Bolton School Former Pupils

Michael Yates (1986-1993)

Michael spoke to the Year 13 boys via a live link with Hong Kong, giving an insight into what qualities and skills companies are looking for in young people today.

What were your favourite subjects and who were your favourite teachers at School?

English Lit, History, Geography and German.   Messrs Winder, Freem, Eames, Wright and many others

What further study have you undertaken since leaving School?

I went to Newcastle University and did a BSc in Political Science.

What does your job involve and how did you progress to your current role?

I work for a company called Procter & Gamble (P&G).  We are a global multinational consumer goods manufacturer.  We produce, distribute and market products like Ariel, Pampers, Fairy, Gillette, Pantene, Olay etc.  I'm currently the Vice President of Market Strategy and Planning for China, as well as the Managing Director for our businesses in Taiwan and Hong Kong.  On the strategy and planning role it's my team's job to define the commercial programs that our sales teams sell to Chinese retailers big and small.  Our job is to secure the distribution and in-store support for our brands in China.  We have to find the balance between winning in a very competitive marketplace and meeting our company’s top and bottom line goals.  On the Taiwan and Hong Kong Managing Director role, it's my job to build the end-to-end organisation that is capable of winning vs competition and meeting the company objectives.  As the MD you are also the external 'buck stops here' face to retailers, government and other stakeholders.

Who/what influenced your career choice?

I suppose it's quite unusual in today's world, but I’ve been with P&G for nearly 20 years now … it is the only company I have worked for since Uni!  During the summer holidays at University I worked for a small student-led company that sold aerial photos of people's homes (all this was pre google maps when you actually needed to hire planes to take pictures!) and I did quite well at it, so I thought a career in sales and marketing could be an option.  I applied to P&G and it went from there.

Who/what has been your biggest inspiration?

My parents, as well as several mentors I have within the company.

Which skills do you consider to be essential for your job?

I think in any big commercial role you need to be well-rounded, but I'd volunteer three things that I've found to be important:

  • Leadership – I'm not talking about the tub-thumping showman stuff; in today's world it's more about authenticity, to be able to build trust and commitment in an organisation and to be seen as making the hard, long-term right decision vs the easy short-term wrong one.
  • Strategic Thinking – the ability to get inside complex problems, break them down, make them simple to understand and build a sustainable solution that people can act on.
  • Humility and having a personal commitment to learn and improve – the minute you think you know it all … it's game over!  Having an inquisitive mind, building your own knowledge and skills – I have 'reverse mentor'’, ie junior people in the organisation who train and coach me on subjects that I want to understand better in China

What do you like most about your job?

The fact that one company can provide me with so many different opportunities and experiences.  I've worked in over 60 countries and lived in Singapore, Kiev, Frankfurt, Johannesburg and now Hong Kong.

What is your biggest challenge in your current role?

The excitement of China is the extreme fast pace with which consumers, retailers and the market changes.  We are one of the biggest FMCG companies in China, but we need to combine this scale with incredible agility to compete with local Chinese and regional (Japanese/Korean) competitors.

What do you consider to be your greatest career achievement?

Successfully leading our organisation in Ukraine through the financial crisis and currency collapse of 2008.   

How did Bolton School help you to be successful in your chosen career?

I don't think you realise what Bolton School has taught you until a few years after you've left.  For me, it was the confidence and grounding to believe in myself and to value the people I worked with.

What advice would you give to our pupils interested in your field of work?

Like any 'blue chip' employer we are looking for strong grades at school and university.  However, we are looking for more than that.  We want people who have gone out of their comfort zones: sought out news skills and experiences, maybe had some failures along the way, but got back up again and pushed on through.  When we recruit, we don’t actually just recruit for the job we hire for – we are looking for people whom we believe could become senior leaders of the company in the future.

Did you enjoy speaking with current pupils at the event?

Of course, there were many great questions!  I only wish it could have been face-to-face.  I will be back in Bolton at some point in the summer and hopefully will be able to catch up with some old friends!


Michael spoke to the boys live from Hong Kong!

Michael and his family