Published: 22 June 2023

“Giving back to Surrey has always been my motivation…”

Cled Cole is our Volunteer of the Year in the Vice-Chancellor’s Alumni Awards. After graduating with a BSc (Hons) in Chemical Engineering in 1978, he enjoyed a successful career at ExxonMobil. A chance trip to Guildford inspired a 15-year journey of supporting our students and research…

“The careers advisor at Eastfields High School encouraged me to study an engineering discipline at degree level,” recalls Cled. “Chemical engineering seemed like a broad subject with a lot of career options. The North Sea oil and gas industries were also going gangbusters at the time. It seemed like a sound choice.”

Studying at Surrey

This brought Cled to Surrey in 1974. The BSc introduced not only the hard engineering skills needed to succeed in this sector, but it introduced business concepts and soft skills, too.

He explains:The fact the tutors had close connections with industry was a real asset. There was also content that introduced you to business ideas such as the stock market and economics. These were instrumental in widening my knowledge of the business world I eventually entered.”

Another defining moment for Cled also came on campus.

“I met my wife, Val, at Surrey,” he reveals. “We met through mutual friends and we’ve been together for nearly 50 years.”

A global career

Following graduation in 1978, Cled took a job with the EPC Contractor, Ralph M Parsons. After marrying Val in 1981, he accepted a new position in Calgary.

“In 1985, I joined Mobil Oil Canada, which later became ExxonMobil,” says Cled. “I stayed with them for 33 years, working in a variety of increasingly senior roles. This meant a lot of international assignments and a lot of travel for my family.

“One secondment saw us all arrive in Saudi Arabia at the start of the first Gulf War. Once it became clear that it was an increasingly dangerous situation, my family were evacuated within days for the duration of the conflict. I stayed for nine months, they were then allowed to return and we spent another couple of years there to complete my assignment.”

Return to Surrey

In 2004, a family trip to the UK prompted Cled’s impromptu return to the University of Surrey.

“We were on our way to Devon,” recounts Cled. “We were driving past Guildford, and we decided to show our sons where we’d met and studied. It reminded us what a special place it was.

“We also realised how lucky we’d been to study for our degrees under the old system, where we had grants instead of loans. That was when we decided to take an active role in giving something back to a place that meant a great deal to us.”

15 years of volunteering 

This kickstarted a 15-year journey of re-engagement and volunteering in various capacities.

“I’ve been a long-time volunteer with the University’s US Board and a Board Member since 2005,” says Cled. “I’ve also been involved with The Future Says Surrey fundraising campaign as one of its international advocates.”

These roles were instrumental in Cled winning the Volunteer of the Year Award. But he certainly wasn’t expecting it. He recalls:

“At first, I was a little puzzled as to why I’d won it. Giving back to Surrey has always been my motivation for my involvement. It wasn’t about collecting accolades.

“It’s an acknowledgement of my continued commitment to supporting the University and its aims for the long term. I certainly feel very honoured to receive this award.”

Read our full interview with Cled.

Share what you've read?