My best decision was studying for an MBA. I started in 2002 and graduated from Reading University four years later. I felt that the MBA was extremely relevant to HR, building on the foundations I took from the CIPD qualification some years earlier. It also cemented a lot of the experiences I'd had, from my early HR career up to gaining a board appointment at beCogent in 2007.
What I found most useful was not just the methodology, but also the practical exercises and the assignments that we had to undertake around general business challenges. I found the marketing assignment extremely beneficial because you're not often exposed to it, from an HR perspective. And it really helps you gain a better understanding of where the business is going, and how to market our products, enabling me as an HR person to better link in what I'm doing.
Also, the financial aspects of an MBA are extremely beneficial – breaking down a set of management accounts, understanding the terminology, being able to look at a set of accounts and understand what they're telling you, is all very useful.
I felt the MBA didn't just help me in terms of knowledge and understanding – it helped me to influence at a more senior level, because I could speak the same language as other people on the main board at beCogent. Undertaking an MBA while working full-time was a very big commitment, but it was well worth it.
When I was 16, my brother died. He was 17, and we were very close. I believed at the time that education wasn't important. In fact, nothing seemed very important. It was just about going out and getting a job and getting through life. It was an odd situation to be in. In normal circumstances, had that not happened, I would have followed the same route as my friends – taking a gap year to go travelling before going to university – but I just couldn't muster the enthusiasm. I finally found time for a 'gap' in 2004. I took three months off, bought a round the world ticket and just disappeared. I had a fabulous time. I met such a diverse range of people, who really opened my eyes. Not doing that sooner, and for longer, is my worst decision.