Melika Betley (Law 1986) is the Chief Executive Officer for HSBC in Bahrain. Her experience at Fitzwilliam included cleaning bedrooms, working in a pub, and a half-blue for water polo.
What was your first experience of Fitzwilliam?
I lived in Suffolk, so Cambridge as a city wasn’t in any way strange to me. My first experience was very positive in terms of an environment that was open, really friendly and welcoming.
Why did you choose Fitzwilliam?
I didn’t apply to Fitz; I was holding an offer from another college and I missed the offer. Fitz picked me up and I’m very glad that they did. In hindsight, I think I ended up in exactly the right place to suit me and my personality, rather than the original college. I found Fitz to be very modern, progressive and already a relatively diverse student body which was great and also fairly informal while still respecting the tradition. I used to clean college rooms, not in Fitzwilliam, in one of the other colleges, with some friends as a summer job. I also used to work in The Anchor pub, part-time and at a jazz night there. I also enjoyed having the opportunity to experience a whole range of sports and decide what I enjoyed doing. I got a half-blue for water polo, I played hockey for the College, I rowed for one year for the College and I played the odd rugby game.
Why did you choose law?
My A-Levels were history, geography and maths. And of the three it was probably the history and geography that I was strongest at and interested me the most, but I didn’t really want to study those at university. I thought law gave me a whole range of future options and I enjoyed problem solving and logical challenges. That’s probably as far as I got in my thought process at the time. What I didn’t know then but subsequently learned - and it kind of surprised me - was the amount of creativity involved. As you go through your career you realise that you’re applying a certain degree of creativity, along with a logical thought process, to get to an outcome. I use my legal training every minute of every day. It teaches you how to approach any challenge or obstacle or problem. It does give you that very disciplined approach. It gives you the attention to detail, which is invaluable. Also it teaches you to be able to communicate in a very clear and concise way. All of those skill sets serve you well for any future career.
What was your post-Fitzwilliam career path?
When I left I went into private practice as a solicitor. I worked at Stephenson Harwood in London for almost 10 years. What I really enjoyed about the job was getting to know my clients’ businesses, so I was finding myself increasingly attracted to the business side of things, which prompted me to explore in-house legal opportunities. When I joined HSBC it was actually as a lawyer, an in-house legal switch. After about four years I was still drawn to the business side of things - I never gave that up - but I was given the opportunity to come to the Middle East as Regional Head of Legal and Compliance. It gave me a whole new experience: emerging markets, not much black and white, a lot of grey, which doesn’t suit every lawyer, but a new challenge within the legal world. I used that as a stepping stone to step into the business side of the organisation. I’ve had a number of roles since then. This is my second chief executive role. I was chief executive of HSBC Jordan for three-and-a-half years and I’ve been in the Middle East region for almost 13 years now. I’ve only had positive experiences. Bahrain is a very open, welcoming environment to work in. It’s very integrated and diverse. The community is proud to be able to have women in senior roles and greatly encourages that diversity.
Do you have any role models and if so who and why?
The ones who have the greatest influence have been people I’ve worked for. Without naming anybody specifically, if I look at the common theme it’s been people that inspire you to follow them. The other trait is they’ve also been very respectful and very humble in how they are as people. That engenders you respecting them in return.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would probably say don’t try to change the core of who you are. That applies not just to the transition into college, but probably the whole of your working life. It’s very easy to think ‘OK, maybe I need to be a bit more like this’ because that’s a stereotype or that’s what fits the mould; you may feel a strong pressure to change the core of who you are. That’s never going to work. You can change some things around the edges but I don’t think you can change who you are at your core or you will never be happy or comfortable. You just have to work out how you make that core work best for you in your environment.