Julian Costley's (BSc Engineering 1975) career has taken him around the world, in industries including computing, journalism and broadcasting. He is currently CEO and owner of publishing company Bite-Sized Books. Here, he shares recollections of the early campus music scene, experiences of imposter syndrome and how trees are surprisingly important...
“I met my first wife in freshers’ week 1971 and we were a very sociable couple. It felt like a world of constant parties. We went to every gig organised by the Students’ Union. It was a real varied mix – on the one hand we’d get a very young Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music on stage, with Brian Eno doing the lights from the back of the hall, and on the other we’d be subjected to questionable performances such as Adge Cutler & The Wurzels!
“My love of bridge in sixth form had played a large part in poor A-level results, so my dream of becoming an architect was dashed. When I was offered a place at Bath to read Mechanical Engineering, I grabbed it. It meant that I could still design things, the syllabus looked interesting and the location was perfect!
“The brilliant thing about my degree was how I learned to be super-organised and to keep 100% focus on whatever I do. The final year was as much about leadership and good management as it was about technical skills. Those skills are common to all businesses and have stayed with me.
A wild ride
“My career since Bath has been an absolute rollercoaster. Back in 1975 there was a recruitment process called ‘the milk round’ where companies came up to campus to interview final-year students and offer them jobs. I was given a role as a graduate trainee with International Computers Limited.
“After a few years, I moved on to Reuters where I ultimately became a bureau chief and country manager responsible for Israel, West Bank and Gaza. I then moved back to the UK to run a TV production company, and then created my own TV channel on BSB.
“When Rupert Murdoch merged BSB with Sky, I was sacked (along with 400 others) but was quickly hired to lead a new joint broadcasting venture between the Maxwell Group and France Telecom. My massive satellite dishes can still be seen today on the roof of the ITN building on London's Gray’s Inn Road – I’d chosen the building as our offices as it was a lovely morning walk from my home in Islington!
“A chance meeting with venture capitalist Hermann Hauser later led to the two of us creating E*TRADE UK in 1998, the UK’s first ever all-internet stock broking company.
“After a trade sale at the height of the dot-com boom in 2000, I moved to the south of France and became an angel investor – over 21 years, I invested in 26 companies all over the world. Now back living in the UK, I most recently bought a publishing company, Bite-Sized Books and am enjoying the thrill of building up another business. I can’t see me ever retiring!
“Despite having held senior positions in my career, I definitely suffer from imposter syndrome – I’m always surprised that people take me seriously! The surprise now, as a newbie publisher, is the assumption by quite eminent authors that my thoughts on changes to their drafts trump their own opinions. Dangerous! But it’s really rewarding to be appreciated.
“My advice to current students is of course to work hard and get the best degree you can – but don’t forget to have fun. And give something back – to the University and ideally the city, too. It may be something unconventional like restoring a lock on the canal or working with a local charity, but you’ll be glad you did when you join the alumni community and look back at your life as a student.
“I’ve been back to campus many times since I left. Oddly, the biggest change is the trees – a real measure of what nearly 50 years of foresighted tree planting can do. It brings back only happy memories. I love the architecture of The Edge and the positive, friendly feel of the whole University ‘village’. The Sports Training Village is amazing, too – wish I was there now!”