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Commit yourself to the profession

I started out as an apprentice in the defence electronics industry four days after my 17th birthday. It set me up with a pragmatic approach to my career, but I identified early on that I had to make a decision: did I take a technical route or could I explore programmes? Looking at the bigger picture, and being able to run programmes, appealed to me. So I decided to go down this route and I gravitated towards systems engineering and end-to-end integration.

While I spent the early part of my career in the defence sector, more latterly I have worked across the globe in the pay TV industry. At Cisco, we develop the software that enables pay TV companies to broadcast their programmes. What I like about my job is the diversity of what we do for our customers and the challenges that come with addressing the dierent ways that people consume content nowadays.

Until recently, I ran Cisco’s global programme management and services organisation for its service provider video group. This meant that I was ultimately accountable for running to budget, time and quality on all our programmes, which represented a never-ending challenge. Now, I am in charge of restructuring our client engineering division.

Embracing change
It is really important to embrace change. One of the biggest lessons that I have learned is that if you can accept upfront that there is going to be a certain amount of chaos, you are going to be more comfortable when change happens. One skill that you need as a project or a programme manager is being able to adjust to change. I’ve seen project managers come and go because they’ve been too rigid.

As I rose in my career, I realised that it was critical for me to invest in the people around me and to give them the hard and soft skills that they needed to make more informed decisions and to become better programme managers and leaders themselves. I enjoy seeing people coming through the ranks and I’m very proud of the small part that I have played in their career development. I never thought that I would get to this level in my own career. A vice president at Cisco is a very high position within the company. But a title means nothing unless you have a team of people who believe in you, and you’re investing in them and nurturing them.

I am truly thankful and humbled by the support that I have been given by some great people. In my early years, a brilliant man called Robert (Bert) Milliken, who was my manager when I was seconded to the Ministry of Defence, instilled my work ethic and professionalism in me. Over the past decade, my true mentor and friend has been Raffi Kesten, another vice president at Cisco (and chief operating officer of my former company, NDS).
He truly pushed and pulled me to levels that I did not dream of getting to, but he believed in me.

A lot of people stumble into project management as a by-product of being good at their technical role, regardless of whether it is a natural fit for them or not. So my advice to up-and-coming project professionals is to commit yourself to the profession, rather than allow yourself to fall into it. It is a hugely rewarding area to work in and it is a career that can easily transcend dierent markets. Finally, don’t forget to value and protect your integrity in everything that you do.


This article first appeared in the 2015 Spring edition of  Project Journal.

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  1. Marc Graham
    Marc Graham 30 November 2015, 09:07 AM

    After 26 years service in the RAF I took the big decision to leave the military and pursue a new career. A friend of mine suggested I undertake the APM qualification in Project Management as part of my resettlement training. After 9 months studying, which included a 2-week residential course, I passed the exam.  This opened my eyes to what an exciting career in Project Management could be. Project Management by its very nature would provide me with ever changing experiences, just like the RAF. Obviously just having the APM PM qualification alone is not going to catapult me into a PM career. However, I do have a wealth of transferrable skills. I’m experienced in working as part of the bigger team, in a dynamic environment delivering Air power.  Change is the one constant in the military, where adaptability is a key skill. As a leader, I’ve built successful teams, managed risk, engaged with my stakeholders .  Whilst I’ve been responsible for my team’s performance, delivering the required outputs within a highly regulated flight safety environment. In my last role I was responsible for the continued operation of the stations aviation fuel capability, (8 million litre monthly turnover) meeting stringent quality standards. So whilst not set within the context of PM, I’ve successfully performed many of the functions relevant to it.So what role should I be going for to start my new career in Project Management?

  2. Stuart McGeechan
    Stuart McGeechan 01 December 2015, 11:19 AM

    Marc,As Paul states, the skills learnt in project/program management are more transportable/transferable than you think.  Coming from a forces background  does have the advantage that you will already have a very strong work ethic and discipline that, in my opinion, gives you a distinct advantage over others.The opportunities are limitless - construction, transportation (especially rail), oil & gas and all will constantly be looking for top drawer project/program managers.Good luck

  3. Paul Naybour
    Paul Naybour 30 November 2015, 09:31 AM

    MarcOver the years I have met many project managers who have successful made the transition from the military to civilian project management. It is more similar than you may have anticipated. Much work in the regulated sectors industries such are rail, water or aviation. I know Heathrow is engaged in lots of project at the moment so that could be a good place to start, also many of the big engineering consultancy businesses (Turner and Townsend and Arcadis) have significant airport businesses. Best of luck