South West Wales

Europol chief Rob Wainwright credits Welsh heritage for success

Europol director Rob Wainwright Image copyright Europol

He is in charge of identifying and tracking some of the most dangerous criminal and terrorist networks in Europe.

From uncovering gangs who smuggle migrants to monitoring extremist activity online, Rob Wainwright has become a high-profile figure as Europol director.

Yet what is less well known is that the EU criminal intelligence chief actually grew up in a small village in Carmarthenshire.

And for Mr Wainwright, his upbringing has played an important part in his success.

"I was born in Carmarthen but I grew up just outside in Pontyberem in the Gwendraeth Valley," the 47-year-old explained.

"It was a close-knit farming and mining community and as such we all pulled together and helped each other.

"There were also some challenges for me. My father was English so I had to fight for my identity I suppose. That allowed me to develop self-confidence and some resilience at an early age."

One of two children, Mr Wainwright describes his family as "very close", living near his grandparents and extended family.

He had a good education at Gwendraeth Grammar School, dubbed "the fly-half factory of Wales" with past pupils including Barry John, Carwyn Jones and Jonathan Davies.

However, he admits he was never good at the sport himself despite being a "passionate Welsh rugby fan".

Image copyright Europol

With an "inclination" to work in the international community, he studied International Relations and Affairs at the London School of Economics, graduating in 1989.

Mr Wainwright credits his grandfather, who spent his early life in the public sector, as one of his role models while growing up along with his ancestors who were involved in social reform in Carmarthen.

"I suppose there's a little bit of that in me, wanting to make a difference however small or large that can be in public life," Mr Wainwright said.

"The opportunities I have had throughout my career to fight terrorism and fight organised crime have given me a chance to do that.

"It's been a very motivating part of my life."

What is Europol's mission?

  • Europol is the European Union's law enforcement agency
  • Its headquarters are in The Hague, the Netherlands
  • Works closely with law enforcement agencies in the 28 EU member states and in other non-EU partner states and organisations
  • Has more than 900 members of staff, 185 Europol Liaison Officers (ELOs) and about 100 criminal analysts
  • Deals with more than 18,000 cross-border investigations each year
  • Rob Wainwright was appointed director in April 2009 and was reappointed for a second term in 2013

After working for a string of criminal intelligence agencies, Mr Wainwright was appointed director of Europol six years ago.

Having taken over from a German predecessor, he feels he has brought a couple of Welsh traits to the role.

One is a sense of humour, joking that he sees himself as "a poor man's Rob Brydon", and the other is the ability to make friends and business acquaintances from all walks of life.

"In my job I'm running an organisation that has people drawn from 40 different countries and it's got to be as easy for me to do business with someone from Greece, or Germany, or Portugal for example," he said.

So what advice would he give to young Welsh people looking to follow in his footsteps?

For him, having unlimited ambition is key.

"There's a long proud history that we have in Wales of producing some very famous, very successful people, in all walks of life. You know, the doors are open to anyone really," he said.

"I think I would say to young people... never forget your roots. Use them and nurture them as a Welsh person to drive you through in your life but also go out and explore the world.

"[I] gambled and pushed the boundaries of what's possible and have been rewarded with that and that wasn't typical for the time in our community growing up."

Image copyright AP

Despite living abroad with his wife and three children, he still has a strong connection to Wales and remains proud of his heritage.

"I love going back to Wales," Mr Wainwright said.

"I think what a community like that gives you is such a strong stable background," he added.

"My grandparents [and] my parents taught me the difference between right and wrong, instilling in me the right values from an early age, giving me self-confidence to succeed in life.

"Even if you're going from a really small village to the rest of the world you know if you remember those values, if you live by those and work hard, then you can achieve anything in life.

"And I'm still working on that of course but I've been lucky enough to have a few lucky breaks along the way."

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