Head of Finance, Sky
Neil, who graduated with a degree in Accountancy and Finance in 1993, now works as the Head of Finance at Sky UK.
Why did you decide to study at Heriot-Watt?
Growing up in Fife, my preference was for an Edinburgh based university: to balance the full living-away-from-home University experience with the security of being able to return home to stay in touch with my friends back home (and to have my washing done for me!). I knew that I wanted to become a Chartered Accountant, and so researched those courses that best prepared students for the CA qualification. On that basis there were two standout choices: Heriot-Watt or Glasgow. Job done - Heriot-Watt it was.
What was the biggest influence on your decision?
No doubt at all about this: Heriot-Watt's reputation for preparing students for further Accountancy qualifications. This reputation was brought to light during the milkround at the end of our course – I and my friends all received offers from the Big firms. In fact, half of Arthur Andersen's Edinburgh office's intake was from Heriot-Watt. Given Andersens was the most prestigious firm at the time, that says all you need to know about Heriot-Watt's reputation.
What was it like being one of the few at your secondary school to go on to university?
At the time I honestly didn't give it a second thought. Quite a few of my friends from school did go on to university, and I remained in touch with many of my friends who didn't, so I didn't differentiate between the two groups. I only learned later, prompted by a debate during a tax tutorial of all places, that my high school was one of the lowest ranked high schools in the country for exam results / university placements. Apparently fights and teachers being verbally abused weren't an everyday occurrence in most other high schools...who knew?!
What was your experience of doing an undergraduate degree here?
I embarked upon my degree course with very clear goals – to get my degree, get a training contract then become a Chartered Accountant. What I didn't appreciate at the time, though, was how much more I would gain in terms of confidence, sporting success, and meeting a great bunch of people who remain close friends nearly 25 years on from graduation.
Do you feel your Heriot-Watt degree prepared you well for a career?
Without a doubt. The faculty at Heriot-Watt don't just spoon-feed students with a stack of slides that go from the lecture screen to the student's notes without passing through either the lecturer or students' brains. We were encouraged to take personal responsibility for managing our time and to critically assess and challenge what we learned. The same principles apply to so many aspects of working life, which is why I sometimes find myself repeating mantras to my teams that I picked up from lecturers at uni.
What would you say to prospective students considering Heriot-Watt?
Choose your university wisely. Yes, the reputation of your degree will help land your first job; but the broader experiences you have during those 3-4 years will shape the rest of your life. Some of my best friends today are my classmates from 25 years ago.
If you could give your 18 year old self one piece of advice what would it be?
Never forget that you're there to get a (good) degree, but recognise that there's a world of experience to be had outside of the lecture theatre. These should be some of the best years of your life, so go out there and live them: meet new people, travel, take up new sports, do exciting things and have no regrets.