He says that although he is not Welsh, he has always been pleased to have a Welsh name. Last year David Powell strengthened a Welsh sentiment when he became executive vice president, Japan, of the Welsh Development Agency. He has very special appreciation of Wales, a small country of “charm and delight.” Having always been a traveler, interested in and responding to the places where he has lived and worked over the last 30 years, he has affection for many countries.
David describes himself as having come from a modest background. “The opportunity to enjoy a free university education, provided by the state, was without doubt a privilege, and perhaps my generation — postwar bulge — was particularly fortunate. Education is the foundation upon which most everything else relies.”
Graduated in German from the University of Leicester, he was casting around for a future when a “magical accident” occurred. “Many things in my life have depended on chance, and there are clearly distinct, critical moments,” he said. He had taken a summer job as a tour guide. “All around Europe I saw coach-loads of American Express customers. I learned they were quality tourists. When I saw an American Express advertisement recruiting young British graduates for postings in the Far East, I applied. As a starry-eyed young graduate, that was what I wanted to hear.”
He was assigned to Hong Kong, where he went with his wife, Maggie, whom he had met on their German course. “Hong Kong was a wonderful introduction to the ways of business. They were exciting times,” he said. After three years they moved to Manila, for continuing excitement.
The next assignment was to Sydney. The young couple with their new baby, Laura, were “absolutely captivated” by Australia. They might have stayed longer, “but after my 10 years overseas, American Express thought it time for me to be rehabilitated, to make sure I didn’t go native,” David said. In London again, he took over network development for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
In his Asian postings, David had visited Japan several times and always enjoyed coming here on holiday. He was delighted to come here to live in 1984. Here he launched the corporate card, corporate travel, membership travel and an expanded retail services network. When the time came to move on, he said, “We were reluctant to leave Japan, but knew that somehow we would maintain our relationship with the country. We went to Chicago.”
He thinks he and his wife were able to adapt readily to their vastly different cultural environments “because we started early. We expected that if anything were ever difficult or uncomfortable, we would just get on with it. We lived by the simple philosophy instilled by our parents and families: treat people as you would want to be treated, with dignity, respect and honesty. Anyway, we promised ourselves that eventually Laura’s secondary education should be stable, in one place. At that time we decided we had better go back to the U.K.”
Once there, he asked himself whether he shouldn’t make a career change. He joined the Thomas Cook Group, to be general manager for enterprises covering half a dozen different ventures. He loves the “remarkable history, the beautiful history” of the company, which conceived the idea of mass travel for larger groups of people after a successful small train outing in 1841. For the Thomas Cook Group, David returned to Japan in 1993.
Now he is giving concentrated attention to the Welsh Development Agency. “The agency is focused on inward investment into Wales, to assist economic development,” he said. “For 25 years Wales has enjoyed a strong relationship with Japan. Many Japanese consumer electronic companies and motor plants are there: almost 60 Japanese companies employing about 15,000 people. Wales is popular with the Japanese.”
David has come full circle from the chance of his Welsh name, through a career in travel and travel-related businesses in multinational companies, to commitment to Welsh development. “In a modest way we have increasingly tried to give something back to the world which has been so good to us. My wife has gamely traveled the world with me, and everywhere found a way to make a contribution. I’m very proud of her.”
Husband and wife have “huge affection for Japan as our second home.” Now they have in mind the prospect of a settled home of their own in Wales, a country of low population, mountains and seashores, of “charm and delight.”