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Some books that have influenced me

August 4, 2017

I am a sucker for the magazine articles ‘ten questions about [famous person]’, lapping up their sometimes PR angled responses; and sometimes touched by their honesty. 

One I read recently had ‘favourite film’ ‘last holiday’ ‘favourite book’ rapid fire questions, and this inspired me to think about which books have deeply influenced me. This blog gives my present selection. I am sure I have missed several, maybe many out, but this posting will give a good flavour. 

We’re going on a bear hunt


When we had the children, Jane stopped working for twelve years (I am not sure that ‘stopped working’ is wholly accurate) whilst my career progression was in full swing. But I was largely able to be home each evening at a decent time and believe I did-and Jane has credited me with-doing more than most aspiring- or actual- Deloitte partners in terms of fathering. Certainly, I rarely missed a school play, sports day or other event. (Of course, I missed some, but over the years Jane told me that other partner’s wives bemoaned their husband’s going to none. Maybe I was lucky: most of my clients have always been local based, and my trips to London have always been relatively rare, and my trips abroad very few indeed). The net effect of this: whilst Jane did the bulk of reading to the children, looking back I am very happy with how much I did. 

Two favourites stick out. We’re going on a bear hunt has been read countless times, and has entertained us on many a walk through forests, fields and hills. In preparing this posting, I found our well worn copy of this book.

The Tiger who came to tea


Alas, I haven’t been able to find our copy of this equally well loved book, so the picture is from google images. Looking back, and without the text to remind me properly, I can’t now remember its particular appeal, but maybe it was the sheer deftness of the concept which delighted us and the children alike. 

Harry Potter

JK Rowling and her Harry Potter series have a prominent place in how I look back at my children’s young lives. By a quirk of timing, our children were precisely the right ages to all be bitten by the Magic of the world JK Rowling created. A few years older, or a few years younger, then maybe -probably- it would all have been different, perhaps because the commercial success or because of the films, but our children, our family, grew up with the eager reading of and anticipation of the publication of each book. 

We went to Waterstones Wilmslow for the midnight release of one book-Jane’s best guess is book 5, The Order of the Phoenix, in 2003: crammed into the shop, the lights were switched off before midnight, and everyone counted down before lights on! and books there! and rush home! and read!. And for another of the series, we caught the night bus from Bramhall bookshop to the park gates of Bramall Hall, and then walked in procession through the lantern lit Bramhall park to the Hall, to be met by costumed entertainers before the midnight release of the book. I think Tom stayed up all night, and had read that book by the morning. [I will edit this posting: Alice or maybe others may be able to tell me which books/where]. 

Perhaps the most exciting for us all, and for me, was the publication of the seventh, the last, book, the Deathly Hallows. It was published in July (or thereabouts) 2007 and whilst Jane and the children had read it on publication, it was in my flight luggage for our holiday to Mallorca. I am sure that plane, and nearly all holiday flights that year, had dozens if not a hundred copies of Deathly Hallows

It is a long book, but I can still recall the thrilling of reading it, getting nearer and nearer to the climatic resolution: and the sheer joy of seeing how it was all resolved. A very special moment. 

My career mirrored the rise of that of a friend. Philip was the FD of a subsidiary of one of my listed clients, of which I was the tax  assistant on. And as he progressed to head office, then to group financial controller, then to FD, our friendship developed; the plc was then sold to Hanson plc and I, then either a senior manager or director, was lucky or good enough to keep the client and get a foothold into Hanson plc, which I then developed into a sizeable client for Deloitte. And years later, Philip’s next job became an even more major client of mine, which by the time I retired from Deloitte was a FTSE250 client of the firm (even after Philip had retired). But Philip and Amanda remain friends, our children also being of similar ages. But back to Harry Potter: Philip hasn’t read any, and couldn’t see what the fuss was about; Amanda had, and they were also staying in Mallorca that summer, and came to visit us at or villa.  I can’t remember whether the discussion was at our poolside or at our and their favourite restaurant in Pollenca, the Hotel Illa D’Or, but I can clearly recall Philip’s consternation, bewilderment and amazement as Amanda and I had a meeting of minds at the sheer thrill we had both had as we finished book seven more or less the same time. 

Thank you, JK Rowling, for the sheer enjoyment you have given me and all my family. 

