Mark returned to School in June to give a lunchtime lecture on Leadership to Year 12 boys and girls. Here, he explains how Bolton School helped him along his chosen career path.
What were your favourite subjects and who were your favourite teachers at School?
I particularly enjoyed Maths with Mr Jim Dawson, who somehow managed to deliver differentiation and integration in an amusing and dynamic style. I found languages (French and German) were the most enjoyable subjects overall and my favourite teacher was Mr 'PJ' Harrison who was a true Gent and always taught with a smile on his face.
What further study have you undertaken since leaving School?
I completed a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Liverpool immediately after leaving the Sixth Form. Throughout my Royal Air Force career, I have undertaken continuing education, including a two-year Advanced Command and Staff Course at the German Armed Forces Leadership Academy in Hamburg, which was preceded by a ten-month, full-time, German language training course. My German A Level from School, albeit 18 years previously, was an immense help.
How did you progress to your current role and what does it involve?
In my current role as Group Captain Salam, in the UK Ministry of Defence Saudi Armed Forces Project, I head-up a team which is responsible for assisting and advising the Royal Saudi Air Force with the operation of 72 Typhoon fighter aircraft which they have purchased from the UK. I am based in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and my team is responsible for assisting with the delivery of hardware, training, logistics, engineering and operations support. Roles in the Armed Forces are based on rank and experience; I have so far completed 14 appointments in five different ranks and my experience has primarily involved the maintenance and airworthiness of fighter aircraft.
What/who influenced your career choice?
I had always had a keen interest in military aviation, as well as the Armed Forces in general, so a career in the Royal Air Force was a logical choice. My father had undertaken National Service in the RAF during the 1950s, but this was not of particular influence.
What skills are essential for your role?
To be an effective military officer, I think you require a broad and balanced skillset, but the most important attributes are leadership, effective intelligence (ie the ability to apply your intelligence to the tasks in hand), the ability to communicate both concisely and clearly, reliability and loyalty. You also need to remain reasonably fit.
What are the biggest challenges?
The greatest challenges are achieving more with less resource and balancing the requirements of a military lifestyle with personal and family needs. The RAF has decreased in personnel from 93,000 to 33,000 during my career and high-tech military equipment, especially state-of-the-art fighter aircraft, are incredibly expensive to buy and support. Nevertheless, our defence commitments remain as challenging and more unpredictable than ever. As the RAF has contracted, there are also fewer locations remaining in which to serve; Service life, whilst still providing opportunity for worldwide travel and adventure, is nevertheless turbulent, particularly when stability is often an important factor for dependants' career and/or educational needs.
What/who has been your biggest inspiration?
My mother; she instilled in me many of the skills and attributes that have been necessary for me to succeed in my chosen career.
What do you consider to be your greatest career achievement?
The award of the MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List 1997, for services to the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows.
How did Bolton School help you to be successful in your chosen career?
Firstly, Bolton School provided me with a first-class education and helped me achieve academic qualifications which allowed me to compete favourably with my peer group when applying for RAF Sixth Form Scholarship and University Cadetship sponsorships. Secondly, School provided leadership and personal development opportunities through competitive sports facilities and fixtures, clubs, societies and positions of responsibility. Trek Camps and visits to Cautley House in the Lake District offered unique opportunities to develop qualities that might otherwise have remained latent.
Why did you offer your assistance to School?
I felt that for a relatively small amount of my time, I could offer something back in return for some of the benefits and life-skills that I acquired over my seven years at Bolton School. I also think it is important that the profile and visibility of the UK's Armed Forces within society is increased, so the opportunity to be in front of some of tomorrow’s kings and queens of industry, leaders and professionals was very valuable. Finally, I was intrigued to see how the core and ethos of the School might have changed over the past 30 years (which, incidentally, other than the addition of some fabulous new facilities, is not that much)!
Did you enjoy talking to the pupils?
Yes; it was particularly rewarding to see the interest shown by students during my talk and the carefully thought-out questions that were presented.