Celebrating 40 years of DFS, Lord Kirkham says doing what you love means more than money

Dix neuf, soixante neuf: numbers that sound so romantic in French and identify the year that the president of that fine land resigned to become plain Monsieur de Gaulle. 

1969 also saw Concorde head for the skies and achieve supersonic flight. You could leave Heathrow at breakfast time and land at Kennedy, New York on schedule for, you’ve guessed it, breakfast.

And unless you’ve been in a catatonic slumber (or on the moon) you will have been bombarded with the news that July 1969 was the date of Neil Armstrong’s “one small step for man” walkabout. 

That same year our treasury tore up the old ten-bob note, replacing it with that funny shaped 50p piece. A heptagon too far, sending a generation of pensioners into decline shouting “no more change”.

Then in July of that year, in a mining village on the outskirts of Doncaster the first sofas were produced and sold by the retailer that was to become DFS. On this 40th anniversary do indulge my rags-to-riches reflection on the timeless lesson I have learned.

Way back then, as an impatient young man with a wife and two children who liked to eat, I was desperate to provide and, with a mortgage to pay and no job, I started up in business. It proved a good move and over the decades I made headway materially and in terms of formal recognition, and I would be lying if I described this as a terrible burden. 

But equally I can state confidently that a lifetime’s experience has shown me that riches and preferment are not prerequisites for enjoying life to the full.

Easy to say, I know, but as a marketeer it has been a lifelong quest of mine to study people to discover what makes them tick – or buy. And I can tell you, categorically, that not every billionaire (or leveraged millionaire) is ecstatically happy as he lounges on his super yacht in Sardinia or St Tropez with his young, pneumatically curved trophy “colleague”. 

It’s natural to think that promotion, with extra holiday entitlement, or a lottery win will transport you to a land of ecstasy. Or imagine permanent euphoria when you leave the straitjacket of the family home for your rented flat or take that “giant leap for mankind” and grasp the first rung of the property ladder. And surely heaven awaits the short step to a semi and then detached residence. 

No Sir. Through my involvement with good causes over the years I have witnessed more content and fulfilled people among charity workers on a pittance and their often- destitute beneficiaries.

So my lesson of 40 years is this. Don’t imagine that happiness has passed you by if you don’t make a few million soon, land a Cabinet post or become the next Pope. 

Discover what truly turns you on and focus on getting more of that. Don’t knock yourself out in the pursuit of “stuff” that likely won’t bring you ultimate joy – unless, of course, what you really crave is the matchless comfort of a brand new sofa. In which case, I say go for it. There has never been a better time to buy.

  • Lord Kirkham is chairman of DFS