The Transition Phase was delighted to have the opportunity to speak to Stuart Ferguson. Stuart is currently at Deloitte but has enjoyed a career path that has taken him across the globe with a number of international companies.
Tell us a bit about your educational background and those early days of your career journey …
“After leaving school I went to college to do a BTEC in Sports Science, but wasn’t ready to go on to university so I did an extra year in Sports Therapy. Following this I did my degree in Sports Science, so 6 years of sport study in total. In the summer before my final year, I went to work at Camp America and had great success in that, and I enjoyed it enough to go back once I finished university. I did two summers on the East Coast in Massachusetts. I wasn’t ready to go home and one of my friends was working in California coaching football, so I did an autumn coaching camp in San Francisco. That was the end of my short-lived career in sport, but it was incredibly value for the connections I made and the network I built. Many of my friends now and people who I know who have become successful have done things like Camp America.”
Do you think your background working in sport set you up well for the future then?
“Absolutely, there is something about people from a sporting background – they have the social skills needed to succeed. From my time at university, I was always in a sport teams and part of the student union. I have a huge network from studying and playing sport with these people who are now in jobs, and so it’s become a huge professional network. People I know who did Camp America and studied Sports Science, haven’t necessarily gone on to do sport related jobs but have still done incredibly well. I know plenty of people who earn above average salaries who did Sports Science or Sports Psychology, not just athletes but also people like me who were a little bit lost and didn’t know what they may end up doing and wanted to do something different.”
What was the next step for you after your time spent in the states?
“Initially I thought I might pursue a career in physiotherapy. However, I graduated during the recovery of the financial crash, which, in a similar way to COVID, was problematic for someone about to start their career. The government just pulled NHS bursaries, so to do a physiotherapy master’s degree would have been expensive and there was a freeze on public sector teaching jobs, so getting a job in a school was also very difficult. That forced me to get whatever job I could because I had responsibilities and needed to pay my rent ultimately. I got placed through a recruitment agency at a big well-known insurance firm, and they put me in a three-month contract to do data entry in a HR role.”
What did you learn when you started this position?
“It was a bit of a rude awakening in terms of thinking because I had a degree, I would earn a minimum of £20,000 which isn’t quite the reality. I got in the door and that was the most important thing, it didn’t matter so much what I did, I didn’t ask to be put into an HR role. Within three months of me doing a somewhat mundane role I caught the attention of one of the managers, who asked me to come and work in a different team, which I did for the next nine months. I ended up getting twelve-months’ worth of experience within HR and took that with me on a plane to Sydney.
A move to Australia is a big decision to make, what inspired you to relocate and how did that affect your career journey?
“As you can tell I was a bit lost, but ultimately was focused on creating a career. I didn’t know how long I would be in Sydney for but went with the mindset of continuing with HR. I worked on a couple of contract jobs for some global brands like Johnson & Johnson and Nestle with the intention of holding out for something that would open the possibility of work back in the UK. Sometimes you have to say yes to something you might not necessarily want to do if it’s for a short-term project, which is potentially something graduates should keep in mind when speaking to recruitment agencies. I wanted a global brand on my CV, and the first contract was 2 weeks at J&J. As soon as I did a good job there and got a reference, the other agencies saw that and knew I could be trusted to go somewhere else. Within six months of being in Sydney I ended up getting a job at PWC which changed everything. They sponsored me to stay for two years which ended up becoming five years and me becoming a citizen.”
Did that role put you in good stead to come back to the UK?
“My strategy of going with a global brand played out because PWC asked me to move to London at a good time for me, as I felt I got the most out of Sydney. Having a degree in Sports Science and going to an average university, part of me thought I would not have got a job or have the inferiority complex of getting a graduate job, or getting the foot in the door at a Big Four firm. Whereas in Australia, they seemed a lot more open minded. I think things have changed a lot in that regard. It was worth doing a sports science degree for example, as although I was working in a very corporate environment with people who did business and HR degrees, I did as well and even got promoted ahead of some of them. My background did not make a difference, or if anything it made a positive difference because I think there is a lot that comes from doing a sports science degree or coming from a sports background where you can add a lot of value.”
Why do you think people with a background in sports tend to be valuable and successful within a corporate environment?
“They tend to be good students; they are the ones who want to be coached. They have confidence and people skills like communication and stakeholder management – these are the some of the most valuable things you can have in a career. They also have self-confidence and are performance oriented. Having these transferrable skills is actually a differentiator, and its something that companies are looking for more and more. The idea of diversity and inclusion also embraces those from different backgrounds and the different types of experiences you have had. I think the days where the Big Four would only people hire from Russell Group universities and private schools are gone, because you get a homogeneous type of person. There is a case of looking for different types of people, because you want a diverse group of people to solve difficult problems. To do that you need people in the room who have had different experiences. If you have someone from an elite sporting background, that would be a great addition to any team to solve a problem.”
