Open Eye: MBA is next hurdle: Nigel Walker

Opening Up: Nigel Walker
The route from top-level sport to tv commentating is a well-trodden one, but OU Business School student Nigel Walker brings more to it than most, having reached international level both on the track - as a sprint hurdler - and, subsequently, on the rugby field for Cardiff and Wales.

What was your family background?

I am Cardiff born and bred. It was a fantastic place to grow up. Everyone talks about London but I think Cardiff can now hold its own.

How were your school years?

Interesting! I didn't do as well as I would have liked because I put more energy into my sport than my studies. My parents said I would regret it and, like most things your mum and dad say, they were right.

What was your earliest ambition?

I just wanted to be wealthy and successful. Sport didn't come into it because, though I took part in everything - athletics, rugby, football, basketball, tennis - I didn't become a sportsman until I was 17 and made the British Junior Athletics Team. People were quite surprised when I retired from athletics at the age of 29 and took up rugby. I just felt I'd gone as far as I could and that I had something to offer the game of rugby.

What was your first job?

I left school after A-levels and was on the dole for 12 months. Then I applied for the first job I saw which was as a clerical assistant in the Welsh Office in Cardiff. You needed only two O-levels but the civil service had a reputation for allowing special leave for sports people. I needed an income because at the level I was at it costs you to do sport. It's only the really big names who can make money from it. But sport has given me opportunities I would never have had otherwise. In 1984 I went to the Olympics in LA and I was like a piece of blotting paper, absorbing it all. I have seen many places and the way other people live, and learned how fortunate we in this country are.

Why did you start studying with the OU?

I was coming towards the end of my rugby-playing career and while I had experience I felt I needed some qualification on paper to get me through the door of a prospective employer.

The MBA was going to be my safety net if my career in TV didn't work out.

What difference has the OU made?

I wanted to prove to myself I could have got a degree if I had stayed on as a student when I was younger. I am already putting the skills acquired to good use as I serve on a number of committees and groups.

What are you doing now?

My rugby career was ended by a shoulder injury. I bowed out in front of a 75,000 crowd when England played Wales at Twickenham, which was a great way to go. I was signed up by Channel 4; then HTV signed me up for a three-year contract to analyse and comment on rugby, and when the BBC secured the domestic athletics contract I moved to Eurosport.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I enjoy the freedom. I'm in charge to a large extent though I tend to accept everything I'm offered. I've done other programmes and work for HTV as a presenter, including my own quiz show.

..And least?

Too many trips along the M4 to Heathrow. A lot of flights are at 9.30am, which means getting up at 5.30, though I realise in the grand scheme of things it doesn't count for much. It's not the same as spending 12 hours down a pit for instance.

Would you do more OU study?

I've passed both the certificate and diploma in management and I do want to go all the way and achieve the MBA, but I knew I would be doing a lot of travelling this year so I decided to take a sabbatical for six months.

I've just enrolled for the first part of the MBA proper (strategy) which commences in November.

What are your goals and hopes for the future?

The MBA is in the top three or four but wider than that I want to be the very best I can be. I went to a school reunion the other day and if I had a pound for everyone who came up to me and said 'if only'. 'If only I'd taken it seriously, I was better at sport than you'.... I want to be able to say I am the very best I can in whatever I do.

Any regrets, then?

I have only one regret and that is not studying harder for my A-levels and going onto university. I've enjoyed what I did and I'm lucky to be able to rectify it but I think I should have got a better balance between sport and study when I was 17 or 18. Assuming I go on and achieve my MBA it's not going to make too much difference in the long run - but I did get it wrong as a 17-year-old and that annoys me even now.

To what do you attribute your success?

Hard work and planning. I'm not the most naturally gifted sportsman in the world. I have a certain amount of talent and I fulfilled my potential because I worked as hard as I could. I remember someone saying to me that if you fail to plan you plan to fail. Five or six years ago I saw an advert for a one-day course in TV. People had told me I could talk so I thought why not? It's the safety net thing again.

How would you like to be remembered?

As a person who was good-natured, good humoured and a pleasure to work with.