Life is about taking opportunities when they present themselves
I graduated from INSEAD nearly thirty-four years ago. This is simply incredible to me. If someone had asked me when I left university (forty-years ago!) how my working life would pan out, there is no part of it I would have guessed.
My first job was selling suits to American soldiers stationed in West Germany. I had never been to Germany, didn’t speak a word of German and didn’t have much sales experience. In fact, doing new things and going in different directions has turned out to be a characteristic of my working life. I only applied to INSEAD because I met someone whilst I was in Germany who told me about it.
I have never discovered my “true vocation” and I think for many people this holy grail doesn’t exist. When I left INSEAD a class mate who had worked at Bain said that he was going to join a former Bain colleague who was starting his own management consultancy. I ended up joining this consultancy as the first employee. My class mate (still one of my closest friends) went to work for Merrill Lynch instead. The consultancy was successful and after twelve years we sold the business to an American consultancy.
A couple of years before we sold the business a personal tragedy occurred – our five year old son died. I was thirty-eight years old. The trauma of this made me reevaluate what was really important. It made me realise that whilst work is important its importance to me is of a lower order to me compared with family, friends and health. This realisation strongly influenced the career choices that I subsequently made and I regard myself as very fortunate, firstly that I was able to learn this lesson at a young enough age for it to make a difference and secondly that we sold the business which had given me some financial security.
After we sold the business I had five years pursuing a portfolio of interests which was a period I really loved. One of the interests was seeing if I could be successful in starting a new business which was in property. Through this I was approached by a wealth manager and asked if I would create a property fund management business is partnership with them. I decided to do this as I felt I would regret it if I didn’t. It meant giving up the rest of my portfolio of interests. We went on to build a portfolio of assets worth c. £200m. After eight years the wealth manager was sold by its parent to a private equity business. I found myself in partnership with people I really did not enjoy working with. After about a year I decided life was too short and resigned from the partnership.
I am now Chairman of Thermal Recycling, a new business. We believe it is the first company in the world to have found a commercially viable approach to treating asbestos. Currently nearly all asbestos is buried in landfill sites which simply pushes the problem on to future generations. Our treatment means that this no longer needs to happen. The treated product can be reused as a construction material. It is great to be leading a business that can help to change the world in a positive way and to be part of INSEAD’s force for good.
My other role is as a partner, and founder, of LGEC Capital Partners. We are four partners with different but complimentary backgrounds – strategy, law, accountancy and technology. We have known each other for many years and set up the business to use our collective experience to help growing businesses. Only the partners do the work. We look to have long term relationships with a small number of companies that we work with where we can help them to grow using our combined experience and expertise.
INSEAD was one of the best decisions that I ever made. It was one of the most enjoyable years I ever had, it gave me confidence that I could try anything, it changed the way other people saw me and most of my closest friends today are people I met at INSEAD.
What have I learned since INSEAD? You need some luck and you need to take opportunities that present themselves. You need to work out what is important to you, what you enjoy and what you are good at. You need to be resilient. You must never compare yourself to other people and you must work out what “enough” means to you. If you have “enough” or have had enough it is time to move on and do something different as having more than “enough” isn’t a good use of time.