If I could have had it all my own way I'd have been a professional footballer - for Manchester United, of course. But, although talented, I wasn't good enough. Because of family circumstances, I left grammar school halfway through the sixth form. Had I been able to go to university, I would have tried to join an international business: to have been there at the beginning of post-war globalisation would have been incredibly exciting. With football counted out, I'm glad I joined a big company, and for nearly 46 years at M&S I was proud to be employed by a truly great business. That was equally true of all the big companies I worked for: Lloyds TSB, ICI/Zeneca, British Gas and Philips - all of which, like M&S, had commercial integrity, strong working cultures and disciplined structures but with space for the individualist. I would still run the business with all its constituents in mind, in the long-term interests of the company, not just for short-term shareholder value. Starting over, I'd make a conscious effort to be more patient and less blunt, and I'd find more time for my family. But the biggest change I'd make would be to retire as planned in July '98. When the board asked me to stay on for two years I should have said: 'No, we agreed '98. Ten years is long enough as CEO. That's when I'm going. After that, it's your problem.'
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