“People often ask me: ‘Why are you still working?’” says the 72-year-old tax specialist. “I do it because I enjoy it.”
“People often ask me: ‘Why are you still working?’” says Des Desai, a 72-year-old tax specialist. “I do it because I enjoy it. Every day is a different day with different challenges.”
Des’ career has spanned five decades, with computers and software as a central theme. His family moved from India to the UK when he was five, and his parents encouraged him to focus on sciences at school in the hope that he would become a doctor. Des dutifully went to university to study for a Chemistry degree – but three months in he knew that he hated it. He went to work at the Co-op Insurance Society instead.
Des’ boss saw that he liked challenging work and he asked him if he had considered a career in computers, a sector that was in its infancy at the time. It was a turning point. “If you go back to 1969 or 1970, computers were not something that people talked about,” he recalls. “It lit a little fire underneath me – even though I knew nothing about computers, I decided, yeah, that’s something that I fancy doing.”
Des enrolled on computer programming courses and soon landed a job at Olivetti, an Italian computer and office products manufacturer, where he gained a huge breadth of experience. He then went on to run his own software companies for over 20 years.
“That probably was the biggest stroke of luck that I had,” he says of landing the Olivetti job. “Their philosophy was that once they’d trained you – and the training was first-class – you were expected to do everything.”
As he approached 50, Des wanted a change from the intensity of running his own businesses. He wanted to be employed, not self-employed. But he found that prospective employers pigeon-holed him as “a lone wolf” and doubted he could adapt to life as an employee. He thinks employers see older workers in particular as unadaptable – even though this isn’t true.
“By a lot of employers, young people are perceived as more employable, more pliable, much more easy to train. And, because they’re young, [it’s perceived that] they don’t carry ‘baggage’ like family duties and responsibilities,” he says. “There’s a huge amount of ageism in the employment community.”
In the end, it was a chance conversation with a friend that led him to his next opportunity. The friend, a former tax inspector, wanted to set up a business that would use software to help self-employed people to do their taxes. Des created the software and continued to work with his friend after it was in place. He also started to support the clients who were using the software, leading him to become the self-employed tax specialist he is today.
Des now works around 30 hours a week. His hours are flexible, partly because he works around when his clients are able to see him. He enjoys the conversations and social interactions that come with meeting clients. He enjoys his life outside work too – he has two adult children who both live in the Midlands and they have regular family get-togethers.
Des advises other workers over 50 to have a positive mindset and to be open to new sectors, as he has been with the world of tax and accounting. He recalls, with a laugh, that he used to find accounting dull. But his views have changed as he has grown older.
He also says that there’s nothing wrong with taking your time over career decisions, so you can find something that’s right for you. “When you’re reaching 50, you think you’re running out of time,” he says. “[But] people have a lot more time than they realise.”
Des has provided advice on issues relating to tax and self-employment via our websites workingwise.co.uk and workingmums.co.uk for several years. If you have a question on tax or self-employment, you can email [email protected].