GROWING up, Alex Ingham dreamt of becoming a sports journalist.

Years later, however, his career had headed down a different path.

Standing in an industrial unit on the shortest day of the year, the pouring rain outside was a perfect match for his mood.

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With no electricity and a floor still wet with paint, which he subsequently trod into his car, his venture wasn’t off to the best of starts.

Yet the whole reason he was in the building was, partly, down to sport.

In the days and weeks prior to the brush with his landlord’s floor decoration, Mr Ingham had read the autobiography of Clive Woodward, England’s former rugby union coach.

Woodward is a man extolled by many for his meticulous planning and attention to detail, which helped cultivate a successful team environment and propelled England to 2003 World Cup glory.

His achievements were not lost on Mr Ingham, who fervently absorbed his words and approach, and admits the process was a life-changing moment.

His career had been spent at companies in the workwear sector and had been comfortable enough.

But Mr Ingham said he always wanted more, and was keen to get his ideas across and make a difference.

That drive led to the creation of MI Supplies.

Based in Thornaby, near Stockton, the company takes its title from the maiden name of Mr Ingham’s wife, Murray, and his surname.

Supplying products such as clothing, footwear and personal protection, the business employs 13 staff and previously unveiled plans to spend £100,000 on creating more jobs after seeing turnover hit £2.25m.

Its clients include supermarkets, fire brigades, an ice cream maker and a burger producer, and workers were recently put through a training scheme to gain NVQ qualifications in business improvement to aid their development.

But, as Mr Ingham admits, it could all have been so different.

“I fell into this by accident”, he said.

“I wanted to be a sports journalist but instead of revising at school I played snooker.

“I was good but it meant I didn’t get the qualifications I needed to go on a journalism course.

“I ended up going to Darlington Technical College and did a business and finance course but there was just too much maths for me.

“So I ended up getting a job in a tool store in Darlington, which did a mix of tools, workwear and clothing.

“I worked for a couple of other companies after that but it got to the point 12 years ago where I thought to myself, life is pretty short.

“I remember reading Clive Woodward’s autobiography, which really inspired me to do my own thing.

“I know absolutely nothing about rugby, but the book was brilliant in terms of how he worked with people, and how he got the best out of them and gave them leadership to get small incremental improvements all the time.”

For Mr Ingham, and his firm, the reading has proven invaluable.

The company now has around 250 business customers across the country, while he estimates its website, which is being given a makeover, has helped secure orders from nearly 30,000 people.

However, he admits the early days were a little interesting, to say the least.

He said: “My wife and I said we would have to downsize the house if this went pear-shaped.

“The first day of the business was on December 21, the shortest day of the year.

“It was dark all day and pouring with rain when I got to our little unit.

“The electrics had not been put on for us and as I walked across the floor I realised the landlord had painted it the night before.

“I got paint all over my car.

“I had no stock and no staff and thought to myself, ‘what have I done?’

“But I’m delighted and proud with what we have achieved.

“However, none of us have sat back and smoked the stereotypical cigar and said ‘we’ve done it’.

“I couldn’t work for anyone else now, I really like being in charge of my own destiny and it also means we can do things like help a charity or sponsor a cycling team, for example.

“Every day we are trying to be better, to give the best customer service we can and be the best in the industry.

“I would like to see us being a £5m to £6m business in the next three to four years; that would give us real strength in the marketplace.

“All I want is for us to keep getting stronger.”