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Arjun Paliwal has moved back to London to a new role within Facebook and is now working with clients who are among the world’s biggest brands in the fashion and luxury markets.

The new job – as Client Solutions Manager, Luxury – marks a further step up for Arjun (OE 2006-2013), who returns to the UK after nearly four years in Ireland, with the last 15 months spent in Dublin as a Facebook Senior Account Manager.

He relished the opportunity to live there, and not only for reasons related to work. “Dublin’s where I learnt more about my sexuality and met my partner who’s a cis-guy,” he says. “In coming to terms with my bisexuality I’ve confronted challenging feelings of shame – but I’ve also built a confidence I never had before. I bring more of myself to my work which is important because I’m more passionate and focused without feeling like I need to be someone else.”

Amid all the change, however, one thing remains constant – his commitment to sustainability. “I’ve spent the best part of last year working with our leadership to support and grow sustainable businesses. Sustainability is a horizontal across every vertical, so every business needs to be thinking about it, and I’ve been working with our global teams from sustainability to product to help us understand how Facebook can best contribute to a sustainable world in the work we do with clients. This is additional to all the work the company has done, and is doing, to transition to renewable energy and achieve net zero, which is exciting to see happen and couldn’t be more urgent.

“I’m excited to take on the responsibility of working with some of our largest global fashion and luxury brands that set the trend to help them be a force for good through their campaigns and communication on Facebook (FB) and Instagram (IG).”

After QE, Arjun read Fine Art at New College, Oxford, exhibiting more than ten times and having a short film selected for a Ruskin Shorts exhibition.

Graduating in 2017, he joined Facebook in September of that year, initially as an e-commerce Account Manager.

“What I love about working in Facebook is our culture, where you can connect with anyone across the company who will more often than not be open to listening to your ideas and help you realise them.”

His own career to date is an example of what this culture can produce: “For me, building a programme for sustainable businesses started as a passionate side project. Today, many coffees and brainstorming sessions later, we’ve got an EMEA*-wide team working to support sustainable businesses reach more customers through transparent ad campaigns and new products, and senior leads are backing the work. The open culture at FB means that I can quickly scale something and share ideas in front of leadership and make measurable impact, which drives me.

“My Facebook Dublin chapter has come to an end for now but I’m grateful for the journey I had there. In particular, being in a smaller city and so close to nature drove me even more to think about sustainability and how I can contribute to protecting our planet both within and beyond my work. I’ve spent more time cycling, swimming in the sea and surfing (still a beginner but getting better each time). Spending time outdoors is so important to me for keeping sane, centred and humbled, so Dublin has taught me to always make time for that and do what I can to protect those experiences. “

“My journey has made me much more aware of the importance of diversity and how critical it is to solving challenges such as sustainability. We need more authentic perspectives and experiences at the table,” says Arjun, who added that his own recent experiences – bolstered by his growing “understanding of the intersectionality of diversity and sustainability” – had shown him how important it was for people truly to be themselves so that they could make a full contribution.

* Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Creating a better coffee world!

When his father told him he wanted to retire and invited him to take over the family coffee business, Colin Smith had already established a successful career in teaching.

There was no obligation for him to make the move – his father had always valued the fact that a QE education gave Colin (OE 1957–1964) opportunities that he had not enjoyed himself. And it was not a decision Colin wanted to take lightly – “I thought about it for about a year”.

But in the end, he was drawn by the challenge and duly made the move, working as the third partner alongside his father and uncle for about two years, before then taking the helm at the business his grandfather had established in 1936.

Since switching careers in 1980, he has not only greatly expanded Smiths Coffee Company, but has also established himself as an international award-winning expert in specialist coffee, while putting his expertise to use in charitable and philanthropic work, too.

“With the knowledge I have accumulated through many years of experience in the coffee industry, I am attempting to create a much better coffee world,” he says.

Colin has many happy memories of the education that his father so prized. He was a regular QE actor – appearing, for example, as the Dauphin in George Bernard Shaw’s St Joan and as Mrs Hardcastle in Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer.

A Sub Prefect and a keen athlete, he was also editor of the Elizabethan magazine, sang in the School Choir and did Scottish dancing in a club run by Languages teacher (and Old Elizabethan) Derek Fry, where the boys enjoyed the chance to dance with their counterparts from Queen Elizabeth’s Girls’ School.

“John Todd and I were the first pupils to take A-level RE, under the personal supervision of John Pearce (Deputy Headmaster – Second Master), who gave up his free time to tutor us,” says Colin, who won the Broughton Divinity Prize.

Colin was heavily involved in scouting activities, representing Hertfordshire at the Marathon Scout Jamboree 1964 and becoming a Queen’s Scout – the highest award given in the movement.

He also secured his Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award. “I remember asking Mr Edwards [Headmaster Timothy Edwards] for a day off to go to the presentation at Buckingham Palace, showing him the card from the equerry to Prince Philip. His comment was: ‘I don’t think I have much say in the matter; my authority doesn’t go that far.’”

After leaving QE, he went to St Luke’s, a teacher-training college that is now part of the University of Exeter, where he studied PE & Biology, took up fencing and sang in the college’s Chapel Choir.

Qualifying as a PE teacher, from 1967 to 1971 he taught at Beaumont School, St Albans, becoming head of department there.

He took a year out to study Laban Movement at the Art of Movement Studio in Addlestone and then moved to become Head of PE and head of year at Oldborough Manor School, Maidstone, Kent.

Even when he took over his father and uncle’s business, his links with education remained strong. He served as a Governor of Dollis School in Hendon for 15 years until his company moved from its factory in Mill Hill to new premises – a factory in Hemel Hempstead – in 1997.

“The company has developed from roasting coffee in a shop window at my grandfather’s grocer’s shop in Mill Hill in 1936. Smith’s Coffee Company now roast around approximately 10 tonnes of coffee per week for the retail and catering markets. I am also a partner in a small shop roasting business in Leighton Buzzard.”

Smiths Coffee Company specialises in quality coffees and teas and has an organic and Fairtrade branch, The Natural Coffee Company. “We also have a company, Arabica Espresso Services, which supplies & maintains espresso machines & coffee making equipment.”

Five years ago, Smiths developed a process for flavouring coffee to meet an ever-increasing market: “Now we are probably the biggest coffee flavourist in the UK”.

Having won major contracts over the years, such as roasting coffee for Whittard’s 125 shops, the company has grown and today it continues to expand: it recently secured a major account with Warner Leisure Hotels. As a result of this expansion, it is looking for new premises once again.

“I was a founder member of the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) in 1997 and was President from 2005-2007,” says Colin. He served on the board of directors until 2011 and in recent years has organised around 18 trips so that members can visit places where coffee is grown – around three a year. The countries visited include India, Kenya, Costa Rica, Colombia, Guatemala, Brazil, Honduras, Sumatra, Tanzania, Panama, Papua New Guinea and the US (Hawaii).

“Visiting the farms and tasting the coffees at origin has expanded my experience and knowledge of the product, with its progress through the roasting, cupping and blending processes.”

