Ian Ferguson (LLB, 1982) has built a successful career as a lawyer and businessman and is the Chair of the University of Southampton’s Singapore alumni branch network.
I very much muddled my way through the early part of my career. I did what I thought would be interesting and tried to find relevance in whatever I was doing at the time.
When applying for articles, I had decided to focus on firms with an international flavour, who had offices in different countries. There were not many of them at the time, and even those that did have overseas branches were not spread as widely as firms are now.
I quite literally got out a directory and went from A to Z, making applications to firms. I always said to the firm I ended up with [London-based firm, Allen & Overy] that it was lucky that they began with an A!
I have had an incredibly rewarding legal career, both professionally and intellectually. It has enabled me to travel and meet great people. It’s not for everyone, but I am so glad that I have had these amazing experiences.
About three years ago, I knew that I wanted to move away from the UK, and my children had reached the right age to think about relocating. My wife and I were set on either New York or Singapore, both cities we were familiar with, and loved. I met with the Managing Partner of Olswang in Singapore and he asked me to join them.
It was once I was in Singapore that I got more involved with the University again through the Singapore alumni branch.
I think alumni have a lot that they contribute towards the University. I really believe in asking “what can I do for you?” without thought to how it benefits you or your business, because at some point it all comes around. By offering help or expertise wherever you can, you build connections and good opportunities come up for you and for others.
I also think that our vast collective experience can really benefit new alumni and current students. Those of us who have gone and had careers can de-mystify the world a little for them. We can help them to be confident, optimistic and opportunistic.
I think it’s important to tell people “you may fail in what you do, but that’s ok: it’s for a reason. Try other things.”
I may seem confident, but there are times when I think “what am I doing here?!” At those times you have to believe in yourself and act confident, and know that a little knowledge goes a long way. Be interested in the world around you; engage with people and understand their business; find areas of common interest.
You would be amazed how many things you can talk about to find common ground with someone. Read the news; stay informed. Everyone can hold an opinion, and no-one’s opinion can be wrong. If you initiate a conversation, you create connections and this will help you in the long run. The alumni branches around the world are a great example of this.
I think it’s very important to be open to new opportunity. Don’t dismiss anything. My career has been defined by trying new things. Much of what I do now didn’t exist when I was a student. You can set yourself objectives but you can’t really make detailed plans for the future. The world changes too much and too rapidly. But that’s what makes life interesting! So be committed in what you do but be prepared to adapt to change.