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Mel Ewell: Key lessons from a 35-year career

Posted Saturday 27 May 2017

Mel Ewell: Key lessons from a 35-year career Mel Ewell, Kingston University alumnus

We asked alumnus Mel Ewell to share the valuable lessons he learned throughout his 35 year career. Mel, who studied geography at Kingston University, graduating in 1981, will be awarded an honorary degree this July. Mel has had a successful career in business, including 13 years as CEO of Amey plc where he grew the business from a £600m UK-based company to one which employs 21,000 people and turns over £2.5bn. Mel stepped down in March 2016 and currently holds non-executive directorships at London City Airport, HS2 Ltd, SIG Plc and Manufacturing Technology Centre Ltd. Mel is a Trustee of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award.

35 years after graduating from Kingston University with a BSc in Geography, at the age of 58, I am stepping down from an executive career.

When I contemplate the journey from where I began to where I am now, three questions ring clear:

Firstly, where did 35 years go?  Secondly, how did the son of a taxi driver from Bognor Regis end up here? And thirdly, what happens next?

Here are my contemplations on the answers and lessons:

On "where did 35 years go?" At the risk of sounding like everybody's grandparent, time accelerates (physics and philosophy graduates will now debate!).

The first lesson is: Don't waste it; time is a precious commodity. Whether it's in your personal or professional life, use it wisely; you're not getting it back.

So, "how did I end up here?" For the first time in my professional career I am trying to take the advice of HR Professionals and plan my future...it's not going well!  

With hindsight, I can identify no more than 4 key moments that shaped my career. I recognised them, focused on them and maximised them; I left Kingston with a Geography Degree and ended up being the CEO of one of Britain's largest engineering and asset management businesses, turning over billions and employing thousands.

My second lesson: Do the best you can every day and see where the wind blows you.  Everybody has opportunities in their lives - be wise enough to spot them and brave enough to take them.

Thirdly, good people make the difference between success and mediocrity.  Always employ people who are competent and add real value to the team. If they don't make the boat go faster, take them off the boat!

Fourthly, work out what your strengths are and maximise them; then work out where your weaknesses are and surround yourself with people who are brilliant where you are not.  Never be so arrogant as to think you're great at everything.....you aren't.  

And enjoy what you do and do it with passion; life's too short not to and others will notice if you don't.

So, what's next for me? Take my own advice; go where the wind blows, recognise and take my chances, embrace new challenges, surround myself with brilliant people and have fun doing it.

And always wear sunscreen. 

Category: Alumni

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