Peter Erskine: If I had to start again ..

I would love to have played football, but I was useless. It's like saying I'd like to fly if I just flap my arms.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Opportunism got me where I am. I studied psychology, a bland degree that never led anywhere, but a friend said you got a car if you went into marketing. It wasn't much more subtle than that. I joined the company that offered the most money - DIY firm Polycell.

My father grew up in deep poverty in the East End of London and spent his life at Tate & Lyle. He was very risk-averse, my old man. At 25, I told him I was changing jobs, and there was a lot of teeth-sucking. But I had realised Polycell wasn't in the premier division and I left for Colgate Palmolive. It taught me how things should be done. At least then if I didn't do things that way I knew what I was rejecting.

I joined Mars in 1980. After 10 good years, I hit a low. A headhunter happened to call telling me about the emerging mobile telecoms market, and I joined a start-up. Back then, there were no rules and I enjoyed having to use judgment. It's the best industry I've ever been in. And that led to me British Telecom.

O2 was my biggest career success and has been a major part of me. When it spun off from BT in 2001, all the press cuttings said we were doomed. The value dropped to 37p a share, but we soon grew it to £2 a share - £18bn cash.

Perhaps I didn't spend enough time with the family. My four kids are all very happy, but they'd probably say they didn't see me enough when they were young. That's the sacrifice, but I'd do it all again.

I've known since 2005 that this would be the time to move. Telefonica has asked me to stay involved a few days a month. My glass is always three-quarters full, so I'll just see what else comes along. It's just important to enjoy it. I wondered about getting a Spurs season ticket. The wife said I should, but I'm not sure.

Peter Erskine stepped down as CEO of O2 last month.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Books for the weekend: Daniel Goleman, Jack Welch, Nelson Mandela

Beaverbrooks CEO Anna Blackburn shares her reading list.

What happens next: COVID-19 lessons from Italian CEOs

Part I: Marco Alvera, chief executive of €15bn Lombardy-based energy firm Snam, on living with...

Coronavirus communications: Dos and don'ts

Uncertainty and isolation make it more important than ever to be seen, to be heard...

Leadership lessons: Mervyn Davies, former CEO of Standard Chartered and trade minister

"People talk about pressure – I worked 24 hours a day. There is more pressure...

How to reinvent your career through motherhood and midlife

Pay it Forward podcast: Former Marie Claire editor-in-chief Trish Halpin and BITE managing editor Nicky...