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Examined Life – Tim Griffin (MBA 1989)

21 November 2017

Tim Griffin (MBA 1989) recently stepped down as Chief Executive Officer of Dell UK. He now works on charitable projects, start-ups and on the advancement of Welsh rugby.

I’ve been visiting Cardiff almost from the day I was born. By the time I was 18 I was spending most of my holidays there, and when I visited other university towns none of them could really compare with my knowledge or love for the city. In the end I applied to both UWIST [University of Wales Institute of Science & Technology] and UCC [University College, Cardiff]. Fortunately, I ended up at my first choice – UCC!

In the eighties, Cardiff was an electric city. It was alive with students, and I adored it. You could spend Saturday nights at the Dog and Duck and then move on to the Red Onion or Caroline Street for something to eat on the way home, we also regularly used to go to the Philharmonic on St. Mary Street for Sunday lunch and jazz. Then there was the Chapter Theatre too, so there was a bit of culture going on! In my first two years following a school rugby injury I rowed so I spent a lot of time up in Llandaff, on the Taff – wonderfully sunny summer afternoons and terribly cold winter mornings. All this before returning to my first passion, rugby in my final two years in University.

When you say you studied Management and Psychology, people think you’re a mind reader. I really enjoyed the engagement the course sparked with everyone. I learnt a lot about human behaviour, and the idea that perception is a unique, individual thing. In any context, it’s important to put yourself in another person’s shoes. The MBA was intellectually stimulating; it really helped me advance my thinking about work and how businesses win.

The students coming out of university today are better prepared for a career than we were. One of the things I was always amazed at when leading Dell, was that a new group of interns would happily email me on their very first day. That’s a wonderful thing … in my day we would barely dare breath in the Senior Partners presence. Feeling part of a community is fundamental to the success of any organisation, and social media has completely flattened hierarchies.

I’ve lived in Asia and Australia, where the biggest education for me was about people. I came back with a recognition of the diversity of culture, and a broader collective perspective. Cardiff’s endeavours to provide international opportunities are absolutely brilliant. I would recommend to anyone that they spend time working abroad to experience it for themselves.

In large complicated global business, you have to operate in a favour based economy. You are tasked with managing in the matrix – and where process isn’t immediately obvious, that means you have to understand how to get things done. Favours need reciprocity, and feeding the relationships that you need to operate is fundamental to success.

One of my interests is AI, we have to adapt our social view of what machines can do for us. When I started my career, I was amazed by travelling on the driverless trains on the Docklands Light Railway. Today, nearly 30 years on there are talks of strike action because people are worried about train doors operating without human supervision, moving to one person … human behaviour limiting possibilities. Education will play a key part in addressing the challenges of AI, and learning to accept it. With a shift in culture and the right training, I think we’ll adapt to the jobs of the future.

As a Non-Executive Director, I bring a different view to the Welsh Rugby Union. It’s a multi-million-pound operation, and needs good governance. It requires the commercial and business awareness to maximise revenues for investment – balancing the funds generated with investments in the national team and in the grassroots game, creates a harmonious ecosystem. A three legged stool … if those legs get out of kilter, you end up wobbly!

It’s crucial that universities support our athletes. They play an important part in developing elite sportspeople across all sports. Universities also hold a unique spot in the sensitive ecosystem of mass participation and life-long enjoyment of sport – more people, more often, having more fun!! Through research and education, they can encourage people to take up sport as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Having just left Dell after nearly 14 years, the future isn’t defined. The three tenets for me include charity, in which I’m passionately invested in tackling homelessness amongst young people, coaching and mentoring in the entrepreneurial community – and of course, my personal journey of learning, which is lifelong. I’m continue to look for opportunities to stretch myself.