If I had to start again... Sir Keith Mills

Air Miles inventor Sir Keith Mills tells MT what he would do if he had his time all over again...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

When I was young, I thought I'd be quite a good film director. But then I left school at 15 and I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do.

Added to which, I had no qualifications at all, apart from a swimming certificate - and that was for a width, not even a length. I ended up working in Fleet Street, and a couple of years later landed an admin job at the Economist, when Sir Alastair Burnet was the editor. The world of journalism did intrigue me a little bit, but quite early on I decided that I wanted freedom of choice: I wanted to decide where I worked, when I worked and who I worked for. It didn't take long to figure out that one of the things you need if you want freedom of choice is money. And, let's face it, there aren't many rich journalists.

The thing I regret most is not having a decent education. If I'd gone to university, I probably would have had a more traditional career, because when you haven't taken any exams, you don't have much choice other than to work for yourself. Even in those days, if you didn't have the right education, you were going to struggle to go anywhere in a big company. And so the alternative route to success was to start up your own company: then you can appoint yourself chief executive.

At the first advertising agency I founded, I learned the greatest business lesson: don't put all your eggs in one basket. I made the fatal mistake of having about 90% of my business from one client, which was at that point the largest travel firm in the UK. And it went bust owing me a lot of money. So I had to close the agency down and go back to work for someone else. And the decision to invest £70m from the sale of Nectar in AIG bonds following advice from Coutts turned out to be a bad one too. But everyone in business learns by making mistakes - that's how you become a better manager. If you've stepped on a landmine, you learn not to step there again.

- Sir Keith Mills is the inventor of the Air Miles and Nectar Card schemes.

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