He has also organised SCAE educational activities and assisted in the arrangements for the SCAE World of Coffee event each year. “I have represented the SCAE in Japan, Costa Rica, USA, Sumatra and many other countries and in 2006, I represented Europe on the panel of judges who cupped the coffees for the Costa Rica Cosecha d’Oro, at their invitation. I appeared on TV to discuss the importance of quality coffee to the European market. I am also asked occasionally by local radio to comment on various aspects of the trade. The last one was on Kopi Luwak, a very rare and expensive coffee!”

He is a member of a four-strong Which magazine panel which samples and assesses retail coffee products. In December 2011, he was awarded the Allegra European Coffee Award for outstanding contribution to the European Coffee Industry and in June 2013 the SCAE Award for Excellence: Lifetime Achievement Award.

“My extensive knowledge of the subject enables me to give many talks and lectures on all aspects of coffee, as well as training sessions on the use of coffee-making machinery. I am often asked to give advice on the setting up of roasting plants and coffee shops.

“The knowledge gained through all this experience has helped the company to focus on a range of coffees, from real speciality to good grade coffees for the selective market.”

In 2017, the SCAE combined with the Specialty Coffee Association of America to form the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), for which Colin is an Ambassador.

“My ethos is to educate members of the coffee industry and the consumer to understand the value of speciality coffee.  This will further the speciality coffee market and enable more people to assess the quality of better coffee.”

He also puts his expertise and knowledge to good use in serving wider society. He maintains close contact with the local Hospice of St Francis’s Corporate Partnership Committee on a voluntary basis, supporting many of their events with supplies of coffees. “I also give many talks on coffee and the money raised is used to support the St Francis hospices and the Peace Hospice in Watford.”

A qualified SCA trainer, he has worked with local prisons to train prisoners in a rehabilitation programme before release. “Until December 2019, at The Mount Prison and Bedford Prison, we had a café in the visitors’ room which enabled the prisoners to gain experience in communication with the public and to practise the skills learned in taking the Speciality Coffee Association (SCA) barista Foundation Course. Profits gained from the cafes were given to HACRO, the Hertfordshire Association for the Rehabilitation of Offenders.”

Colin lives in Berkhamsted and is married to Marina, his second wife. Between them, they have 13 grandchildren. He has two daughters with his first wife, Sue, and one with Marina.  “Also on a personal level, after 40 years I no longer play hockey for St Albans, but I am I am trying to play golf.”

Fabio’s route from field trips to hedge funds

When Fabio Castagno entered the world of finance after completing his engineering degree 11 years ago, it was definitely not the career path he had planned – yet today he is Chief Operating Officer of an alternative investment firm and has just launched his fourth hedge fund.

And while it is certainly an achievement to have become a COO so early in his career, Fabio (OE 1999–2006) says it is not the job title that means the most to him.

“I gain far more satisfaction from the respect and trust that I have from my colleagues who are generally veterans of the industry and have much more experience than I do. Opinions and decisions that I make are heard and acted on; this sense of responsibility is probably what I value the most.”

Fabio went from QE to read Civil Engineering at UCL, gaining a first-class Master’s degree and a Dean’s List commendation for outstanding academic performance.

“I really enjoyed studying civil engineering at university: I enjoy understanding how things work and making something that is greater than the sum of its parts. However, I graduated at the height of the financial crisis, and engineering jobs were scarce.

“I decided to apply for banking internships in my final year, so that I could work through the summer once I finished my Master’s and then take a year off.”

“The first internship I got, I took – which in hindsight, I regret: I think at the time I didn’t have enough confidence in myself.”

Nevertheless, Fabio did the internship. He was duly offered a job and started working for UBS Investment Bank in September 2011.

“I must also admit, I got very lucky at this point; I had a manager who took a liking to me and very much took me under his wing. I owe him a lot. When he left UBS, he brought me along with him to Cheyne Capital, where I got my first taste of the hedge fund world.

“And once again, I got lucky: the fund I moved to had been around for a long time, which meant that they had a lot of processes that they just did because no one had questioned them before. This gave me a lot of opportunity to streamline processes and make the most of what is available, which I really love doing.”

He remained there for two years, quitting in mid-2015 to go travelling for a year with Rhea Wolvekamp, who is now his wife. “We started in Thailand and went to Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, India, China, Hong Kong and Japan.”

He secured a job at his current firm, London-based Blueglen Investment Partners, in January 2017 and was promoted to COO in February last year.

“I joined Blueglen with only four years’ experience working in a fund and having just spent 18 months travelling the world. The learning curve was extremely steep: I had worked at hedge funds before, but never launched one – and we have just launched our fourth.

“My ‘day-to-day’ is largely communicating with various stakeholders – we have quite a small internal team and outsource a lot of the functions that you typically find in a hedge fund. It makes it a very broad role. It’s generally managing projects or issues, which means that one week can look very different to another. It also means that I know every part of the fund, and how it functions, very well.”

Although Covid obviously brought a temporary halt to travelling – which has he says has proved a struggle for him and his wife – it remains his main hobby. “My wife and I met in Thailand while I was travelling with another QE ‘alumn’, Anand Dattani (OE 1999–2006), in 2011.” (He and Anand share happy memories of their A-level Geography classes with current Headmaster Neil Enright.)

“Since then, I have tried to go on holiday as often as possible – agreed that that’s not environmentally friendly, but we try as much as possible in our personal lives to offset the carbon emissions, a potentially futile attempt.”



“Go with your heart”: Ed’s career advice after half a century at the forefront of the battle to protect the environment

As an academic scientist and a world-renowned first responder to oil spills, Ed Owens has had a more varied life than most – and certainly one with more than its fair share of excitement.

He has worked on some of the world’s biggest and most infamous spills, such as Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989 and the Deepwater Horizon BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

At a rough count, Ed (OE 1956–1964) has travelled to more than 70 countries over his long career, including frequent visits to some of the planet’s most remote locations. He has survived involvement in “a couple of aircraft crashes”,  being chased by the Argentine army, and being kidnapped in the Amazon; he has run training for coastguards all over the world, and he has trained sniffer dogs to detect oil leaks underground.

In the years immediately following the fall of the Soviet Union, Ed made five or six visits annually to work on the development of oil fields on Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East. “I have many stories about those trips!”

There was also the time he found himself stuck on an Arctic island without a radio: just one episode in his many visits north of the Arctic Circle, where he had been every year for more than three decades until 2020, when Covid put an end to this remarkable run.

Yet, in speaking to Alumni News, Ed said he prefers to reflect not so much on his own remarkable exploits, but on his origins, on his memories of QE in the 1950s and early 1960s – including what made it a good School even back in those culturally very different days – and on passing on some hard-won advice to the young Elizabethans of today.

“I’m 76 years old, still working full-time, still publishing multiple technical papers each year in scientific peer-reviewed journals, and still loving every day of my family and professional life. A full and productive life.

“How did I get here? My paternal grandfather was a shepherd in Rutland who spent most of his life living outdoors tending the animals year-round. Just coming home on Saturday night to have a beer in the pub, bath on Sunday morning, then church and Sunday lunch with the family and then back to the fields. My maternal grandfather was a ‘horseman’, which in those days meant that he looked after all the horses on the farm. He had Christmas Day off, when the farmer would start the morning routine.

