August 15, 2016

Matt Cullen: On juggling being a pole vaulter and working in derivatives

Matt Cullen

Matt Cullen

We interviewed former British pole vaulting champion Matt Cullen from our Manchester office who is cheering on his friends and fellow athletes at the athletics this week. Matt joined BNY Mellon four years ago and today is part of the derivatives servicing team. He is also head coach of a successful and expanding pole vault academy and England pole vaulting champion 2012.

How did you become interested in the sport?

I first got involved in athletics by trying my hand at decathlon when I was 14 or 15. I had always been interested in pole vault but had struggled to find a coach and didn't really have the opportunity to try it properly. However when I joined my local club, Sale Harriers, in 2003 I met my first pole vault coach, and then after a few months I met my long term coach Julien Raffalli-Ebezant. Julien provided a lot of opportunities to our training group and coached several international athletes, most notably Holly Bradshaw who represented the UK in London four years ago (although she now trains in Cardiff). Training with some really high-performing athletes always inspired me to work even harder, and it's that kind of atmosphere that I try to emulate in my own training group.

How do you train as a pole vaulter?

As much as it might appear to be about someone jumping with the aid of a big stick, pole vault is a demanding sport. You need speed in your run up, strength through the take off and the athleticism at the top of the bar. That said, there's no one typical pole vaulter and people of all body types can be successful. It comes down to hard work – in a typical training week I would do running, weights, gymnastics, general strength training, medicine ball circuits and also pole vaulting. I always liked the variety of the training and the challenge of being the best you can be in so many different ways.

What is your sporting life outside of BNY Mellon?

I train six days a week so there is not much space for downtime. In competition season there have been many occasions where I have finished work on Friday, gone to the airport and jumped on a plane to somewhere in Europe to compete over the weekend and been back in the office on Monday morning. I started coaching a few years ago too, and this is probably where I focus most of my time and effort now. With some of the athletes I coach competing at a national and international level, it's tough trying to find the time to be everywhere at once – before I only had my own competitions to worry about, but now I have twenty-odd athletes to worry about as well! However I'm happy that I've managed to find a balance that works for me – mostly this has come from strict time management, but I have also started to mentor a couple of other coaches. This will enable me to focus my efforts where they will make a difference.

And how do you manage training and sporting commitments with your day-to-day role in derivatives?

I normally train straight after work and then on to coach afterwards. Even the easy things, like eating at the right times and getting enough sleep need to be planned. The key to it all though is good time management and making sure I am prepared for each day. I find though that the skills that help make me a successful coach are the same ones that help me in my position as supervisor at BNY Mellon.

Good people management is the same whether in an office or at the track – your ultimate aim is to help your colleagues reach their potential. To do that you firstly need to understand where they want to be, and then help them to get there by providing a listening ear and good guidance.

What is your biggest sporting achievement?

Becoming England champion in 2012 is my proudest achievement. The weather on the day was absolutely terrible and in the warm up I didn't make the bed on my first two jumps due to a combination of poorly-timed gusts of wind and lashing rain. When it counted I was able to perform close to my best in some of the worst conditions.

As I've moved from competing to coaching however, the goalposts have shifted. Now I'm also a coach to national champions and athletes representing their country, and in May I was selected as a team coach for England. It's a different type of achievement but one that is even more rewarding. To be such a huge part of the lives of the young people I coach, to understand their commitment, and to help them develop into the best they can be is a huge honour and a privilege.