There really could not be a more apposite theme for the School’s float this year, especially since the newly appointed Lord Mayor of the City of London, is an alumnus and former Head Boy of King Edward’s Witley and remains a Governor and was previously Treasurer of Bridewell Royal Hospital, the School’s charitable foundation.
We spoke to Mr Estlin about his early formative years and the impact this has had on his glittering career in finance, working in Hong Kong, New York and London, in addition to a variety of non-executive roles and supporting a range of charities.
You have previously described the move to King Edward’s Witley as life-changing? Can you elaborate on this?
My parents were both in the armed services, my father in the Royal Navy and my mother in the Women’s Royal Naval Service. Sadly, my mother developed kidney disease when I was at primary school and spent the next few years in hospital. Because my father was at sea this meant that my sister and I had to spend a lot of time living with other families in our cul-de-sac, it was almost like a kind of fostering arrangement. It soon became quite clear that my mother’s health was not going to improve so my sister and I were both sent to boarding school. My father’s connections with the Navy meant that my sister was able to attend a girls’ school in Haslemere that had an arrangement with the armed forces but the equivalent for boys was sited in Ipswich and I wasn’t keen. My father had been given the name of the School due to its proximity to where my sister would be studying and at the age of 11, I joined King Edward’s. From day one, it was very much a home-from-home providing me with the stability and pastoral care that I needed to deal with my mother’s illness, and later, to come to terms with my mother’s death (just before my O-levels). It was whilst at King Edward’s that I developed a really important life skill – resilience. Whilst my loss was clearly very painful, I became aware of the fact that there were plenty of other pupils who were suffering similar losses and we all learned the importance of resilience in the face of adversity.
Did you always aspire to become Head Boy?
To be honest, I didn’t particularly aspire to become the Head Boy and I was a bit of a maverick in my early years at King Edward’s! But my mother’s death was a definite wake-up call and it did cause me to consider, what would she have wanted me to do? I was motivated to persevere in my studies and to achieve success in memory of my mother - and ultimately to be happy as that would have been her greatest wish. I especially loved my years in the Sixth Form and it was during this period that I enjoyed a trip to the Lord Mayor’s Show and had the opportunity to meet the late Sir Kenneth Russell Cork GBE, who was to become a real source of inspiration and who probably fuelled my interest in working in accountancy. I was the first person to go to university in my family so undoubtedly, attending King Edward’s put me on a road that I would not otherwise have travelled.
As Head Boy I was exposed to public speaking for the first time and I also learned how to reconcile being a ‘leader’, with maintaining friendships with my peers while still forging strong links with the staff and those in authority. Of course, I also had to become adept at balancing my Head Boy responsibilities with achieving academic success.
What life skills do you think you developed during your time at King Edward’s?
Resilience is a word that I will keep coming back to, it is something that I definitely honed at the School and it is a skill that has served me well over the years, both in terms of my career and my personal life.
The School taught me that life is about human interaction. Everyone who attended had their own set of personal circumstances and many had specific issues to deal with. There were children who had no parents or whose parents worked abroad, children whose home life had been marred by alcohol abuse etc, the whole point was that I began to gain an improved awareness of what real life is all about; opening yourself up to others; sharing / understanding each other’s problems and developing tolerance.
The environment at King Edward’s provided a sense of protection from the outside world whilst also representing a microcosm of society so that when you left, you had already experienced the reality and benefits of living in a truly global civilisation, mixing with children from a broad range of backgrounds. Few independent boarding schools can offer this and are able to demonstrate a genuine working model of social mobility at its best.
In those days of course, schools were not so risk averse, so we had many adventures and learned the importance of understanding boundaries and weighing up any risks involved.
School played a huge part in developing my Emotional Intelligence (EQ) skills. Appreciating the need for integrity, authenticity (being yourself) and believing in yourself and respect for others – especially when you don’t necessarily know what they are going through – have all stood me in good stead throughout my life. We were also encouraged to develop a sense of stewardship; the School has a fantastic heritage and we all felt a responsibility to uphold its reputation and to play a part in leaving a positive mark on its future.
Ultimately, I would say that my stay at King Edward’s taught me the value of education in its broadest sense, i.e. not just the development of academic skills and knowledge but also building vital life skills. It also set me up for university, living away from home clearly did not phase me as I had already been doing so for many years, I was used to meeting people from a variety of backgrounds and my boarding school experience taught me how to engage with others and to enjoy a rich and fulfilled social life while away from my family.
How do you think a boarding school like King Edward’s helps prepare a child for adult life?
Boarding schools have changed over the years and we shouldn’t close our eyes to the benefits of a boarding school education. Access to a wonderful education and learning opportunities outside of the core curriculum; shaping your identity and developing resilience and of course, becoming truly independent, these are all the obvious attributes of a boarding school education. Less known are the benefits associated with situations where the family unit is not conducive to offering a stable and secure environment, when a boarding school can offer a foundation for life providing opportunities for academic growth, personal development and access to a protective community.
What do you hope to leave as a legacy during your reign as Lord Mayor of the City of London?
I would like to see a London that embraces innovation and technology, that encourages a skilled workforce, and which promotes an inclusive society.
Digital Intelligence (DQ) is a comprehensive set of technical, cognitive, and socio-emotional competencies that enables citizens to face the challenges of and adapt to the demands of digital life. It covers eight broad areas and I would like to see more Londoners, not just young people, develop these core skills.
We want to make it easier for people to access work experience. As a supporter of Barclays LifeSkills initiative, I know that less than 25% of our society is getting access to adequate work experience and according to the Gatsby Report, work experience is critical to securing employment and addressing the issue of social mobility. Meaningful engagement with professionals outside of school is essential to increasing the employability of young people, but well under half (40%) of the respondents in the ISE (Institute of Student Employers) Annual Student Recruitment Survey this year, offered work to students and even less - 20% - mentor students. I want this to change.
University is not the only route to securing a career of choice but there is still a stigma attached to the excellent Apprenticeship Programmes that have been introduced in recent years. I will be putting my support behind the creation of a Royal College of Apprentices to ensure that candidates opting for an Apprenticeship Scheme enjoy the same credibility and sense of self-esteem as university graduates.