Transition Story: starting with a blank piece of paper

Ade Clewlow is an ‘internationalist at heart’ and it shows from his varied experiences across the globe – from a Jane’s Defence Weekly correspondent and freelance journalist with the BBC in Portugal, to an education professional at the Qatari Staff College, and strategic communications expert in Somalia. During his career as a Royal Signals Officer, he also led Gurkha soldiers on operations in Baghdad and conducted stakeholder engagement during a major defence transformation in Kosovo.

In 2012 he left the Army, set up his own consultancy, and became drawn into a number of different UK and international roles. Having tasted various short term positions and experienced a great deal along the way, both positive and negative, Ade knew he needed to focus on a longer term role.
He always wanted to work with a global brand that had many opportunities for working overseas. No doubt it was his understanding of different cultures, coupled with his extensive experience from within the UK Government and Defence, underpinned by a technical career that ensured he was an attractive prospect to Thales Cyber and Consulting. The business offers customers innovative consulting and advisory solutions wherever safety and security are critical across Government & Defence, Aerospace, Ground Transportation and Security.

But it’s building relationships with customers that Ade finds most satisfying in the business. In May of last year he started out with what felt like a blank piece of paper, with the task of developing business and strategic partnerships in markets new to Thales. As a partner in the consulting business, he now leads the Government, Critical National Infrastructure, Automotive and Export business accounts, with his overseas focus on the Middle East.

Ade says: ‘This role involves a large degree of self-motivation and strategic planning – meeting my targets for the year are very much down to me. I get real satisfaction from building strong, trusted relationships with high profile customers.” He adds: “I also enjoy working for a company that works very well collaboratively and, to a degree, still encourages me to be autonomous.”

With-Sir-Jackie-Stewart-fixed-2However, even 25 years in the military doesn’t quite prepare you for dealing with multi million contracts, and understanding the complexities of what each customer is trying to achieve. He says: “There are some days where I face new challenges – that’s quite normal for this role but it’s how you respond that counts. Resilience is, of course, a crucial strength that you learn in the military.”

From civil servants to senior technical specialists, the military provides opportunities to manage and lead people in many varied and different environments and cultures. However, Ade says that he wouldn’t ask anyone within the team at Thales to do anything that he wouldn’t do himself – “we’re very collaborative within the organisation, so I need to adopt a different and more appropriate leadership style that brings people with me.” This has meant being prepared to give up a certain amount of his private life, as he did throughout his military career. As Ade says: “In order to form decent relationships with our clients I need to show them that I’m committed and available at short notice, whenever they need my help or advice. I know that if I continue to look after people, they will collectively look after me.”

Ade’s week is structured around fulfilling his role as a member of the leadership team, managing existing contracts with existing customers, and always being on the lookout for new business opportunities. Since starting at Thales, Ade has generated a strong relationship with his automotive customers; Jaguar Land Rover and Williams Martini Racing. And just occasionally there are opportunities for more unusual, and even glamorous, excursions into a lifestyle more routinely experienced by the rich and famous. As Official Suppliers to Williams Martini Racing, Ade was fortunate to experience firsthand the excitement of F1 life as a guest of Williams Martini Racing at the season’s finale in Abu Dhabi in November of last year. With VIP paddock access, Ade rubbed shoulders with some F1 legends such as Sir Jackie Stewart, Damon Hill, as well as getting up close and personal with some of the drivers, such as Felipe Massa and Valtteri Botas. Ade says: “So far it’s been one of the highlights of working at Thales and it indicates to me just how much trust the customer has in Thales as a global brand.”

Ade’s tips and advice to Service leavers

  • Trust your instincts – if you feel uncomfortable in a role, you’re probably in the wrong job. Take your time to find your niche.
  • Learn about business – I think it would be beneficial for leavers to have the opportunity to secure work placements during the resettlement process to begin to understand the language of the business and to see first-hand the stresses and strains associated with corporate life.

Ade first registered with the OA’s Employment Services when he decided to leave the military in 2012. He stayed in touch with the OA via regular updates and newsletters, and it was from the OA executive jobs board that he secured the role in Qatar. 

Sign up for the OA Employment Services here.

Read about the importance of networking with Dougie Lord’s transition story.