Having graduated from Aston in 1981 with BSc in Building Management, Nigel Howe has gone on to be the longest serving CEO of a football club with Reading FC, which he joined in 1995.
Prior to this, Nigel worked in property development and asset management with his own company – what Nigel describes as the soft end of property. Nigel was contracted to build a new stadium for Reading FC. The original stadium at Elm Park had a capacity of 11,000, and the aim was to build a 25,000 seater stadium. It was a year later that Reading FC Chairman, Sir John Madejski asked Nigel to become CEO of Reading FC. Over the years, Nigel has been involved in all of Sir John's worldwide empire including building up a property portfolio that has gone on to be worth several hundreds of millions of pounds.
Nigel describes life as ‘very busy…with five children and then match day is just like a working day... In football I’m there in my role - I’m meeting so many different people involved in the club – it’s a busy life, I’m not complaining, I love it’.
My father finished playing football when I was born and started a career as a heating engineer. His view was that unless you could play at the very highest level in the game then you’re better off getting an education and play football down in the park with your mates. I sort of followed my father into building trade. I was working at a company called Second City (that eventually got taken over by Beazer Homes) and they sponsored me to study at Aston. They chose Aston University and the course for me as the Chairman, Peter Pearce, had a connection with Aston at the time so they paid, some of my costs and I was placed on a ‘thick sandwich’ course - a four year course with placements in different areas of the Second City Group.
Aston’s changed unbelievably, it’s unrecognisable, but it’s always had great connections with industry and encouraged students to go out and get real work experience early on. I think this makes a different type of graduate, and I went out into the world with my degree far better equipped than some of the people I came across in the building sector.
My Aston experience helped me decide that I wanted to go into property development. The sites they put me on as work experience were a quantity surveyor for one period, another period on another site as an assistant project manager on building a number of industrial units in Birmingham, this was followed by time spent on a project building sheltered accommodation in Shrewsbury, and finally building offices in Wolverhampton.
Because I was doing all these different things, when I went to talk to a landowner, I could translate costs, possibilities and outcomes, so they’d have confidence and trust in me. I was then able to do a lot of business and a lot of deals that developed my business acumen.
I have fond memories of Aston and it certainly didn’t do me any harm! I’m still in touch with a couple of guys on my course. I lived in Handsworth in my first year, and off campus in year 2 and 3 and in one of the towers in my final year.
There was a floor of us living in the tower blocks, so back then they mixed it up so there was a floor of boys, then a floor of girls and a floor of boys and so on. I remember on the floor above us, there was a floor full of female chemists and I think they just thought we were part of the maintenance team – ‘what sort of degree are you doing?’ they said to us!
You have to learn quickly, particularly if you want to make it to the boardroom. Get a good amount of work experience early on because you can then find the path that you want to follow. You might start off thinking you want to go in a certain direction, but with some real experience behind you, you can make an informed decision where you may realise you want different things. Aston’s placement year and contacts with industry is definitely something to take advantage of.
Also, be open to opportunities. When I came to Reading it was a very small club and I thought I was coming for two years to build the stadium and now I’m here 20 years on running the club!
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