Interview with Paul McGinley

We talk to the professional golfer about leadership and the possibility of swapping golf clubs for research after retirement

April 14, 2016
Paul McGinley, London Business School Leadership Institute

Paul McGinley is a professional golfer and three-time playing winner of the Ryder Cup. Before that he had a promising career as a Gaelic footballer cut short by a serious knee injury. He has a degree in international business from Dublin Institute of Technology. He holed the winning putt on his Ryder Cup debut in 2002, and, after his 2004 and 2006 successes, became the first European golfer to win the tournament in every one of his three appearances. He was vice-captain to Colin Montgomerie before leading Europe to success as captain in 2014. In February he was announced as executive fellow of the London Business School’s Leadership Institute, where he will take part in tutorials with degree students, and will share his learning and experiences of leadership and building teams with business leaders.

Where were you born?
Dublin, Ireland. 

How has this shaped you?
Being born in Ireland, I grew up in a very normal Irish Catholic background with regard to schools and Irish education. 

Did you ever envisage that a higher education institution might ask you to take up an academic position?
I didn’t set out with that in mind. However, as my career progressed and I became involved in management positions within and representing the European Tour, things evolved in this way. 

What was it about the London Business School that led to your accepting the position?
Its standing as a world-class business school and its people. 

Would you consider doing any research into the subject of leadership?
I’m a great believer in studying and evolving ideas. That’s why I’m excited to be working with London Business School’s Leadership Institute, which will undertake research in three key areas: diversity, leading effective organisations and the future of leadership. 

You have a degree in international business and did work with the European Commission before golf took over. Was there ever a period when you thought you might need to consider another profession instead of being a pro sportsman?
Absolutely. I was 25 years old when I played my first year as a pro, so golf came late to me. I didnt know how successful I was going to be, but always knew my eggs were not all in the one basket regarding golf and that my business background would stand me in good stead. 

How do you think advising students will compare to leading and organising the European Ryder Cup team?
Business leadership and sports leadership are both largely based on communication, planning, strategy and execution. So the two have a lot in common. 

Were there ever moments during the Ryder Cup when you questioned some of the decisions you made?
No, because Id like to think I had all eventualities covered, with variations to my master plan in place if needed. 

Do the worlds of business and management and professional sport lend themselves to each other well because of the high pressure stakes associated with both?
Pressure for me is a positive as it focuses the mind and keeps the motivation level high – for me the two are closely linked in many ways. 

What has changed most in higher education in the past five to 10 years?
The core structures and principles seem to me to have remained somewhat similar. But like all sectors, higher education is evolving. While the very best way of learning will likely always include some face-to-face interaction with others who are curious about the same things you are, technology and social media are playing an important role, widening the variety of ways students can interact. 

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Figure out who you are, what you like and what motivates you, then work and evolve yourself in a constant, consistent, direction.  

Have you had a eureka moment?
Id like to think Ive had several, on many different subjects and problems. Often things dont come to me straight away so for me reflection is very important. 

What are the best and worst things about your job?
Travelling is both good and bad. Being away from my family so much is, and always has been, the toughest thing. 

What keeps you awake at night?
Im lucky Im a great sleeper – it’s important for me to have a clear conscience and not to corner myself with unnecessary situations or problems. 

What do you do for fun?
I enjoy spending time with my family and enjoying Irish scenery and sport.

What’s your biggest regret?
Not having more clarity and understanding at an early age.

What advice will you give to students?
Enjoy your work and if you don’t, find something that you do enjoy.

What kind of undergraduate were you?
I found university fun and interesting. I was an interested student I think fundamentally, because I was studying subjects I enjoyed and which were interesting to me. 

What’s your most memorable moment at university?
Meeting my wife for the first time, shortly after I arrived. 

If you take a shine to the academic working environment, could you see a potential new career for yourself after golf?
Yes. It's an area that gives me a great opportunity to do something that comes easily to me, combining learning and sharing my experience and knowledge with others.


Saranne Weller has been appointed director of research and informed teaching at London South Bank University. Dr Weller will establish and lead LSBU’s Centre for Research Informed Teaching, which aims to enhance teaching practices and pedagogic research as part of staff’s professional development. The centre will also develop students as researchers, equipping them with graduate-level skills to contribute to developments in their industries or disciplines. Dr Weller is currently associate dean for learning, teaching and enhancement at the University of the Arts London. Shân Wareing, LSBU’s pro vice-chancellor for education and student experience, said that she was delighted that Dr Weller was joining to help the university “make better use of institutional and pedagogic research to inform our work in transforming lives”.

Matthew Simmonds has taken up his position as senior lecturer in biomedical science at the University of Lincoln. Dr Simmonds specialises in diabetes and endocrine disorders and is leading a study into the largest collection of DNA ever collated from pancreas transplant donors and recipients. The investigation will look at how genetics can affect the function of pancreas transplants in people with type 1 diabetes. “Whole organ pancreas transplantation has the potential to provide life-long independence from insulin injections for people with type 1 diabetes who suffer poor glycaemic control or severe secondary complications,” he said. Dr Simmonds, who took up his position in February, was previously at the University of Oxford.

Hai-Sui Yu has been appointed pro vice-chancellor (international) at the University of Leeds. The Scottish Funding Council has appointed Stuart Fancey as director of research and innovation. Matthew Andrews has begun his role as university secretary and academic registrar at the University of Gloucestershire. Bethan Guilfoyle and Simon Mason have been reappointed members of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.

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