TAKING ACCOUNT OF IT ALL
John Armitstead takes time to tell as about a varied career which saw him make the move from practice to industry and life as the father of one of Yorkshire’s world-class athletes.
Tell us about the early days in your career
I did reasonably well at school but I was never particularly specialised – I studied History, English and Economics which were all of interest but didn’t necessarily lead me in a certain direction. I was keen to have a purpose and get into the world of work; my dad was in business and accountancy seemed like a good way into business management so I applied to a number of practices and was one of two non-graduates offered a training contract with what was then Peat Marwick (now KPMG) that year.
Where did you go from there?
I had gained the immediate entry into work that I wanted but I soon discovered that I wanted to have more autonomy. I was working in audit and had very little involvement in any decision making so I made the move into industry and commerce working in retail and then in industrial products for the construction industry. It was an exciting time for me with new technology being introduced and growth opportunities but what I desired was an FD role and without the prospect of promotion available to me I secured a new role which, whilst being a great job opportunity, turned out to be in the wrong sector.
Why was that?
It was with a small, family run textiles company. Unfortunately at the time the textile industry in this country was crumbling so whilst initially I was exposed to some extremely interesting challenges – including an MBO – I knew that longer term, the opportunities to develop my career in that sector were always going to be limited.
Your next move was again to a family run engineering business?
Bentleys was very ambitious; the sector was buoyant and there was a good solid core business from which to expand the business model. A period of big investment saw turnover grow from around £15m to £110m – that was the biggest challenge, as whilst it wasn’t solely down to me and I was part of well disciplined team, this created numerous projects and hundreds of contracts running simultaneously so there was a significant increase in transactional volume to be managed.
You also studied for an MBA at Bradford University – what made you return to education?
It was important that I pushed myself to continually add new strings to my bow. I studied part time whilst I was working at the textiles firm; I was committed to seeing through the MBO and felt that I had good theoretical and technical finance skills and knowledge but I was also especially interested in learning more about marketing, HR, organisational behaviour – gaining more of an understanding about what makes a company run smoothly. It certainly helped to further enhance my future employment prospects. When I secured my next role I was able to demonstrate that I had more rounded skills and could do more than simply number crunch.
When you look back, what lessons have you learnt?
I really believe that there is so much luck involved in achieving success. Yes, you have to have the basic skills and competencies, the drive and determination to work hard but alongside that, you have to get the breaks that you need and much of that – whether the opportunities come your way or you create the opportunities that you want – is down to luck and being in the right place and the right time.
Your daughter Lizzie is a world champion track and road racing cycling who also competed in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. Did she show potential from an early age?
We are a very sporty family – Lizzie has a sister and a brother – so there was always an involvement in sport whether participating or being a spectator. At school Lizzie was very competitive and at 14 she got her lucky break when a cycling talent scout came to her school looking to identify promising youngsters to take part in a development programme. Cycling wasn’t something she had tried before and had that scout not visited her school who knows how things could have turned out – she was in the right place at the right time!
What attributes did you recognise she needed to succeed as a professional sportsperson?
She’s independent, extremely focused and not easily distracted when she has her mind fixed upon what it is that she is looking to achieve and how she is going to get there. She is incredibly resilient too. She has always loved being outdoors and the lifestyle of a road cyclist appeals to her – the travel, the opportunity to visit lots of countries and just being outside in the open air.
Have any of your children followed in your footsteps?
No, they have all chosen very different career paths – from me and from each other – my eldest daughter is a community worker in Bradford and my son is a plumber. What they do have in common is that they are all extremely independent which is similar to myself – I have never been one for rules and supervision!
If you were to offer career advice to someone, what would that be?
Not everyone is lucky enough to find a career that they absolutely love – so if you do, grab it with both hands. No matter what path you choose, having variety in your job is extremely important – whether that means new responsibilities or working in a different industry sector – so be open to any opportunities that present themselves.
What path do you think that you would have taken had you not pursued accountancy?
Journalism. I have always enjoyed writing. I also think my practical approach would have always seen me involved in the construction industry in some way; I like that there is the ‘reward’ of a finished product and the end goal is something physical that you can see.