If I had to Start Again

Sir Michael Angus - I would do it all again. I’ve had a most satisfying life in what I’ve chosen to do, which was ultimately running Unilever.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I would do it all again. I've had a most satisfying life in what I've chosen to do, which was ultimately running Unilever. I suppose what I liked about it was the consumer goods side. I liked the competitive nature of it, I liked the dealing with people, whether they were customers, employees or managers. And I liked the internationalism of it. I would stay in marketing, which is a bit unusual because my education was scientific – my degree was in mathematics. If I hadn't been in business, politics is one possibility. I followed my politics at Bristol, in both the city and the university scenes. In those days, it wasn't possible for me to have a career in politics because politicians didn't earn anything and you needed a second income, so I went and earned a living. I suppose the nearest I came to it, not as a politician but as a businessman, was when I was president of the CBI, when I dealt with the prime minister and other ministers. I would quite like to have been a politician, even though I think today their image is particularly dire. I would have made a good lawyer too, but I'm glad I didn't do it because of the absence of people – I suspect it's a much more solitary existence than I had at Unilever. I suppose today merchant banking would appeal to me in the sense that I see it as exciting and competitive, but again I would miss the people. To be successful in business, there are two qualities that are important. The first is to have a sense of the essential, to be able to strip through a problem and see what it is that really matters; the second is about taking decisions under conditions of relative uncertainty – that means using your judgment. In addition, you have to be a good manager of people, understanding what motivates them and stimulates them.

Sir Michael Angus was chairman of Unilever (1986-92) and president of the Confederation of British Industry (1992-94). He was also deputy chairman of British Airways and of Boots. He is chairman of the Leverhulme Trust

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