Matthew Witt

Matthew completed his doctorate in metallurgy. His first role was with a large material supply company. He went on to found an Internet business where he became Chief Operating Officer, and is now working as a business operations consultant.

The following text is a transcription of a career story collected by interview.

"My name is Matthew Witt, I am a Business Operations Consultant, er previously a Chief Operating Officer of a pretty large internet business. I did my PhD in metallurgy, what seems like a very long time ago now, back in 1980 to 1983 at Cambridge University. I'd gone to university thinking I'd be a physicist and very much enjoyed doing physics, but didn't find it as straightforward as I found some of the other subjects I worked in, and the study of materials and metals was something that really excited me at the time. I think it's very important if you are going to do something research for three years it's got to be something that your interests are really inspired by or really aroused by so it was a subject, out of all the ones I'd studied there it was the one that got the most hairs on the back of your neck standing up sort of thing.

"I can't speak for everybody but I certainly at that age, sort of early twenties just didn't think beyond the next week or the next month or... in terms of career, I thought the career would take care of itself if I just got these, if I put these, if I could achieve the first and second degrees, that would be personally very satisfying, that was probably more important than what happened afterwards. I finished my PhD right at the end of 1983 which was a fairly tough time, and a particularly tough time for people working in industry, or in manufacturing industry type subjects, such as aviation or steel making which is a related, technically related area.

"So I started thinking about it quite harder at that point ‘cause you are certainly not in a position to pick, necessarily pick and choose. I went, actually went to join a, I joined a fairly big company as I felt safe there. Which was BP, and I enjoyed working at BP a lot, and it also allowed me to keep working in a materials research area. So I ended up working for four or five materials supplies companies, getting smaller and smaller but getting further and further up the sort of the decision-making chain of the company.

"At Active Hotels, which was the company, the Internet company that we started up, we occasionally made some very important hires where we said we need people who can really demonstrate powerful intellectual ability combined with persistence and the ability to structure their, structure their thinking and their work themselves. And this is particularly true in the IT space that we were working, and it's not that the PhD tells you, answers that question, but it gives you a clue that somebody does have those skills that they can structure their thinking and they can overcome difficult intellectual challenges. I, I actually think that the two things that are most valuable to me in my current role, and indeed in my previous role as Chief Operating Officer of a big company, are that everything in the business at some point comes down to the ability to analyse what's going on.

"What you are looking to do in a business is make something work for somebody else that they are prepared to pay for, and you are trying to do it for a cost which is lower than they are prepared to pay for, and all of that is subject to analysis and critical and numerical analysis and being quite erm specific about what it is you are trying to achieve and how you can do that.

"Of course you need creative people as well in the organisation to come up with the ideas that they can follow, but for me it's the analytical approach.

"Founding a business, growing it to a stage where it's profitable and successful, and then finding somebody else who is that excited by it that they wanted to pay quite a large sum of money for it, is a very satisfying experience.

"To achieve your PhD that's an achievement in itself, I think you should then think about the rest of your career as a completely open page and do whatever next inspires you."