Bolton School Former Pupils

Sir Malcolm Williamson

Sir Malcolm Williamson (Class of 1957)

After leaving school, Sir Malcolm started work for Barclays in Whitworth Street, Bolton. He entered the RAF for his National Service, where he was told he had an “aptitude for numbers” so was assigned to work with radar equipment for fighter jets throughout his postings. During his second RAF posting in North Yorkshire, he was captain of his station cross country team and joined the mountain rescue and rock climbing teams, which he found enjoyable, aside from having to perform the odd potholing rescue operation! Sir Malcolm credits his time in the RAF as giving him a valuable opportunity to learn about working effectively with people.

After studying for his banking exams in the evenings throughout the last year of his National Service, Sir Malcolm joined a Manchester branch of Barclays where he applied himself seriously to his exams. After moving around several branches, one of the local directors asked him to move to London on a three year deal to set up the first computerised banking system. Sir Malcolm was asked to stay on longer in this post, but decided that he did not want to stay working in the technical, back-room of the operation, so he moved to become the youngest assistant manager in the bank.

After moving around the country, he was fast-tracked to become a local director in London at the age of 38, after Barclays’ takeover of Martins Bank. He undertook management consultant training and worked as Assistant General Manager in charge of strategic planning and Bank Treasurer, before being promoted to General Manager for Greater London by the time he was 41.

Sir Malcolm was headhunted and moved to join the Post Office Board and the Giro Bank (Post Office Bank) to many former colleagues’ surprise – a move that actually placed him on the IRA hit list at the time, as some of the operations were based over in Northern Ireland.

He then moved to Standard Chartered and became Group Chief Executive, working all over the Eastern hemisphere. He retired from this at 60, with a view to taking up various non-executive roles. However, in 1998 after being approached by Visa International, Sir Malcolm and family moved to San Francisco where he became President and Chief Executive Officer until 2004. He returned 12 years ago taking up Chairmanships at Clydesdale Bank, CDC Group, and Britannic Group PLC, and latterly with the insurers, Friends Life Group Limited.

Sir Malcolm was knighted in 2007 for services to the Financial Industry. He now sits as a senior independent non-executive director on the board of Aviva, is the Chairman of Cass Business School’s Strategy and Development Board, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Youth Business International Limited, Chairman of the Governing Council of the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation and Chairman of New Day Group Limited, and is a member of Bolton School’s Development Advisory Panel.

What is your connection to Bolton School? Were any other members of your family here?

No, I won a scholarship when I was at a little junior school in Westhoughton and was lucky enough to be at Bolton School until I took my A levels.

What is your fondest Bolton School memory?

Probably one of the cross country runs we did. On one particular occasion on a run in Bury we had to wade through a deep stream – the other boys were approaching the obstacle gingerly but I ploughed on ahead and encountered an old bedstead lying hidden in the water!

Did any member of teaching staff particularly inspire you while you were at school?

Yes – the French master was a great man, and apart from teaching French he persuaded me to go in to a drama group. I was also impressed by and in awe of Poskitt. The Deputy Head under Poskitt was also very helpful in my last year and when talking about what to do next as I had an interesting set of decisions to make, whether to go to university or head straight in to work. I decided to join Barclays Bank which seemed to confuse people a bit at the time, after undertaking national service in the RAF.

What is the best career advice you can give to Bolton School pupils today?

I am disappointed when people don’t fulfil their potential. This doesn’t mean that everyone should be at the top, but for example, if you have the potential to be a good nurse or a great teacher, then you should strive to be the best in the field. I think that if you are ambitious, it has a cost – if you have the potential to go right to the top, then go there but accept it has inevitable lifestyle compromises.

You have to take chances and you have to take risks. You need to have a work ethic, self-belief, be able to put your trust in people and you need to know your own strengths and weaknesses. You need to have a real understanding of people if you are to become a leader in your chosen field and you should lead by example.

What do you think about Bolton School’s 100 Campaign aim to re-establish genuine open access through its bursary fund?

I think that it is a splendid idea. I benefited from a free education at Bolton School and I’ve been grateful for that all my life. The more we can help disadvantaged children who can’t make it on their own, the better.

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