I’d had enough studying with 7 ‘O’ levels and 4 ‘A’s at Bishopshalt Grammar School and decided I didn’t want to go to University. What should I do?

Career advice was pretty limited back in the 1950’s but I picked up a brochure on Forestry which sounded a good outdoor life. However of course I didn’t have the right ‘A’s. My father who had started as an office boy, and ended up company secretary, said “what about Accountancy?” I shrugged, not realising initially that this meant 5 years more studying!

So my career started without any research or master plan. Looking back this continued for much of the next forty years!!

Rooke Lane 1959-1964

My father applied for me to attend an interview with Rooke Lane & Co , which I must have passed as we then signed five year articles on 27th November 1959. This whole procedure including my actual Articles can be found here.

I started work with them in 2 Norfolk Street, up from Temple Station, and next to the Aldwych in London, at the princely sum of £4 per week and with a promised pay rise of not less than 10 shillings a week every year. Wow!

Initially I was living with my parents at 1a Kent Gardens, Ealing – a lovely garden flat in a number of huge Georgian buildings his company owned. My relatives, the Bussicott family, lived next door (as did Dusty Springfield who sometimes used to share a bus with me down to Ealing Broadway station in the morning – eye shadow as well).

However I soon left home and sought my fortune in a succession of flats in London, finishing at 58 Denbigh Street in Victoria.

Life in Accountancy was boring and I didn’t take it seriously. I was articled to George White who was great, but I was obviously reported to the head partner, Mr Matthews. He had me in to say “Henderson, we don’t really think you’re cut out, or interested, in being an Accountant.” Bit of a shock, and I couldn’t let my parents down, so I got my head down. But it wasn’t long before I was back in his office saying I couldn’t live on £4 a week. He then gave me a lecture on the fact that his father had paid for him to be articled, so think myself lucky. At that stage I started to be an illegal mini-cab driver (using my Mini Minor) in the evenings and week-ends, to enable me to live (in truth my father helped out as well). Statute of Limitations must surely mean I can’t be prosecuted for what I did in 1960.

I served my five years, and actually went through the Intermediate and Final Chartered Accountants exams without too much of a headache. However by then I had made myself well respected and had been working at a senior level directly for another partner, (Tom Sweetman). I headed up lots of audits and also did some interesting sole traders like Tim Molony the ex national Hunt champion jockey (1948/52) who became a farmer. During my time there I went north of London for the first time ever. Really. with audits in Bradford and Carlisle. Although by then I had been to Spain a couple of times, this was my first experience of Britain north of Watford.

No reflection on those two fine cities, but I decided to go for a life overseas.

After five years my salary had risen to £8 ten shillings a week. They offered me £22 a week to start the day after the expiration of my Articles. On principle, considering that they had taken advantage of me, I resigned, so that I left on the last day of my Articles. A brave move as I didn’t know if I’d passed my exams. I worked as a temporary accountant for an agency while waiting for my results, and also looked for a permanent position abroad. I was offered a position with the biggest firm at the time, Price Waterhouse, subject to qualifying. At that time you could more or less choose where you went. I opted for Barcelona. This was the Harold Wilson and Trade Union unrest problem period. I wanted to get away from England.

Price Waterhouse 1965-1966

I joined PW in Paseo de Gracia 110 on April 26th 1965. I drove out in my mini-Minor, actually flying from Lydd Airport in Kent for the hop over the Channel to Le Touquet. This service was run by British United Air Ferries and the plane took 3 cars and 14 passengers. With the channel ferries being introduced this service didn’t last too long after I flew with them. Most people since dispute I drove a car on to a plane, stange but true.

For those that still doubt

Lydd Airport 1965

I met my girlfriend in Paris (as we couldn’t leave UK together – umm, well that’s another story and not for the internet) and we rented a flat on the beach in Castelldefels from Peter and Margaret Tedesco. Cheap and cheerful, but in a wonderful position, and I could commute into Barcelona by car or train. Later I took the Morris back to the UK and purchased a Spanish Citroen 2CV – the model just after you had a stick to find out how much petrol you had in the tank..

