Sam McGrath

Country of origin: United Kingdom

Executive Director (Head of Bank Sales), Standard Chartered Bank (Singapore)

Behind a desk in Singapore, selling derivatives and other advanced financial products for Barclays Capital, one of the world’s leading investment banks – it’s a far cry from recruiting and training paratroopers in the British Army. But for Major Sam McGrath, joining the Lancaster Executive MBA back in 2007 was just the first step in a whole series of new adventures, as he planned his move into civilian life after a ten-year army career.

‘I knew that I had accomplished all I wanted to do in the Army’, explains Sam, who left as head of selection and training for the Parachute Regiment and UK airborne forces. ‘Over the next few years my wife and I wanted to have a family – and I wanted to be around for that. I was also keen to find a job that challenged me and that gave me the same kick as the Army did.

‘I came to the Lancaster programme with an open mind – but I knew the EMBA would give me exposure to people from different industries and would make me more relevant than I’d be simply as a retired Army bloke.’

Not that he has relinquished all aspects of his former career, nor given up his passionate belief in the importance of exercise. Instead he has converted that experience and passion into a new book, which he started working on only weeks after finishing his MBA.

The Para Fitness and Training Guide was launched in the UK in January 2011, alongside a parallel US edition, Go the Distance. It’s a structured fitness guide designed for all levels – from those perhaps aspiring to join elite regiments like the Paras to those simply wondering how to inject a little more exercise into their all-too sedentary lifestyles.

‘I think there’s something for everybody,’ says Sam. ‘Within the training programme, I’ve given people options. There are three levels, and within each there’s scope for choosing something different. So if someone has not done exercise in ages, then instead of press-ups they do a different type of exercise that uses the same muscle group but is a lot easier. The idea is that, as they get fitter, they can either do different exercises or move up to a different level of the programme.’

All proceeds from the book will go to two charities: the Parachute Regiment Afghanistan Trust, which supports soldiers injured in the course of duty in Afghanistan and their dependants, and Fairbridge, a charity working with disadvantaged young people.

New focus through EMBA

EMBA, he says, gave him the confidence to take on major new projects like this, and more generally it re-engaged him with the world of academia:

‘I liked reading about the advances in management theory and I particularly enjoyed the EMBA framework of learning alongside other experienced leaders. The coursework assignments meant I was able to take what I’d learned, look at my organisation afresh and see opportunities to improve things. It meant I got to learn more about my organisation but also the organisation got a genuine benefit from it: I’d be coming up with recommendations on issues we had, resulting in us improving the way we did things.

‘What the EMBA did was to convert my leadership experience and project management experience into a currency that was understood in industry. It gave me a confidence that my experiences were absolutely relevant, and that the challenges other people faced within their organisations were close to identical to those that I faced in the Army.’

Despite the intensity of his new city life, there’s no chance that Sam will ever slacken on his own personal fitness regime: ‘It’s been part of my life for the last eleven years, and it’s not something I could ever see myself giving up.’

In addition to daily sessions on his rowing machine, three days a week he runs home the 10 or 11k he would otherwise commute – ‘it takes me about the same time’ – and he relishes being home in time for family routines, such as bathing his baby daughter.

‘Singapore’s a great place to live, and our lifestyle since leaving the Army has just improved incredibly. In spite of all the work time, we’ve got lots of time for each other. And the job is both interesting and rewarding.

‘If someone had said three years ago, when I started the EMBA, this is where you could be, I’d have been delighted – but I’m not sure I’d have believed it.’

Sam still works in Singapore, but since this interview has moved to a new role at Standard Chartered Bank.