Did you go on to study after school or did you go straight into the Navy?
I did, I went to UWIST (University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology). I did a BSc in Maritime Geography there. Geography was my strongest subject at school and the maritime element was great. There was lots of time at sea doing hydrographic surveying, assessing fish stocks, understanding the physics of wave formation; all sorts of things – very different to a normal Geography degree. I did my interview for the Navy when I was still at school. I was 17 when I came down to Gosport and I was selected for a Navy bursary, so I got a little bit of money to go to university. It didn’t cover all the costs, but it was enough to tide me over for a bit. Then I went straight into the Navy after that.
What attracted you to a career in the Royal Navy?
I always wanted to go into the Navy. I’m quite lucky in that I didn’t struggle with what I wanted to do when I was young. I grew up in Dalgety Bay from the age of four and our house overlooked the Forth. My dad worked for the National Audit Office in the Rosyth dockyard when it was a naval base. There were annual Navy days at Rosyth that we went along to where we could clamber all over the ships. There were always ships going up and down the Forth which I could see from my house, so it was kind of hard to avoid the attraction. My next-door neighbour was always keen too. He joined a couple of years ahead of me and we are still great friends. I was a keen sailor as well, I was Captain of the sailing team when I was at school, and I used to race dinghies with my dad every weekend and then on my own in a Laser from my early teens. The only other option I considered was joining the Metropolitan Police, but in those days you couldn’t wear glasses and be in the Met so that sealed it for me and it was Navy all the way!
Did your experiences at school, e.g. CCF, influence your career choice?
They definitely did. I was keen anyway, but CCF helped to reinforce that I was doing the right thing. Although my reports may suggest otherwise, I enjoyed the structure and discipline at the school and that certainly helped when joining an organisation like the Navy. It’s not super strict discipline, but it is disciplined in that everyone knows what’s expected of them, how they are to behave and progress and that certainly helped.
Did you join the navy with a specific career path in mind or did that become clearer as you progressed through?
I knew what I was most interested in before I applied. When you go for the Admiralty Interview Board, you are trying to be accepted for a particular branch: warfare; one of the many engineering disciplines; or logistics and I went for the latter. It was called Supply in those days – Supply and Secretariat i.e. all things logistics and people. I guess in modern parlance that would equate to supply chain, finance, HR, legal, hotel services etc. As you get more senior you soon develop into broader roles where your specialisation is less important.
Tell us the most interesting part of your career so far?
This is more difficult as I don’t know where to start – I feel like I sound like a poster boy. I have had adventures all over the world from Hawaii in the west to New Zealand in the east; from north of the arctic circle and down to the Falklands. I’ve been to dozens and dozens of countries. I’ve been on operations in Afghanistan, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and the Gulf plus exercises in numerous countries. I’ve conducted earthquake planning in Nepal, working with big charities and the Nepali government. I’ve done disaster relief operations and evacuations in Africa, led a liaison team in South America and spent time in the Atacama Desert with Chilean Marines. I’ve seen ships launched and sunk. I’ve worked alongside lots of foreign militaries and navies. I’ve been scared out of my wits on more than one occasion, and I even won a gold medal for competition cookery – that was pretty scary in itself!
I’ve worked with all sorts of incredible people from local villagers to Princes and Presidents. Lots of people outside of the military too in industry and academia, in big charities and governments. Every job has been completely different. I would say the interesting bit is the variety of things I’ve managed to do. When you enter the Navy, you don’t know where you’re going to end up. It just depends on where your career takes you. I’ve just finished being the career manager for all the Captains and Colonels in the RN and Royal Marines which was a fantastic job in helping to shape and develop people’s careers. Overall, I feel I’ve been very lucky and had some fantastic jobs over the last 33 years.
What did you like about working in the Royal Navy?
Being part of a team, the people you work with and for, and being challenged. It’s not a 9-5 job where you turn up and you know what you’re going to do that day. You’re always being pushed, as well as being fully supported. As an Officer, in every job, you’re also responsible for supporting every member of your team, so you have to make sure you invest the time in their development, understanding and supporting their ambitions. Having that responsibility is a real privilege. I’ve been led by some really great people and there are a few whose leadership and lessons absolutely stick with me and have shaped how I live my life now. I like having to manage complexity and competing priorities; spinning multiple plates ensuring nothing falls to the ground. There’s no fat in the Navy, it’s all pretty lean, so everyone has to do their job, multitask and prioritise to be successful.
What did you dislike about working in the Royal Navy?
Perhaps in the early years not knowing what you were going to do next, particularly when looking at starting a family e.g. not knowing if I was going to be working away and coming back on weekends, or if we were going to have to relocate again. However, it is part of the job and you do get used to it. The Navy is very supportive of all the processes when you do have to move.
Tell me about the most challenging part of your career so far?
I would say that taking on new roles every 2-3 years is quite difficult as they can be very different to what you’ve done before. For example, in my first role as a Captain, I was running the UK’s network of Defence Attaches around the world, managing teams and supporting their families in over 90 countries. That involved everything from selection and training, to provision of vehicles, housing, communications, security, allowances, medical support etc and with people all over the globe, no two days were ever the same. I loved going into work knowing that something was going to surprise me almost every day. From that I came back to Portsmouth and with just a weekend in between, I was in a different role, working for three different bosses on several very different projects, including being the Programme Director for a £1.3billion shipbuilding project, ensuring we could support the new F35 Lightning II jet at sea, delivering new technology to the Navy such as 3-D printing on ships (not easy when it’s constantly moving about) and also being the lead liaison for a project with the American Navy. You always have to be prepared to throw yourself at jobs and learn quickly.
If you could give your younger self some advice, what would you say?
Enjoy every adventure, enjoy every job (even the dull bits) and don’t worry too much about the future. Every path takes you in a different direction and looking back is a waste of time. Many former pupils stay near Edinburgh or around Scotland and that ultimately suits them. I come back to Edinburgh once or twice a year, I absolutely love the place, but I’m glad I didn’t stay because the chance to travel and do something completely different has been amazing. Embrace everything because the good bits far outweigh any bad bits.
What are you thinking in terms of career development now that you’ve left the Navy?
My background is in operations, logistics and senior HR type of roles. I’ve had such a diverse career it’s hard to work out what I’d be best at in the future. For the first time in my life I’m quite uncertain about my next steps. I’m very interested in working in the charity sector – I’m a Trustee for a local autism charity here in Hampshire. I’m interested in continuing in public service. I know what I don’t want, which is to make rich people richer. I’m just not particularly motivated by profit. There are so many opportunities out there, I just don’t know. I’ll admit, I’m finding it a challenge to refine what I want to do, after having been largely told for the last 33 years what I’m going to do.
Is there anything you’d like to say to our pupils who are perhaps considering a career in the Royal Navy?
I’d say to consider it seriously and find out more. I think the Made in the Royal Navy adverts that you see on the TV, are excellent. What they portray about the friendships, the adventure and the camaraderie is true to a greater or lesser extent depending on your branch and which ships you serve on. They all show a pretty good variety of the options available and whatever you do in the RN, you will have experiences that few people get to enjoy and a lifetime of stories to tell. I would say don’t worry about the training. It can be hard going for a short while, but it is a gateway to a very different life than if you stayed at home. It certainly worked for me. It’s very popular, there are waiting lists for some branches and you have to be selected to get in but it’s definitely worth it. ESMS will set you up well for it.