“Out of all the many cousins – I think 15, to be exact – I was the only one that went to grammar school, then I was the only one to go to university until another cousin some 10 years later who, like me, went on to do a PhD.

“Luck? Good fortune? No, not really. As many people have said I wasn’t lucky, but I worked hard – and I also would have to add that many people worked very hard on my behalf: my parents and the teachers at QE, especially my House Master, John (‘Poker’) Pearce, and subsequently a couple of mentors who shaped my professional career.

“Needless to say, the School was very different in my day. While the buildings and grounds still appear familiar, there was a great focus on sport, with Wednesday and Saturday afternoons devoted to the range of seasonal choices, and with classes on Saturday mornings to make up for the ‘lost’ Wednesday afternoons! That did not leave much time for other things, though several of us made up a soccer team that played on Sunday at the Underhill Playing Fields.

“Those days, almost everybody lived in the Barnets or the Borehamwood-Elstree-Brookmans Park area: basically within a ½ hour bus ride of the school. It was a predominantly white Christian population, probably less than 5% non-Christian or otherwise ethnically diverse. And, like today, no girls of course!

“Did that prepare us well for the big wide world? On reflection, in my own very personal situation, for some reason I have been quite oblivious to the ethnicity or the sexual preference of people with whom I interact. Quite often when a third-party says something about that topic, my reaction is ‘oh, I didn’t notice that’. I certainly did not get that from my parents. who were very Victorian and “straight”, so it must have come from the School and the tolerant and intelligent teachers that we were fortunate to have.

“Most of the group at that time were Arsenal supporters because that was the nearest football ground from Barnet by British Rail. I don’t understand why, but a couple of our contemporaries actually supported Chelsea or, even worse, Tottenham! Sadly, Charlie Eggington, the Underne House Captain who followed me, is a Spurs supporter – clearly I failed in that part of mentoring him.

“The point is we still support those teams today when we have our Zoom conference calls. It’s not about football, it’s not about the team; it’s about just following and believing in those things that have some value. The great thing about sports is that the results are totally unpredictable. That gives enjoyment to following whatever sport, whatever team, whatever person one might be interested in following.”

Ed stayed on into the Seventh Form and was a Prefect and the House Captain for Underne. On leaving QE, he took his first degree, in Geology/Earth Science at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth – “three amazing years of playing rugby, rock climbing and mountaineering”.

After that, he wanted to take a postgraduate degree – “go to grad school” in American parlance – but there were limited opportunities at that time in the UK, a country which, as Ed points out, was still recovering economically from the Second World War and had yet to develop North Sea Oil. So, in 1967, he went to Canada on a graduate student fellowship to take his Master’s in Physical Geography at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. His new life got off to an exciting start: “On Day 7 in North America, I was on a four-engine Super Constellation flying to a remote field camp in the High Arctic, north of the 60th parallel!”

That first Arctic trip set a travel of pattern which was to become the norm in the decades to come. “Some years, I was in more than ten countries – a whirlwind life.”

His first experience as an oil spill first responder came in March 1970 at an oil tanker spill in Nova Scotia, Canada. It was five years after this that he completed his PhD at the University of South Carolina in 1975.

In 1993, he established his own company, Owens Coastal Consultants, which for the past 28 years has been providing worldwide scientific and technical support for spill response operations and spill response planning and training. Today, he is based on Bainbridge Island in the State of Washington, with a rural office from where he can look east towards nearby Seattle.

“My roles in all of this are as a response operations planner, a first responder to develop strategies to accelerate environmental recovery, and a scientist to monitor that recovery. While major spills can certainly have a disastrous on nature in the very short term, long-term studies have shown how remarkably well and quickly the environment recovers from even large oil spills.”

His most recent spill was in late November 2020 at a pipeline break in the suburban San Francisco Bay area, where he had to contend with Covid constraints and where he used dogs – ‘Oil Detection Canines’, in the industry jargon – to find the leak.

Over the years, he has been called out to destinations as far flung as Arctic Russia, the Amazon and the Middle East (he cherishes memories of seeing Dubai Creek in its pre-development days).

“But,” he adds, “I always seemed to managed to arrange my schedule to be on a business trip so that I could be in London during the first week in December for the Annual Brewer’s Dozen Dinner, joining a motley group of 15 friends – mainly 1962-65 First XV rugby players – which included two School Captains, multiple House Captains and even one person who did not go to QE!  Such was the bond formed at the School – quite remarkable. The chain was not broken even in 2020, but then it had to be by Zoom.”

Sadly, since that last meeting, the group has been depleted by the death within a few days of each other of two of Ed’s very close friends – Richard Newton (School Captain 1963-64 and First XV and First X1 Captain; Head Boy of Harrisons’: School Governor in the 1980s) and Roderick ‘Rod’ Jones (Prefect and First XV Captain 1964-65; Head Boy of Staplyton).

As he looks back on a career that now spans more than half a century, Ed counsels patience for current pupils and recent alumni of the School: “It’s important to remember that your first job is not your last job. I went through a progression of working in government, university and then private sector consulting. My real career path really did not emerge until I was 35 years old! Which, if you put in perspective, it means that I had been working after graduation for 14 years. I’m now over 75, 40 years later.

“So, there’s no need to be in a hurry – to think that when you leave QE or leave university or college that this is going to be the single path that you’ll follow for the rest of your life. There are many twists and turns; the important thing is to understand when choices present themselves to go with your heart. If you’re never happy in your work, you’ll never be happy in your life! That’s why I’m still working at 75-plus – and all the other aspects of a balanced life – family, social activities, and so on – are reinforced by that solid foundation.”

  • Pictured, top to bottom: a winter beach survey on Unalaska Island, Alaska, in April 2005; presenting a paper at the 2017 International Oil Spill Conference in Long Beach, California; in front of QE’s Main Building in July 1962; Ed (wearing the red cap, centre), briefing Admiral Yost, the United States Coast Guard Commandant, to his right, during a shoreline inspection following the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Prince William Sound, Alaska, May 1989.
Headmaster’s update

I began my report in the Christmas edition of Alumni News by stating that the Autumn Term had felt “much more normal”; as I now look back on the past three months, that is certainly not a phrase which I would employ to characterise this Spring Term.

From the very start, we faced rapidly changing circumstances, firstly gearing up to run a testing programme in early January, and then having to put it on hold at the eleventh hour as the country abruptly entered a further lockdown and we reverted to remote learning for all the boys.

Once again, both staff and pupils have demonstrated very commendable adaptability, even in the face of often-worrying news about the national and international situation, and, for some, closer to home, too. We have stuck together as a community, and there has been a resilient determination among my colleagues to ensure that boys at Queen Elizabeth’s School continue to receive an excellent education in the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Thanks to an extraordinary amount of work and a great deal of flexibility, our teachers and support staff have now developed very considerable expertise in using MS Teams and the resources and tools available through eQE, such that they are able to deliver an online school which is the envy of many, and which replicates as closely as possible the normal, rich QE classroom experience.

