Staff were wary of Peter Davies's lack of an education background when he became principal at London's City Literary Institute 18 months ago.
The City Lit has provided courses for adults for 85 years.
Mr Davies, 56, had served for 35 years in the navy, achieving the rank of Rear Admiral. An engineer by background, his last role was responsibility for naval shore-based recruiting and training. "I got a lot of job satisfaction out of that," he says. "I decided that I'd look into a sector in my second career where I could give something back."
Was it a dramatic change? "One of the things about the services is that you move jobs every two or three years, so I was used to moving and taking different chances.
"But I'm not a teacher by background. I'm a submarine engineer. So there were differences, but also a lot of similarities. I had a lot to learn and I got on with it, but I didn't find it a difficult move"
His first big challenge was the college's move to a new pound;21 million facility in Covent Garden, which he duly celebrated with a sponsored abseil down the building.
He says his previous career left him with valuable strengths.
"The key ones are leadership and management skills," he said. "And good personal skills. I'm able to talk round and bring people with me. Good team skills, because teamwork is the key to success of the services.
"I'm able to set a vision and think strategically. I think my engineering skills have also been useful in the new building. And analysing the future, because a lot of adult education colleges are under significant challenge with the reduction in funding."
He says barriers to others coming into FE depend on college governing bodies, and how willing they are to look outside for people with the right skills, regardless of background.
"It's fair to say a lot of staff at City Lit were a little concerned. But I would hope, as more people from outside come in and hopefully make a success of the job, that people will realise that there are benefits."