You live and you learn: Paul Walsh

The Diageo CEO on wanting to join the RAF, his exit from Burger King and making redundancies.

by Hannah Prevett
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

When I was a kid I wanted to join the RAF and fly fast planes. I actually got pretty advanced through the process but my eyesight wasn't good enough to fly jets.

My maths teacher was my hero. He was an outstanding teacher and he saw I had a bit of ability in maths and allowed me to pursue it. I used to take him out for lunch every year.

Letting people go doesn't get any easier with time. And it's not just redundancy: the other thing that's really tough is when you've got to sit down with people who are trying their hardest but they're just not cutting it, they can't put those scores on the doors.

I generally visit factories that are closing. You can't always shield them from the reality of the economic situation - closing the Johnnie Walker bottling plant in Kilmarnock is a good example of that.

I wish I'd sold Burger King earlier. With Pillsbury going, I was concerned we didn't have the capacity to handle both transactions at the same time. But I should have done them simultaneously.

I probably don't have a work/life balance - but I have the balance I want. I don't see work in the drudge sense. I probably wasn't considerate to other people at times in my career, but that's the choice I made.

You don't stop learning when you become boss. You only become great if you constantly develop yourself and open your mind to new ideas. When you stop learning it's time to move on.

I think my staff will say I'm very unambiguous - they know exactly what's expected. I do like camaraderie and I always enjoyed team sports. But, at the end of the day, you've got to win.

I am staying put. I have been CEO of Diageo for a decade and with the company for 28 years, but I will stay as long as the board want me to stay, my colleagues want me to stay and I'm having fun.

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