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Ask the Expert: How to Go From CEO to Starting My Own Business

Here Avril Millar offers advice for our members who are founders, CEO or leaders. This month's Ask the Expert question is: How Do I Go From CEO to Starting My Own Business?

Our expert for advice for founders and CEOs, Avril Millar, is an experienced Non-Executive Director with a >10+ year portfolio career for both established leaders and high growth SMEs, primarily in the financial services sector, as well as technology, healthcare, consultancy, leisure, oil and professional services. This follows 20 years of experience as founder and director of Andersen Charnley, a private wealth business which grew to £500M assets under advisory, and early background as a Civil Engineer and Maths & Physics teacher. Avril has led the turnaround of a global recruitment business in the midst of the financial crisis, and subsequently transitioned into a non-executive and advisory career for organisations, including the world’s number one online FX broker, FXPro, a leading UK natural IVF clinic, Create Fertility, and a Silicon Valley brand technology start-up, Versus Systems.

Q: I’ve been working in leadership, including a stint as CEO, for over 20 years now, however, I still feel like I am yet to make my most significant impact. Thinking about starting something of my own but can’t help but feel that in my 60s, I don’t have time to make mistakes or take risks with a new venture. Or even that I do still have it in me. Any advice would be appreciated.

Avril's Answer: Ah, that old chestnut! Well, from a purely practical perspective it makes sense not to risk more than you can afford to lose, so I wouldn't necessarily advise staking your life savings and pension on a new venture. To be fair though, that applies at any age, and it takes a very brave person to risk all on one throw of the dice, especially when there may be a limited number of throws left.

From the perspective of making mistakes, whilst you are not immune from doing so, the chances are that you are at least slightly wiser than your 20-, 30- or 40-year-old self. Given that you've been CEO, and one assumes a successful one or you wouldn't have mentioned it, you're probably further ahead in terms of business knowledge than most. But all that is really neither here nor there. If you're in your 60s now, you may still be pottering around very healthily in 20 years time, or even more. I assume that you're not planning to start a venture which requires hard physical labour, so you're depending on your brain holding up. I can only speak for myself on this, but whilst I still make mistakes, they are rarely as catastrophic as those that I currently have on my secret CV, and the decisions I make are generally better informed and better executed than those of my youth.

As for having it in you still, the mere fact that you are asking this question means that it is still very much in there and also that if you don't do something about it it will just generally piss you off. We tend not to be able to imagine things for which we don't have a a degree of innate capability. Your subconscious mind is giving you a gentle - or not so gentle - kick up the backside to tell you that you have more to do and you should get on and do it. By all means do it a little more prudently then you might have done when you had absolutely nothing to lose; except of course there was always something to lose, it's just likely to have been more confidence and self-esteem than money.

I would take the bull by the horns in charge across the next available field. If you don't quite know what venture to throw yourself into, then I suggest you find someone else's venture and get involved helping there. You'd be amazed how many CEOs really appreciate having a mentor to talk to. You'll soon find out that you know more than you think or give yourself credit for, and can give more than you could possibly imagine.

I'm 70 this year. Work has never been busier. I plan to empty my tank before I go - I hope you do too.

Avril will be answering questions each month, so if you have a topic you need some support with, please get in touch via