The whole Elizabethan community was seen at its very best recently, when everyone contributed to making sure that we had a wonderful reopening on 11th March. The in-school testing programme was an unprecedented logistical challenge which, of course, had to be carried out in strictly controlled conditions to ensure it was Covid-safe: I heartily commend the commitment of our volunteers and staff who ran it so cheerfully and efficiently, and I give my thanks to QE parents and boys who played their part by signing up in great numbers for the tests.

We have maintained an extra-curricular programme, adapting activities as necessary so that we can continue with as many of them as possible. The 2021 QE University Convention, held over the final week-and-a-half of term, is a fine example of the way in which we have ‘flexed’ to ensure that important events in the School calendar are retained in order that pupils do not miss out on opportunities.

It has also reflected one of the really characteristic aspects of the lockdown, namely the enthusiastic engagement of our alumni in supporting current pupils, aided by our QE Connect platform and the new technology we are using as a School. Well over 50 alumni were scheduled over the 19 sessions and, as has become customary, most, although not all, were those who left QE last summer. They were therefore able to relate to our current pupils their experiences of their first two terms at university during this pandemic.

We have also welcomed a number of alumni during the term as virtual speakers. They include football agent Max Hassell (OE 2002–2009) who reflected on his diagnosed ADHD, anxiety and depression in a talk to senior pupils in a talk during Children’s Mental Health Week, and Bilal Harry Khan (OE 2003-2009) who took part in our new series of bitesize Perspective discussions, speaking about why ‘micro-aggressions’ are so harmful and suggesting ways that the issue can be addressed. My thanks go to all Old Elizabethans who have supported the School this term.

Another major event that was run in adapted form was this week’s Senior Awards. I reiterate the congratulations I offered at the dual ceremonies to all our prize-winners from Years 10–13.

One very bright spot that came in the darkest days of the shutdown was the announcement that our boys had secured 39 offers of places from Oxford and Cambridge. That is a very remarkable total, second only to last year’s highest-ever tally of 40 places offered. Yet in one sense, it is also an encouraging indication of ‘business as usual’ – a sign that, pandemic or no pandemic, we will continue to nurture our very able students, fostering in them a love of learning, high-level thinking and deep intellectual curiosity, and preparing them to thrive at the world’s best universities and in their careers.

Our new School Development Plan launched at the start of the term will play a considerable part in helping us achieve that. To amplify further our current distinction as a School, we recognise in the plan that we must ensure that the mix of attributes and skills we develop in our boys remains relevant in a world, which, as the last 12 months have demonstrated, is fast-changing and sometimes unpredictable. I am pleased that the plan was so well-received, and I look forward to working with colleagues to implement it over the next four years.

Through all the turmoil of recent months, work on the Music School building project has continued unabated, and we remain on schedule to open this exciting new facility in the autumn of this year.

As we look forward to the Summer Term, we have a carefully worked-out plan in place for our GCSE, AS and A2 cohorts. Boys in Years 11, 12 and 13 have a lot of work to do in terms of the final summative assessments that they will be taking in the early weeks of the term. All the best to them as they embark on their last push with their revision and preparation! Year 12 will then quickly be moving on to A-level preparation for their final examinations in the summer of 2022. We also have a programme for Year 11 – a bridge between GCSE studies and the Sixth Form – so that they can use their time productively.

While certain aspects inevitably remain uncertain, we hope that the next term will see a period of stability as the country progressively emerges from this crisis.

In the meantime, my warm wishes go to all alumni.

Neil Enright


“Life is too short not to do what you enjoy”

Connor Sandford has overcome low self-confidence, serious illness and a dramatic change of degree course before finding satisfaction in life.

Now a senior consultant at Deloitte, he spends his days helping major companies in the battle against hackers and IT fraudsters.

“I suppose the role has worked out perfectly for me,” Connor (OE 2007-2014) says, adding that, because of companies’ increased reliance on remote IT during the pandemic, he has probably been busier over the past year than over the previous two combined.

Connor’s is a story of triumph over adversity, which started early: “I initially found it very hard to adapt to school life at QE and I remember very clearly my parents coming in one evening to discuss behavioural issues with teachers when I was only a couple of months in to Year 7. It was strange because, knowing my mum and our family values, I was expecting her to be very angry and disappointed with me, but instead she had sympathy for me and asked me if I wanted to go to a new school.

“This was a different environment to what our family was used to, but I now realise my resilience in saying ‘no, I want to stay here’ made this perhaps the best decision I have ever made – and certainly the best for my future career prospects.”

In time, Connor found his feet at School and soon he was no longer in the bottom sets. “I gained the confidence that I wasn’t actually ‘lucky to be here’ with all these clever boys around me, but I actually deserved to be there. It took me until about Year 11 before I realised just how unique an environment this School was and how well it was set up to help us succeed.”

One area in which he thrived was rugby. “Like almost all the other boys, football was what I grew up playing, but I learned to love rugby and continued to play all through university. I remember my rugby coach Mr [Tim] Bennett and my other PE teachers, all of whom were a great support not only in rugby but in life. I certainly had my moments of misbehaviour in School, but the PE department helped to encourage me to get back on track. Maybe it was their words of wisdom about life, or maybe it was the prospect of missing out on captaining the School on a Saturday morning on the rugby field that got me back on track time and time again. It’s hard to say which helped more!”

Before his GCSEs, he had to face the trauma of catching meningitis, which led to him missing three months, including half his examinations. “I had lost weight and forgotten many things, including spelling the simplest of words – not the best thing when I was due to start English Literature A-level at the end of the summer. I also had migraines frequently that continue until today – but not as badly or frequently as when I was in Year 11 and 12.

“QE was fantastic at providing me all the home support I needed to complete my exams from home initially.” Despite the difficulties, he went on to do even better than his predicted grades.

“This gave me the confidence to keep going and achieve great grades in my A-levels as well. I have to thank all my teachers in those last two years, where I really think the level of education reached a new height.” He remembers boys “passionate about their chosen A-level subjects” making for “an incredible learning environment.” Connor adds: “I suppose I also have to thank my fellow classmates for encouraging new ways of thinking and essentially making me enjoy learning.”

“Having overachieved at A-level, I was excited to go to my first-choice option, CASS Business School, and start my Business Studies degree.”

A few months in, however, he realised that he was not enjoying his education as he had at QE, and, moreover, he was regretting not having the opportunity to follow his interest in fashion.

“I remember my Art A-level classes being the best escapes from other stresses during the week and I thrived with the guidance of Mr [Ashley] West and Mr [Stephen] Buckeridge.

“I got back in contact with Mr [David] Ryan at the School who dedicated time to helping me complete my new university application and offered kind words of support about my decision to change my career path. I always knew I wanted to do something more creative, and fashion management was the perfect option, ensuring that I got a worthwhile degree while also enjoying what I was studying.”

Connor went to Manchester, loving the change of scene from London. “I found that by doing something you are passionate about, it will always give you a better chance of succeeding. I completed my course, gaining a first-class degree and enjoyed the amazing university experiences I had, including continuing my rugby career for the University of Manchester team.”

Using what he was learning on his course, Connor started a bamboo sock business, intent on giving proceeds at the end of his time at university to a local homeless charity, coffee4craig, that had supported the fledgling company.

