Former MD ‘living the dream’ four years on

Former chief executive of CODA Mike Starkings, who is now pursuing a career as a professional musician. (s)
Former chief executive of CODA Mike Starkings, who is now pursuing a career as a professional musician. (s)
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By Esther Halligan

For the majority of us quitting our jobs and following our dream is merely that, a passing dream.

However, Mike Starkings is one such person who left the security of his job to pursue a career in music.

What is perhaps more surprising is that Mike, who lives on Wetherby Road in Harrogate, was a high-flying chief executive and decided to give it all up for a career in music.

Mike, who was formerly CEO of CODA (now Unit 4) and SquareSum, said he had a calling for what he calls his “real job”.

He is now a musician and spends his days writing lyrics and performing.

It’s a world away from managing hundreds of salesmen.

Mike was in software sales and made his name in the mid ’90s – during and after the flotation of CODA and the subsequent sale of SquareSum to SciSys in 2003. He used to travel extensively and was accustomed to working under huge pressure.

So what makes a successful chief executive give it all up?

Mike says: “Sometimes I’d think – is this it? I found my passion for songs and songwriting never diminished – but my enthusiasm for IT sales did.’’

It hasn’t been a straight road though.

After first forming a successful band Mike then handed in his notice at the Harrogate-based firm CODA in 2008.

Night after night of singing covers at weddings and corporate events wasn’t what he’d signed up for.

The repetition and endless hanging around left him feeling frustrated and disillusioned. But it also served as a catalyst – propelling Mike into picking up his notebook and writing original material once more.

His lyrics have been met by incredible reviews. His songs tell of his frustrations and feelings in corporate life and as a musician, other new songs cover different aspects of relationships.

But Mike has been writing songs and accompanying music since he was a schoolboy in Rawdon.

He says: “Even then I’d make up jingles and sing them to the whole of the Aireborough Grammar School assembly.”

His most popular track to date – Slipping Away – tells of the break up of a relationship once he left for university and began a new chapter.

While a maths student he won a number of competitions, including getting to the final of the first Melody Maker National Folk/Rock competition.

Mike said: “I attracted the attention of a number of well-known 70s producers and artists and was invited down to the famous De Lane Lea studios, but the promised offer never materialised – I was very naive and had no manager or agent working for me.”

Mike still continued to show off his music skills whenever possible and had a reputation for his performing and musical ability while still working in IT. “I used to surprise many clients – often at the Majestic Hotel in Harrogate – by delivering the opening corporate presentation to 500 people and then closing the evening on the piano in the bar,” he said.

Even when completing his accountancy qualification working for the Vestey Group in North Wales and Pedigree Petfoods in Melton Mowbray, Mike was frequently approached to perform professionally in local pubs and clubs.

“I used to pick up the guitar or play the piano at a party and the next thing I knew I was a regular performer somewhere,” said Mike.

Mike built up a fan base that included a number of the then successful England Rugby Team as well as established artists such as Don Fardon, whose biggest hit was a cover of John D. Loudermilk’s Indian Reservation.

Mike doesn’t fit the stereotype of a musician and he is now thankful he can turn down requests to play at weddings and parties, because he doesn’t want to be singing covers for money.

He says it’s about performing his material and showing his talents. And nothing, he says, has brought him greater satisfaction professionally.

“Taking a song from an initial idea to a quality finished product is incredible – and tremendous fun when working with the right people,” said Mike.

He has clearly put his heart and soul into his first album Real Surprise. It’s a mix of pop, country and even some blues. What stands out is the songwriting.

Mike worked with other musicians from the area on the album. Lisa Mallaghan sings a few tracks and provides backing vocals on every other. Mike credits the Bradford-based singer with being partly responsible for getting him into the studio recording. “She told me to get on with it, she encouraged me to get recording,” he said.

Simon McGrath produced the album and plays the guitar– during the week he also lectures at Leeds College of Music.

Mark Walker – a respected session musician – also plays percussion, bass and keyboards and Leeds trumpeter Danny Gough completes the line up.

Mike says he’s baring his soul with the work and plans to play at venues around Yorkshire in 2012.

The world of software sales has dipped from when Starkings ran CODA UK.

He says: “In the 80s and 90s technology changes, legislation and functionality gaps meant that there was a lively market for business critical applications such as accounting systems.

“However, most application software is now a ‘me-too’ commodity with most suppliers struggling to keep existing customers paying their annual maintenance rather than attract new ones.

“The relatively small business benefits obtained from implementing new systems – at significant cost – make the market very difficult.”

When asked if he misses his old job, Mike says: “I miss the banter sometimes – but not much more. I’ve never felt so fulfilled and enjoyed work so much.”

l Mike Starkings next performance is at Korks wine bar in Otley on Thursday, April 26. For more details go to