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News > Alumni News > Persistence, Ingenuity and a Great Sense Of Humour!

Persistence, Ingenuity and a Great Sense Of Humour!

Retired Global Executive, Bruce Marshall (OS 1974), shares lessons for career success
21 May 2024
Alumni News

                                           

Bruce Marshall’s career provides an inspiring example of persistence, resilience and hard work leading to reward, often against the odds. Now retired following a hugely successful career as a Global Senior Executive, we caught up with Bruce where he reflected on his achievements and how his early years at SGS helped him discover the competencies that led to his success.

By his own admittance, Bruce struggled academically at school and suspects he has dyslexia which both his children were diagnosed with at a young age. He credits a number of key mentors at SGS for taking him under their wings and championing him throughout his time here including the Head of Junior School and his senior school maths teacher.

Whilst he found classroom studies difficult, it was through his participation in co-curricular activities that he was able to realise his potential and intelligence. He joined the Debating Society and found he was very good at it. He joined Drama Club and while he says he was not a natural actor, it helped develop his confidence with public speaking and audience engagement. He tried hard at rugby and was delighted when his commitment paid off and he made it in to the first XV team. 

Around the age of 13, Bruce was invited on the Wasdale Camping trip which usually only older pupils attended. This was attributed to his natural leadership ability identified by one of his teachers. This proved to be a key moment for Bruce and gave him confidence and purpose at a time when he was finding his way in the Senior School. Bruce remains impressed with the breadth of co-curricular offerings at SGS and encourages current pupils to take advantage of them:

“Do not to give up on finding the things for you and participate in as much as you can. Only through doing so will you discover the things you enjoy and excel at.”

Bruce left school in 1974 and knew University was not for him. He sought adventure and initially wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps by joining the Royal Navy however on the assessment day he was told that whilst he had performed well, he was still too immature and should get a degree before returning. He left feeling crestfallen and doubted he would ever prove himself worthy against his more academic peers. Much to his surprise however, as he walked out of the building, a Royal Marine approached him and offered him a job. Bruce signed the same day and for the next 10 years served as a Royal Marines Commando facing some of the toughest of challenges along the way.

After serving in Northern Ireland, Africa, Belize, and the Falklands Conflict where he left unscathed, Bruce decided it was time to seek a career in the civilian world. He had been amongst the best of the best as a Commando and as such he set the benchmark equally as high for life beyond. Utilising his leadership and people skills he decided to apply for Marks and Spencer’s Management Training Programme however this was only open to graduates. Proving his initiative, he reached out to the manager of his local Marks and Spencer (M&S) store in Stockport and requested some time and guidance. Eventually, this demonstration of ingenuity and proactiveness led to him securing his place on the training program where he relished being able to share lessons from his earlier life experiences while learning from others who had been to University. Valuing others is something Bruce believes is critical for success:

“Always be open-minded and receptive to listening and receiving lessons from others as much as you can impart wisdom on them.”

Bruce’s 16-year chapter at M&S, marked the start of an extremely successful career in both the retail and entertainment sectors where he climbed the ranks quickly. He developed a sound understanding of who ran the ship, earned the respect of colleagues and built relationships that encouraged people to deliver for him and most importantly, the company.

Following his time at M&S, Bruce moved into the entertainment industry and joined Warner Bros. where he held positions of increasing responsibility, culminating in his appointment as Senior Vice President and Managing Director, responsible for expanding their brands in the Asia Pacific market. 

As well as helping to bring the likes of Batman and The Matrix to screen, Bruce played a major role in turning the famous Harry Potter novels into blockbuster movies. He shared a fabulous story with us about this and explained that being a Brit in Hollywood, it was presumed that he knew all about the books and so would be best placed to attempt to secure a deal to produce the films. In fact, having been working around the world for many years, he had actually never heard of them! Again, this called for a moment of ingenuity and he contacted his sister, a school Head Teacher in the UK at the time. She provided a 3-hour lesson by phone on all things Harry Potter and this proved to be enough to see him sent over the shores to win the film rights! In a number of high-level meetings, he spoke personally to author JK Rowling about the prospect of creating the first movie. The two were able to agree on its content and the rest is history.

Working in the world of Hollywood, Bruce says, taught him the importance of quickly learning the rules and playing the game in order to survive in business. And survive he did, for 6 years, before he began to realise he was morphing into a different character in order to fit in. He no longer felt comfortable with this and hence, it was time to move on.

The next step saw him return to retail and appointed as Senior Vice President and Managing Director for Claire's Stores Inc., where he was responsible for the development of their international operations across 23 countries. From there he moved on to become Head of International Business Development at Children’s Place where he built their international business from scratch, something he found significantly rewarding and is extremely proud of. Eventually, he spent his last few years pre-retirement at US fashion company, Express, where he advised them on business operations and scope for international development.  

Reflecting on his career, Bruce expressed with confidence that there is nothing he would change and remains grateful for the learning experiences it provided. He loved the variety of the roles he held, the people he worked with and the cultural immersion that came from  global travel. 

Over the years, Bruce has remained in close contact with SGS and we were thankful when in June 2014 he joined us as guest of honour at our Senior School Speech Day. Reminiscing back to the event, he commented that one of his proudest moments was returning to school as a speaker and having parents approach him directly afterwards to share stories of their own children struggling academically and how inspiring his story had been for them. His advice for young people at the start of their careers, he says is to:

 “Realise learning never stops and comes in different forms. Take opportunities that come your way and if they don’t work out then you can always get out. And on getting out….ensure you negotiate your exit package on the way in!”

These days, following his retirement in 2016, Bruce is a man of the Rocky mountains enjoying life in Colorado along with his wife, Liz, who he met at an SGS Sports Day some 53 years ago. He has a passion for Morgan racing cars and can regularly be found in his garage maintaining his fleet ready for race meets. He is also a member of two company boards and a local charity, Habitat for Humanity, which he is very actively involved with. His work with the charity, he explains, is an opportunity to do good for his community and to leave a legacy for those less fortunate.  

We have very much enjoyed catching up with Bruce and hearing about the incredibly interesting life he has led. We were left with the sense that being a winner is utterly ingrained in his character. There is no alternative and his positive disposition tells him so.

“Work hard, play hard and maintain a great sense of humour!"

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