PW was a great firm to work for. I was lucky, as this was a time when the Americans and British were investing in Spanish companies. Most of the work was to do with investigating these companies, and reporting on their results and financial situation. Did a fair bit lot of travelling, to Madrid of course (you went on the train overnight in those days as much of the line was single track), and a spell down in southern Spain investigating a company that Beechams were wanting to buy. Some actual audit of Spanish companies including Gallina Blanca (who did everything you could possibly do with chickens). During this time I spent a lot of time with American businessmen, who I liked, and their systems which they wanted implemented, and which the Spanish found a little against the grain.

The strangest aspect of working in Spain was getting used to there being two sets of books – the actual results and those submitted to the tax man. These records were kept separate and sometimes with two accounts departments.

Pat, who had epileptic fits, had to go back to the UK and I spent some time in Barcelona in a friend’s flat, but this time in Spain was put to a sudden end by a letter from my uncle, Jimmy Bussicott, who told me my father (52) was dying from lung cancer. An only child, I came back to London to be with my Mum and saw out the lingering death.

Not made easier by Lesley, my fiancé, changing her mind about marrying me and living overseas, after her father (a tailor) had just made me a rather smart mohair suit to be married in!!

Don’t even ask how I went to Spain with Pat and had a fiancé in the UK!

BOAC 1966

Although Price Waterhouse offered me a position with them in London I decided in the circumstances to just look for temporary work. As we were in Thames Ditton in Surrey I decided to try BOAC at Heathrow, and was offered a temporary position with them. I worked for a Captain Aries in Flight Operations. He was an ex-Comet pilot and great fun.

Amazingly at that time I was the only Chartered Accountant working for BOAC. I’m sure BA now have a hundred bean counters working for them. The systems were dreadful, and I suppose this is when my interest in systems rather than accountancy really began. I worked on different management reporting systems including the design of a system to charge out their new Flight Simulator to pilots from other airlines. This was the first Flight Simulator at Heathrow. Also I did a lot of work on controlling and reporting flight costs – servicing, landing fees, fuel etc and also flight staff costs. This is when I found out how many hotels around the world had banned BOAC staff!!

My dad had died at the end of March 1966 and as soon as I felt my Mum was OK to live alone (she bought a Mini, learnt to drive and found a job at the nearby Tax Office, while I was living with her), I started to look to go back to Spain with PW. However there was no vacancy there and they offered me positions in Geneva, Paris or Milan, with the possibility of a move back to Spain when the opportunity arose. But I really wanted to go back to Barcelona as I had a car and belongings still there and liked the city.

Deloitte Plender Griffiths 1967-1968

I joined Deloitte’s in Calle Tuset 8 in January 1967. Much smaller than PW and it was all audit work.

Returning to Castelldefels I rented an apartment in La Raconada. During my time there I met Valerie who was passing through on her way back to UK from the war in Biafra. Her daughter Jan had just turned six and Don, her son, who was three in June 1967 came to live with me.

I had decided that I was not suited to be an auditor, and we decided to live in England and get married there. I left Deloitte’s in April 1968.

BKS Air Transport 1968-1969

We rented a flat in Haines Court, Weybridge and then after nearly buying in Woking we purchased 25 Firfield Road in Addlestone, next to Weybridge. Valerie and I married in Woking in August 1968.

Having decided that auditing was not for me, although living in Spain had been fun, on 10th June 1968 I joined BKS, a private airline, as the Financial Accountant. Initially we were based in Seymour Mews in theWest End, but later moved to Hodford House in Hounslow High Street, just outside Heathrow, which suited me fine.

Bamber, Keegan and Stevens were the original partners in the airline, although only Stevens was left when I worked here. A gentle and pleasant man. Strangely, thirty years later in 1999, when Jo and I were living in Montgo, we met Mr Bamber who lived two doors away.

The systems were in a mess, and the airline was in trouble with a large overdraft which I had to juggle with Shell, BAA etc crying out for invoices to be paid the whole time. The Financial Controller, James Tuten, was sacked and I took over the Revenue accounting as well as the financial work. So aged 27 I was in charge of fifty staff in an ailing company. During this time I struggled to cope with all the accents in the UK, as I needed to speak to the station managers in Birmingham, Newcastle, Glasgow, Dublin, Belfast and all the other airports that we flew into. During my time there we had the Britannia crash at Heathrow when some horses were killed.

