Brain food: Sir Hugh Collum - If i had to start again

I'd have gone to university. Not going is one of my regrets. I had an opportunity with Lybrand early on and signed up for that. My father probably breathed a sigh of relief and never mentioned going to university to me, but I think I'd have had three useful, enjoyable years had I gone. I probably would have gone to a US business school too. Mathematics always interested me, as did the City. I suspect I might have gone into investment banking, but I'm glad I did the accountancy training because that gave me a wonderful foundation. Finance interests me, and that's how my career developed.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

My lucky break came when the Courage group finance director retired and I took over at the age of 31 - that's what got me off the bottom rung.

Getting that job gave me the kick-off I needed. I've always been quite ambitious and wanted to be involved with bigger, growing, successful organisations, and the brewing industry gave me that start. I can't complain about what I've been through over the past 40 years. I've worked for interesting companies and found myself in interesting situations, including the job at BNFL. It got really problematical within a month of me being there.

One issue after the other came rolling out, but it enabled us to make significant change, and sometimes you need a crisis to do that. Although I said to myself 'What am I doing here?', the situation was probably an advantage, otherwise I'd have had to dribble out change over a longer period. It was a fascinating challenge and actually quite fun. If there has been a dire moment, I'd probably have regarded it as a challenge.

Sir Hugh Collum retired as chairman of BNFL in May. He was previously CFO of SmithKline Beecham and group FD of Cadbury Schweppes. He is an NED of Whitehead Mann Group.

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