“The business was fun and relatively successful, but while I liked the business element, I had lost some passion for the product,” he says. And so, after graduating in 2018, his career path took another sharp turn, as Connor joined Deloitte and went into the technology sector. “Every cloud has a silver lining, and without the sock business, I wouldn’t have had to create a website and maintain the IT elements of the business – and that is where my interest in technology and risk was sparked.

“Essentially, I have always found it best to follow my instinct: if I like something, I say to myself ‘Go for it’, and if I don’t, ‘Stop’. Yes, there may be risks, but life is far too short not to do what you enjoy, so I firmly believe you should not continue to do something just because you had chosen to do it in the past, but instead you should adapt to what you want to do in the future.”

“I loved the change into the corporate world and I have especially loved the nature of the company that has supported me and taught me more about IT than I ever could have imagined back when I handed in my GCSE IT coursework in Year 10 – the last time I had studied the subject before I started my role here at 23, says Connor, now a Technology and Digital Risk Consultant with Deloitte, having recently had a promotion. “Unexpected things happen and it’s not wise to say ‘Never again’. You never know what opportunities will arise and how things in your life or your perspective and interests can change. I suppose the role has worked out perfectly for me.

“There is a growing need to ensure that businesses are reacting appropriately to new risks around fraud and security created by the online storage of data. That’s what my job involves on a daily basis. I perform testing and report on the risks for our clients due to their IT vulnerabilities or weaknesses. They can then use our findings to drive or shape improvements in their systems and minimise any security breaches in the future that could damage their reputation of earnings.”

The hacking of Microsoft’s servers by Chinese hackers in recent weeks is a high-profile example of the sort of incidents that Connor works to prevent among his clients, and he pointed to the damaging subsequent fall in Microsoft’s share price as one sign of how important good cyber security is.

“Not only have I learned a lot in a great environment since joining Deloitte, I have also had the opportunity to travel across Europe to see our clients, and I am look forward with some excitement to resuming that when COVID allows.

“I am now so comfortable and satisfied in life with my own home and a meaningful job. I live with my girlfriend, and at weekends, I spend time with my friends and with family – those who supported me through my time at QE.

“Before COVID, I still saw many other Old Elizabethans at weekly football sessions, but due to the virus and a combination of injuries and work, I have not had the opportunity to recommence these yet. I look forward to doing so in the near future, however.”



At your service: Andrew’s human-centred approach to technology

Andrew Kettenis’ work as a digital experience consultant can be both diverse and sometimes high-profile: recent projects have included working on the UK’s vaccine roll-out and providing support for an AI-powered automatic ship, the Mayflower.

And the ship’s purpose – gathering data about the oceans for scientists looking at climate change, pollution and marine conservation – points to an area of focus for Andrew, namely sustainability.

After four years with IBM, he is currently transitioning to a new job as a UX (User Experience) designer with a leading London agency – “exactly what I enjoy doing”.

And yet Andrew (OE 2003–2010) acknowledges that his professional life today is very different from the career he expected when he was at School. “When I look back at my subjects for A-level, the two I focused on myself were Maths and Economics, but when I look at what I use, it’s Design. I use the principles I learned in it every single day, yet it felt at the time like a bit of a rogue one!” (Andrew also pays tribute to the support of Ian Clift, his Design Technology teacher.)

After leaving School in 2010, he went to study at Birmingham. “At university, I did International Relations, with Economics ‘on the side’.  In normal QE fashion, I was intending to focus more on the Economics and how that might relate to finance, but I actually enjoyed the politics side more, especially the sociology.

“My whole career view changed quite a bit, taking on a more human-centric focus, particularly with regard to sociology and how technology relates to that.”

Reflecting on all this, Andrew has his own advice for current QE pupils: “Follow the things you love, and lean into the things you love and that you find special or unique about yourself.” Unless boys are set on a very specifically vocational degree, they should choose a university subject simply because they find it interesting, he says.

After completing an MA at Birmingham in International Law, Philosophy and Politics in 2014, Andrew worked for a few months as a technical specialist for Apple. He then headed off to Osaka in Japan, where he spent 16 months as an English language teacher.

“I loved it. It was one of the hardest, but also by far the best, two years of my life,” he says, adding that he was speaking Japanese at conversational level within six months and learned many transferable skills. At QE, he had been a keen member of the robotics club. That experience now came into its own: “I brought a lot of that to my classes, using technology as a medium. I took a very tech-centric approach to my lessons.”

It is an approach which he has followed in his subsequent career. “Technology is an effective tool for social change and is pretty central to any social or entrepreneurial mechanism.”

He worked briefly for specialist IT training consultancy Optimum Technology Transfer – “a really good job” – and then went to IBM in 2017.

“IBM is where I found essentially what I will be doing for the foreseeable future – product and service design.”

Among the projects he has enjoyed most recently has been his work on the Mayflower Autonomous Ship project. “What the Mayflower essentially is, is an AI-powered automatic ship that has been developed by ProMare, a marine research and exploration company, in partnership with IBM. It incredibly important for our sustainable future to understand how our planet is changing. It’s really cool!”

Andrew’s side of the work has been to help design the people-facing digital products that will be used by scientists and by the wider public.

The ship has already been launched and is due to go on its first mission in a few weeks, sailing from Plymouth in the UK to Plymouth in Massachusetts – hence its name, recalling another pioneering venture, that of the Pilgrim Fathers, who established the first permanent settler colony in New England after arriving at Plymouth Rock aboard their own Mayflower in 1620.

He has also been involved in some of the UK vaccination work, re-designing the experience from a service user’s perspective, so that it works better and reduces waste, looking not at apps or the website, but at the general experience being offered.

“UX design is about what the end-to-end journey looks like,” says Andrew, who adds that his aspiration is to cultivate his skills “for a wider societal impact”.

He has developed a specialism in the sustainability of supply chains and products. He has, for example, just finished working with an automotive company to help them with their thinking about the future – “the big stuff, envisioning exactly how they will provide energy and mobility to people – how energy and electric vehicles tie into our future”.

Andrew, who is based in London, helps a number of mindfulness charities on a pro bono basis. He has worked with Dose of Nature, a charity promoting the benefits of engaging with the natural world which “does some really good work in mental health”.

He is encouraged by the ethical approach of many of his fellow OEs: “They are an upstanding bunch of human beings – just really good people, whatever path they have gone down, which I think is super-encouraging.”

A music-lover and media enthusiast, Andrew also enjoys gaming in his spare time. To find out more about Andrew’s projects and interests, visit his website.


Flourishing at Oxford during lockdown

Anhad Arora’s continuing studies at Oxford combine his love of Music with his passion for German.

After leaving QE with straight A*s in Music, German, French and English Literature A-levels, Anhad (OE 2009–2016) read Music at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, graduating with a First.

He moved on to a Master’s thesis looking at elements of orientalism in Robert Schumann’s Myrthen song cycle, op.25 (‘Myrthen’ means ‘myrtle’, the flowering evergreen shrub native to the Middle East). “My Master’s in Musicology was completed with Distinction just down the road at St Cross College, where I was funded by the Humanities Division of Oxford University,” he says.

