Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Making family history

From becoming the first in his family to go to university, Mike Burnett (BA History, 1975) has continued to evolve throughout a career in which he’s worked all over the world.

Why did you choose Warwick?
The course was completely different to other universities'. It approached history through themes rather than events in time, which made us question religious and political ideologies. The course had a profound and long-term effect on me. It taught me to reflect on and question ideologies to this day.

Who inspired you?
My history teacher at school. He motivated me to study history and suggested Warwick was a good institution for the subject. Without him, I wouldn’t have had the information and understanding to even think about pursuing a degree, as I was the first person in my family to go to university.

What’s your fondest memory at Warwick?
The department offered students the chance for a full year studying abroad paid for by a generous benefactor. I went to Amherst in Massachusetts, USA. It was an opportunity to mix with students from very different backgrounds to my own and travel to places I wouldn’t have been able to afford at that time. Amherst was regarded as the jewel in the crown of places to attend for the year abroad by the academics, so I was proud to be selected by my tutor.

Back on campus, the Warwick Arts Centre also opened while I was a student, and it completely opened my eyes to the arts. I loved being able to watch a performance in the evening after a day studying.

How did your time at Warwick influence your choice of career?
I wasn’t sure what job I wanted to do after I graduated, and the Careers Service was a great support. It helped prepare me for interviews in accountancy and, before long, I had offers to join three of the big accountancy firms. My four-year accountancy and audit training was tough, but I’m still grateful to Warwick for suggesting it. It led, after many years, to my current role as an Audit Scrutiny Committee Member at Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council. Warwick itself showed me the importance of understanding the history and culture of other countries. I’ve been able to connect with my colleagues through learning about their history, which has been incredibly important to my working relationships.

What do you do now?
I’m currently working on projects for the European Institute of Public Administration (EIPA) in Maastricht, the Netherlands. EIPA trains all public servants at all levels, local, national, and international, so it has a fundamental role in developing a practical way of building a better Europe.

After more than 15 years working at EIPA, I’m proud to say I‘ve now done business in every EU Member State and candidate country, apart from Albania and Slovakia. I’ve really loved travelling and gaining an understanding of different places and cultures.

People think public procurement is a dry area, but it’s about public bodies buying goods and services that make people's lives better. This work fundamentally changes lives.

What challenges have you faced during your career and how have you overcome them?
The most important thing I’ve had to develop is resilience. I’ve been demeaned at work for having a regional accent or coming from a working-class background, and I’m keen to help challenge this form of class prejudice.

It’s been important to adapt to changing circumstances and learn how to use skills and specialisms in different ways. I started out auditing, then I set up and ran a training institution. I worked in consultancy in Zambia, came back to the UK and undertook performance audits, and moved to the e-business sector. I then went on secondment to the European Commission, worked in the Balkans, and joined EIPA to set up training activities in public-private partnerships until the 2009 financial crisis, after which I needed to adapt to market change. So I’ve had plenty of opportunity to hone my skills!

Professionally, what are you particularly proud of?
Having access to these opportunities and amazing experiences and being the first in my family to go to university.

I am also proud of becoming an author. I’m not an academic but having the chance to write and publish books for public officials on public-private partnerships, complex public procurements, and procurement audit, which guide and present them with choices for politicians, was very inspiring.

In 2019 I was the Project Director for the European Public Sector Awards (EPSA). It gave me the unique opportunity to summarise key trends and conclusions. The award ceremony took place in the Statenzaal, in the Limburg Provincial Government Building in the Netherlands. That was the room where the Maastricht Treaty was negotiated. I was also invited back as an external adviser for ESPA 2021.

One of the defining experiences of my life was when I worked for Deloitte in Lusaka, Zambia, from 1988 to 1990. It was a time of great change in Zambia and I saw an utterly different way of doing things. It was a lifetime opportunity to travel to places which would otherwise have cost a fortune to visit at that time.