For final year students or recent graduates who might not necessarily know, can you tell us about Deloitte and what you do at the company…
“The company does a variety of things, but it is essentially a professional services firm that provides services for a price, ranging from management consultancy to accountancy to cyber security analysis. As a cyber security talent manager, I am responsible for helping cyber security people to grow their careers through new skills and new opportunities that come about from the market. My job tends to be putting together training plans for new technologies, like the cloud. But I also work with leadership teams to make sure they’ve got the skills to sell in the market.”
What might your job involve on a day-to-day basis?
“I tend to work from around 9am until 5pm. I spend a lot of time on calls with teams which is typical of somewhere like Deloitte. Those meetings would typically be listening to stakeholder’s opinions, or things that might be changing that need considering with various projects. A lot of the calls will be relating to two specific projects. Any given person will tend to have at least a couple of projects that they are working on at a given time, and they will have a role to play on that project that they need to be held accountable to, providing an update on how they’re getting on and if they are having issues. You have project plans to ensure you achieve objectives set out at the start of a project”
“You can expect to be busy and involved in a lot of meetings, but typically your schedule is defined by who the client is. Some might be based in different countries, meaning you work to different time zones, although those countries are often in Europe. Some clients might or might not require you to be at different premises. Deloitte is flexible so that you can work remotely depending on client demands. I’m internally facing so I don’t need to see clients and I don’t need to go to the office, but I like to sometimes to mix up the week. I have control over my diary in that sense, and will often have a coffee with a colleague when I do go in.”
Why are you in engaged in The Transition Phase Mentor Programme? What value does it have to you and what value can it have for mentees?
“I previously tried to do mentoring elsewhere, but did not find people to be very engaging, but with TTP athletes, they want to be coached, they are willing to listen and do work between sessions and think about how they can improve, and ultimately be better. When you have a mentee who is that proactive, it makes the job of mentoring easier and more enjoyable. I’m in agreement with Riteesh that there aren’t enough people from sport working in business, so I always have time to mentor people. I have been lucky, as I went through a sort-of backdoor to get into the Big Four, but I was also strategic and now have 10 years of experience. So, I think you have to build momentum and experience, but also be smart about the choices you make. What I am able to do is help someone make those smarter choices. I help mentees to question their motives, if somebody has got different options or they’re not exactly sure on their thought process, or if they have options then how they can make that decision. It is also nice to have the break in the day and speak to someone with a different perspective and background!”
What has your journey with your recent TTP Mentee been like? How you have helped guide them through their own transition?
“Having missed some of the main deadlines for graduate programmes, my mentee wanted help navigating the limited choices he had, but equally he had some success with those opportunities. He also wanted help in building confidence in the lead up to interviews, and he wanted help understanding what life might be like at companies he had on the table. He ended up taking a job K in Jersey, so he was a bit apprehensive about his first job being essentially overseas. I helped to settle him with the fact that it’s a great opportunity for him to work and for him not to compete with too many people, and sometimes that is why it is good to start with international experience. Knowing that in a couple of years he will be able to walk into another big company, or stay in the same company and relocate to the UK if that’s what he wanted is such a positive. I’d say I helped build his confidence and helped him think of the bigger picture and ultimately make good choices. None of us know if he had been better off taking another job, so part of it is trusting that you will do well wherever you go because of your mindset.”
Do you have any final advice for athletes seeking to work in a sector similar to yours or in a consulting role?
“When reading a job description for your first role it might sound quite mundane and you might never have thought of yourself doing that role. But over time as you build experience and skills, you always have the opportunities to change if you don’t like it. Ultimately if you’re a performance-based person you will find yourself getting constantly getting more responsibility, pay-rises, promotions and good opportunities, and so you have to think of yourself 12-18 months after the role you are joining. You have to take a medium-term view of what you’re accepting. That’s why I focussed on wanting to work for a big brand or a big company rather than what the specifics were because the actual job at the start of my career after university was data entry, but that led to an extension and a permanent offer, which was a platform to roles I got and the success I had in Australia, and now in London!”
Since sitting down to talk to our TTP Mentor Stuart about his journey up the career ladder, he has recently accepted a new senior role at one of the world’s largest tech companies. Another extremely exciting step in his career which we wish him all the best with!
If you’re an athlete unsure of where to go with your next steps, get in touch with us today to learn about our mentoring programme, and the chance to be coached by our Mentors and Industry experts like Stuart, to give you all you need to succeed and thrive in your new career!
Jamie Lashley for TTP