After recently delivering a paper in German to the Henrich Heine Gesellschaft on Schumann’s interpretation of the orientalist flower in the work, Anhad won the Düsseldorf literary and artistic society’s prize for best lecture. Parts of his thesis are set to be published in the 2021 issue of the Heine-Jahrbuch, the society’s annual publication.

And Anhad is now delving deeply into German literature for his interdisciplinary doctorate (DPhil) project, which similarly investigates orientalism in nineteenth-century German song.

He has made good use of his time since the beginning of lockdown, with professor of Medieval German at Oxford Henrike Lähnemann giving him a crash course in German Romantic literature. This is helping him grapple with works including Goethe’s West–östlicher Divan, which Schumann and “all the big-hitting Lied composers” drew upon. These studies are supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Clarendon Fund, underwritten by Merton College.

With Prof Lähnemann, he runs a blog, called Lieder Spiel, and a YouTube channel “for fun”.

Anhad says he has “enjoyed balancing a busy performing career on early keyboards with academic research” and “hopes to continue researching and performing in equal measure”.

“As an undergraduate, I was one of two répétiteur scholars for New Chamber Opera, a professional opera company based in Oxford. With their support, I put on two fully staged operas (Haydn’s Lo Speziale and Handel’s Xerxes) and assisted on Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. We took Lo Speziale to the British Embassy in Paris in November 2019 for a one-off concert performance, which was good fun.”

“During my undergraduate years I was also the director of the university’s premier Early Music ensemble, the Bate Players, and was (and still am) the principal keyboard player of the Oxford Bach Soloists, who are performing all of the Bach’s cantatas in chronological order.

“I didn’t do much apart from music – and drinking! But I was drafted in somehow to act in French-language play, Jean Cocteau’s La Machine Infernale, the success of which is better left to speculation.”

He stays in touch with a number of friends from School. “Particular shout-outs to Thomas Archbold, who is pursuing a PhD at King’s College London in Computer Science, and Youssef Zitoun, who is flourishing as a corporate analyst in London.

“I’m also in contact with members of the Barbershop group: Simon Purdy is enjoying a varied, freelance career as a violinist and Kavi Pau as a hybrid consultant-musician. Kavi has recently started The Third Culture Collective, a collaborative music group.” Anhad says he is looking forward to seeing how Kavi’s work develops.

Anhad enjoys cooking – “when I can be bothered” – and reading satirical newspapers. “I’ve always had a soft spot for irreverence – ask any of my former teachers at QE!”


From pushing trolleys to working with Robbie Williams and reorganising a £3m cruise when the ship caught fire, Laurie’s done it all

Over the years, Laurie Weitzkorn has DJ-ed to huge crowds, staged lavish parties in exotic locations across the globe, and worked with royalty, the super-rich and the famous.

By his own admission, his event design company, JustSeventy, is not the cheapest, but that, he says, is because they offer a service that is second to none.

“A lot of potential clients come and sit in our office and say we are expensive and go away. But after trying cheaper competitors and being disappointed, they come back to us for their second or their third party. We say we are kind of like Selfridge’s, compared with Aldi or Lidl.”

Yet Laurie (OE 1993–2000) has not always been in the glamorous world of international event management; in fact, his own career really began with another titan of the retail world known for low prices – Costco.

He took a job at Costco Watford while he was still in the Sixth Form at QE. “I started by pushing trolleys. The great thing about Costco was that it is a multinational company. If you are ‘hungry’ and have a brain, you can progress.”

As a QE boy, he definitely met the latter criterion and so received some good training and mentoring, in the process becoming the company’s youngest-ever forklift driver and goods inward junior supervisor. “With £2m of merchandise coming through the big door at the Watford warehouse from at least 12 articulated lorries a day, it was a busy, bustling place to work. They gave me a lot of responsibility. “

After leaving School in 2000, he carried on at Costco in a gap year and then went to Birmingham City University to read Business Management in 2001. After concluding that university wasn’t for him, he left 18 months later.

From the age of 16, he had also been DJ-ing, and in this period he won a DJ residency at a high-profile Birmingham venue that had both student and non-student nights, where he was often playing to 1,000 people.

(“I started DJ-ing as a hobby, but it turned into a career,” Laurie explains. “At one time, I was earning several thousand pounds just for five hours, although it’s worth saying that when I started I was getting £75.” He now describes himself as a semi-retired DJ, turning out only on special occasions.)

“Costco then opened up Costco Birmingham.” After his experience at Watford – Costco’s second or third-biggest warehouse globally – he found himself “being treated like a supervisor, but not paid like one. I clashed with the senior management and was a bit of a thorn in their side.”

News of his ability was spreading, however, and one day a call came from the national CEO of Costco: would Laurie transfer to the national depot in Lutterworth, Leicestershire? He eventually went there, but the work involved 4am starts and 12-hours days. His time was filled with firefighting issues amid the continual pressure of getting all the incoming fresh produce out on the road to Costco’s warehouse stores around the country within 24 hours. “It was brutal: it drove me to the brink and one day I got home and imploded. They gave me two months sick leave on full pay.”

After he had transferred to Milton Keynes to help open Costco’s 17th location, he found that he was, in fact, more experienced than many of the senior management there. When he was asked to take on more responsibility, but without a commensurate increase in salary, he quit Costco for good.

He had been with the company for six years and nine months, and today he can see that this time stood him in good stead for what would soon become his new career. “Looking back, I gained a lot of commercial experience with Costco – procedures, audit, handling pressure, transport.”

During a period of career limbo, he spoke to a friend who worked at event management company Banana Split, founded in 1976 by industry legend (and fellow DJ), Julian Posner. Laurie met Posner and set out what he could do.  “After 15 minutes, he said: ‘Name your price’. I said: ‘What – salary?’ and he said: ‘Yeah, tell me what you want.’”

The reason he had won him over, Laurie believes, is that Posner wanted “people who could sell, who were creative, who could talk to a client, who could unload a truck, if necessary” – and he recognised that Laurie fitted the bill.

It could hardly have been more different from Costco, but Laurie loved it. “We were travelling the world and living the high life – organising parties for royalty, celebrities and a number of billionaires.”

One of Laurie’s “more random” events for Banana Split involved organising a party for a group at the country shooting estate of a famous restaurateur. He brought along the singing duo, the Cheeky Girls, who proved a hit with the 12-strong, all-male shooting party. On another occasion, he was involved in organising two lorries that were going all the way to Azerbaijan for a party.

“It was a good learning curve, but we were there during the hard times, too, after the 2008 financial crisis.” There were other downsides – “the company was a bit archaic and old-school in terms of the management style”.

And so Laurie and a colleague, Stas Anastasiou, decided to take the plunge and strike out on their own. Launching JustSeventy in January 2011, they brought with them several clients they had worked with at Banana Split.

Taking on their first additional employee after a year, the company embarked on a period of continuous growth that lasted for several years.

Highlights included running the biggest bar mitzvah in the country in 2015.

One particularly memorable job was a cruise organised for a client living in France. In just eight weeks, JustSeventy planned an itinerary around Corsica and Sardinia, chartered a fabulous cruise ship in Cannes and sourced everything from the flowers and lighting to the on-board entertainment.

