Meet the Fellows - John Purnell FIET

John Purnell’s entrepreneurial passion saw him rise up the ranks to director at a young age. Now an IET Fellow, he’s discovered that you don't have to be in the latter stages of your career to reach this level of prestige.


Image of John Purnell FIET John Purnell is a highly motivated individual, who knew what he wanted to achieve from the moment he began his career.

Currently the managing director of software solutions provider ISS Europe, the organisation has a strong global presence and so he liaises with colleagues in Singapore and Australia daily. The role is split between strategic operational management and some sales, meaning he gets to do a “bit of everything”.

A consistent go getter, from an early age he knew he wanted to work his way up into management. He began his working life as an apprentice at AstraZeneca, agreeing to the role in return for confirmation that they would support a degree on completion of his HNC.

His chosen career route

“At 16 I started with a four year apprenticeship but always with the goal that I would achieve Chartered status by the age of 28,” he says. “When I took the job it was on the basis that I would do a degree after my HNC, so I followed that path rather than the traditional ‘A levels then degree’ route.

“I worked full-time and did a longer part-time degree. It’s nice to get paid and get the degree too. You can’t knock it,” he enthuses.

Working his way up from software engineer into a variety of management positions, in his mid-twenties he was given a great opportunity to get some high level managerial experience with a different company: Proctor & Gamble.

Making a difference in management

“I always knew I wanted to get into management: you feel you can make a difference, you want to get up there to make a change. Leaving to go to Proctor & Gamble was a fantastic opportunity as it is a company that gives you lots of responsibility. Even in your mid-twenties you have budgets of a million pounds to do with as you will - it's pretty unusual for a company to give that flexibility.

“Then I was fortunate enough to work for company called Cougar Automation,” he continues. “At a smaller company you can really make a difference (as a manager). I was lucky enough to get promoted up to a director’s role so was then able to use more strategic thinking but also be involved across the business – you can get involved in everything from operations and safely, finance, sales, the whole thing.

“I think that's what ticked the box for me on the entrepreneurial side of things, wanting to establish the culture, to grow the business and look for different and new opportunities. It’s even more fulfilling for me personally to do that in a smaller business than be a small cog in the big machine of a multinational.”

Over the years John’s achievements have been many. He became a Chartered Engineer at 27 - beating his own target, but is also proud of the improvements he made to the businesses he oversaw. He’s known for expanding companies: taking the risks necessary to transform businesses into much bigger and more successful entities.

Too young to become a Fellow?

Once John became a Chartered Engineer he was aware the next step up the ladder of professional recognition would be to apply for Fellowship status, however when he seriously began to consider Fellowship, at 37 he thought he was too young.

“At the time I was thinking I must be too young. You have this concept of wearing caps, cobwebs and having to be sixty! However a friend of mine had got his Fellowship and told me it was something I should consider.

“He encouraged me and I looked at my CV,” he continues. “I wondered if it would look impressive enough if you take into account my responsibility levels and I just thought go for it.”

Proving you’ve achieved that higher level of responsibility

When the certificate arrived John even shocked himself at how happy he was to become an IET Fellow.

“It surprised me how big a deal it was to me,” he says. “I was particularly pleased when I got it, to get that recognition. Going through school I knew I wanted to be an engineer, I knew I wanted to go into management, I knew I wanted to become a Chartered Engineer. That was the tick in the box, the recognition from your peers that you’ve achieved that status. You’ve done your qualifications and you’ve got the relevant experience.

“Fellowship is the next natural step, to almost prove to myself, and get that recognition from your peers that you have that achieved that higher level of responsibility or accountability.”