If I had to start again ... Sir Roy Gardner

At school, I wanted to be a professional footballer. I had trials at QPR, but, fortunately, I didn't make the grade.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

If I did, I wouldn't have had the career I've had. And I wouldn't want to go back and be a footballer now.

I didn't set out to be an accountant. I had a summer job at British Aerospace, and they had quite a good football team, so I decided to see what they had to offer. They came up with an accountancy apprenticeship scheme. I soon realised accountancy would lead to other opportunities. So I set myself goals: from project accountant to chief accountant, then to finance director and, finally, chief executive.

I later ran Marconi and sat on the board at GEC, getting pretty close to Lord Weinstock. The best advice I ever got was in one of his famous budget meetings. 'Never forget the details,' he said. And I never have.

I joined British Gas the week Cedric Brown told the world of his salary package. The company was in a terrible state and had to be split. I became CEO at Centrica, which had all the interesting problems. I got a lot of satisfaction out of creating my own company and succeeding: for 10 years we were one of the top performers in the FTSE.

When I agreed to join Compass as an independent director, we suddenly faced problems with profit warnings, the UN, and Jamie Oliver. Had I known that those issues would arise, I'd still have done it. I couldn't manage anything stable and boring.

One of my few regrets is that my chairmanship of Manchester United didn't last longer. I'm a lifelong fan, and loved going to the dressing room with Alex Ferguson and the players. But I made decisions with my head, not my heart. Every player transaction, from selling David Beckham to buying Wayne Rooney, was measured against its impact on the cashflow. I resigned when the Glazers took over. Again, I had to act like a businessman - they were offering a very good price.

Sir Roy Gardner is chairman of Compass Group.

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