February 14, 2020 | Simon Jenkins
By his own admission, Brotherton Circle member Andrew Patrick came to University too young and chose the wrong subject. A change of course proved the foundation for a successful business career.
“I was naïve in the extreme,” he says, reflecting on his student days over a pint at King’s Cross station in London. “My dad worked around the world for the Foreign Office so I boarded at Sedbergh School in Cumbria. I was quite bright, so they pushed me up a year and I took my A-levels at 17.
“Back then, career advice was nonexistent and I hadn’t thought about what I was going to do next. My dad was based in Hong Kong and one of his colleagues suggested I should go to Leeds to study Chinese.”
It was the wrong choice. “There were 23 of us and the others were all fluent in Chinese. I decided quickly that I needed to change course – but to do that, you had to complete your first year, so I flogged myself to get through.”
He switched to textile management: “I loved its practical side, but its business studies element really got me hooked.”
It brought him into contact with Ken Bamforth, an ex-miner whose research into team-working at the coalface “pushed a button” in Andrew.
After graduating in 1975 he had a spell researching organisational behaviour at Bradford University. His growing expertise in employee engagement led to a role with one of his research clients, British Leyland, where he learned “the nitty gritty of employee relations” at a time of industrial unrest for the state-owned car maker.
From there he moved to Levi Strauss, joining their Northern European division and immediately experienced the difference between a bureaucratic nationalised company and the “can-do” attitude of a US-owned manufacturer. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he says.
A series of high profile roles followed in the UK and overseas with organisations such as Pepsico, Allied Domecq, Telewest and Sodexo. “As I got into senior jobs I drew real satisfaction from allowing young colleagues to develop.
There’s a whole raft of people who have done well on my watch. It’s about finding bright people and giving them a really stretching assignment. You let them make mistakes, and in doing so, you let them grow.”
It’s an attitude which informs Andrew’s support for the University: “Leeds did a lot for me. It’s something you maybe don’t realise until a long time after you leave. I was horrified when tuition fees were brought in; people are racking up large debts to get there.”
He soon found the opportunity to help: “After the crisis at RBS, I was hired to help fix the UK arm of their payment processing company Worldpay. I was there for two years before it floated and was subsequently taken over a year later – and I made good money out of it. Giving scholarships to students from low-income backgrounds, or are the first of their family to go into higher education, seemed the right thing to do.
He also supports IntoUniversity, whose Leeds learning centres raise aspirations and academic attainment among children and young adults in some of the least privileged areas of the city. “I spent a day at the Beeston centre and was blown away by what they do.”
Andrew also enjoys mentoring undergraduates and helping them take the first steps on their own career ladder: “You’re dealing with young people who want to get a job, helping them to think about what they want to do, and making introductions which will help them in the future. It’s like lifting a latch for them.”