... was to join Marks & Spencer in 1970 when I was 21. I was there for 12 years. I started with a nylon coat and a broom on a management training course and I ended up being a store manager and a buyer for one of the largest ladies' fashion groups in head office.
I learned a lot from M&S - it gave me a grounding in holistic management. It looked after its people and this was really important, because if you value people then they value you and they give you a much better performance. M&S also taught me that the standard you set is the standard you get, and that there is no compromise.
In store operations, everything had to be just so. When you left the store at night, it had to be ready for the next day. The buying experience I had at head office was amazing. I remember the chairman, Teddy Sieff, coming in and handling a garment and asking: 'Why did you buy this fabric? There's not enough cotton in there.' He knew what quality felt like. That was a huge influence on me in not accepting second-best.
I don't have many worst decisions, because I don't regret the past, but there is one experience I learned from. I resigned from M&S to run a pub with seven letting bedrooms in Devon with my wife. We got into the Good Food Guide. But I also bought the hairdressing salon next door, and it was a disaster.
We thought we could let out the cottage attached to it, but really the loan just killed the business. It was in 1979 and the start of a recession. Visitor numbers to Devon dwindled drastically. It was a bad decision for my business and my family too. I hadn't done my research properly. I went there using my heart, not my head: the business I'd bought was at its maximum and there was little I could do to improve it.
So research and head-over-heart were the lessons I took from that experience.
I was made redundant from Little Chef in 1994, and I'd often wondered if I could have done more in that business. Now I've got a second chance. Not many people are able to finish off what they started.