Skills & careers
Back to listing

Managing Partner, DNA LLP: Steve Nicklen


Steve Nicklen

Career profile

“Even if you fail, it will be less disastrous than you now imagine, and something else will come up. But, if you don’t go for it, you may always regret it.’

Steve is an executive coach, working with senior individuals and teams, within his own business.

“Working as a scientist at the MRC’s Laboratory for Molecular Biology in the early ‘70s equipped me to be effective and credible in creative and forensic work in a varied and successful career, after leaving science.”

“After graduating from Leeds University with a degree in Biochemistry in the early ‘70s, I had the great good fortune to work for four years as a graduate student with Fred Sanger, at the MRC LMB, on his development of the techniques that revolutionised DNA sequencing and lead eventually to the Human Genome Project (and beyond).

I then left science and joined the UK civil service, where I spent several years in the Treasury and a number of other Government Departments

For 20 years from the early ‘80s (with a three year interlude as a member of the Audit Commission’s Management Board) I worked as change management consultant in the UK and overseas, before retraining as a psychotherapist and refocusing, eventually in my own firm, on executive and team coaching.  This work continues but, now in my early 60s, I have moved to France and, while I don’t actually describe myself as semi-retired, it’s fair to say that nowadays I work a great deal less hard than I used to.”

“Career highlights, of course, include my time at Cambridge, working on DNA sequencing.  I still get goose bumps remembering how a developed photo showed that a new agent I’d introduced worked, and filled (for a while at least) a gap in the sequencing approach.  I’ve also had a lot of other highs as well, during my time as private secretary to four Cabinet Ministers, during the ‘80s, living and working for several months in Hong Kong, and I’ve got a huge buzz out of being my own boss over the last several years”.

“My biggest challenge by far has been developing the self confidence to realise that I could operate successfully indifferent environments. This has repeated itself, periodically, in science (‘I’m not smart enough to be here’), with politicians (‘I’m not sophisticated enough to cope with them’), etc.   Eventually I realised that everyone really feels this way, and that I could learn to conceal this as well as others do”.

“Looking back, I’m not sure I would change many of the decisions I’ve taken in my career, although I’ve often thought otherwise while on the journey.  More generally, I wish I’d learned earlier to respect and value people who have very different strengths and weaknesses from me”.

“I have been inspired by many people.  As a scientist I worked with Fred Sanger, who I think to be the greatest experimentalist I’ve come across, and in the same lab as Francis Crick, who was the most creative thinker I’ve ever met”.

“Words of wisdom.  God! I find this more difficult now than I would probably have done 20 years ago.  But I often tell people: ‘If you have a dream, go for it. You may well succeed.  My focus is now less on my career, of course.  I want to be a better singer, counsellor, husband, father and grandfather, although not necessarily in that order”.

Correct as of: March 2015