Far from the Madding Crowd


(Not the cover of the book I once had: probably a school book, which I had to return after O levels; but, at least it has my first love, Julie Christie, on it)

The single book I have read most often, and the sole book I have studied in great detail, because it was my O level English Literature set book.  I devoured it, and loved the world of Wessex that Hardy created. In the following years, I read nearly all of his books, and much of his poetry. Many years later, when on a course for Deloitte held in the New Forest, I took some time off to visit Hardy country, visit his museum. 

One of my favourite films is Dr Zhivago, with Omar Sharif and…Julie Christie. 

I can’t say though that the judgement in the 1975 tax case of Black Nominees was wrongly decided; but unlike Jimmy Carr, who should have known better, I blame Julie Christie’s advisors for coming up with a scheme to try to save her tax on £475,000 of income. I have known of the case since the late 1980s, but it still comes up in articles now and then, including one in 2016 by Graham Aaronson. 


To show how my worlds sometimes collide: Black Nominees was centred around the advisor’s aim to shelf Julie Christie’s 1965-1966 and future income from income tax and surtax. She had just starred in Dr Zhivago, which was released in April 1966 and was thought to be likely to do well at the box office (it did) and had been paid £100,000 as an initial fee for her next film, which was released in October 1967. That film?: Far from the Madding Crowd. 
Physics for the Inquiring Mind

In my first few years, I moved around very frequently, as a result of dad’s job, but my mid primary school years we had settled in Culcheth, Warrington, where I lived until moving out after qualifying. 

For nearly all those years, across the road lived Jack and Barbara Morris, and there two sons Mark and xx [ I have sadly forgotten the other son’s name: will ask John]. We often played together, though I was the youngest of the four, and certainly the only one who didn’t have an ounce of coolness: the eldest Morris boy joined a band and tried to make his career in music. But since we were often in each other’s house, Jack got to know me well, and saw that I was very much into mathematics and physics (and anything else uncool).  Jack was a high school physics teacher. 

As a result, he lent me his most precious book, Physics for the Inquiring Mind, a door stop of a book. Tom, Alice and Sophie won’t remember, but until the internet era have house had several ‘telephone directories’: thick books of phone numbers. ‘Physics’ was as a big and as heavy as any of these: and hardback. Jack told me that whilst knowledge of physics would develop over the decades, nothing would change the underlying truths which Eric Rogers set out.

I devoured the book. He was right: the book was a superbly insightful exposition of the laws of physics, extremely challenging and yet so simply explained. 

Whilst for some reason I later chose to read engineering science rather than physics as university, I think the foundations of my academic success at engineering was laid down by trying to really understand the principles as Eric Rogers taught me. 

By the time I had graduated, with a top first, Jack and Barbara had moved away to Ormskirk, their roots, but I sent Jack a thank you note for the encouragement he had given me. Alas, he was very poorly then, with cancer, and his reply was written with a very shaky hand, rather than the beautiful script he had when he showed me equations etc.  My mum loved his reply, in which Jack said I was the brightest physics student he had every known, and so he had to help.  As a result, Mum and Dad got back in touch with Jack and Barbara, visiting them several times before he died. Afterwards, Barbara moved to London to be near her sons, and I think my parents lost touch, though am not sure. 
Move forward to 1992/1993. Jane was pregnant with Tom: what does an expectant father do? I bought from somewhere a pristine new copy of ‘Physics’, wrapped in cellophane, ready for his or any future child’s mid teens in the hope (?) that hecor one would take an interest in physics. 

‘Physics’ is still in its original cellophane wrapping. 

It is now being kept for a grandchild….

Edward de Bono’s Thinking series– including his BBC book

If I recall correctly, in the first week of first year at Cambridge, every student went to (strictly, gets invited to) some lectures on ‘thinking skills’.

Well, more accurately, I went to some lectures, and I don’t recall being alone with the speakers in the lecture theatres.

One of the speakers was Tony Buzan, who had recently invented Mind Maps, and we were encouraged to try them as the way to make lecture notes or when doing other research. I still use them nearly 40 years later: they have been a main technique for researching tax and for preparing talks. I use them less now I am ‘retired’ but they remain a part of my way of thinking. 


But the other key point I took from the thinking skills sessions was to read the works of Edward de Bono. He didn’t present to us- if I recall correctly he had a visiting fellowship at ‘the other place’ but his work was referenced. He was quirky: from Malta, with various academic roles, and something ‘pseudo’ about him: I took to his books like a duck to water. 

