There will be no prizes for guessing my final career choice. Bear with me though, as it’s a dilemma I often think back to, even fifty years on, checking whether I made the right decision.
Back to 1967 and I had already worked out that I liked counting money. The serious question at the time, was what to study. Aged 16, it really was too early to specialise, but that’s what we had to do. I thought Maths, Stats and Economics would probably give me the highest grades, so that was a tick.
What about Uni?
Back then I knew no one who had been to one, and I wasn’t really bothered about going. I had no idea how it would change my life, escaping middle-class suburbia and the safety of home.
Before deciding, I went to see the careers' master (yes, he really was called that). With masterful imagination he packed me off to see a partner at a City firm of Chartered Accountants (the famous, at the time, Rupert E Nicolson of Peat Marwick Mitchell & Co, the forerunner of KPMG) who offered me a job on the spot.
Somewhat surprised, and in a state of shock, I just said “yes, thank you”. Only when I got home did I realise that there might be alternatives. I wrote back and asked if I could defer his very kind offer until I finished university, and fortunately he agreed.
Still steeped in conservatism (small c, and maybe big C too) I chose a degree course that was not designed to take me in any different direction – a BSc in Commerce and Accountancy. Only Mechanical Engineering sounded more boring. Still, study wasn’t top of my list of interests once settled in at Southampton.
New friends, a new girl-friend and entertainment on tap: music and films. Also, I joined the University Air Squadron. I’d already learned to pilot a glider before I left school, and now I would be taught to fly a single engined plane: a Chipmunk. It looked vaguely like a Spitfire, but with about a quarter of the power.
I could still pretend to be Biggles.
I should get back to the accountancy. Actually I wished I could, as the first year was general Social Sciences and one particular subject was an anathema to me: Capitalism and Karl Marx. I was in a seminar with three others, led by a post-grad, every Tuesday at 3 o’clock in a very warm conservatory at the back of one of the university houses.
At 4 o’clock I would be going flying and, before that, devoid of any interest in The Communism Manifesto, I always fell fast asleep.
The best part of my course was Commerce. Despite it being an uninspiring title, it was a fascinating subject, akin to what would be taught on MBA courses nowadays. The lecturer, whose name I forget, was, nevertheless memorable for his many stories of business that flourished and those that failed. He always helped us understand why. I have no doubt that he really helped me in my career choice.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons I was taking to the skies. Aged 18 and flying on my own from Hamble airfield, over the Solent and around the surrounding countryside, was just thrilling. I loved spending holiday time at RAF stations.
Being able to do solo aerobatics like loops and barrel rolls was as exciting as it could get.
But did it beat the deep satisfaction of two columns of number coming to the same total?
I wasn’t sure.
The thing was: I felt more in control when with the numbers. You might think that you can’t be more in control at 5,000 feet with your life literally in your hands, gripping the joystick. Trouble was: that was for about 1% of the time. The rest of the time you were subject to command, and it was omni-present. You might also have to kill people and, as much as I like an adrenaline rush, that wouldn’t do.
The final decision was easy. Remember that girl-friend I met when I started university? We’ve now been married for 44 years. She had been brought up around naval stations where her father was posted and had no wish to do the same again.
So, accountancy it was, along with all the adrenaline I could handle.
I never regretted it.
Next time: What is an Articled Clerk?
Mike Jones has been a Chartered Accountant since the early 1970s and has been Finance Director of many well-known brands including HMV, Argos, and Southern Water.
His full profile is here: LinkedIn Profile