If I had to start again ... Allan Cook, ex-CEO of Cobham

What would ex-Cobham boss Allan Cook do if he had his time all over again?

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I wouldn't change anything - I always wanted to be in engineering. I came out of school with O-levels and I had the chance to do A-levels, but my dad had an electrical contracting business, so I decided to do an apprenticeship and help him. I thought long and hard about joining the RAF as an engineer, because my dad had been in it, but I decided against it.

I went to night school and one of my lecturers said if I really wanted to, I could do a degree, so that's what I did. I gave up work and the idea was that I'd come back to help my dad. Unfortunately, just as I graduated, he died. So I had a choice: I could either pick up the business or take up a job-offer at electronics company Ferranti - which is what I did. I'd got a taste for electronics at university and I thought that there was more to life than rewiring houses.

I've been lucky about being in the right place at the right time, but I've been fortunate that my family has been very supportive. Living in America for a year when they were in Scotland was quite a wrench. It's hard, but it takes you on to the next stage of your career.

One of my most memorable moments was being responsible for Eurofighter. If you ever watch a prototype aircraft take off on its first flight, the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It's just phenomenal to see what you can do. It was spectacular to be part of a European consortium that pushed the boundaries of technology. It involved everything - diplomacy, commercial, engineering, technology, finance - and that was fantastic. Any regrets? Too many times, I have believed that people were capable of doing things that they were not capable of, and I persevered too long, instead of finding another role for them.

I've never really been guilty of looking backwards - you have always got to look forwards.

Allan Cook CBE stepped down as CEO of Cobham in December, and is now non-executive chairman of Atkins.

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