I was too naive to realise that de Bono was making a commercial career for himself (not that it mattered that he was): he was a self populist. But many of the techniques I learnt from his books have been fundamental to my career as a tax advisor. ‘Po: beyond yes or no’ was one of his sayings, about the word ‘po’ he created; he had a nice way of visualising it, and I have used his ‘po’ technique thousands of times. 

Later, he presented a BBC series on his techniques, and accompanied the series with a BBC book, which I have shown the cover of. But I’d recommend Tom, Alice or Sophie dip into any of the books of his that I have to see if any strike a chord: de Bono’s thinking skills have been a foundation stone of my career, and remain so.

Not bad praise for the thinking skills lectures!

I originally joined Touche Ross (which became Deloitte) with the vague notion of qualifying as an accountant and then moving back to British Rail as someone who knew about engineering and finance. That’s what I told Sir Peter Parker, who was chair of BR at the time, who I had met, and who wrote to me when I resigned (because, I later learnt, nearly all of their engineering sponsored students left: I wonder now if the concept of paying for some bright students to go through university had been his idea, to build up long term management potential: or maybe because we had met someone asked him to write to try to convince me to stay; or, maybe, now I know how the world works, maybe someone else wrote the letter and all he did was sign it).

Whilst I trained in audit, as everyone had to, I had a secondment to tax, and that was ‘it’. But I had enough self awareness to realise I risked being too academic and not practical enough a tax advisor, and so when I won the national prize in the Institute exams I chose as the book prize element a book which had some prominence at the time, Brian Warnes’ Genghis Khan guide to business. 

Brian, who has since died, was a career banker, as well as a chartered accountant. I loved his book, and worked hard to understand it: it wasn’t an easy read, but I worked my way through it, and also his subsequent book, Genghis Khan guide to cash flow. 

I think an element of how my career has been advising owners/entrepreneurs has been because I learned a lot of lessons about cash, profits, breakeven points, from the books. My career has not majored on advising inhouse tax professionals, talking tax to tax. Instead, it has been based on simplifying or explaining tax concepts to ‘laymen’ coupled with my philosophy that the aim is not to minimise tax, but to manage tax: treating it little different to other costs, and begin a factor which affects profits and cash. 

Years later, possibly 15 to 20 years Brian wrote a letter to the Times bemoaning some then banking practises and the departure from cash flow based banking. The letter gave the town where he lived, so I wrote to him, thanking him for writing the books and telling him the lessons I had learned from it. The letter reached him, and he wrote me an equally nice reply. Not many years ago I read that he had died, and the news saddened me. 

Not a major one, but felt I should include it, in case any of you one day become investors. A cornerstone book in the field of investment, which Warren Buffett has often referenced, is the Intelligent Investor. 

I studied it, and Ben Graham’s harder work, Value Analysis [check name] in my 20s. Coupled with my accountancy training it taught me a lot about analysing company accounts. More useful, to me, for my profession, than as an investor. I might write more about investing another time,  but for now, my key lesson from these books is ‘scuttlebutt and ‘comparison’. The techniques of comparing the Accounts of two different entities, even unrelated, and drawing conclusions from the comparison, and the technique of obtaining a variety of information from varied sources and applying it to thinking about investments. 

Taxes: burden or blessing, by the Bishop of Manchester, Stanley Booth-Clibborn

I can’t remember what brought the book to my attention- my guess is that it was profiled in the Manchester Evening News-but the Bishop of Manchester wrote a stimulation book on the morality of paying taxes. His book was published in 1991, and I imagine I bought it and read it around then: I had had several years of experience in tax by 1991, was starting to form my views; later I read it again before drafting my ‘principles doing business‘ before becoming a partner: principles which have stood me in very good stead right through my career. (main principle: do unto others as you would have done to yourself. Others includes colleagues, competitors, HMRC, clients…)

Lord Bensons’s biography

[add picture]

Lord Benson was a founding partner of Coopers & Lybrand, which became PwC. His biography was interesting historically and seeing how his career progressed, with him being a senior insolvency practitioner before being elevated to the Lords. Whilst the whole book is interesting, the appendix ‘advice from a senior partner to a junior partner’ was invaluable to me: to me becoming a partner. I have lent my copy of the book to numerous colleagues, many of whom became partners. From the time I read the book, when I was probably a senior manager, I have always tried to follow one piece of advice of always forming my own view, or trying my very best to, before going to see the partner. Very few managers do, but it is an essential skill to learn.

