They were all great memories. I had a wonderful three years at University. I chose Southampton because it was a good university, with a nice campus and a friendly environment. It had also been recommended by friends; their recommendations proved to be valid and I had a fantastic time.
I went straight into accountancy. In those days, firms were looking for people rather than the other way around and I got a job on my first interview. I worked for a couple of accountancy firms before starting my own practice in 1986. That gave me the freedom to run other businesses at the same time.
I started with a business failure, a kitchen manufacturing company that didn’t do well because of the recession. I then set up CashCentres Ltd, a cheque-cashing franchise, with some business partners. We started with two outlets and over time this grew to 260-plus units! Businesses in oil distribution, the insurance industry, and property management have followed, all while continuing my accountancy practice. I am very pleased to have helped many small businesses.
Three years ago, I was approached by the Southampton Law School and Business School to help start up the Clinic. I was happy to help, but also offered to provide advice as well. Going to university gave me the opportunity to learn and I have benefited from that. I felt it was time for me to give something back. When I started out there was no-one to help me, but now I believe I can help others. I also like to get involved, be challenged, and have a mix of different things going on.
The Clinic is doing very well. We run it once a month during term-time. Students and staff can book a free 35-minute appointment with a consultant; we are now over-booked. Since we started the Clinic, we have advised many potential business start-ups and I know at least five people have set up their own businesses, and one of them now has an annual turnover of £3m.
Hugh Gaffney-Dodds a final year student in Southampton has made a good start of his Brand ‘Hu-go’ supplying designer mobile phone accessories to general retailers and I believe that we should be seeing his products on sale in our University shop soon.
The Clinic is increasing its profile too. One of the people I advise, Sara Costa Gomes Cunha Pignatelli, designs shoes based on 100 per cent recycled material. She was actually studying at the London College of Fashion, but when she ran across a specific problem she was advised to come to us. That was a year ago and her business MDMA (Minimise Damage Maximise Art) has since been featured on television and in magazines.
In the Clinic, I get asked a lot of questions from individuals, such as what business vehicle should I use, what tax do I have to pay, do I have to register for VAT, and where do I get funding? But the aim of the Clinic is to be more tailored to that individual’s business needs. We also run seminars providing basic knowledge on starting a business, where we can talk to a wider audience.
You need to be willing to make sacrifices in your life and have 24/7 dedication. You need to prepare for the unexpected, and be able to accept that no-one owes you anything. People tend to think that if they have an idea, others will give them money. One guy came to me asking for help setting up a software business. It turned out that he hadn’t even tested his concept. But then there are others who are really dedicated and who deserve the help – they are who I want to hear from.