Steve Beswick (1984, Environmental Science, County) Director of Education is responsible for computer giant Microsoft’s business and skills for education across the UK.
This represents a $100m business which he manages with 15 people and covers 25,000 schools, 400 FE colleges and 170 Universities. He puts some of that success down to the hours he spent in the County Hall kitchens learning how to get on with others, and putting into practice early lessons in conflict management, when they were not.
He says: “Lancaster University gave me a good grounding on how to lead, how to collaborate and how to relate to people.”
His work involves making predictions to schools and colleges about need for technology in future, managing his team, leaderships mentoring, press interviews and partnering with companies like HP and Dell. He admits it is a busy life, for which his key skill is prioritisation.
This was not the path Beswick imagined for himself, when the ex miner’s son left his home town of Bedford to take up his place at Lancaster to read Environmental Science. His A levels in chemistry, physics and geography fitted the subject perfectly; he liked the scientific emphasis at Lancaster and was also attracted by going back to Lancashire where he was born.
He thoroughly enjoyed the degree, field trips to Edinburgh and specialised in geology and water engineering. He worked hard - particularly on volcanology - and remembers a number of inspiring teachers, in particular Ray McDonald and Harry Pinkerton. He says: “It was a well-balanced degree, which met and exceeded my expectations. “
It was the social side of university life, which Beswick believes was most formative for him. He loved the collegiate system and the sociability of County. He remembers the debates on the Falklands war and sitting in the kitchen when the decision had been taken to go to war with Argentina, arguing about whether it was right to do so.
He spent lots of time walking in the Lakes including his 21st birthday, and at a university-owned farmhouse in the Yorkshire Dales. He also relished the quality of the bands that came to Lancaster, including U2 who played in the Great Hall for 300-400 people and he remembers thinking that the band might make it big one day.
His ambition was to work as a geologist in the oil industry so he applied for graduate programmes, but with oil prices depressed and a tough job market, he received a stream of rejections so went home to reassess.
Whilst there he was offered an IT job when his best friend’s father was setting up an outlet selling the first ever IBM Personal Computers . Beswick became a salesman, but he knew he would not make any serious career progress without more training so in 1986 he took a job with the US company Digital Equipment renowned for its training and he came top in its graduate programme.
His interest was moving towards software and, in 1993, he followed a friend to Microsoft, as the first sales person for Microsoft to the NHS selling software to hospitals. He had found his niche - he found both the work and the travel involved enjoyable. Microsoft was growing all through the 1990s and he moved into the education role in 2007.
He relishes the time he spent at Lancaster as much for the life skills he learned as for the academic education he received. He says: “I learned to work in a team through the seminars,team projects and also to challenge people - in Microsoft you always have to challenge what you are doing.”
His links with Lancaster remain strong. His son Billy has followed him to study in Lancaster, so he stays at the same place that his own parents stayed when they used to drop him off. He has also given talks at the Management School.