04 April 2019

‘Dare to be different’, Old Lyonian diplomat urges John Lyon students

John Lyon Sixth Form students should “dare to be different and want make a difference” when thinking about their careers, a former pupil and leading overseas diplomat has said.

Nikesh Mehta (OL 1995) returned to School on Friday 29th March to speak to students about his role as Deputy Ambassador at the British Embassy in Seoul, as well as his previous roles within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as well as within British Intelligence.

Speaking in the Gordon Surtees Library, Nikesh spoke about his route from School to where he is now, firstly completing a Chemistry degree before teaching English in Japan and then entering the diplomatic services, which tool him to Iraq, Uganda and then Malaysia. He spoke about the intensity of his role in Kuala Lumpur, which included leading the organisation of a Royal visit and coordinating the British response to two major airline disasters, and MH370 and MH17. Before his current role in South Korea he returned to the UK to work in the intelligence services at deputy director level, focusing on international cyber-security.

With broad experience in both diplomacy and intelligence, Nikesh urged his audience to consider pursuing a career in either one, saying that both were open to candidates from all backgrounds and that government departments and intelligence agencies look for people who can think differently based on their own experiences – people who want to make a difference, will dare to be different and take a risk in their careers.

He couldn’t, he said, have imagined where his work would have taken him since leaving School, but that what he had achieved and the opportunity to both protect and promote the UK had made him feel extremely proud and lucky.

Answering questions from students he talked about selection and interview processes, how social media has changed diplomacy, the advantages and disadvantages of frequent travel and international postings, and the importance of reading a lot to keep up with world news and affairs.

A strong advocate of diversity in recruitment and development he also said he would like to see the first UK High Commissioner to India who has Indian heritage.

Reflecting on the talk, Lower Sixth student Patrick Miles wrote: “I was already curious about seeking a job in the realm of diplomacy, but Mr Mehta’s words gave me an extra push. After a recent independent visit to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, his answers to a question I asked about the imperialist nature of the murals within the FCO and how they impacted someone of his background, allowed me to understand that the Office is changing its ideology and way of running.

“What stuck with me was not only his title and how John Lyon managed to persuade him to come back to speak with us, but how someone of his stature who had experienced war-torn countries and crises of international magnitude still remains humble. Mr Mehta left me thinking of what a job in the foreign office could offer to a person who, as he said himself “wants to make a difference”.