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An Englishman abroad

Former FD for the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzogovina Robert Adams tells Peter Taylor-Whiffen of his love affair with cricket, golf – and Belgium

At 79, Robert Adams has a fitness regime that would shame some people a quarter of his age. "I go to the gym, I play golf, I enjoy a six-mile walk", he says. "But age and illness do catch up with you. At the gym I like the rowing machine, which I can do sitting down." His fitness level is all the more remarkable considering he has a condition that requires intensive hospital treatment every two months, and a few years ago he suffered a stroke.

"I firmly believe you should try to keep active as long as you can. It keeps your body and your mind interested." But sport has been a major hobby all his life. He was also a runner, an avid squash and tennis player and an extremely keen cricketer: "I once turned down a work move to an office in Paris because it meant giving up my weekend matches."

He's managed to maintain a regular fix of leather on willow, despite having lived almost constantly in Belgium for nearly 50 years. "In the late 1960s I was opening bat for the Royal Brussels Cricket Club, and am still involved with that. And I played squash in Brussels on what were at the time the only courts in Belgium. You'll find opportunities if you're keen enough to look for them."

Adams had specialised in classics as a teenager until his father suggested he study something more practical, so he applied to Deloitte, where he was articled and managed international company audits. The job took him to Brussels, where he worked punctuated by a short stint in Birmingham until 1987, when he left salaried employment and became a self-employed consultant until he retired in 2012.

"I never stayed at any job very long because the idea was I'd go in as a consultant, fix the company and then find someone to replace me," he says. "But I was fortunate that most of the posts were in Belgium." Employers included Cerestar, Martins Group and TransAmerica Trailers. Even his most eye-catching CV entry, three years as financial director of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzogovina, was based in Brussels.

"I love Belgium," says Adams, whose wife Anne died in 2002. "I grew up in the countryside, and the Flemish are a traditional farming people. I do also think that Belgium looks after its older people better than the UK." When he retired from his last job as CFO for media monitoring platform Attentio eight years ago, he and his English partner Nikki decided to stay put.

"All our friends are here, and were involved in so many groups." But retirement has opened up many opportunities to travel recently the couple have visited Russia and Texas and maintain those fitness levels. "Nikki's also very sporty, and we still love golf. Some of our family have also recently moved to Zimbabwe, and were visiting them in March. It'll be lovely to see them but I'm sure well also see if we can get a round in."

Originally published in Economia on 7 March 2019.