Andrew Cates

This is the homepage of Andrew Cates. I became bursar of Pembroke College, Cambridge in 2013 some twenty years after resigning as a maths fellow at Emmanuel College and some ten years since moving to become CEO of SOS Children from Shell. My main interests outside my work are my children (I have three), science/maths and religion (I am an Anglican and treasurer of our tiny parish church). I enjoy watching my children competing in sports but although I barely do much myself now, I have a nice line of gold/silver/bronze BUSF (now BUCS) medals, four half blues and a certificate for completing the "1998 StyrkeprÝven" (540 km cycle race over the top of Norway) in 23 hours 36 minutes. Those were the days.

Maths 1980 onwards

I developed an aptitude for maths and science at school, and in those days that meant being pushed to take exams early (whereas now enrichment and taking exams later is the norm). I jumped up a school year and read years ahead in Chemistry and Physics using older siblings' text books. Whilst in the sixth form at Clifton College I was excluded from most subject lessons for being disruptive (guilty, but it was boring) and confined to the school library. I was however allowed to do the A level English course (the teachers were a bit more up for an argument in English) and really enjoyed it. Hence, unconstrained by lessons, as well as the usual A & S levels in the sixth form I got First Class Hons in Part 1A maths (the first year undergraduate exams from Cambridge University), and started my degree with Part1B (I came second, beating Tim Gowers who went on to get a Fields Medal). I took maths finals at Cambridge not long after my 19th birthday.

To be fair taking University maths or science at school is not as hard as it sounds with the right teaching (my "reading" was directed by someone called Christopher Bradley at school, who is a notable force in maths education). I went on to win the 1988 Smith's Research Prize at Cambridge (also beating Tim Gowers), but missed a research fellowship at Trinity (okay, Gowers got that one) getting instead a research fellowship to Emmanuel College. I continued the habit of directed reading in other subjects and completed the reading, essays and supervisions for a Theology degree at Cambridge (I did not sit the exams; there are rules preventing getting two undergraduate degrees). I had "sole or first name" publications in Proceedings of the Royal Society, Progress in Astronautics and Aeronautics, Physica D, Physics Letters, Journal of Hazardous Materials, Journal of Loss Prevention etc before giving up academia altogether. The whole experience has left me with a kind of sympathy for "academically isolated" children though.

Working for Shell 1989-2004

I first worked for Shell in Fire and Explosion Research 1989-1991 straight out of my PhD. I then returned briefly to Cambridge as a research fellow at Emmanuel before rejoining Shell in 1992. I left Cambridge only 6 months into a three year fellowship, partly because Shell approached me with an interesting offer. I enjoyed working for Shell, and despite the view of others always found it pretty ethical and remarkably green. I was lucky to be given considerable responsibility whilst still young. I rejoined in strategy consultancy but the real challenge was being sent to become country manager for Shell in Cote d'Ivoire in 1993 running an entirely French-speaking joint venture with the Ivorian government. Shell took a big risk putting a 27 year old with little real experience and bad French as the only European into a substantial diverse business. The company turned from heavy losses to healthy profit in my time there (long story, big changes and a fair bit of luck) and when I returned to the UK in 1996 (leaving a little piece of my soul in Africa) this success gained me a significant promotion as co-ordinating manager for pretty much everything Shell sold to ships worldwide.

It was great fun doing conference key note speeches and Singapore breakfast TV. However when I was appointed there was recognition that "soft coordination" wasn't good enough for a competitive international business and I was expected to implement rapid change. After some effort building consensus it became a true global business (with a ten figure turnover) where I was the first CEO. Another double promotion followed and I was put in charge of all the fragments of Shell operated gas and power business in Europe (including Shell Gas Direct, Shell Energy Trading and some big pieces in other countries) in the run up to deregulation and the breakdown of borders. More challenge and more success. I had the pleasure of forming a joint venture with Eneco in the Netherlands (the only time I've been a "joint CEO"), doing splendid German press conferences ("Herr Dr Cates") and being the signatory of a $909m tolling contract to allow construction of a new power plant in the Basque region of Spain. The strategy work around the European Gas market (which delivers in aggregate billions of dollars of profit to Shell through one of the most complicated sets of long term contracts imaginable) was good fun: it felt like being chess grand master (not that I really know what that feels like).

Working for a Children's Charity

Then I did a (dramatic) downshift and now I work for a children's charity. It was less dramatic for me than it seemed to others: I had been planning some sort of move since two close African friends from my time in Cote d'Ivoire died leaving children, and I actually left later than I had intended (well, the financial loss of income was eye-watering...). The charity helps children who have lost their parents and especially helps: AIDS Orphans.

I own several other websites (which between them have many thousands of unique IP visitors a day) including the the John Leech Cartoon Archive and the Wikipedia Selection for Schools. This site contains:

  • A book: Letter to Peter which is a discussion on the meaning of life and the evolution of beliefs written from a Christian perspective, addressed to one of my godsons.
  • Maths corner which is a bit empty and I keep hoping to have time to add to.
  • My experiences of child sponsorship.