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Julian Metherell, Co-Founder of Vallares (now Genel)

As a big hitter at banking giants Goldman Sachs, Julian Metherell (Cambridge MBA 1992) was one of the industry’s stars. So why did he give it all up?

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It’s never too late to start your own business, says Julian Metherell – and he should know. After 22 years working at the highest level of global finance, for Dresdner Kleinwort and Goldman Sachs, Metherell stepped out of his comfort zone and resigned from his position as co-head of Goldman Sachs’ UK investment banking division.

“I had been an adviser and been in the service industry for all my commercial career,” he says. “It was time to be a principal, to take some risks, to back myself, and to join a team and try and build a business.”

That business was energy acquisition company Vallares (now Genel Energy following a merger in November 2011), which Metherell co-founded in April 2011 with former BP group chief executive Tony Hayward.

“It’s been a wild ride,” says Metherell. “You lose the security blanket and the infrastructure of a very large organisation. It’s exciting. It felt liberating – and very fulfilling. We raised $2bn and bought a business in Kurdistan, in Northern Iraq, and then relisted the business on the London market. It’s been a great experience being CFO of a FTSE-listed exploration and production company.”

Metherell says he’s always been guided by one simple principle: do what you enjoy and what you’re passionate about. He read geography at Manchester University (1984) because he was fascinated by the subject, and spent the next four years in the army – again, because he wanted to. He felt the same about banking. “I loved it, every moment of it. I advised some of the very largest companies, in Europe and around the world.”

He entered banking at a volatile time: right after the crash of 1987, and enrolled in the Cambridge MBA in its second year, 1992, after seeing colleagues being made redundant. “These things happen in a volatile industry, but many didn’t have any qualifications to fall back on. I decided I was going to go to business school, because I was at a stage where I wanted to broaden my horizons. I wanted exposure to a breadth of the business world that I wouldn’t get from just doing one job.”

Looking back, he believes the experience served him well. “There are no shortcuts. You just need to make sure you do what you really enjoy. Work hard, be rigorous, take some risks, and be creative. These are all things that you’re taught in a classroom – it’s only 25 years later, with the benefit of the rear view mirror, that you realise they’re actually pretty good formulas.”

Metherell has recently stepped aside as CFO of Genel Energy, so what’s next? Again, he says, it’s all about doing what he enjoys. He’s currently a non-executive director of two shipping companies, GasLog LNG Shipping and Euronav. And his work with not-for-profit boards, as a trustee of the Royal Opera House and the Royal College of Music, is a big part of the portfolio.

“I’ve been incredibly lucky,” he says. “Timing is vitally important in life, and timing is 80 per cent luck. I’ve been incredibly fortunate along the way, and very privileged in that regard. But I do think that if you set your mind to it, you can achieve great things. It’s up to you.”

Julian is interested in meeting…

…a broad range of interesting people. Learning and getting perspectives from those in different spheres – such as the arts world, for example – is absolutely key.