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James Swaps the Running Track for the Boardroom

21 December 2011

For former Olympic and Commonwealth athlete, James McIlroy, business is in his blood, so when he hung up his running shoes for the final time in 2008 he knew what career path to choose.

He followed in his dad’s footsteps and started working in the family’s busy shop, James Thompson Lighting in his hometown of Larne, before enrolling in the Developing Managers Programme at the University of Ulster in 2009.

James continued to study at the Ulster Business School and the world renowned athlete’s education has now successfully run its course, as today he graduates with a Masters in Business Administration (MBA).

And within the next few weeks he hopes to hear confirmation that he has secured a job in the sporting industry, something he has always wanted to do.

“It’s been my goal to work in corporate sport and I felt my CV would have a greater impact if I studied a business qualification as opposed to a Masters in Sport – I felt I had already ticked that box while I was a professional athlete,” explained James.

“When any sportsman or woman comes to the end of their career they are faced with the terrifying prospect of what to do next. I was lucky that I made that initial contact with the University of Ulster to secure my place on the Developing Managers Programme.

“My time at the University has changed my life – I gained my Advanced Diploma in Management Practice, completed the Leadership Programme at Harvard Kennedy School and am now graduating with an MBA.

“I was also encouraged to pursue my sporting interests and joined the athletic and cross country club. Starting to compete at fun level immediately sparked my interest in competing at some sort of level on the track.

“The University had a strong input into my decision to come out of my sporting retirement last year, to compete for Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and staff showed me unwavering support in letting me use their facilities.

“I’m very proud of the University’s sporting achievements and will be cheering on our Olympic hopeful for London 2012, sprinter Amy Foster – and it would be great to see her go one better than me and make the final!”

James has had a hugely successful athletics career, having been involved in the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and European Championships.

“I’m very proud of the fact that I was the fastest Briton for 18 years over 800 metres, was third on the all time list for 1,000 metres behind Sebastian Coe and Steve Cram and was the fastest Irishman ever, over 600, 800 and 1,000 metres,” he said.

“I finished up with five British titles and three runner-up places over 800 and 1,500 metres and four Irish titles over 400, 800 and 1,500 metres.”

James’ decision to retire from sport was a practical one and working in his dad’s shop gave him a good grounding for his chosen career.

“My father brought me on board in order to let me experience all parts of the business, so it complemented the theoretical side of both the Developing Managers Programme and the MBA,” he explained.

“Due to the fact it was a small, busy, retail store it was really helpful to be able to use working examples of everyday business in my University assignments and my MBA.”