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Darren Millington

Graduated with an MSci in Theoretical Physics in 1998
Job title: Chief Financial Officer

Company/Industry :Gama Group Ltd - an international company that owns and manages private aircraft in the US, UK and Middle East on behalf of clients ranging from multinational corporations, high net worth individuals, air ambulances and government agencies.

Career progression 

I graduated in 1998 with an MSci in Theoretical Physics, having spent what felt like most of my final year applying for jobs in the science and engineering industries and travelling round the country for interviews. I was fortunate to get a place on a graduate training scheme with a science-based company called AEA Technology plc, where I initially worked in the Nuclear Science division's marketing and strategy department.

I was keen to work in the overlap between business and science; something that has driven my career choices from graduation. I worked at AEA for three years in a variety of roles including as a management consultant focused on risk analysis. I came to realise though that the numeracy skills developed during my degree were underused and I had the potential to learn a 'trade' as an accountant. I joined Arthur Andersen (later becoming Deloitte) to train as a Chartered Accountant and worked with a large number of high tech companies in the Thames Valley area.

In 2003 an opportunity came up that was simply too good to turn away: a role as an accountant and analyst within a start-up venture capital company called IP2IPO who were working with Oxford University to convert innovative ideas into well-funded businesses. The salary was lower, the hours were longer and the job security was initially non-existent, but the opportunity was fantastic and gave me a broad experience at the sharp end of starting a business and raising cash. 

After a couple of years there I joined one of the start-ups I had helped form called Vastox - a biotechnology company working on a treatment for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. I initially joined as Financial Controller but was then promoted to Chief Financial Officer after a successful floatation on the London Stock Exchange. My role was split between meeting City investors and managing the finances and admin functions of the growing company. Looking for an additional challenge and exposure to an international and customer-facing business, I joined Gama in autumn 2008 as Chief Financial Officer.

What do you do on an average day?

Fortunately there is no such thing as a typical day, but over the course of a month I'll probably spend at least one week in one of our overseas offices - either in New York or Dubai and another week visiting clients, banks or suppliers. I try to make my days in the office reasonably structured, but the nature of a senior position means you have to react quickly to problems and be skilled at prioritising the many competing demands on your time.

What I learnt from my physics degree

Tenacity and discipline  - There's no getting away from the fact that unless you're naturally gifted (and I wasn't!) getting a good degree in Physics is tough; it requires hard work and a level of self-motivation that is a highly valued trait outside of the campus. Simply having a degree in physics, or any of the sciences, will appeal to a wide range of employers who recognise the investment this required. Maintaining this work ethic in your career can be challenging, especially as there will be periods where you simply aren't stretched in the same way as you were studying Maxwell's equations or Cosmology. 

Scientific method  - Much of management is about maximising opportunities and problem-solving; whether you choose a career in medical sciences, corporate finance or engineering. The ability to objectively analyse a difficult problem and weigh up the possible solutions is a great grounding for your career.

Three things I wish I had known before graduating
  1. No-one cares - not quite, of course, but from your first day at school to the day you collect your degree certificate there is a whole army of teachers, lecturers, welfare offices and advisers helping you achieve your academic aims. As soon as you leave, that support structure disappears and you become solely responsible for your career development. It can be a tough transition but the more you think about your five and 10 year goals before graduation, the better equipped you will be to navigate your own career path.
  2. Take risks  - the early part of your career is the perfect time to look at roles that might not have been your first choice after graduating. The first two-three years after graduation are most valuable for gaining a general experience of the commercial world, rather than building a set of job-specific skills. Try to gain as wide an experience as possible, and don't be afraid of joining a start-up, switching industries or working overseas.
  3. Don't stop learning  - the competition for good jobs is higher than it has ever been, and building a CV that grabs employers' attention is vital. To stay employable, as well as keep your mind stretched; consider postgraduate courses in fields that are both interesting and valuable, such as foreign languages, an MBA or a professional qualification in IT, law or finance.

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