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What Do You Want?

I remember very clearly the first time I was asked what I wanted to achieve in my business life.

Having qualified as an accountant, and leaving practice shortly after, I was enjoying working in industry. At the time I was working as a Financial Accountant for a private rail freight operator, one which had been born out of the merger of three separate divisions of British Rail post privatisation.

The business was a mish-mash of life long public sector workers, most of them just interested in working a relatively comfortable 9-5 existence with no real ambition, and new blood brought in from the private sector to reinvigorate the business.

Looking back, I can see how it must have been hard trying to manage the modernisation and improvement process when a large part of the workforce was just not interested in change.

I was at a works drinks night celebrating an employee leaving and I was chatting to one of the directors. I only really knew him to this point to say hello to. My general impression was that he was a decent bloke who kept himself to himself.

Anyway, we were chatting about the usual – work, sport, beer and then we had a conversation which went along the lines of:

“Mark, what do you want to do?”

Not quite sure where this was coming from I asked him what he meant.

“Your work, your career, what’s your plan”

I came out with a wishy-washy answer and he called me out on it.

“Rubbish” is a polite version of what he said, and he proceeded to lecture me in an encouraging way about how I should have a plan, with clear goals that I needed to set out to achieve.

He told me how over the course of 35+ years, essentially working with the same employer (British Rail and then in the private sector) he’d started as a train guard and worked his way up to be a Divisional Finance Director.

He’d paid out of his own money to go to evening classes and get an accountancy qualification.

And he left a much better paid position as a train guard to work in the accounts department.

He’d done it because he’d wanted to be a finance director and be in a position where he could be involved in decision making and naturally he wanted a better quality of life for his family.

He’d achieved it and more. He was good at his job and very well respected. He was due to retire the following year and was able to reflect on his career with pride.

Up to this point I had been happy to just ‘go with the flow’ to an extent. I had an ok job, owned my own flat and had a comfortable lifestyle. But there was no real purpose.

The conversation I had stuck with me and a few days later I made a plan. I set out to become a Finance Director of a business by the time I was 35 – in less than 4 years.

20 days before my 35th birthday I was appointed as Finance and Commercial Director of a property development company.

So thank-you Paul Schofield, the conversation we had over a few beers wasn’t forgotten. It stuck with me and has shaped a large part of everything I have done since.

The message to anyone who has read this far is simple:

Ask yourself; “What do I really want?”

What do we want to achieve? A simple question but one we rarely ask ourselves properly or try to answer with a well thought out response.

My message is as Paul said to me almost 21 years ago.

Work out what you want to achieve in your business and in your personal life, put a plan in place and set out to achieve it.

Good luck.