I used to cook for the Royal Family but accountancy was always my calling

By his own admission, James Duggan MAAT, a chef turned accountant, was “a bit of a ‘jack the lad’ at school”.

He left school with minimal GCSEs and his academic or work options were underwhelming.

But all was not lost, James had something he loved: food.

“I had a passion for food and in particular the ways you can express your artistic flare on a plate. It therefore seemed a no brainer to ditch the academic side of life to focus purely on gaining a vocational catering qualification.”

After college, James’ catering career flourished. “I loved it, I have absolutely no regrets in my choice, I got to cook in some amazing places, cooking amazing food, for equally amazing people.”

James has cooked for the Royal Family, the homeless, Sheiks, Formula One, and in adventurous settings: “I’ve prepared meals for clients on Jets, trains, in stadiums, manor houses, even once catering for a birthday party on a narrow boat, which has to be the most challenging place to cook.”

Catering for James had a bit of everything, it could take him wherever he wanted to go in the world. “I often get asked if I miss it? And the honest answer is yes, how could I not, it was my passion and I don’t think the passion for food will ever go.”

So why, after such a fulfilling career, make a change at all?

“The simple answer is my two daughters, Lillie and Olivia. I loved my old career, but it had downsides, the biggest of which was the lack of family life. I spent so much time away from home that sometimes I would go weeks, sometimes months without seeing my children, and anyone who knows me knows everything I do, I do for them. So when the little ones where approaching five and three years old, I essentially snapped. I had missed out on so much of their lives and I hated catering for that.”

James looked into retraining, but it had been 10 years since his last exam. “firstly, I had to learn how to learn again, and secondly, I had to find something else I’m good at.”

James enrolled into his local college and studied the core GCSEs again (English, maths science) on days off from work. It quickly transpired that he had a knack and enjoyment for maths, especially probability and statistics. After a lengthy discussion with his tutor she suggested accountancy, studying AAT.

“I remember thinking, ‘ok, whatever, she must be on too much cough medicine’. Accountancy is only for the brightest people.”

However, after securing an A in maths and passing the entrance tests James enrolled on AAT. He studied the AAT Foundation Certificate in Accounting at his local college in the evenings, the Advance Diploma in Accounting on day release from his first role with HW Fisher accountancy, but what he really enjoyed was distance learning with First Intuition.

“I loved the freedom it gave me, having such a busy and active life, distance learning gives you the flexibility without restrictions to study at your own pace. I found the tutor support, especially from Nick Craggs, a lot more engaging and fulfilling, which gave me the push I needed sometimes to crack on, as it is easy to lose focus or motivation.”

And the rest as they say is history

“But if you had told me five years ago I would be a finance manager of multi million-pound firm, I would have laughed you out of the park.”

That’s not to say it’s been an easy journey in accountancy. The biggest challenge and surprise for James was how hard he found getting into the profession.

“I ended up studying AAT Foundation Certificate in Accounting while still in catering. Possibly my proudest stroke of genius was to take two weeks of annual leave to gain not only work experience but office experience within the accounts department of the company I was with.

“I will never forget the number 452, as this is the number of job applications I filled out before getting my opportunity at HW Fisher & Co.”

But now, everyday James gets home from work and sees his children. “I get to eat an evening meal with my family, what more motivation could you want?”

James top tips for a successful career change

  • It’s a bit cliché, but never give up and believe in yourself. It took me 452 applications just to get in the door, you are going to face a lot of doors being slammed in your face, but just remember it doesn’t matter how many people tell you no, you only need one yes.
  • Don’t be afraid to think out of the box, gain experience where ever you can. I truly believe that every career has transferable skills into any other career, so look around you, what do you do now that you think you will use in your new career, whether it’s team building, dealing with time pressure, customer interfacing skills or just being a lovely person, all of these can be taken into your new career.
  • This is my personal favourite: remember, even if you fall flat on your face, you’re still going forward. Basically, you’re going to make mistakes, you’re not human if you don’t, but it’s how you bounce back from them that will separate you from everyone else.

First Intuition is an accountancy tuition provider for students and employers. Since 2007 they have helped thousands of students to pass their AAT, ACCA, CIMA and ICAEW exams..

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