An Accountant Plays It Safe – And Then Turns Businesses and Lives Around

Today we are interviewing Andy White, who has a very interesting story. He was an arts major who became an accountant to play it safe, but being a big-time accountant nearly killed him. In his illness, he discovered that he really had a talent for turning businesses around and he decided to apply that to the nonprofit sector, so he started a business doing that. In addition, he uses that business to fund his true passion, which is helping kids and other people who are really down on their luck create a vision for themselves and a better life. Andy is a fellow traveler with us on our path to help people create amazing things from their brilliance and their passion. If that describes you, you should listen to this interview.

Andy:  It all goes back to school, really. I did all arts-based subjects up to what we have available here in the UK, A Levels and sort of exams you take pre-university. I went to university with a psychology and philosophy degree, but really wanted to be a journalist. I toyed with the idea of going on to get a Master’s in social psychology, then I started to figure out that journalists, unless they’re very, very good, don’t get paid very well and psychologists don’t necessarily make a lot of money. I could only assume that this decision was taken into the student bar one evening where I suddenly thought, “Accountant. How hard can that be? They all make a lot of money. Every accountant that I know is very wealthy.”

Bearing in mind that I hated math, hated anything that was routine and not creative in any way, but I still took accounting as my career choice. That set a trajectory which lasted 10, 12 years, perhaps longer. It was okay at the beginning. I managed to not do the typical accountancy stuff. I was involved in corporate restructure and corporate finance. It was quite interesting and very varied, but still kind of routine. I was getting more and more sucked into the lifestyle that went with being on the fast track to stardom. I was on the partnership track. I was being offered projects abroad and so on, being made all these huge promises and starting to live that life.

Gradually over that period, though, I think a tension started to grow within me. I think my value structure changed, my belief structure changed. My daughter came along and I started to see the world I was in through different eyes. I started to see the faults with it and the issues that were arising in my own life because of this world that I was in and the way that I’ve been swallowed into that world.

Eventually it reached a crisis point, and I started to get quite ill. I was plagued with headaches a lot and ended up almost blacking out at work. I had to have MRI scans and I sat opposite a consultant who said to me, “It’s stress. Your body is telling you that you need to change your lifestyle or you will die.”

At age 28, maybe 29, somewhere around there, that isn’t what you want to hear. Also, having stress was career death. If you go back to work and say “I’m a bit stressed”, you can count yourself off the partnership track in the blink of an eye. Long story short, I went back to work. I carried on doing what I was doing and the situation got worse. Then one morning I actually couldn’t get out of bed. I woke up and felt like I had been hit by a truck. I was trying to get my legs to move out of bed and I couldn’t. I actually physically had to move my legs with my hands and I crawled through to the bathroom. I thought to myself, “This is weird. What’s going on here? This is not normal.”

I managed to get to the doctor, who took one look at me and promptly signed me off work for a period of time. That started a process that took me out of work for 18 months. I basically had a meltdown, physically, emotionally, and mentally, on a number of fronts. I specifically remember one day standing in our kitchen with the component parts of a cheese sandwich. I wasn’t doing anything fancy, just making myself a cheese sandwich. I had the bread, butter, and cheese out. I managed to do that part, but I could not process in my mind how to put that together into a sandwich. I had to get my wife to come and make the sandwich for me. Contrast that with somebody who is regularly running two or three companies in distress, doing deals to sell them or trading them. Going from that person to not being able to make a cheese sandwich was quite a swing.

Jasper:  That’s almost shell shock territory, isn’t it?

Andy:  Absolutely. It was a very humbling experience that started a period of introspection. I started to take a very long, hard look at myself. I got some support around that as well. As I was starting to get back on form again, I knew it was a crossroads moment. Where was I going to go from here? Was I going to go back into accountancy and that profession or do I try do something else? If it was something else, what was it going to be? I only knew how to be an accountant. It was that sense of being trapped.

Call it divine intervention, call it what you want, but I got a call to go and help a family friend who I’d never met before, and he ran a drug rehabilitation center. Not a million miles away from where we were, but far enough to make it a bit of a jaunt to get there. He wanted help with a business plan. I thought, “Well, okay. I can do that.” I went over there and it blew my mind. It was a male only unit, and I was talking to men that I would have never normally crossed paths with, hearing their stories. I was hearing this guy’s vision of how he was transforming lives and going to change the world, and I came away with my head spinning. It was like, “How do I do something like that?”

I continually worked with him over a period of time and we started to talk more about his vision. One of my skill areas is strategy and he was a classic visionary. He knew exactly where he wanted to go and he could not see why he couldn’t get there straight away — a bit like Alice in The Wizard of Oz:  “If I click my heels, we’ll be there, never mind what has to happen between where I am now and that place.” I said to him, “Look, you need somebody who can come in, take a grip of the business, and free you up to go and really pursue this vision ans take it where you want it.” He turned around to me and said, “Well, why don’t you be that person?”

We ended up having the conversation, and he offered me a package that was literally half the money I was on at the time because I was still being paid by my employer at that point. He offered me literally half the money, there was no company card, there was no pension, there was no healthcare or anything like that which I already had. We had just had our son and he was under a year old, we just moved into our house, and here was I going back to my wife to say, “I’ve had the job offer of a lifetime,” and explain how dismal the package was, but this was the job that I wanted to do. It was one of those moments when you know you’ve found your soul mate, because Kate’s always been willing to hear me out on things. Not always willing to back me if she can see the flaws in what I’m trying to do, but always willing to hear me out and always willing to back me if I’m sure and she’s comfortable. We ended up moving, and I ended up going to work for them. I had a lot of work changing their business around for them. Then I think found my calling, and that’s a very long lead-in to say it was that pivotal moment, going to work for the rehab center.

I think one of the big issues is we do feel trapped, don’t we? I had a degree to fall back on that was totally unrelated, but I’d done my three years of training. I had become a qualified chartered accountant and that was my life. How do I now, with a mortgage, kids, a wife, and all that responsibility, how do I just do something else? I have to admit that I didn’t go looking for that opportunity, but when it crossed my path, it was a case of “What’s it worth?” Is it worth going back into accountancy and all of what that would involve and probably a cycle of being ill through the work? Basically, it was circumstantial stress rather than deadline stress that got me. I was in a situation that didn’t sit well with me and I could do nothing about it. Eventually it wore me down. Did I go back to that or did we make some lifestyle adjustments and try something new? You look at your kids and you look at what’s happened. I thought back to working literally 70, 80, sometimes even 90 hour weeks, entertaining clients on weekends, not seeing my children, and thinking, “Is that the future I want? Would I rather have less money and an old knackered car and see my kids and be alive, or do that?” That was the decision point and it worked out so well.

andy-kateGuest – Andy White – Change Architect

I’m Andy. My wife, Kate, and I’ve been helping people, for years, climb up from the bottom to reach their mountaintop. We’ve helped drug abusers and ex-offenders transform their lives because we had faith in their ability to be great.

Your abilty to be great is no different. We’ll bring years of experience to your yearnings and help you unlock your vision, your massive “why?”, so you can start bringing happiness to those who can’t make it on their own.

Your mission is our mission. We operate on the premise that everyone is born great. That everyone has the potential to fulfil their life’s purpose. And that we are the people to help you unlock it.

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