British Air Services came along and were to amalgamate BKS and Cambrian Airlines and it became North East Airlines, and later part of BEA. I was not too happy with the new management and told them, and was effectively dismissed in October 1969. This just after Diana was born. Not the happiest time, but I learnt a lot about running an Accounts department and also came across poor systems again.

Management Dynamics 1970-1972

Working as a temporary accountant for a London agency I was reasonably content with a mixture of work. However James Tuten, my ex-boss at BKS, was in touch and although I resisted his approaches for months, when he flew me down from Newcastle where the family was on holiday with my in-laws, and threw in a car as well, I was bought!!

In August 1970 I joined him at Management Dynamics Holdings Ltd at Heathrow House on the Bath   Road. This company was a computer company owned by the Greyhound Bus Company in the USA.

James Tuten had problems with his three accountants, and once he had me on board, he fired them all. Heady stuff. Into the deep end. Again I had to learn a lot very quickly.

And of course this is where I really came across working with computers which produced financial and management accounts.

However Valerie and I decided enough of the UK and I told the company I wanted to move overseas again. They started to look for a replacement and found one quickly, but I started running demonstrations of various of the company’s systems to potential customers for the Group Marketing Director.

After being interviewed for jobs in Bangkok, Kobe and Santa Lucia I was offered an interview with Swire’s in Hong Kong. Just before I left I had a leaving lunch with the Management Dynamics guys in the pub next door to the office. Falling down a one inch step leaving the premises I fell and broke a bone in my wrist. A fact I didn’t realise until the effects of the six pints of Guinness had worn off later that evening. This meant I flew to Hong Kong with one arm in plaster.

John Swire & Sons 1973-1983

I was flown 6,000 miles to Hong Kong for an interview for the job of Chief Accountant for Cathay Pacific Airways. However the position was offered to their auditor, who knew the company, and was nearly ten years older than me. I had got that far because I had already worked for two airlines.

Swire’s said come anyway as there will be another opportunity. So I, Valerie and our three kids flew toHong Kong with Bruce our dog.

Initially I stood in for the new Chief Accountant, who had to give six months notice, and worked for Bob Dewar, a really nice guy. Then Swire’s said that there were two possibilities. One was in their Computer Department on designing financial systems and the other heading up the financial and computer side of a new insurance joint venture. I saw the two bosses, and went back to the Financial Director, Richard Sheldon, and was about to choose the Computer position when he said they had decided I was being seconded to Taikoo Royal Insurance.

Swire’s had been an insurance agency for a hundred years back into Shanghai days. They had decided to get into bed with Royal Insurance and set up as an insurance company. So Taikoo Royal was started in 1974.

There were two problems for me. I hadn’t the faintest idea about insurance accounting which is quite complex, and I had nothing to look back to and say what did they do last year. I had to set it up. A crash course with Royal in Liverpool got me going.

The second problem was that Swire’s insisted that I adapt their Insurance Agency system that ran on a main-frame. I knew enough about systems to know this was not going to work other than for a limited period, and it would be a nightmare. This was me meeting an immovable object, the power of Swire’s. I contacted my new friends at the Royal. Their IT executive was in Australia and it was agreed he would fly back via Hong Kong. I spent half a day with him and when he got back to the UK he sent two senior fellows out, Mike Duncan and Tony Kerrigan. After a week they prepared a report for Royal and Swire’s saying throw the system away and design a new one.

Using Swire’s IT department, and help from Tony Kerrigan, I built a new system from scratch. It meant that I learnt lots about insurance, having to learn all the policy classes, claims, underwriting, reinsurance, fire commitments, etc etc. I even started to take the Insurance Institute exams in 1976. Having passed the Liability paper, with lots of case law, I decided enough of that. More boring than accountancy.

