This week our MBA class got to hear from Simon Murray. While his name may not ring a bell like some of the other speakers we’ve had this year, he was an absolute thrill to listen to.
Simon has had a fascinating career. He skipped his A-levels (similar to SATs for the Americans reading this) to join the crew of a merchant ship as it sailed around the world. Eventually he found his way to the French Foreign Legion, where he served for five years in Algeria. Passing up the option to become an officer in the Legion, he came back to the UK. Simon eventually became a hugely successful and highly regarded businessman in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Probably the most prominent of his current activities is being on the Board for Vodafone. More recently, he became the oldest man to reach the South Pole unsupported, at the age of 63. (It was a two-month trek!)
Simon had some really interesting insights for us as we approach our future careers. Specifically, one of his key points was that when thinking about jobs, we need to separate what we want TO BE from what we want TO DO. As long as you’re doing something you like, it really doesn’t matter who you become. (And if you’re doing something you like you tend to be really, really good at it!) What YOU DO is what YOU BECOME, so live your life to become the best at whatever you enjoy.
Another of his main points is that you have to grab opportunities as you see them. It was just a chance meeting that originally got him connected in Hong Kong, and Simon talked about how grabbing it was a seemingly small thing but an event that was a key to his future success.
Simon had two quotes that I thought were really interesting. Take them as you will:
- “Don’t go where the path may lead. Go where there is no path and leave a trail.”
- “On bad roads you meet good people.”
Finally, he told a story about trying to get to the heart of what a potential candidate really wanted to do with his life. Simon, not getting an answer, finally asked him what he would do if he had the next day off with nothing to do. The guy (a recent university graduate) thought about it, and told him “windsurfing.” Simon at the time owned a company that made windsurfing sails. The new graduate was sent to that company and became a great success and has gone on to very significant successes since. That concept, that we decide what to do in our career based off what we would do if we had a day off, is interesting. As Simon mentioned, it may lead to unexpected places, but as long as we do what we enjoy it should be fruitful both personally and professionally.
Simon was a fantastic speaker. His mix of great stories and fascinating personality made it one of the top tier talks this year. I’m definitely going to have to buy his book and learn a bit more about his early years in the French Foreign Legion.