My first million: Bruce Hodgson, Artichoke

With a baby on the way, quitting a reliable job in the army to make furniture may not have seemed the best of ideas. But thanks to some good advice and a couple of strokes of luck, the Bruce Hodgson's business is now worth £3.1bn.

When Bruce Hodgson decided to quit the army and make furniture, "my father wasn't too keen", says the 40-year-old founder of Bristol-based Artichoke. The former lieutenant was out of a reliable job, his wife was expecting a baby and to make matters worse, he was the owner of two investment properties with negative equity. Now of course, the £3.1m business was all his father's idea, he says, "and when he refers to the business, he refers to it as our business."

But for a long time, Hodgson was a one-man band, making cabinets and bookshelves from a rented workshop in the city. His first break one of many came after his mother-in-law's neighbour asked him to make her a bookshelf. "I was probably far too cheap." He charged her £1,200 for "something I would probably charge £12,000 for now". But it led to more work with her friends and then at a New Year's Eve bash in 1993, along came breakthrough number two.

A well-known' interior designer approached him and asked if he would make colonial-style wardrobes for a country house he was building in Kent. He agreed, but the next Saturday, "I had one too many drinks and decided, on this old crummy typewriter I used to use, to add a few grand, double the price, put it in an envelope and post it." The next morning, bleary eyed, he thought: "What have I done?" But three days later, he got the go-ahead for the £30,000 job from his client, allowing him to buy £15,000 worth of machinery to scale up his workshop. Better still, "the client was delighted with what I did".

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His confidence boosted, Hodgson began designing kitchens "in the £20,000" region for his banker sister and her friends in London, who "were beginning to have a bit of spare cash and buying their first flats". Designing kitchens was particularly attractive to Hodgson, as it involved taking on a lot more work than simply making wardrobes and bookshelves.

Lucky break number three came in 1998, when David Telling, the founder of listed investment company Mitie, asked him to make a boardroom table. A former Royal Marine, he took an immediate shine to Hodgson, saying: "I want to invest in you." Hodgson puts much of Artichoke's success down to Telling's £80,000 investment, and the counsel he offered him until his untimely death in 2004.

There's one piece of advice Hodgson has found particularly memorable, and it's one he offers his junior managers to this day. Once faced with a problem he was not sure how to solve, he approached Telling and said he didn't know whether to pick option one, two or three. "And [Telling] said, I don't know. Pick one of them and get on with it. You'll get to the same place'. I think if you've got an objective it doesn't really matter how you get there."

For Artichoke, that next goal is to build a workshop that will house the firm for the next 20 years. But he's not in a hurry. As the credit crunch unfolds, he's "seriously considering sitting tight for another year just to watch what might happen. The next three months are going to be interesting."

Jody Clarke

Jody studied at the University of Limerick and she has been a senior writer for MoneyWeek for more than 15 years. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example in her time she has dug into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.