I had been in charge of staff for some time and had employed many really good Chinese, mostly females, all fluent in English as they had been to Universities in UK, Canada or US. Therefore I had Agnes Nip in charge of finance and Wallace Lam in charge of the computer system. Alice Chan was in charge of Claims and Pat Ho in charge of Commercial Underwriting. All Henderson recruits together with a number of Hong Kong Polytechnic graduates such as Lucy Chan. The staff responsibility was something I enjoyed, especially as these young people started to run departments.

I should point out that I dropped the accountancy responsibilities in 1976, and therefore cut any interest in accountancy once and for all. Therefore since qualifying as an accountant I had roughly 3 years in audit and 5 years as a commercial accountant. The next 25 years in computers. The ‘grey suit’ and ‘bean counter’ image has however been very difficult to drop, which is still an irritant to me.

In my increasing role I took on Personal Underwriting and ran that for a couple of years. which was fun.

In 1980 the original system was showing it needed modernising and that was the start of TREVOR (Taikoo Royal Effective Visual Online Retrieval) system. Built to run on an HP 3000 it was probably the hardest to design and best system I ever built. It was later described by a Royal UK director as a Rolls Royce system for a Mini company. I decided to take that the right way.

There was nothing more for me to achieve in Taikoo Royal, and although a move back to Cathay Pacific was mooted, we decided that over ten years in,Hong Kong,was enough. Feelers were put out to Royal who I used to see every year both in London and Liverpool when I went back to the UK on leave.

Subsequently I left Swire’s on 31st August 1983

Royal Insurance 1983-1996

Following these feelers to Royal we went to Barcelona to discuss a position as Assistant Manager Spain. The offer was made in February 1983. Although there were many attractions, Valerie and Diana decided they wanted to return to the UK and I turned down the offer.

In June 1983 an offer was made to join as Methods Manager in ISD in Liverpool which I accepted and joined Royal in October.

We lived initially in Inglewood, a large residential training centre in the Wirral. This was great while we converted our new house, Stablewalls, in Parkgate. Later we sold this house and moved to The Mount a listed building in Tattenhall.

I found I was responsible as Methods Manager to Peter McMorran. We did not hit it off as I found the ISD way of working was so different to that I had enjoyed working in charge of a computer department. This was a constant source of amusement to my new managers, David Miles, Ron Marsh, Steve Fletcher and Graham Avison, as was the fact that they were Organisation and Methods managers and I knew nothing about O&M and was in charge. My relationship with the head of ISD, Mike Sayers, was also poor.

My salvation came when a new system that ISD were developing for Royal International, called AIMS, came off the rails. I had known the International executives for ten years, and the Exec in charge, Joe Hogg, a lovely man, insisted that ISD pass the system over to a new Royal International computer department, C&IS, which I headed up. This meant that I got away from ISD and was an environment which I knew and I could call the shots.

Apart from completing the AIMS project with Roger Gay-Jones and Rob Cronley, we soon moved onto to new projects. One, headed by Roger was the selection of an email system for implementation worldwide. We selected a Canadian system, and were proven it was a sound choice as later Microsoft took it over and it became MSMail. Moving all the Head Office staff in London and Liverpoolto email and implementing in about fifty offices worldwide was a real project.

Rob Cronley then used this facility to design and implement a system of quarterly and monthly results being sent in electronically. This was a fantastic improvement especially as we then fed that into a SUN accounting system. It meant that every overseas company, in every continent, were sending in quarterly data and these were fed into the accounting and Management Information systems automatically, and were then available on-line to all Head Office departments. A massive project.

Overseas work was demanding. I had Alan Gambles who spent more than half his time travelling in Europe, Africa, South America and the Middle and Far East. I agreed a transfer of Martyn Cutting to Lisbon to handle a computer problem there, and enjoyed trips to Portugal.

Rob Cronley started to implement the SUN accounting system in Spain, Portugal and Kenya.

I was involved in the SUN package and presented for the suppliers in a Paris conference.

Royal International were looking to expand and I visited Madrid a few times to review the computer systems (awful) of a large insurance company, Velazquez. Royal eventually purchased this company, but all sorts of problems arose including massive understatement of claims reserves.

I also went and looked at the systems at a large insurance company based in Genoa in Italy. Again Royal purchased but again had some problems.

