My Biggest Mistake: John Rawlings

I trusted too much, too soon

John Rawlings worked as a management consultant before co-founding a business of his own, City Consultants, in the mid-Nineties. The business provides management consultancy and strategic project management, and turns over £9m

My biggest mistake was to trust too much, too soon. In doing so, I was financially wiped out and couldn’t even pay the mortgage. I had no money to buy food ­ it was that serious.

In 1978, I was working for stockbrokers who went through a merger. Both firms had been struggling and thought they would stand a better chance together, but by 1982 the business had ceased trading. I was the assistant to the administration partner, so my broad-ranging brief included responsibility for personnel and salaries.

The company went through redundancy and I was involved in making decisions about who should be made redundant, which was nerve-racking. It was tough taking people’s livelihoods away. In one department there was a chap who was getting on in years who I thought would be happy to take early retirement, but I called him a few months afterwards and his wife said he had died of cancer, exacerbated by the shock.

I helped individuals with counselling or CVs, giving ideas about jobs or effecting introductions. I wanted to help other people as much as possible, but in doing so, I didn’t really help myself. I didn’t have any savings and had been given a redundancy package of about £3,000, an awful lot in 1982.

My mistake was to invest the whole of that in purchasing a franchise. The idea was to sell key fobs to garages or insurance companies so if you lost your keys they’d be posted back to you. I knew nothing about the industry, but it was going to give me a job and an income and it seemed innovative. Basically, it was a short-cut. I’d had a hard time for months and this seemed too good to be true.

I didn’t like the individuals who ran the operation, but they and their Rolls-Royces impressed me. They were going to provide marketing and administrative support. They simply took my money and disappeared. It was a fraud.

A friend lent me a few hundred pounds and I did what I should have done in the first place: went back to the City and started looking for a role where I could use my skills. From that I was able to start doing consultancy work.

I learned several things. First, to trust my instincts and not take the easy way out. Second, to plan and research more fully. Although I am more entrepreneurial now, I have to be much more certain that something’s going to work. Third, to keep a financial reserve. These days I am always prepared to be surprised by people. There’s a part of me that holds back. That mistake taught me to listen more, to ask questions, and get to know other people a lot more before I trust them too much.

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