Central banker is first to ride a solar-powered bike across the Sahara
Simon Milward (MBA 2008) was working in international development before he enrolled at Cambridge Judge Business School and started his own business in solar energy. Now, Simon is at the Bank of England. Here, Simon talks about his time in Cambridge and his career...
Before coming to study for the Cambridge MBA, Simon was working in international development in locations ranging from Myanmar to pre-conflict Syria and South America. It all started while studying at the University of Oxford, when he spent three months in Peru working on a development project. “During that summer I realised how much I enjoyed the sense of purpose I gained from doing this work (and how much I enjoyed the adventure). Soon after finishing my undergraduate degree I therefore applied to do a Masters in Environment and Development at Leeds University.” That led to work in Switzerland, Chile, Washington, Brussels and Thailand, among other locations.
Simon decided to study for an MBA because he wanted to build knowledge in areas such as strategy and finance, and its role in promoting economic development. “Getting economic development right is such a fundamental element. It helps a whole spectrum of development from improving health to resolving conflicts. For instance, when people can see they are better off working together, rather than competing for resources, it becomes much easier to solve conflicts,” Simon says.
It was during his time in Cambridge that Simon started his company, AKT Solar, importing solar panels from China to the UK, and selling them in the UK and around the world (sometimes even back to East Asia). “As part of the MBA I did an ‘Individual Project’ where I worked on the distribution of small-scale solar lighting systems in India. That started my interest in this new technology.” Why solar energy? “I think solar energy has great potential. It’s getting cheaper and the enabling environment, including battery storage, is improving all the time. This makes it more and more viable for mainstream uses and, combined with innovative new uses emerging, it’s becoming an ever-more-widespread power source. I’ve worked on many small-scale systems in Africa and Asia and can see the benefits it can bring.”
Simon also worked to promote awareness of how effective solar panels can be as a carbon-neutral power source. This led him to be the first person to ride a solar-powered bicycle across the Sahara, and also to cross the English Channel in a boat powered directly from the sun (and not using any battery power). The latter adventure gained him a Guinness World Record.
Simon says his MBA and solar business would not have happened without a scholarship from the Boustany Foundation, co-founded by Fadi Boustany, a member of the very first Cambridge MBA cohort in 1991. Recipients of the Boustany scholarship receive financial support to study for a Cambridge MBA and are required to complete a two-month internship with the Foundation.
“During the internship I was looking at the finances of a small solar enterprise based in Monaco and realised I could get high-quality solar panels much more cheaply than they were buying them for. This meant there could be significant margin in importing and selling panels in Europe, and a way to reduce climate change and help developing countries. And these latter reasons were really important to me. One of the things Fadi Boustany explained to me during the internship was that he hoped recipients of the scholarship would look for innovative ways to improve the world through their future work. That really resonated with me and I have been looking for ways to achieve this.”
Simon, who married a fellow Cambridge MBA 2008 student and now lives in London, no longer works directly in international development but is involved in financial regulation through his work at the Bank of England. Perhaps surprisingly, this role has also afforded Simon the opportunity to work with those in developing countries, recently taking him to sub-Saharan Africa to work with other central banks in the region on how to protect their economies from the impacts of banking failures.
“And it’s finding those ways that my work can make the world a little bit better for the people living in it that really drives me. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to find these opportunities – whether it’s promoting the use of solar power or helping spread knowledge about how to make financial systems more secure. In fact, it seems whatever I’ve been doing since the MBA has been able to be turned towards having a positive impact and that’s what I find gives real purpose and meaning to my work. I’d love to hear from, and share ideas with, others who are like-minded.”
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