Malcolm with his first car outside Devonshire House

Counting the Memories: Malcolm Sweeney

We recently caught up with one of our alumni, Malcolm Sweeney (Physics, Economics and Philosophy, 1970) to chat about his time at Exeter. Malcolm knew from a young age that he wanted to be an accountant and following graduation worked in finance in the plastics, technology and pharmaceutical industries.

He said: “The course is what first drew me to Exeter, it was an attempt by the university to try to mix commerce with science. It was a unique course in those days and I thought it would be fun. The variety that a degree in Physics, Economics and Philosophy offered was enjoyable, and it was quite a small cohort on the degree programme as it was a mixed faculty degree. However it also was quite intensive as I had 20 – 22 hours of contact time a week and especially in comparison to my roommate at the time who studied Politics and History who only had six hours a week.

“The course did mean that I had to study Economics from scratch and had to start from the beginning whereas a lot of my fellow students had done it at school. I relished the challenge and remember spending my holidays reading Economics by Richard Lipsey which was my ‘Bible’ and helped me make it through the first year of my degree.”

Outside of the classroom, Malcolm pursued his love of sport, playing squash, basketball, badminton and occasionally rugby.

He said: “When I arrived at the university in 1967 the sports hall on Streatham campus was brand new and I was lucky enough to benefit from the new facilities. I preferred basketball and the racket sports but occasionally guested for the rugby team - it wasn’t my favourite as I didn’t want to deal with the muddy kit! We always feared playing St Luke’s at basketball as they were so good and, as I recall, we never won a game against them.

“After I graduated I returned home to Manchester and joined Peat, Marwick, Mitchell where I trained as a chartered accountant. I played in a basketball league as well as a Sunday football league. I am still a big fan of sport but now from the armchair, however I continue to go to the gym as often as I can. I now play basketball with my eldest grandson who is nine and have had a hoop installed in my back yard.  My grandson enjoys playing rugby, football and cricket, and I love going to watch him play.”

During the time that wasn’t filled with studies or sports Malcolm enjoyed going into the city centre, and visiting the Quay club or sometimes watching Exeter City play football with friends. He also spent time in Gandy Street in the Bradninch building during his first year, to socialise and play bridge.

Malcolm said: “One of my distinctive memories of my time at Exeter was my first car which cost me £45 and used almost as much oil as it did petrol! It was an Austin Metropolitan and I drove it between Exeter and back home to Manchester so it quickly racked up the miles. My next car cost £90 and died on the motorway on my way home in the Easter Holidays of my final year, breaking down outside of Taunton. My car was full of books and belongings which I had to decant into my Dad’s car the next day when I broke down again on the M50. He drove down from Manchester in the middle of the night to pick me up, getting back home at 6/7am in the morning.

“Another defining memory of my time at Exeter was my first day. My father had driven me down and after installing me in my digs in Prospect Park, we had an early dinner in a restaurant on the main street in Exeter. After that he left to drive back home and as I waved him off I still recall the feeling of loneliness that I had, as I did not know anybody there and being in a city I did not know. However I quickly settled in and enjoyed making Exeter my home for the next three years.”

After his degree Malcolm completed his accountancy qualification and then left the profession to join a subsidiary of an American company as head of finance in Manchester.

Malcolm said: “I left the UK in 1980 to go to Holland where I worked for GE Plastics as their European Treasurer. We were there for over 6 years and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. From there I was transferred to London to another division of GE. I then worked in London until 2001 when I went to work for Novartis in Switzerland as head of Financial Reporting and Accounting. We returned to the UK late in 2005.  

“When I lived in Holland I travelled to most European countries both for business and leisure, and when I came back to the UK I travelled to the USA, Far East and Asia as well as Europe for work. Travelling has truly been a constant source of enjoyment for me. It’s been one part of my career and my life that I feel I’ve been very lucky to experience and whilst I got to travel lots for work now that I’m semi-retired I’m making the most of this even more; this year alone we have visited Malaysia, the Isle of Wight (for the first time!), Canada and Turkey so far.”



Date: 9 July 2019

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