HMS Sheffield survivor's inspiring story of business success

An HMS Sheffield survivor who has become a leading businessman hopes his story will inspire other military veterans.

Friday, 1st November 2019, 12:33 pm
Updated Monday, 4th November 2019, 2:01 pm
Andy Stephenson, who rose through the ranks in the Royal Navy to become a warrant officer first class

Andy Stephenson, who grew up in Batemoor, was just a teenager when the ship was destroyed and 20 of his crewmates were killed during the Falklands War in May 1982.

The Sheffield United fan went on to enjoy a long and distinguished career in the Navy, rising to the rank of warrant officer first class before swapping the armed forces for the world of business in 2007.

He successfully navigated the challenging transition from military service to civilian life and is now a member of the senior leadership team at the global energy giant Doosan Babcock.

Andy Stephenson is now head of data compliance and a member of the senior leadership team at Doosan Babcock

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The 56-year-old grandfather-of-five is a finalist in the Scottish Ex-Forces in Business Awards ‘inspiration of the year’ category, and he believes his story proves what military veterans can bring to the corporate sector.

“The opportunities for veterans to succeed on civvy street are off the Richter scale if you apply yourself with all the training you’ve had in the forces,” he said.

“You know it’s not going to be easy but you have to understand that you’re programmed to work hard to achieve what you’ve achieved in service. That will to succeed is the biggest attribute you have.”

Andy said he feels ‘incredibly lucky' to have survived the attack on HMS Sheffield but believes he has helped make his own luck since then.

Andy Stephenson during his time in the Royal Navy and as a senior manager at Doosan Babcock

Before he left the Navy, having achieved one of the top ranks, he had a staff of 60 and was responsible for providing logistical support for some 3,000 personnel from his base in Glasgow.

He was still nervous about moving to the private sphere, however, which he said felt like ‘going from being a demi-god to a tadpole in a massive ocean’.

But he needn’t have worried, he says, as the firm had recruited him for his ability to bring a ‘fresh eye’ to the job, as well as for the extensive leadership and managerial experience under his belt.

Andy, who today lives and works in Renfrew, near Glasgow, believes too many veterans are guilty of ‘selling themselves short’ when it comes to finding a new career and often fail to appreciate how well the skills they’ve gained in the field translate into an office environment.

“You can only learn so much about how to manage and lead people from a book. Someone might be able to cite the theory but ask them to lead a group of people to get a project from A to B, like you do in the armed forces, and they don’t know where to start,” he said.

“For veterans, I always say it’s important to realise that you don’t have to forget who you were or what you’ve experienced or learnt to overcome in a previous life in the military, but that you are what you are today very much because of who you are now as a civilian.”

The biggest learning curve for him after leaving the Navy, he says, was not demanding too much from his colleagues.

If a job was still to be finished, he explains, he would expect people to stay until it was done – even if that meant leaving well after normal office hours – because that’s how it worked in the forces.

He also came to realise that when you’re briefing someone in the business world, brevity is key, unlike in the military where you have to be as thorough as possible because lives could depend upon it.

Andy was approached out of the blue by Doosan Babcock 12 years ago, having sent a CV around a decade earlier to the secretary of HMS Belfast who passed it on to a naval commander who ended up leading the firm’s drive to recruit military veterans.

He describes his time with the company, which he joined as a project manager and was promoted to head of data compliance, as a ‘fantastic journey’ after 27 years ‘proudly serving Queen and country’.

He now helps fellow veterans make the leap into business and says that while he is ‘very proud’ to be a finalist in the awards, the winners of which are due to be announced at a ceremony on December 3, he feels that whatever the outcome he has ‘won anyway’ in life.

Not all veterans find the transition to civilian life as smooth as Andy. Just last month, new funding was announced to help those in South Yorkshire who struggle to adapt and end up homeless.