Alumnus Clinton Williams discusses his nearly two decades of service in the Royal New Zealand Navy and the experiences that led to a new professional challenge.
Tell us a little about your role in the Navy?
I have recently left my role as an engineer in the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) after over 19 years of service, although my most recent role wasn’t directly related to engineering. I was the head of our officer training school, where I was responsible for the leadership and core military skills training for up and coming leaders within the Navy. This was a great role for me because it allowed me to have a real impact on how future leaders will perform.
What did you study at the University?
I started my Postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration in 2015 as I wanted to give myself more opportunities to progress beyond the more technical engineering and project management roles I’d had for most of my career. However, towards the end of that year an opportunity to spend a year in Singapore emerged, so I decided to pursue the Certificate in Management Studies instead and graduated at the end of the year.
Why did you choose this area of study?
Engineering had given me a solid background in systems thinking, problem solving and process management. As my career progressed, I found that I really enjoyed applying these skills in people-centric systems rather than more traditional technical systems. I decided that I’d like to take my career down a different path and studying something with people and organisations at its heart just made sense to me.
What appealed to you about Te Herenga Waka–Victoria University of Wellington?
The University’s approach to postgraduate study for working professionals heavily influenced my decision. Classes were conveniently scheduled after hours one night a week, and the ‘off-ramps’ gave flexibility to the length of time I would need to study before I attained a qualification. I knew that there was a strong chance I would be posted from Wellington before completing the full programme so the decision was pretty straightforward.
What is your current role?
I recently left the Defence Force after more than 19 years’ service. I’m extremely grateful to the Navy for the varied experiences and opportunities I’ve been given and the skills and knowledge I’ve developed along the way. After spending half of my life serving New Zealand, I decided I was ready for a new challenge, but still want to be involved in growing our prosperity. I’ve recently accepted a role with Serco Defence Asia Pacific, where we aim to leverage the global knowledge, skills and experience that Serco has to grow some of those capabilities within the New Zealand defence and marine industries. I’m really excited by the opportunity to continue to serve New Zealand but it in a different way. I can’t wait to see where this new phase in my career will lead me.
What did you enjoy most about your time at university?
Being part of the post-experience programme for working professionals meant that I got to meet a bunch of people from a wide range of backgrounds, who all had the same ultimate goal of furthering their career. The class material was rooted in theory but applied in a practical context which kept me engaged and I found studying was always interesting and not a chore that I had to complete after work.
What was Wellington like when you were studying?
I was living and working in Wellington at the time, and it is a great city. There was so much variety in close proximity and I loved how easy it was to get out on my mountain bike straight from my home on The Terrace. I’d love to come back to live with my family some day!
Any memorable lecturers?
If I’m honest they were all memorable for different reasons, but Jim Sheffield had a real knack for making a two-hour lecture on a Tuesday evening really enjoyable. I still regularly refer to my notes from his problem solving and decision-making class!!
What advice would you give someone applying for their first role?
The best advice I can give is to find an organisation that fits you, as opposed to an attractive job. The reason I was able to stay with the Navy and Defence Force for so long is that my personal values aligned to that of the organisation. If you don’t get a good ‘feel’ from a company or profession, keep looking.
What have been your career highlights?
My career highlights have all been directly related to leading teams of excellent people. Whether it was as the head of an engineering department on a ship deployed for months on end, or leading the leadership training and development of some exceptional young New Zealanders, helping others to achieve their potential is a great way to make sure you get out of bed every morning.
What do you enjoy most about working in your profession?
Without a doubt it is the people. The defence sector is full of talented and motivated people who have chosen a career that is driven by a desire to make a difference. There is a real clarity of purpose with people who work in defence—they tend to know exactly why they are there. Whether they are uniformed members, civilians, or working in industry, they are proud of what they do and how they serve New Zealand.
Biggest challenge for your industry?
The challenges for the defence industry are not that different to what other industries are facing at the moment. We need to ensure that the public understand what we do and the value that we provide to New Zealand. We have an important role in securing New Zealand’s interests—at home, with our close neighbours and the wider world. From providing economic opportunities through our local defence industry, through to ensuring our international trade opportunities remain open, the defence industry has a really important role to play in New Zealand’s recovery.
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