Chess 


I couldn’t write a blog about books which have influenced me without at least touching on my chess books. 

Some people might say I have rather a lot of chess books. It might be true. So picking a few is hard, but my selection is the four above. 

Firstly, Nigel Short’s biography, written by his father David. As I have shown you all, I am mentioned in it, with what I have always perceived as a dig by David against by dad, for not letting me play anywhere as nearly as much chess as Nigel. But David’s and Jean’s marriage split up largely because of his obsession with promoting by Nigel’s chess, to what Jean saw as the detriment of his studies and of their other two sons. Alas, I witnessed, not really understanding them, furious rows between Nigel’s parents. I was so often at Nigel’s home that I was almost a part of the family. I’ve not seen David for forty years, but I was lucky enough to see Jean when she attended the British Championships a few years back in Southport, and we had a lovely afternoon together, catching up as if thirty plus years gap hadn’t happened. 

Point Count Chess was a revelation to me. When I look at it now, it is fairly elementary, but when I read it, having not played chess for many years, it showed chess in a new light, and, I think, catapulted my strength. Who knows whether I would have been strong anyway, but I put much of my positional development down to this book. 

60 Memorable Games is an easy selection. Had it not been for Fischer v Spassky, Reykjavik 1972, and the furore it created in the real world (height of Cold War) I might not have learned chess. But I did, and Fischer became my first hero, though I always felt sorry for Spassky. Only decades later did I appreciate how strong Spassky had been; and of course, I quickly learned how mad Fischer was (though, as you know, Jane and I had a long weekend in Iceland in 2012 to celebrate my 50th birthday, and I had to visit Fischer’s grave whilst there; and as you also know, the Icelandic chess federation put on a tournament in honour of my birthday). 

So, the first collection of master games I really devoured was 60 Memorable Games. [I equally could have chosen the match book, which I bought aged 10, and lapped up, despite only having been playing chess for a couple of years. It might have been this book rather than Point Count Chess which turned me from a beginner to a decent player]

[add photo of Fischer book]

And lastly, the Search for Chess Perfection, a remarkable book, by a remarkable author.  Alas, I only came across Cecil Purdy, a former correspondence world chess champion, in my 40s, and dearly wish I had known of his writings in my formative years. All his books are excellent: Perfection is the most instructive book I have ever read. 

[cookery book]

Maybe it was a mistake in my upbringing, maybe a mistake made by my mother and father, but I only learned to cook properly (i.e. except for the very basics) in my 40s and 50s. One of my life’s regrets: but since I have very few other regrets, it is not bad as regrets go. I don’t blame my parents: they were children of the 1930s, were a young couple in the mid 1950s, and had my brother and I at the start of the sixties. And they did what everyone else did: Dad went to work, and Mum ran the house; and later, to finance John’s schooling, Nana got a part time job, but it was still her role to cook, clean etc; whilst Dad did the garden, did house maintenace etc: an entirely typical family of that era. 

And I went from school straight to a college at Cambridge where the whole ethos was around eating in college. The kitchen facilities in the halls were deliberately spartan, so that I can only recall a minimal number of occasions when students cooked. And after leaving university and when Jane and I moved in together, Jane was an accomplished cook, so I became forever sous chef, washer-upper and dishwasher loader and unloader. And then Jane took a career break whilst my career was demanding in terms of hours…so not for reasons as traditional as my parents, but I made the mistake of not trying to cook until perhaps far too late.

Where did I start? Uncle David bought me this book, which was the spur, and from there to Delia’s books: and quite timely for me, she did a ‘start with the basics’ course on BBC, which was a further springboard. 

Dale Carnegie 


You all know how much I credit Dale Carnegie with. The course brought me out of the shell I was in, without which my career would not have flourished. But this book, and his other books, struck an enormous chord with me, partly because Dale’s fundamental principle of treating others how you would  want to be treated, and of a deep belief that we are all equal, so chimed with how I was brought up and what I believe. 

I know I have given each of you a copy of this book, and I have also given countless other people copies too. What I might not have told you that five of the clients I retained when I left Deloitte, i.e. clients who I really like, are all Dale Carnegie adherents. 

Final thoughts 

I have written this blog whilst on holiday, when I had time to think and write, but without being able to walk round our bookshelves and recall other books which have influenced me. I imagine when I read this posting in say a year’s time I will be galled by some omissions, and maybe regret some inclusions, but hopefully it will give you a flavour of what has influenced me. 

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