Meet our Innovation Director, James Luke. His team are the brains behind the Roke innovation machine, working daily to use our capabilities to develop the next generation of solutions to help support the critical missions of our customers.
As part of our Veteran’s Network, James understands well the importance that technology plays in operational scenarios. We caught up with him to find out more about his military background, what he does on a daily basis and about his volunteer work as part of a lifeboat crew.
Tell us about your military background?
I served for six years between 1988 and 1994 as a Weapons Engineering Officer. I absolutely loved my service career, with three seagoing appointments and deployments to the West Coast of Africa and the Arabian Gulf. It was, however, a time of incredible change (i.e. cuts).
When the Cold War suddenly ended, I had to find a new career and I discovered that the skills I’d developed in the military were hugely beneficial in civilian life. As a civilian, I found that there was still an opportunity to make a difference and I’ve been working on military and national security projects throughout my career. I’ve found my military experience to be massively valuable in ensuring that we design the kit so that it really does help the front line.
After 26 years with a large multi-national, I was approached with the opportunity to be the Innovation Director. I already knew of Roke’s reputation as both an engineering company and as a supplier to the military and national security.
When I looked more deeply, I saw that Roke is very close to the mission, and really focussed on making a positive difference. I also realised that the company is the perfect size in that we are big enough to be able to invest and undertake major projects, but small enough to not get bogged down in big company management issues. Anyone in Roke can come and talk to me or other members of the senior team and we can make decisions quickly. Finally, I saw that Roke’s technology was second to none and I desperately wanted to be part of that!
What does a typical day at Roke look like for you?
Every day is different as I look across the whole of the company. Today, I have been working with a young developer designing a prototype intelligence analytics solution whilst also writing a paper on drone technology and the concept of Squads versus Swarms. We work on so many exciting projects and I find it really exciting to be brainstorming, “what if we did ….”. We then go and make those ideas real. One of the things I enjoy most is presenting our ideas to frontline military Clients, listening to their feedback (however blunt) and then making the product better.
What do you enjoy most about working at Roke?
The focus on the mission and the can-do attitude of the company. We have some brilliant minds and we love nothing more than an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR). The company is small enough to have a real sense of camaraderie.
How has Roke supported you since you transferred to civilian life?
I’d been out of the service a long time when I joined, however I still served in other ways. I am a volunteer with the local lifeboat crew. When Roke heard this, they immediately gave me time to train and allowed me to leave work to respond to shouts. They also updated the “reservist policy” that gives members of the Reserves additional leave to include members of volunteer emergency services.
How have you applied your military experience to your work at Roke?
Everyday! Whether it’s leadership training, presentation skills or just straightforward knowledge of operations and what they involve. Because we are so mission focussed, military experience is more valued than in companies that don’t have that focus.
What advice would you give anyone moving on from, or thinking of moving on from the armed forces?
It’s a big transition. Being in the military is not just a job – it’s a lifestyle and it’s actually who you are! However, there are great opportunities in civilian life, and you can still be of service and experience the friendship and teamwork that you are used to. Take the time to find a career that you’ll enjoy and embrace the new adventure.
Tell us about the Veterans Employee Resource Group – how does it support service leavers?
We recognise that Veterans share unique experiences, both good and bad. The Veterans ERG is a way of keeping Roke in touch with the military. it allows Veterans to share their experience and make a difference to the future of Roke as well as helping other service leavers transition to civilian life.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I volunteer with my local lifeboat crew, so spend a lot of time on the water training and working with other volunteers. I’m also a keen sailor and have two children who keep me busy.