Michael (known in the industry as Mo) Stevens has been a governor at USW since 2016, and has a background of working in the defence, security, cyber and aerospace sectors.

Please can you tell us a little bit about your family background? 

My dad’s family is from Antigua and my mum is Jamaican. They met each other in London, where they were living, and they then moved to live in Preston, Lancashire. I don’t know what made them move north, given the Lancashire reputation for rain and the cold, but they did! And that is where I was born and grew up with my brother and sister.

Please can you tell us about your career? 

I currently have a portfolio of business activities. I Chair a couple of businesses and sit on the board of a couple of businesses, as well as working in private equity. I am fortunate to able to use the knowledge gained during my 30 or so years working for a number of large corporates, to now help other businesses to develop and grow.  

I have done lots of different roles, and been fortunate to be able to work internationally, but always in high technology, innovative businesses, whether in the Aerospace, Defence or Security sectors.

You could say my working career started at the lower level of the ladder as a Ministry of Defence Apprentice. I was fortunate enough to get a position in design and development, which allowed me to work internationally in Europe before moving into manufacturing, commercial, project, and business management. The acquisition of Royal Ordnance by British Aerospace (which became BAE SYSTEMS) allowed me to further progress my career in a larger global business. I then moved to Airbus Group (at the time called EADS) as the CEO of Cassidian UK (which is where I first became involved with the USW), before then becoming the Head of International Market Development for Airbus Defence and Space. I then switched my career to develop a portfolio of business activities including the Group CEO, Chair, and NED roles I have today.

So, I’m very lucky in that I have got to work in a number of senior executive roles. They all have been very interesting, quite demanding, and operated internationally, allowing me to see first-hand one aspect of the potential of diversity.

Did you go to university? If so, what was your experience of Higher Education? 

Yes I did go to university, but not in the classical way. I was fortunate enough to have always been given access to HE through the companies I worked for. Having passed my 11+, (not that I knew that was what I was sitting) I attended the local Grammar School. Gaining O Levels, meant getting a job and not continuing with HE. My mum and dad, having come from the Caribbean, didn’t really have an insight into UK HE. So, that’s the reason I went to find a job as an apprentice with Royal Ordnance. It was as an apprentice I went to college and then onto polytechnic, where I studied electronic engineering, which was my first taste of higher education. I must say there weren’t many people with my background at the polytechnic. It was then another few years before I went to the University of Warwick where I did an Engineering diploma and, later, I went to Liverpool University where I studied for my master’s degree.

I have always loved being given the opportunity to learn - I’ve just not done it in the traditional way. I’ve always worked and studied at the same time. Higher Education has allowed me to learn, do new things, in particular my Masters, where I met so many people, with so many different backgrounds internationally. It’s never been torture to learn; I was always excited to learn something new and then apply it. You don’t really realise it at the time, but every step of my educational journey opened up another door for me. Education gives you opportunities, the chance to do things, you didn’t know you could do or even know you wanted to do. It will open doors, but you do need people to point your there and tell you what the options are.

What is your role with USW? 

I first became involved with USW in 2016 while I was working as the CEO of Cassidian UK.  Julie Lydon, the Vice-Chancellor of USW at the time, asked me to become a governor. The strategy and vision Julie described for the university resonated with me, given my background. That year, I was also fortunate enough to receive an honorary degree from USW, and five years later, I still serve as a lay governor at USW. I’m also sit on the board of USW Commercial Services business as the Governor representative and Non-Executive Director.  Commercial Services works to ensure that the knowledge, expertise, and resources of the University are easily available to private, public, and voluntary sector organisations on a local, national, and international basis. It’s such an interesting and exciting part of the university, the team are great, and I love being involved with it.

What are your thoughts about the importance of diversity in higher education?

I think there are two main points with this.

Firstly, for those individuals that have the honour to impart learning and knowledge, it is really important that HE organisations embrace the richness and potential diversity can provide. I would like to continue the push to see more people from diverse backgrounds on the teaching side of HE. I don’t have the data, so can’t back this up, but I’m not sure the footprint at the higher level of universities is where it needs to be. I would like to see that improve, not just from an ethnicity background, but from a gender and equality perspective.

Secondly, for those who wish to participate in HE, it seems a no brainer to me that HE needs to be attractive to all, because of the power of what HE can do and unlock for students - it must be accessible and it must be relevant. HE really does have the power to open doors for more diverse people in the community, and I can’t stress enough the importance of it.

We need to think about diversity, in its widest form, having different people represented, making sure they can access HE and creating a responsive and supportive environment. I love being a governor for USW and the work that the university does to make higher education accessible to all.

What advice can you offer to young Black people who want to enter higher education?

Higher education is there and available, and will help you in the competitive world we live in.

Never constrain yourself with a view of what other people think you can and should do. I have had many people telling me what I couldn’t do, not what I could do. Keep an open mind, seek advice, and listen to those who talk about what you can do.

HE does open doors, it gives you the opportunity to meet different people, to learn, develop, do things that you didn’t think were possible, and to stimulate your view of the world around you. It really can break the boundaries and break the mind-set, you can do this, you can make a difference.

And I’d say what’s the harm in trying? Go and do it. You only know about things in life by experiencing it. HE will give you an experience that you won’t regret.

What is the significance of Black History Month to you? 

There is just so much Black History and heritage we don’t know about. History that was just wiped away, the struggles, the successes, the significant contribution to the past and today. I’m so pleased that it’s there to help improve our awareness.

When you look at World War One and World War Two, for example, you would think there wasn’t anyone of colour who participated. But I know that there were many people from the Caribbean who fought and lost their lives. Black History Month is fantastic because it allows people to talk about the things that did happen, make them aware, to put it onto the table.

You don’t know what you don’t know, and you need vehicles, mechanisms to put it there and put it in a way that is non-threatening and educational, to show the rich tapestry of our joint history.   Hopefully in the future we will not need a Black History Month, it will just be our history.

The campaign for this year’s Black History Month is proud to be - would you like to share what you are proud to be? 

Respected by those I have been fortunate enough to work and socialise with. I’ve also always tried to live my life respecting people in a way I would want others to respect me. I’m proud to be talked about as a respectful person, people see that - I’m humbled by that.

My family is important to me. So, I am also proud to be a good son and dad, (well that’s what they told me, ha ha ha). I’m really proud of my family and their accomplishments. Mum and Dad being able to bring us all up in Chorley with no immediate family support. My sister and brother, who are strong individuals, in their own right and both have business of their own.

I’m also proud to be the father of children who have, and are, embracing HE. My eldest daughter has a master’s degree in computer science from Warwick University, a woman in engineering. My son is studying physics and maths at Durham University and my youngest daughter has just started college. I’m so proud of them all, and the paths they have taken and are about to take in HE.