Course studied: BA Hotel & Catering Management, 1977
Current position: Non-Executive Director of Tesco plc and the RMA Group, an Advisor to Thai Union Group and an Honorary Advisor to the Thailand Board of Investment
You studied Hotel and Catering Management at Strathclyde, but pursued a very different career after graduation. What led you to make that change?
Thinking that a vocational degree would offer me a greater chance of employment after graduation, I decided to study Hotel and Catering Management at Strathclyde, one of only two UK universities to offer such a degree course in the 1970s.
After only a few months following graduation, I recognised that the realities of life in the hospitality industry were very different from my expectations and that I lacked the necessary passion and patience to pursue a long-term career. My degree course included several Business Studies components, including Marketing, which I had greatly enjoyed.
So, I decided to switch direction and entered brand management in the consumer products industry. My first big break came after three years when I was recruited by Unilever as Brand Manager Personal Wash. Surrounded by Oxbridge graduates who had entered Unilever via the “milk round” university recruitment programme, my background was certainly different.
While something of a cliché, my three years at Strathclyde were among the best of my life. While a native Londoner, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Glasgow, and formed very strong friendships."
Your career has been truly international, tell us how it developed?
Much to my surprise, I progressed through the various levels of brand management at Unilever UK, including leading the Persil group, at the time the number one grocery brand in the UK.
My first international move was as Marketing Manager in Switzerland before returning to the UK as European Marketing Manager.
In 1992 I moved to Thailand as Divisional Director for the Home Care and Personal Wash business before being appointed Chairman in Greece.
After 15 years, I made the difficult decision to leave Unilever. Having thoroughly enjoyed the challenges and rewards of living and working in Asia, I returned to the region with Bristol Myers Squibb with responsibility for their consumer products businesses.
The largest of the businesses, and that with the greatest potential, was Mead Johnson, a leader in the infant formula and nutritional products industry.
I went on to become International President and Global President, moving with my family to the US.
How did your career develop following your move to the US and what was the highlight?
I was very fortunate to lead Mead Johnson during a period of high growth during which we transformed the company into a truly global business with over 70% of its revenues and profits earned in the emerging markets of Asia, most notably China, and of Latin America.
In 2009 I was given the opportunity to lead the split of Mead Johnson from BMS and list it on the New York Stock Exchange as an independent public company. Ringing the opening bell on Wall Street was certainly a career highlight and it was rewarding to have achieved a successful IPO during the depths of the global financial crisis.
I stayed as CEO for a further four years before retiring in 2013 and returning to our home in Bangkok, while remaining on the company Board of Directors until the business was acquired by Reckitt Benckiser in 2017 for $17 Billion, more than 4 times the value of the business at our 2009 IPO.
Currently I serve as a Non-Executive Director of Tesco plc and the RMA Group, an Advisor to Thai Union Group and an Honorary Advisor to the Thailand Board of Investment.
Do you have positive memories of your time at Strathclyde?
The breadth and diversity of the components of my degree course stood me in great stead in my business life, and I was privileged to serve as President of the Faculty student body, allowing me my first opportunity to learn organisational and leadership skills.
While it is important to consider carefully which degree course you should pursue, I have learned that it does not have to define nor limit your career direction.
What advice would you give young graduates hoping to embark on an international career?
While recognising that family circumstances may hinder mobility for many, and that not everyone will work in companies with international operations, I would certainly encourage graduates to pursue international opportunities for personal and professional growth.
However, I would suggest that it is first important to develop sufficient functional expertise to enable you to add tangible value and to be recognised by colleagues in those countries as someone from whom they can learn.
I have been able to work across all the regions of the world, and in doing so have developed skills and understanding, both through successes and failures, that I would have otherwise missed. The experiences and opportunities that my family and I have enjoyed have been priceless.
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