Aston 50th Anniversary: Tony Hayward Q&A

50 Aston Greats: Tony Hayward

Dr Tony Hayward

Having graduated from Aston in 1978 with a first class honours degree in Geology, Tony Hayward became the CEO of one of the world’s largest corporations, British Petroleum. He is currently CEO of Genel Energy, the largest oil producer in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

How did you first become involved with Aston University?

I was an undergraduate at Aston. I suppose, like most kids, I applied to four or five universities and went and had interviews, and I was very struck by how young and dynamic the team running the Geology department at Aston were at the time. So it was a very young, very dynamic set of lecturers - the majority of them were in their 20s and 30s, and it just felt like a great place to go and study. And I have to confess, the other thing that shaped my decision was that I was a very keen soccer player at the time. Aston had the best university football team. They won the university shield for a couple of years and I wanted to go to a place where I could play soccer and be successful, I guess. 

What do you think is Aston’s greatest achievement? 

I suppose I would highlight that in 50 years it feels like it’s established itself as a very serious, very credible place to go and study that has made a real impact in the world. It wasn’t clear that that was going to be the case 50 years ago, but it has done that. Aston is a great enabler of social mobility. If you do the research, I think you find a lot of kids who went to Aston were from state schools not from private schools. And it’s got a great track record of people becoming very employable on leaving.

What has your experience at Aston given you personally?

I think I can legitimately say that Aston changed my life. I don’t think there’s any debate about that. I was the first person in my family to go to university. And without doing that, I certainly wouldn’t have ended up doing what I’ve done. I grew up in a not very well off family. Aston gave me the opportunity to pursue firstly an academic, then a business career that was very different to what I would have done had I not gone. I think it’s genuine when I say it was transforming in terms of the doors that it opened for me subsequently. 

What is your fondest Aston memory?

As I said, the reason I was attracted to the place was that it was a very young and dynamic group of lecturers, some of whom I’ve remained friends with all my life. My fondest memories are going on Geology field trips. We had some really, really great trips, they were all domestic - you know, Scotland, Cornwall, Wales. These days most Geology departments go to exotic parts of the world but 30 years ago international travel was nothing like as cheap as it is today. 

What is the best advice you can give to today’s graduates?

Follow your heart. Do what you’re passionate about, whatever it is, because if you’re passionate about something, you’ll almost by definition be good at it. You’ll invest the time and effort and energy because you love it, and by doing that you become good at it. And unless you are prepared to do that, then there will always be someone else who is doing it better.