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Catching up with...James Wiseman

James Wiseman

James Wiseman studied Mechanical Engineering and graduated from Kingston Technical College in 1944, which later merged into Kingston Polytechnic. He later studied at Columbia University and Harvard Business School, and has worked as an international civil servant for the United Nations, and as an executive in Silicon Valley. He currently lives in California.

What made you decide to study at Kingston?

The 1920s in Kingston was a pre-diversity world. Job opportunities were often better in the Empire than at home, as poverty and class distinctions ruled our lives. The main event of childhood was taking the eleven-plus exam. This determined whether you went to a private grammar school and then possibly secondary school and college; or to a state school until age 14 and then out to work.

I did not take the exam, on the first occasion I was in hospital with diphtheria and the following year the exams were cancelled because of the war. However, at age 14 I had the opportunity to compete for a scholarship to go to the Kingston Junior Technical School for two years. This changed my life.

I became interested in getting an education, and attended evening classes at Kingston Technical College for eight years (four nights per week, while working as a junior draughtsman). The college offered two choices... Heat Engines or Structures.

What have been your career highlights?

I was fortunate to get one of 32 fellowships offered by the English Speaking Union. It was open to all holders of a degree or Higher National Certificate in any discipline. I chose Columbia University in New York City because it offered a masters in Industrial and Management Engineering.

One of the highlights of my career was the position of Senior Management Analyst at an oil refinery at Abadan, Iran. This taught me to shoulder major responsibilities, and ‘think big.'

As the Chief of Mission for the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Ghana I ran the National Productivity Center and trained local staff to conduct studies to improve corporate performance and to teach management classes. The organisation then sent me to Lagos, Nigeria to be the UN Advisor on Productivity and Management Development for the African Continent. It was here that I was given the opportunity for a fellowship to attend Harvard Business School.

What's your favourite Kingston memory?

I have fond memories of the 30 years I lived in Kingston, as a scout in the first Kingston Hill troop, and a cadet in the Air Training Corps - especially the flights the RAF allowed us to take in a Tiger Moth bi-plane. What I learned at Kingston Tech was that if you have an ambition and focus on this with hard work and persistence, will get you there.

What would most people not know about you?

I always carried a slim book of poetry to my evening classes, and would hurry after class on a number 65 bus to a ballroom dance studio to take my gold medal instruction.