And then, five days before it was due to set sail, the ship caught fire. A replacement was found, but it was in Dubrovnik in Croatia. “Working with the client, we agreed that guests would arrive in Cannes as planned, travel by privately chartered flight to Dubrovnik board the ship and sail an alternative route to the Amalfi Coast in Italy. The guests would be none the wiser. Perfect!”

Of course, it was not as simple as that, and Laurie’s team faced a host of difficulties, having to rethink the entire itinerary, helicopter in entertainers, and organise a finale event from scratch in the Italian town of Ravello, all the while trying to work at sea with minimal wi-fi.

“Though the pressure was at its highest, the team was able to pull everything together really well – an experience we’ll never forget, and one that reminds us that nothing is impossible.” And fortunately the client was happy to pay the final bill, which came in at a cool £3m.

At the peak in 2015–16, JustSeventy had 12 employees. There were the high points, including running the biggest bar mitzvah in the country. And yet, Laurie says, they were too often “running around like headless chickens, but not really making the money”; the need to maintain the increased overheads induced them to accept some poor-quality, unprofitable jobs.

Laurie and his business partner, Stas, reacted by bringing in consultants to help them, taking on a “proper non-exec”, slimming down the payroll, using freelances more often, and generally becoming more selective about the work they took on.

JustSeventy has built its reputation on “working at a fast pace and on attention to detail”, says Laurie. “In my office, there is nowhere to hide.” In everything, the focus is on delivering the best possible experience for clients, who, however rich they may be, are often well out of their comfort zone when commissioning an event from JustSeventy: “They are coming to you at their weakest, about to spend £50,000–£200,000 on a party, and they want it to be perfect.”

Laurie has retained an entrepreneurial approach and has had both hits and misses. One less successful venture was a new company established to hire out sound and lighting equipment`. He and his partners stretched themselves financially, spending £400,000 on state-of-the-art kit. When they realised it was not going to be the roaring success they had hoped, they were able to extricate themselves by selling the business.

On the other hand, the £40,000 JustSeventy has invested in developing a piece of industry-specific software, including CRM, is proving to have been money well spent. “We have attracted interest from other companies, and we are about to start licensing it to competitors.”

The pandemic has, however, inevitably been a testing time for a luxury events company. “We have only survived because of the furlough scheme and the bounceback loan from the Government.” Bookings are finally starting to appear, but it is still only a trickle.

Looking back, overall, Laurie is immensely proud of what has been achieved with JustSeventy. He observed that in his generation, those who have gone on to commercial success have often been those who, like him, were not the academic high-fliers at QE. “I was definitely in the bottom half of the year in everything, always struggling a little for air! Some of the boys that have really achieved are the ones who left halfway through the Sixth Form.”

Nevertheless, he says he has many reasons to be grateful to the School. “QE taught me some basics of ethics and morals and how to conduct yourself.” He pays tribute especially to his Business Studies teachers, Jason Dormieux and Matthew Sherman (“an American fond of skateboarding”). “They were the two guys who got me interested in business and gave me an understanding of it.”

He threw himself into QE life, playing rugby for the School and, in an early pointer to his later career, taking on running the lighting and sound for numerous School concerts and drama productions. “I was just quite involved. I did enjoy it. I stayed for the Sixth Form and I went back for the ten-year reunion. It was a good place.”

Laurie, who enjoys horse-riding, travelling and music in his spare time, keeps in touch with a number of other OEs, including his neighbour Neil Phillips and his financial adviser, Daniel Coburn, from the year above him. “There is a good network. QE Boys has got gravitas and massive kudos even today.”



“Even the best-laid plans need to be critiqued” – Mantraraj on making the most of your career

Still in his thirties, lawyer Mantraraj Budhdev is today not only global Head of Compliance for one of the world’s biggest logistics companies, but also its Head of Legal, responsible for the Americas, Europe and Russia.

Throughout his life, he has worked ferociously hard and overcome disappointments, bad bosses and discrimination on his way to achieving his current success with Dubai-based DP World.

This month, as he celebrates the tenth anniversary of qualifying as a solicitor, Mantraraj took the opportunity to reflect: “The message I would convey is that a lot is down to luck, being in the right place at the right time. But more importantly, it’s about seeing opportunities as they come up and taking them and making the most of your career. That is easier said than done, and who you work for is very important.”

Yet alongside luck and capitalising on opportunities, Mantraraj (OE 1997–2004) has also very deliberately taken steps to ensure he does not drift, asking himself some hard questions every two years, fully prepared to adjust as necessary, whether that means a change of employer or even a change of career.

Mantraraj grew up in Radlett, where his family still lives. In Year 6, he had applied, among others, to The Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School. Habs didn’t offer him a place, but something about QE had felt right to Mantraraj from the outset. “I think QE was a huge turning point in my life. I have very, very fond memories of it and I am proud to say I am state-educated.

“QE is not an easy place – or at least at that time it wasn’t – because you are among huge numbers of people. I saw people fall through the cracks, and back then it was easy to fall through. You could make the most of it, but if you didn’t want to help yourself, no one else was going to do it for you,” he says. He contrasts his experience with that of his sister who went to an independent girls’ school, where smaller class sizes made possible a rather different approach.

He traces his desire to be a lawyer back to his first years at QE and to the American TV show, Perry Mason, about a larger-than-life criminal defence attorney. “I watched it religiously and absolutely loved it.”

It was not only his career choice that was established at QE: a fearsome work ethic emerged, too. “I was never one of the popular kids, the cool kids: I was a grafter; I know I work hard.”

Unsure what type of lawyer he wanted to be, he took steps to find out. “I ended up doing work experience at quite a broad range of firms, from the High Street solicitor doing conveyancing and the like to Citizens’ Advice Bureau-type work and law firms in the City.”

As a senior pupil, he undertook a week’s summer holiday work experience with Canary Wharf colossus, Clifford Chance, and with Travers Smith, a more boutique City law firm. It was at these that he found his métier: “I like the buzz of the corporate world.”

He applied unsuccessfully to Cambridge – “I am not ashamed to say I was an Oxbridge reject” – so went instead to the London School of Economics to read Law. And he says that while campus universities, and even Oxford and Cambridge, offer one sort of student life, he greatly enjoyed the very different experience he received at LSE. “I had a fantastic time. I would not change it; it prepares you for life in the city.”

Yet while his studies were progressing well, Mantraraj realised that his contemporaries seemed to be advancing with their careers more than he was, being offered places on firms’ vacation schemes and training contracts. “I was getting nowhere.”

It was then that he instituted one of the unsparing career reviews which have been a recurring theme of his life, asking himself if law was still the right career for him. “Even the best-laid plans need to be critiqued – including those you have cherished from the age of 13…you have to think again and make sure you are on the right track. Every two years, I check in on myself: am I where I want to be and going where I want to go?” On this occasion, he decided to wait a little longer.

At the very last moment, Linklaters asked to interview him. The message reached him when he was on holiday with his family and, his confidence by this point at a low ebb, he almost didn’t attend. In the event, however, he went along and “hit it off with the senior partner.

