970s), mainly to do ‘debit/credit/plonk’ work, maintaining their sales and purchase ledgers, as well as an ability to work out payslip information – with the aid of good old Table A and Table B, for those who remember. Not forgetting that the basic ability of these machines extended not much further than addition and subtraction, it was still a whole leap forward for most organisations whose previous take-up of technology went as far as a stack of pens and an adding-machine.

It’s fair to say that I had an inauspicious start, with a combination of lack of confidence and unsupportive management, being my reasons. And then, in 1975/6, a change of management to a couple of guys who just had the best of attitudes, and their help combined with a new-found confidence, brought about a swift change in fortunes. In 1976, I was the second most successful salesman in the UK at my level, which was reflected in some decent remuneration and other prizes along the way. BUT with the plaudits, came the poisoned chalice!

The UK Divisional Director (to us the Big White Chief) contacted me directly to congratulate me on my success, and, being as I obviously had the golden touch (!), he asked if I would like to take 4 weeks out of my current job, and come to Head Office in London, and run some training courses – and my peers would be the ones I would be training. Aaarghhh ….I knew most of them and there was no chance I was going to get an easy ride.

I went to London (having negotiated a salary hike to cover loss of normal earnings) to be given the course material, and then I had to write it up. There would be three separate modules, taking 3 days x 3 groups of salespeople (all men, as lady salespeople was a step too far in the mid 1970s).

And so to the courses themselves:

Course 1 – truly dire, lacking in conviction with poor communication skills, and worst of all I came up short time-wise in every element. Could it get any worse? The saving grace was that the attendees gave me a decent critique, so it can’t have been as bad as I thought, or were they showing some fraternal support for one of their own who had drawn the short straw?

Course 2 – better – more confidence, more knowledge, more open discussion, more time used up, but not all of the allotted, but getting there – and I was beginning to enjoy it.

Course 3 – loved it – complete confidence and grasp of subject matter, and I felt that I could answer any question fired at me. Full interaction, and, believe it or not, I actually overran my time on all sections – which wasn’t a problem, as it meant everyone was getting full value. Great critiques too.

Of course, all this did wonders for my overall confidence, and opened up other channels of activity over the years. I ended up doing a lot of training, CPD sessions, I ran seminars, performed on stage etc – and I like to think that all these extra facets to my normal work only came about because I was handed the poisoned chalice, but didn’t choose to drink from the cup.

The Moral

You can learn a lot from doing the difficult things, how to do them better, because you never know where it might lead. It’s a bit like doing an Open University course in the evenings to gain a further qualification, or taking singing lessons even though you are a perfectly competent singer. It’s always worth going the extra mile because you find out so much more about yourself by doing it. I’m glad that I did!!