27 September 2022

Nick Williams – How studying at UEA led to working all over the world

Nick Williams NowNick studied Economics and German at UEA from 1981-1985 and since then he has worked for ANZ (Australia and New Zealand banking group) all over the world, including Greece, Botswana and Pakistan. He is now based in London. He recently very kindly gave an insight into his international career, how UEA kickstarted his journey, and advised how graduates can make the best start in their careers.

I had my first ever pizza just after arriving in Norwich – in what is now a Zizzi, and was once called Pizza One, Pancake Two - a great student dining experience.

What have you been up to since you graduated? (Please provide a digest):

I graduated Soc 1985 with joint honours in Economics and German and headed to join an international bank in the City – Grindlays Bank - which became ANZ (Australia and New Zealand banking Group). I have worked for this Australian financial institution for my entire career, now 37 years, as an international banker in various countries around the globe - Greece, Botswana, Pakistan, UK and Australia.
 
For the past few years I have been running the Trade Finance activities for the Bank in Europe, based once again in London.

What was your ambition for your career when you started at UEA? Did you have a specific career path in mind?

Frankly I did not have one! I just wanted to study the two disciplines I really enjoyed at School – Economics and German - and I was open to where that might take me!

Tell me about your experiences studying at UEA (how did you find out about UEA, what made you choose to study your subject, and what were your best days on the course?):

The desire to study Economics and German as joint honours limited me to a small number of universities and UEA was one of those.

I had never been to Norwich before and I recall driving over from home in North Wales with my father. We arrived on a cold February evening before my open day to find Norwich lit up – all the churches were floodlit and it began to snow which created an idyllic backdrop.

I was hit by the breezeblock greyness of the campus on arrival the next day – and whilst the architecture was a bit bleak, everybody was warm and keen to engage and outline what the course had to offer.

The combination of the reception, the modernity of the facilities and the nature of the tightly built, active campus was mighty appealing.

Arriving as a Fresher was a bit daunting – suddenly I was totally responsible for my day and how I was progressing, so this took some adjustment. I built up friendships very quickly on the course and via my accommodation.

In the 3rd year of the course, you studied and worked in Germany, and this was a big attraction. However, to make it count I really needed to improve my German. So, in the first year at UEA, some friends based in Norwich managed to get me a summer job at Mercedes in Stuttgart. I headed over to Germany expecting a job in an office to help improve my German but was placed on the conveyer belt doing shift work. I improved my Italian, Spanish, Turkish , Greek and Yugoslavian perhaps more than my German, but it was a great experience and increased my knowledge of the country.

And how did you find studying German and Economics?

It brought me into contact with student across both disciplines, so my friendship circle was quite broad – the 3rd year abroad improved my German significantly as I studied at the University of Wurzburg, and then returning to UEA for my final year brought me into contact with economics undergrads who I had not known before my year away and this again widened and enriched the social and learning experiences I enjoyed.

What is your favourite memory of UEA?

I have so many from the course, the time spent socialising in the city, living in town, to all the gigs that campus hosted. However, the thing I take most from my time at UEA is the friends I made, a small number of whom I have kept in contact with to this day and whenever we meet up – actually or virtually – we are quick to relive memories we enjoyed all those years ago in Norwich.

Has your degree influenced your career? 

Certainly.

My economics degree was naturally a great basis for application into the world of finance and my German allowed me to work with our German clients effectively in their own language. Given the grammatical structure of the language it is very similar to modern Greek, and so it helped me to learn Greek when I was posted to Athens early in my career. That, together with having a Greek wife, has led to me pick up another language and I’ve been able to negotiate business deals and run an operation locally in the language. My wife and I also have 2 grown, bi-lingual children setting out on their course in the world, which I’m very proud of.

Nick William Graduating
Nick graduating

What personal or professional achievement are you most proud of?

I have progressed as an international banker working and living in a series of countries across Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. This has brought me into contact with various cultures, languages and people. It has been challenging and deeply rewarding to get to know each environment and to work with different approaches to delivering successful outcomes for my organisation. 

For the last period, I have led the organisation’s international trade finance business for Europe out of London. I’ve worked with large customers, many of which are household names , big multi-national companies supporting their flows of goods and inputs around the world, and I’ve been able to share my knowledge and experience with my colleagues - this has been the aspect over most recent times that has given me great satisfaction and I have been delighted to see how this experience has been appreciated by the bank and my colleagues.

What were your experiences of Norwich as a city? Is there anything in particular that you miss or have fond memories of?

I had my first ever pizza just after arriving in Norwich – in what is now a Zizzi, and was once called Pizza One, Pancake Two - a great student dining experience.

I enjoyed living in Norwich for 12 months behind Carrow Road and watching the successful Canaries in the 82/3 season. In my final year I lived at Mary Chapman Court on Duke Street which has now been replaced by new buildings of the Arts University. This City centre location allowed us to bridge campus and city life as we studied hard for finals – so many pubs to enjoy: the Ferryman, 10 bells etc. The vibrant city centre will always remain with me.

Would you recommend studying at UEA? Why?

100 percent – I loved my experience, and I am so proud to see this modern university (it had only been in existence some 15 years when I studied at UEA) go from strength to strength up the rankings on so many counts and to expand and improve its offering into (eg) the medical field. It’s improved the student accommodation buildings and now has first rate sports facilities. This progress married with ‘A Fine City’ means that UEA should be on everybody’s radar for consideration.

Is there any advice you would give to current students, wishing to follow a similar career path to you?

When I started in the world of work, we focused on ‘what’ we achieved – revenue, new customer acquisition etc. Increasingly, we are measured not on the ‘what’ but on the ‘how’ – working effectively in cross cultural, geographic teams to deliver outcomes for the bank. Whilst technical skills are key, I would encourage budding students to focus on the softer skills of collaboration, empathy, tolerance, and trust across groups as they prepare for work in 2023. Use the opportunities you have for teamwork, think about the challenges these arrangements create and how to learn and improve from them, and use these in your job interviews.

What is next for you?

I have enjoyed over 37 years in an international career and with just one employer – highly unlikely to be a pathway for many graduates entering the workplace today! I am close to formal retirement from my organisation, but the learning opportunities will continue with more travel to various countries, including Greece from where my wife hails, non-executive activity and some specific charity work to support those less advantaged in these challenging time in which we live. All of these are likely on the horizon.

In my career, I have been so lucky to have travelled to and lived in many parts of the world – a journey that began all those years ago with the excellent grounding I received at UEA. I wish all UEA graduates success in their lives whichever path they choose to take!