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Simon Curtis

Format AreaSimon CurtisFounder, Curtis Murray Associates

Industry: Fin Tech/Retail Software/IT/ Sales

BA Business Studies, 1984

What made you choose Middlesex University?

There were two major factors. The first was that I wasn't quite certain on my career path and the business studies degree was appealing because it covered a broad range of topics then allowed you to get work experience and narrow down your topics of study in the final year. Second was that at the time there was a high level tennis academy at the Tottenham campus and I play a lot of tennis so that was a big draw for me.

What attracted you to your course and made you apply?

The broad spectrum of topics covered was the main attraction – it covered economics, maths, law, finance, IT and more. There was quite a lot of broad business based skills that you could learn about and you then had the opportunity to specialise, so if you wanted to go down the law route or the economics route you could focus on those areas further down the line. For students such as myself who weren't quite set on a specific career path it left your options open.

What aspects of your course did you enjoy most?

The variety of the subjects was very interesting and I very much enjoyed the sandwich course aspect because of the work experience that I was able to do. I worked for a company called ICL – a very big British IT company that was later bought up by Fujitsu – and that work experience had a massive impact on my later career. I worked in the retail division of ICL installing modern till systems and cash registers into retailers and I ended up being the MD of a company which sells EPOS (electronic point of sale) systems to retailer so you could say that the experience was the seed for my career.

What were the facilities like in your department?

The facilities were varied at the time and I went to quite a few sessions in portacabins behind the main Hendon building, but the main lecture halls and study groups were dotted around the College Building. It was a bit mixed and there was always development work going on, but I know that it has changed a lot since then.

What is your fondest memory of life at Middlesex?

I probably would have to say the tennis aspect. I had a very, very good social life at Middlesex and that was because I studied at Hendon but I lived at the halls of residence over at White Hart Lane so I was with a lot of the Humanities students from that campus. We had a good social scene with the sports teams so I was able to combine studying, coming out with a good degree, enjoying my sport and having a tremendous social life at the same time.

What one piece of advice would you give to a prospective student interested in studying at Middlesex?

I would always be an advocate of sandwich courses which include some degree of work experience in industry or market. Without a shadow of a doubt, having some work experience is incredibly valuable.

If you haven't had work experience before going to university you should seriously consider it and it provides great insight into your course too. My final year dissertation was very much based upon my year in industry and set my in good stead for my finals.

I would also encourage people, as a rule, to do a language if they have the skillset to do one. It is not essential because most businesses use English as the main language, but business is so international these days that a second language is an incredibly useful skill to have.

How did your course and time at Middlesex help you get to where you are professionally today?

I had some invaluable experience with ICL and when I graduated I immediately got onto their graduate intake. As a direct result of my course and my sandwich year I got offered this graduate trainee programme from a very big IT company and it was a great entry into the world of business, even though I didn't stay there for very long.

For me, in general, business studies had a good grounding in different subject areas so it gave me the broad, early skills which formed the foundation for getting into senior management roles.

What made you choose the industry you work in and what are its pros and cons?

When you go for your work placement you're not always guaranteed where you end up. With me I was supposed to go to a government munitions factory but I refused to do it and took a bit of a risk. Though I personally selected the ICL opportunity, I didn't go into my course saying 'I want to go into IT', it just ended up happening and turned out to be an incredible opportunity.

Pros: With the technological developments of the last few years there have been some incredible opportunities. If you like innovation it is a great place to be.

Cons: I don't think I can say there are any major cons that aren't generic of any industry – there are always good companies and bad companies, good people and bad people. The only thing I could say is that because it is so fast moving an industry it is quite tough to keep on top of. If you are a surveyor, once you have learned to value a property you can value a property, but if you are in IT you constantly have to learn new things and retrain to stay on top.

How did you get your first foot on the career ladder?

My sandwich year.

What has been your defining career break or highlight to date?

I worked in a small technology firm for a number of years to hone some of my basic skills and then I got the opportunity to work for Price Waterhouse. That opportunity to move into a big corporate organisation was probably the one pivotal moment.

The second pivotal moment came when I was approached by an individual who was in the process of setting up a company and I took the decision to take my skills into a small entrepreneurial environment.

What are the top three tips you would give to current students and recent graduates who are looking for a similar career to yourself?

1) Be picky about what job you take.
2) Don't be shy of asking difficult questions in interviews.
3) Get as much work experience as you can.

What one piece of advice would you give to the 17/18 year old you?

Enjoy yourself as much as possible before you go out into the world of commerce.

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