Stan Webster, OBE (1957-1964)

Stan photoI left Bolton School in 1964 at the end of the second term of my third year in the sixth form, to take up a temporary job on Fleet Street. At the time I planned to become a foreign correspondent and Richard Poskitt used his contacts to get me a job as PA to the Managing Editor of British United Press.  I already had my place a St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge and a Trevelyan Scholarship which I deferred for a year.

Fleet Street in the 1960’s was an incredibly exciting place, especially for a 17 year-old who had never even visited London before.  When my new employer discovered I could write fast, accurate copy I was transferred to the subs desk, and thus became the cheapest sub-editor on Fleet Street, on the princely salary of £8-10s-0d per week.

However, I had met in Bolton the girl who was to become my wife and after a great six months I returned to Bolton and a job as a temporary unqualified teacher in a primary school, which I did for two terms before taking up my place at Cambridge, where I read Economics rather than English Literature for which I had been admitted, thinking this would be a more useful degree for a journalist.

I married Sue at the end of my second year.  Becoming a foreign correspondent did not seem to fit with married life, but the urge to travel was still there.  So on graduation I got a job as an economic statistician in the newly-independent country of Swaziland, where we spent almost 3 years. Because the country was desperately short of skilled people, I was at the age of 22 appointed to represent Swaziland in the negotiation of the Southern African Customs Union. This raised enough revenue to take Swaziland out of UK Grant-in-Aid, and made it genuinely independent.

We returned to the UK at the end of my contract.  Having decided to become a statistician, I thought I ought to learn a bit more statistics, so I registered for a one-year Post-Graduate Diploma in Statistics at the LSE, after which I joined the Ministry of Overseas Development, now DfID.  In the gap between arriving home and starting my course, I did another term’s teaching – and by an amazing co-incidence taught as 15 year-olds the same children I had taught as 7 year-olds.  The Jesuits were absolutely right!

At the Ministry I worked across East and Southern Africa and elsewhere for the next 6 years and among a wide variety of assignments had the fascinating opportunity to help Botswana launch its own independent currency by constructing its first balance of payments.  Up to then, it had used the South African Rand, but this caused all manner of political problems during the apartheid years.  I also spent some time in the Middle East, and it was in pre-revolutionary Iran as a lecturer on a CENTO training course that I was involved in a serious car accident which in later life has meant I need a walking stick to go any distance.  CENTO stands for Central Treaty Organisation – a sort of mini NATO – which included Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Pakistan, an unbelievable combination now.

After Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979, I decided to privatise myself before she did, and joined Coopers & Lybrand as a management consultant, becoming a Partner in 1984.  I continued to work across the developing world, but also on major UK assignments chiefly in the utility and transport industries, becoming the first head of the Energy, Water and Transport division.  I helped implement the firm’s merger with the UK practice of Deloitte, Haskins & Sells from which I gained some very useful insights into how apparently similar organisations with common values can have remarkably different cultures.  I was also asked to join John Major’s Panel of Advisers on his Citizen’s Charter, which led to my OBE in 1993.

I had become Head of Operations for the consulting firm by this time, but following a change in Senior Partner took up the task of creating a new regional consulting firm in East Asia as its Executive Chairman.  This covered 8 countries from China to the Philippines and I based its headquarters in Singapore.  This worked, and after our merger with Price Waterhouse in 1997 I ran the joint PwC East Asia practice until 2000, when I returned to the UK.

Having retired from PwC in 2001, I was asked to join the Board of RAF Training Group as its non-executive member, which I did for four years. I also joined the Board of the National Probation Service for Cambridgeshire, becoming Chairman and serving for a total of seven years.

Currently, I am a member of the Syndicate which governs Cambridge University Press and sit on its Operating Board, Audit Committee and Remuneration Committee. That and being Chair of Trustees for Red Balloon, the charity which provides education and recovery opportunity for severely-bullied children, many of whom have attempted suicide, keeps me sufficiently busy as I approach my 70th year.

I became involved with Red Balloon when it was a small operation in its founder’s house in Cambridge.  We now have five physical schools, and an on line provision, Red Balloon of the Air which means we can reach children in their own homes, anywhere in the country—but there’s a long way to go.  We estimate there about 16,000 children refusing school at any one time because of bullying and its associated traumas.

What is your connection to Bolton School? Were any other members of your family here?

I had no previous connection with Bolton School, other than the fact that another boy from my primary school in Hindley had gone there a couple a years earlier, and an awareness that it was “the place to go—if you could get in”.  My cousin joined the year after me.

What is your fondest memory of your time at School?

I have very many fond memories.  Perhaps the best was leading the school hockey team to its first successful season in 1963/4.  Also founding and running the Angling Society gave me many happy memories of fishing trips.

Did any member of teaching staff particularly inspire you while you were at school?

They were almost all inspirational in their own way, from Poskitt down.  In fact, I can only remember two or three who were sub-standard, and they didn’t last—Poskitt saw to that!

What do you feel your experience at Bolton School has given to you personally?

The confidence to try, and abiding belief in the values we were taught. (It’s a bit sad that none of the recent leavers I met at an event could quote the motto, still less translate it—but I guess times have changed!).

What is the best career advice you can give to Bolton School pupils today?

Explore your options, be prepared to try—and expect to work hard.

What do you think about Bolton School’s 100 Campaign aim to re-establish genuine open access through its bursary fund?

I am very supportive—having benefited personally as my widowed mother didn’t have to pay fees which she could not possibly have afforded.