“The scholarship I received at Surrey meant I could study in America…”
Raj Bux graduated from Surrey with a BSc in Modern Maths in 1982. Following a global career in the financial services sector, he established the Yasmin Bux Scholarship in memory of his late sister.
Why did you choose Surrey?
First off, I loved attending the open day. The fact it was a campus university was very appealing.
Secondly, I chose Surrey because it was sufficiently close that I could go home to London most weekends. Asian families are very close-knit. To my mum, moving a mere 35 miles to Guildford still seemed like I was going very far away.
What did you study?
I studied for a BSc in Modern Mathematics. My first year was 1979-1980, then I got a scholarship to Michigan State University from 1980-1981, and my final year back at Surrey was 1981-1982.
To this day, I’m not entirely sure why the course was called Modern Mathematics and not Pure Mathematics. It involved using statistics, theorems and proof, and data, and applying it to today’s world.
What are your main memories of Surrey?
It was a bit disjointed. I was there for a year, then I went to Michigan, and I returned to Guildford for my final year. I spent my degree with different cohorts and I had different friendship groups throughout my time there.
But I have fond memories. The opportunity I was given to study at Michigan State was huge. It was hard as an 18-year-old to leave home for the first time and just move to Guildford. When I left for Michigan State in my second year, my mum thought I was effectively going to the far end of the Universe!
How did you secure a scholarship to Michigan State?
The University had an exchange programme. I applied and I was lucky enough to be selected. The fees covered flights, academic fees, accommodation, and meals in the campus restaurant. The only time I had to feed myself was on Sunday night! I even had money to spend out of term time, which meant I had the chance to explore a bit more of North America.
What are the key experiences you remember about Michigan?
It was awesome. I went from sixth form in a grammar school that had 600 pupils to Surrey with 4,000 students. Michigan State had 56,0000 students. It was an eye-opener!
It was a friendly place, too. Lots of people loved the British accent and they were keen to show me their part of the world. I've also never seen so much snow in all my life. I woke up one day and there was a huge snow drift outside my dorm room.
Going to my first American football game was fantastic as well. Stepping out into a stadium that held 80,000 people was something else. It’s a love that remains. I watch Michigan State games today.
What was the plan when you graduated in 1982?
I didn’t really have one. I marvel at teenagers like my son, Daniel. He's going to the University of Bangor to study Zoology with Herpetology, which is the study of amphibians and reptiles. He's following his passion and he has a clear idea of what direction he wants his career to take.
I had a vague idea I wanted a job that involved some international travel, so I eventually secured a role at American Express that facilitated that. But there were a lot of other roles before.
Can you tell us about those?
I initially secured a position on a graduate trainee scheme at Marks and Spencer. It was a blue-chip name. But most of the training was focused on an established way of doing things. There wasn’t much room for creativity or innovation. It wasn’t a good fit for me, so I left after a year.
Next up was a job at Rexel, a company that made stapling machines among other things. They wanted somebody to help formulate a sales forecasting programme to ensure they could produce the right number of products at the right time. I used my maths degree to analyse the production schedule, sales information, and distribution timetable data to write that programme. The next task there involved implementing a personal computer system. They gave me a budget of £750,000 to buy PCs and software packages, then roll out the technology and training across the business. That was fun, but I didn’t want to be an IT manager. My boss suggested I do an Accounting qualification.
And did you?
Yes. That was a busy time. I’d work Mondays to Fridays, then study Saturdays and Sundays. Within 18 months, I was a qualified accountant on paper. As I needed practical experience, I joined the Royal Automobile Club to create a five-year strategic plan. I remember the interview. It went well, until I was asked if I had a driving licence. I didn’t, but I told them I had my test in a month. After accepting the job, I very quickly booked an intensive driving course, and I passed my test a few weeks later. This was fortunate because the job required travel and came with a brand-new company car.
How long did you stay at the RAC?
I did that for a few years, then I went to a subsidiary of Sun Alliance in another Finance role as Finance Director. I stayed there for five years, then I decided I wanted a job that would give me some international experience, which is where my role with American Express came in. I stayed at AmEx for 13 years, working in London, Hong Kong, New York, and Singapore. Finally, in 2009, I switched to Visa continuing to be based in Singapore but covering the whole world!
You’re supporting a scholarship in memory of your late sister. Can you tell me a bit about her?
In our family, I'm the eldest and Yasmin was child number two. She was a few years younger than me. She had a huge personality, she was vivacious, and she was always the life and soul of the party. She worked as a Pharmacist, and then as a Radio Presenter in her later years.
In the summer of 2022, she was diagnosed with brain lymphoma. She had tumours that impacted certain parts of her brain. Her first round of chemotherapy significantly reduced the tumours. The second and third rounds, sadly, saw no further reduction. By the fourth round, the tumours had aggressively returned. We asked the Specialist how many months she had left, and he told us it would be a matter of weeks. She passed away just before Christmas in 2022.
Who will the Yasmin Bux Scholarship support?
When my daughter, Zarina, went to university, she told me about her friends who struggled to make ends meet. Some of them had to take two part-time jobs just to get through their courses. Then they left with huge debts they had to repay.
Zarina also told me about her friend who wanted to study abroad but couldn’t afford it. She had no support system and she’d effectively been disowned by her family. I agreed to investigate this and help her. I realised she was far from alone in her experience. There are lots of students who must survive all by themselves, and they get little or no support from family. That's the type of student I want to see supported.
Setting up this scholarship means somebody will get some of the help that I once got. Giving somebody that opportunity and making a genuine difference in their life is a productive way to create a legacy to honour my sister.