“That completely changed the trajectory of my career.” He was offered a training contract and was soon enjoying the buzz he had once felt with Clifford Chance, albeit not at Canary Wharf but in the rather less stimulating Barbican, where Linklaters is based.

After two years there, he duly qualified as a solicitor on March 9th 2011. Offered the choice of joining the firm’s derivatives practice – “too niche” – or the corporate team, he opted for the “very exciting” work of the latter.

But, he adds quickly: “It’s far from glamorous – not at all like Suits on TV! The reality is very long hours. It’s not easy by any stretch.” He calculates that for one two-month spell, on average, he slept fewer than three hours a night.

He spent time on secondment with Goldman Sachs and Royal Bank of Scotland, and then was asked to go to Dubai in early 2013 as a secondee to the Dubai World investment company of the city’s government.

Two more years went by and he was back in London. Now four years qualified, he pressed for a discussion with his boss about whether he was going to “make partner”. He had identified in advance three possible scenarios for himself: trying to make partner with Linklaters; moving to in-house practice, or leaving law altogether. “I got a rather woolly response: one in ten in my intake would make partner in six years.”

Dissatisfied with this, over a coffee, he spoke to a colleague who had left Linklaters and was now at the American-British law firm, Hogan Lovells, as a partner. They were, he said, looking to hire two people with the possibility – “although no promises” – of making partner in three years.

Mantraraj duly made the move to Hogan Lovells. “For some reason, I was seen as a bit of a win for them. At Linklaters, I had a generalist role, which set me in good stead.” He was able to help his new firm secure the big fees that came with public M&A.

One day at Hogan Lovells, a senior partner took him aside and explained that they were trying to cultivate “a really important relationship”, namely with Goldman Sachs. With some reservations, he took on a secondment there in September 2016, which lasted for six months. At the bank, he had “two bosses, one good, one bad. Who you work for makes or breaks your experience. Your boss has so much influence over how your career develops.”

In early 2017, he was back at Hogan Lovells, where the corporate team was then struggling to some extent, having to rely on referrals from the firm’s huge US business. He realised there was a bottleneck above him, with senior people not being promoted, which in turn was harming his prospects for making partner.

At another two-year point in his career, he was ready for a change. It came in the most unexpected way: “DP World’s General Counsel, who was based in Dubai, happened to be in Paris on business and was having lunch with a Linklaters partner. He told this contact that DP World was looking for a replacement because their Head of Legal for Europe and Russia was leaving.

“This Linklaters person happened to be in London about a week later and was sitting in the partners’ dining room.” A strict rule applied there that diners had to take the next available chair, rather than waiting for a table to become available so they could eat with their close colleagues and friends. “Purely by chance, this chap from Paris was sat next to my first boss from 2009 and they got talking. She called me the very same day and said: ‘I just heard something that would be perfect for you.’”

He sent her his CV and, somewhat to his surprise, she sent it straight on to DP World. Mantraraj thought he was too junior to be successful, but after going through no fewer than five rounds of interviews, in the summer of 2017, he joined DP World.

“This is how things often transpire and it demonstrates how your network is important. Sometimes these things come through random routes. I don’t believe in nepotism at all, but I do believe in opportunities, and you have to create something from them for yourself when they come along.”

He thought he might stay at DP World for three or four years and then move on to keep up his career momentum: “In in-house practice, people don’t really leave: it’s not a conveyor belt like a law firm,” he explains. But almost four years in, he remains firmly committed to the company. “I ended up progressing here in a way that I hadn’t expected to be – and very quickly.”

In 2019, he was asked to create and run a new global compliance function, while still retaining his existing role. DP World is a huge business, with 55,000 employees worldwide, so the new job was an enormous responsibility. Then, from February this year, he was given the additional task of being Head of Legal for the Americas, while still fulfilling this original role for Europe and Russia.

The nature of what he does is now changing. A year ago, he had no team; now he has five people directly reporting to him and a further 16 indirectly. “I need to slowly let them do a lot more of the day-to-day work and I can be more strategic. So, it’s a transition, but it’s gradual.”

In seeking to lead the team well, he has drawn on his own negative experiences with “horrible” bosses in the past. But he readily acknowledges that he has had “incredible” ones, too – mentors with whom he has continued to maintain close ties. Not least among these is his current boss who, he says, has been an enormous inspiration and support in championing him throughout the organisation, but also his former boss at Linklaters who was instrumental in his securing his job at DP World. Now a very senior partner at Linklaters, she is herself “being instructed” by DP World: “It boils down to relationship,” he says.

Mantraraj, who is based in London, has been reflecting not only on his career, but also on the extraordinary global events of the past year – coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter protests.

“Lockdown has been a blessing in disguise, because I have not been able to do as much travelling as I normally do.”

He appreciates the deeper consideration of important issues that BLM has provoked, but adds: “Change is slow and it’s incremental and it’s not going to happen overnight.” He recalls one experience during his time with his previous firm that illustrates this.

An August baby, Mantraraj was used to being the youngest in his classes at QE. Because of his fast rise, he has often found himself in a similar position in his career. On one occasion, he was about to start a meeting with a Scottish client and his (Mantraraj’s) junior colleague, a young, white man. The client, assuming he was in fact the more senior employee, had been chatting for three or four minutes and then turned to Mantraraj and said: “Could you get me a coffee, please?”

Mantraraj says: “Because I was young, I must be the junior guy, he thought, and the white, posh boy must be the senior.”

Although surprised, Mantraraj did as he was asked. “I didn’t mind, and he was the client after all.” But when it was Mantraraj who subsequently started to lead the meeting, the client realised his mistake: “He was absolutely mortified and red-faced.

“What we need is to be prepared for what the world is going to throw at us,” Mantraraj says, adding that QE, precisely because it was “not the easiest place to be in”, had helped him in just that way. “There is a level of grit available there that brings determination – if you choose to have it.”

He remains in contact with a group of fellow OEs, meeting up for weddings and keeping in touch through WhatsApp groups. Secondary school is, he points out, a unique time in most people’s lives – a seven-year period when you are together with a group of people, the make-up of which changes little. “That is not replicated, even at uni. I think it sets you up for the 40-year career ahead of you.”

Mantraraj is not married. “Sometimes balance is very hard to strike. I start my day at my desk at 7am and it will often be back-to-back calls until 7pm, and then doing other things after dinner. I am ambitious and driven, and I have been very lucky in the progress of my career. I work very hard and that comes at a cost. Sometimes I sacrifice things that I think other people would not sacrifice.”

He cites one recent occasion when he had been looking forward to meeting his QE contemporary, Anand Gangadia, a fellow lawyer, for dinner at 6.30pm. “About five minutes before 6.30, I got an email that said: ‘I need this done tonight’. The dinner therefore became a brief walk before Mantraraj had to return to the office. “Because Anand was a lawyer, he was fine about it – we remain close! It’s difficult because sometimes you need to sacrifice, so you need to go into this career with your eyes open. Nothing is as glamorous as people think,” he says, adding that he would encourage aspiring lawyers currently at QE to make sure they get exposure to the reality of the lawyer’s life.

In any spare time, Mantraraj enjoys cooking and seeing friends.