My best decision was choosing to take a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) when I was looking into changing careers, and into moving from the Royal Air Force (RAF) to the private sector.
I did my MBA through the Open University – it was really the only way I could complete it while managing my air force career.
It meant that I was able to study and take exams in places like the Falkland Islands and Germany.
The MBA allowed me to translate the skills I’d learned in the RAF into a language and a competency that people without military backgrounds would understand.
I was in the Royal Air Force Regiment – I was really a soldier in the air force – for 22 years, but had had quite a bit of training and development responsibilities.
I also had policy responsibility for recruitment. So I’d had quite a broad touch on HR disciplines.
I passed my MBA in 2001 and have found that, as an HR professional, it has helped with my credibility in the boardroom and enabled me to operate more effectively as a strategic business partner.
Moving into the private sector hasn’t been as big a change as I expected – people issues are people issues, regardless of your organisation.
My worst decision was probably delaying my exit from the Royal Air Force.
I think the reality is that the private sector is ageist. The later in life you leave it, the more difficult it is to get the chance to pursue a successful second career.
Ageism is rife – the older you get, the less opportunity there is, unless you’re looking for senior roles.
It’s a real challenge for HR professionals to get past the perception of age, experience and capability.
And it’s difficult for military people to be accepted, because not many people understand the capabilities and the experience that you bring.
If you’ve been a commander in Afghanistan, it’s difficult to translate that into what you can bring to the party.
There is still a perception that the military breeds very rigid-thinking people.
There are people like that – of course there are – but there are also far more who are adaptable and capable; people who are very successful in the private sector, having had military experience.