The Rt Rev Justin Welby was working as an oil executive when he became "unable to get away from a sense of God calling".
Twenty-five years later, in 2012, he is to be named the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury.
According to the Daily Telegraph, it was Mr Welby's friends who persuaded him to apply for the role of Bishop of Durham. He candidly admitted he was perfectly happy as the Dean of Liverpool. Just over a year later, he has been announced as the spiritual leader of the 77 million strong Anglican Communion.
The 56-year-old cleric is known for his courage and deeply-held faith, and his experience in business is viewed as bringing the Church of England greater credibility in public debate about ethics in the worlds of finance and the City.
Bishop Welby, who read law and history at Trinity College, Cambridge, began his career in the oil industry based in Paris and London, where he worked on West African - mainly Nigerian - and North Sea projects.
He became a group treasurer in a company called Enterprise Oil, before resigning in 1987 after 11 years in the industry to train for the Anglican priesthood.
"I was unable to get away from a sense of God calling," he said in an interview.
ITV News' Paul Davies reports:
Speaking about leaving the oil industry he told a local newspaper he said: “It was a family decision and I couldn’t have done this without my wife’s support. The oil industry was great fun with great people and I occasionally miss it. I was well paid, but we’re not high livers. Making decisions in the oil industry is far easier than in the church.”
He was made a deacon in 1992 after training for ordained ministry at Cranmer Hall in Durham where he took a degree in theology, serving later as a curate in Nuneaton, in the Coventry Diocese.He was made a rector in Southam in the same diocese in 1995 before being made a canon at Coventry Cathedral in 2002 where he also later became sub dean.At Coventry Cathedral he became involved in conflict resolution and peace building in war-torn areas around the world, continuing this work after he was made Dean of Liverpool in 2007.
On the evangelical wing of the Church of England, he is known for his sense of humour and self-deprecating manner.
Asked in a Guardian interview in July for his comment after he was tipped as the next Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Welby said that he did not want the job: "Let's be clear, I'm one of the thicker bishops in the Church of England," he said.His modest, unassuming manner and decision to opt for clerical black rather than bishop's purple belie a colourful family background.
His father was a businessman who traded in whisky during the prohibition years in America and then became an executive for a company that survived the alcohol ban by selling communion wine. He was later to move in the same circles as the Kennedy family. His mother was Winston Churchill's private secretary.
Bishop Welby and his wife Caroline have had six children, one of whom - their seven-month-old daughter and first-born, Johanna - died in a car crash in France in 1983.
During a General Synod debate about the plight of persecuted Christians in Nigeria, it was revealed that Bishop Welby had a narrow escape on a recent visit to the country.The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu said: "My heart is in my mouth every time he goes to Nigeria."Bishop Welby has listed "most things French" and sailing as his hobbies.