CEO of Serco, an international provider of services to Government
The Hon. Rupert Christopher Soames OBE is a British businessman, CEO of the outsourcing company Serco. He is a grandson of Winston Churchill, a nephew of one-time Defence Secretary Duncan Sandys and his wife Diana Churchill, of journalist Randolph Churchill, and of actress and dancer Sarah Churchill.
Soames was educated at St Aubyns School in Rottingdean, East Sussex, and Eton College, and then Worcester College, Oxford, where he studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics.
Upon graduation, he was offered a position at GEC by the managing director Arnold Weinstock. He remained at GEC for 15 years, working in the company's avionics and computing divisions, and became managing director of Avery Berkel, running the company's UK, India, Asia and Africa operations.
After leaving GEC in 1997, Soames joined the software company Misys as chief executive of its Midas-Kapiti division. He was promoted to chief executive of the Banking and Securities Division in June 2000.
Soames left Misys after a disagreement with Misys founder Kevin Lomax on the company's direction and was appointed chief executive of power hire group Aggreko in June 2003, replacing Philip Harrower, who died when his car collided with a train in the United States. Soames left Aggreko in 2014.
What challenges do business leaders face?
"We are in state of transition at the moment and I know what from but don’t know to what.
If you would have asked me three years ago what are the challenges business leaders face? I would have said rising to the challenges of globalisation and the ability to see the world not only in the context of your country but on a broad basis.
What we have had over the last two to three years is a combination of Covid and now the war in Ukraine. People are very much rethinking the globalisation of the world and taken a step back in sense of security. Everybody says to people in my position what have you got to be prepared for and the answer is change, change and change. There is a lot of change but the direction of that change in many of the geopolitical things that we have appearing in our life I see through a glass darkly.
I thought that globalisation, call it specialisation, brought a huge number of benefits to the world – but maybe these thinks need to take a breather. For international companies they will have to learn the knack of managing their businesses more locally than before. I think we are going to go back to supply chains that are not so robust. There is a big question about whether people are working from home, working from the office, how much travel people do. I think that once again the younger generation will show us where to go."
What skills do business leaders need?
"Many of the same skills have always been required of people who manage great things. You have got to be good with people, empathetic, hardworking, enthusiastic. You have to understand the tools that are at your disposal. When I went to work I had to learn how to use telex then a fax and was the first person in my office to have a PC. I was an early adopter. Flexibility is going to be really important. You need to be able to adapt to rapid change. Keep on your toes, be ready to adapt, keep friends and family close as you are going to need those support groups around you.
Talent development is something that will go on throughout people’s lives – more than it has done previously. I feel more often people will be coming back to universities and other places of learning. Quite a lot of learning will be around ideas."
Why do you want to be a Visiting Professor?
"The thing that excites me most about becoming a visiting professor here is learning. Learning at its best. Learning should be a two-way process. I see there is 30 – 40 years between me and those that I have come to talk to and ‘teach’ and I have a lot to learn from them and they may get some use of listening to some of the war stories that I have and some of the perspectives that I have. I hope I can give as well as getting something out of it. I am excited about all the learning that I am going to get."