After university, my ambitions grew with my desire to get married, so I took the first job I was offered which was in an accountancy firm. I had naively arranged to get married within a few weeks of starting work, which meant I didn’t focus properly on my accountancy exams. I was fired when I failed them – just six months after I’d started with the firm.
I had actually thought for many years that I would be a maths teacher – so inspired was I by Mr Dhillon, one of my maths teachers in my youth – but having just got married with ambitions to start a family, my priority was just to find work. Any work.
I was able to go back to Queen Mary University to use the printer, and printed out something like 30 copies of my CV. I then developed a daily routine of carrying lots of ten penny pieces and going to my local phone box and bugging recruitment agents. After a month of this, one of these agents gave me a temporary role as an accounts clerk at GE Capital, saying that it was purely because he was sick of me phoning him.
After four or five months I decided the time was right to try and look for a permanent role in the financial sector, so off I went to the phone box. Eventually I landed a job with Hill Samuel Asset Finance. And rather like the last opportunity, it wasn’t necessarily on merit. Although I got to the final interview, my boss would later tell me he picked me over the other candidate because the other candidate was Irish, and as a fellow Irishman, he didn’t want to be seen as biased!
But I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. I was a financial accountant, managing the preparation of the accounts and overseeing the audits for 18 different leasing companies, at a time when HSAF were instrumental in helping Tesco become the largest supermarket in the country. This was the time when I really found my professional focus.
As a devout muslim, I didn’t want to participate in the drinking culture in the city at the time, so I’d fill my lunch hours by reading the manuals for the computer systems. What initially begun as a time-filling exercise eventually morphed into a vital change in the way the bank did business.
Thanks to what I read in those manuals, I managed to find a way for Lotus 123 and Sun Accounts to integrate, which meant that for the first time, journals could be posted automatically. Although computers were becoming a familiar sight in the City of 1991, there were very few people who took the time to realise their potential, so I have always been very proud of this. This led to me progressing onto overseeing the management accounts function, but I still wanted to do more.
I took this curiosity for systems to my next job at Paribas, where an even greater challenge awaited me. Paribas had a sterling-based general ledger system, a US Dollar trading system, and a reporting system in French Francs! When I arrived it took more than five hours to prepare the daily reports, but I knew it was possible to do better than this.
I pressed my manager to pay for a programmer to help improve this process. The programmer’s work turned out to be a great success. In simple terms, by making all systems talk to each other, there were then enough hours in the day for me to be both an FX and swaps accountant, which was a great efficiency saving.
Ironically, it was because of my expertise with systems that I left the industry all together. After Paribas I had a successful spell at the Industrial Bank Of Japan, but owing to the foresight and flexibility of my line manager, John Dignum. I was given the license to explore other avenues. Because John was very clear that he only measured his staff’s performances on results, once I successfully implemented new systems that shortened my working day, I had the freedom to use the rest of the day how I wanted. So I spent the time setting up my family’s next property venture, MiNC Property…