Did you always want to be an accountant?
The only thing I was certain of was that I loved travelling and wanted to do more of it. My dad was a teacher and his job had taken us all over the country, from Dumfriesshire, to Oxford, Kent, and overseas. That lifestyle certainly influenced me and, once I’d graduated, I decided to take a year out to see some of the world. I spent it in Bordeaux working in the wine industry.
After France, you started life as a trainee accountant with KPMG. What attracted you to that?
KPMG had hired me through the traditional university milkround. During my year out I had fallen in love with the whole wine business, but once I got back to the UK and started my accountancy training I was very taken with that as well. What I did enjoy was working with business, specifically small businesses in the manufacturing and tourism sectors, and being part of a smaller team; that’s where it all came together and where I spent the next three years doing my accountancy training.
Was studying a daunting challenge?
I’m not a natural student, but I am single minded and I took the attitude that I was going to knuckle down and do it. There was one hiccup, when I had to repeat my first year exam, but I knew I had to get on with it, and frankly, it was fear of failure that spurred me on. Compared to studying for my degree I found it really tough; I remember feeling under pressure at work, and extra pressure from the exams. On the plus side, I could apply a lot of what I was learning to my job. And the experience did teach me that if I could do that, I could do anything.
But you never forgot those vineyards?
The ACA qualification was a great one to have and I was very proud to have achieved it, but the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) qualification (completed soon after the ACA) reflected an interest outside of my day job that I felt would show companies that I had an extra dimension to my skills.
I moved on to a management accountant position at Thresher (wine merchant) in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire.
Even after going to Hong Kong to work as head of buying for Watson’s Wine you came back to accountancy, how?
Within a year I’d been promoted to general manager. As well as the buying, I was responsible for the company’s overall P&L, marketing, recruitment and several other aspects of the business, and once again my accounting skills played a key part in my job, which made me appreciate the benefits of my training and qualifications.
In 2005 I was offered job opportunities in Switzerland and China; in the end I chose Switzerland, where I was buying fine wines, top domains from Burgundy and the chateaux of Bordeaux, and increasingly focusing on fine wines for investment. Switzerland is a beautiful place to live.
A couple of years later, with a young family, and en route to completing the Master of Wine qualification, I set up my own company, Real Wines. Being able to apply all my accountancy knowledge to running my own business has given me a huge advantage. It was at this stage in my career that my ACA training and experience really came into its own. I was able to do all my own accounting and book-keeping, look after my own tax affairs; things that can incur a lot of expense for a start-up. Being able to apply all my accountancy knowledge to running my own business has given me a huge advantage.
There is no question that my accountancy training and qualifications have opened a lot of doors for me; from entry into the wine buying business, to managing a large wine retail company, and finally to setting up my own wine business. I believe they are skills that will prove invaluable, regardless of the career or industry sector you choose.Article adapted from VITAL magazine 2012