During this time I was spending a lot of time in London on support of Head Office in Holborn and overseas work. The company rented me a flat in Windsor for a year or so, which was a relief.

Around this time I became involved with another software company, EPIC, which had a great Executive Information System. Rob and Roger implemented this in the UK to sit on top of the UK financial systems. Then Rob implemented EPIC systems for a Spanish subsidiary in Barcelona and the Italian company. So I had regular trips to Barcelona and Genoa. My closeness to the EPIC company meant I was asked to speak at various seminars in London and Heathrow.

Tony Hortopp was brought in as head of Group IT, and in April 1992 he amalgamated C&IS and ISD. Mike Sayers the head of ISD left. Although my background was system development I agreed to take the role of Network Systems Manager. In summary this comprised – HELP Desk and Network support for Group Head Office in Liverpool and London, Running the Local Area Networks in Liverpool and the various London sites, International support, PC work for Group Head Office, Disaster Planning, Implementation and support of Email internationally and other projects that arose.

I knew nothing about LAN’s, but fortunately Kevin O’Sullivan did, and he was great at running the Hewlett Packard computers and the local area network of hundreds of users, ably supported by Len Mitchell.

We were one of the first to introduce video conferencing and implemented this between Liverpool and Londonwhich significantly reduced travel between these two cities. Not me, I still spent 35-40% of my time inLondon.

Phil Humphries handled PC and LAN support in Liverpool and Martyn Cutting looked after London. Alan Gambles was in charge of international support. Chris Hindmarch joined us and brought some useful knowledge to the management team and became our consultant.

I hosted the International IT Conference at Inglewood in Cheshire in 1989 , in which the UK, US and Canadian IT managers attended. There were over eighty participants and presenters. I handled presentations on Executive Information Systems, and my team made other various presentations, including Phil Humphries doing a demonstration of the Internet. it wasvery early days for this – we had just built a Royal Insurance internet site – and as one of the first it was was very basic, but it was exciting, as we were one of the earlier pioneers of what was to become the Internet phenomenon.

Roger Gay-Jones took a secondment to Indonesia. He later moved to Singapore and Hong Kong.

I attended and presented at an International conference in Singapore, and was asked to visit Hong Kong for a few days to meet Roger there. This I did with some hesitation as I had vowed not to return. Very emotional flying into Kai Tak and also meeting the Taikoo Royal and Swire staff again.

I took early retirement from Royal in 1996, aged 55.

Consultancy 1996-1999

As part of my early retirement package I was promised some consultancy. Soon after my leaving Royal Insurance merged with Sun Alliance who were based in Horsham. Tony Hortopp, my ex-boss, took the group IT role so I was well placed.

During my consultancy period I worked with The eis Network, which specialised in Executive Information systems. I did work with them for Swiss Re, the Reinsurance company.

My last project was with Royal Sun Alliance where I project managed the implementation of a module of the SAP system. I had a team who worked for me, the Liverpool leader being Ann Richardson who handled the Liverpool implementation. This project took over a year, and entailed constant travel between Horsham, London and Liverpool. Living initially in Woking, and then later with Jo in East Molesey, I was driving to Horsham daily. Every two weeks I would take the plane from Heathrow to Manchester, where I was picked up by car to take me to Liverpool.

A very tough project. As soon as it was completed I decided to retire. Jo also gave up her job, and we married on August 20th 1999 near Hampton Court. The next month we moved to Spain.

So a career of forty years and a final retirement age of 59.

Although stumbling into computers via accountancy, it was in hindsight exactly the right move for me. So as my career progressed I was throughout very strong on finance, but had 15 years practical ‘hands on’ experience in running insurance company departments, and 25 years of knowing how to use computers. This meant I was able to communicate easily with insurance company directors, executives and management, which gave me stacks of possibilities to grow into new roles. Looking back on my career it was mostly a series of projects, rather than a standard regular job.

Although of course not a grand plan when I started as an Articled Clerk, it was a highly successful progression, and it meant that I was one of those lucky people who really enjoyed their career.

And then after retirement came new projects in Spain – Javea Online, researching my Ancestry, and ultimately writing novels.