Stephen Phillips

Country: United Kingdom
Sector: Commercial Banking & Credit
Job title: Senior Adviser
Subject of study: Chemistry and Law
Year of graduation: 1985
Type/Level of study: Undergraduate

Current Employer/Organisation Name

BDO Unibank

What have you been doing since leaving Exeter, and what are you doing now?

I joined the Barclays Group and worked in investment banking mainly. After initial roles in London I spent some time in Botswana before a further role in strategic planning in London. I moved to Hong Kong in 1989 and spent 10 years working across Asia focused on infrastructure and Oil, gas and petrochemicals. I then spent a a year or so in Singapore with Deutsche Bank, mainly working on a major corporate restructuring that saw me in Indonesia most weeks. A move back to Hong Kong entailed working in the private equity team before joining a start-up that I co-founded and invested in. I spent 4 fantastic years as we grew a pan-Asian business. I learned more about business, people and myself in that period that at any other time in my life. A move to the UK in 2004 saw me join what is now the Department of International Trade covering the South West helping businesses go global – and best of all two years living back in Exeter! I then took up a role as Chief Executive of the China Britain Business Council, which has a network across the UK and China. This saw me shuttle back and forth frequently and develop an in-depth understanding of contemporary China. An amazing role and a delight to lead a team committed to developing the commercial links between the two countries. At the same time, I was Chairman of the EU China Business Council, which broadened my horizons immensely. I also held some advisory roles for two provinces in China (Anhui and Jilin) and a city called Sanya in the tropical south, as well as Tsinghua University, the top-ranked university in China. After 11 amazing years, where I learned an enormous amount about a complex and diverse country that is changing so rapidly, I moved back to Hong Kong where I headed Invest Hong Kong, the inward investment department of the Hong Kong SAR Government. Its a global role that saw me meet investors all around the world, leveraging our 34 offices in all continents. The mission was to attract and retain foreign direct investment which is of strategic importance to the economic development of Hong Kong. Day to day we worked with overseas and Mainland entrepreneurs, SMEs and multinationals that wish to set up an office – or expand their existing business – in Hong Kong.

In 2024 I joined BDO Unibank in the Philippines to support and grow their international client base and assist companies find growth in the dynamic Philippines economy.

I am also a member of the Advisory Council and the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum, an independent think tank.

Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work?

I knew I aspired to an international career and a chat with the father of one of my housemates and fellow student convinced me to enter banking. What I enjoy most is the variety of work and especially meeting and working with so many talented colleagues, partners, entrepreneurs and investors across the world. Returning to banking in 2024 takes my career back a full circle.

Please tell us if you were a member of any societies, groups or sports clubs?

Trampolining club.

What did you enjoy most about your programme and what was the biggest highlight?

The diversity of the two very different disciplines.

What did you enjoy most about studying here?

Life! The education and friends were first-rate. I love the city and enjoyed living in Cockwood for one of the years. The ease of getting to the beach and the moors was a highlight too.

Why did you choose to study at Exeter?

I had a science background, but knew I wanted to do chemistry plus something else. Chemistry and Law was unique to Exeter (sadly no more), so it was my first choice.

What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?

I have benefited from my degree. Chemistry came in handy, especially when working on petrochemical projects. Law has helped in every role I have had. Passion and determination are the qualities I look for most and I hope I have shown the every step of the way.

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?

Follow your heart first and foremost. Do something you WANT to do. Network a much as you can. Get some work experience early – I stacked shelves at Tesco, worked in a garden centre and laboured hard assembling fencing in a factory. It teaches you how to work with people and opens your eyes to so much. In my experience, candidates who have some real world experience tend to have an edge. And on the topic of edges, knock those off yourself. Humbleness combined with hard work and growing competence goes a long way. Be tenacious and determined, but also know when to change direction. There is nothing wrong with saying I got it wrong!

What are your plans for the future?

I intend to continue in my current role as long as I can make a difference. Ultimately I would like what is known as ‘going plural’ as the last phase of my career i.e. non-executive roles and helping others “make a difference” by lending support and advice.

 

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