Alumni profile - Kieran Ferguson
Tue 1 January 2019
Kieran Ferguson, LLB Law and Business, 2005
Tell us about your time at the University
I had a great time at university studying the LL.B (Law and Business). At first, I wasn't sure if I'd picked the right subjects as the first two years of my joint honours degree were quite challenging. The topics didn't really capture my interest, but I appreciated that they were essential to the degree. My final two years, however, were fantastic - I loved being able to specialise in subjects of my choice. I focused on commercial law, which synchronised well with my interest in business.
Managing a joint degree was not easy. In my fourth and final year I balanced five honours subjects, whilst those studying ‘straight law’ only had two subjects and a dissertation. Despite having a heavier workload I'm really glad I took the joint honours degree and it’s something I would recommend to incoming students. I gained a valuable insight into how law and business interact in practice; the 'commercial awareness' that most law students don't acquire until they start training. Law is actually a very small part of a firm's commercial operations (unless it’s a law firm!). Although vital, law is more of a support function, in that it's not a profit centre for a business. Legal action always has to be considered in proportion to its cost/benefit weighting, which some lawyers tend to forget! A joint honours degree can give you a broader perspective and employers do value that.
Alongside the academics I found plenty of time to get involved in societies at university. As President of the Entrepreneurial Society, I led a team of creative thinkers to victory in the University Business Plan Competition. I also set up a business called 'Ed Exchange', an online platform for students to sell things to each other, books, furniture,...anything really. It was essentially an early version of Gumtree, but solely for Edinburgh students. The service was free with James Thin the Bookshop, now Blackwells, kindly sponsoring the venture. It was the first of its kind at the University and was featured in the student newspaper. Hundreds of students used the service and I still feel really proud of that.
Leaving university was a sad yet exciting experience. I graduated with first class honours (a result that still surprises me!), and I finished my studies with a burning desire to put what I'd learned into practice. However, I still feel like part of the Law School in my capacity as tutor on the Contract and Delict (Ordinary) courses, a brilliant opportunity which I would encourage any law graduate to seize.
Tell us about your experiences since leaving the University
Since university, I've held a number of exciting positions in the banking industry. This all started with a successful application to join Accenture, a leading management consulting firm with a global client base. I specialised in financial services and spent most of my time in London and Manchester, with the occasional trip to Chicago. However, the opportunity to work at Accenture began in Edinburgh. Accenture attend the Edinburgh University milkround each year to select candidates for their coveted internship programme. Despite tough competition from OxBridge applicants, Edinburgh students seem to perform well at the assessment days and, in my year, a healthy proportion of the places went to us. My internship led to a full-time position, after completing my degree.
The experience I gained at Accenture was invaluable; the work was cutting-edge and innovative. However, after three and a half years of constant travelling (sometimes 4 flights a week!), I decided it was time for a break from all that.
The experience I gained at Accenture led to an opportunity at Richard Branson's new bank, Virgin Money, headquartered in Edinburgh. A relatively small bank at the time, Virgin Money has since grown to become a major force in the UK retail banking industry. The bank merged with Northern Rock in early 2012 and I was fortunate enough to work on that transaction. It was one of the most significant M&A deals to happen that year and I feel privileged to have been involved in it, working alongside some of the sharpest minds in the industry.
Eighteen months on from then, I'm now working in the CEO’s office at the bank. We’re fortunate to have an inspirational CEO who is passionate about changing the banking industry for the better and genuinely making ‘everyone better off’ in doing so. I’m learning lots about how a business works in practice, and it's amazing to see the mechanics of how a bank functions.
My time at Virgin Money has been an incredible experience so far, and my girlfriend is a lucky beneficiary, getting a hug from Sir Richard himself when he last paid us a visit!
Don't make plans: make options. Opportunities will come your way which can't possibly be planned. Sticking to a preconceived vision of your life may hold you back. In my third year at university, I seized the chance to work for Accenture with both hands. At the time, nobody had a clue who Accenture were and what they did, and everyone thought I was bonkers! Yet without that opportunity I would never have joined Virgin Money and been in the position to help shape the future of the banking industry. What is more, I would never have been offered the opportunity to camp in Richard Branson's back garden!
The unpredictability of life makes it exciting. Rejecting change is dangerous, because it will happen without you anyway and you'll be left behind. If you're passionate about changing the world, go out there and make it happen. Adventure; explore; take risks; have fun and never, ever give up.