Recap of the Leadership Speaker Series

Lene Northwood née Hansen (Blue Boat ‘97) reflects on the first of the Leadership Speaker Series talks: Meeting the CEO of Newton Investment Management and Founder of the 30% Club.

It was a room to be impressed by. Any number of the people gathered could, and often have, held audiences in the palm of their hand, enthralled by the unfolding story of their incredible lives and achievements to date. So, what was the promise of the evening that could draw such people (and me) like moths to a flame?

The lady in question is the remarkable Helena Morrissey; and honestly I knew very little of her before the event. My first reaction was that she looks to me more like a principal dancer in a ballet company than the powerhouse CEO of Newton Investment Management and Founder of the 30% Club. However, as someone who has spent nearly 20 years in finance on the other side of the world and who has filled a number of senior executive positions in that time, I found a number of powerful truths in her words (and was extremely pleased to hear of someone else who was a badge obsessed Brownie when they were young!). In any case, I think all of us took something powerful and positive home from that evening, but what did I hear when Helena spoke? I heard wonderful contradictions to the accepted ‘wisdoms’ of success and I hope that they resonate with you as they did with me.

A whisper can be louder than a shout…
In contrast to the often touted caricature of what a woman needs to be to be successful i.e. which is to say that she has to be a man, Helena is most definitely a woman. Despite her stories of dragging bins whilst dressed in track-pants, she projects a poised and elegant aura. Her stories were gently humorous and generally self-deprecating. And so, the litany of ‘sell yourself’, ‘talk your- self up’ MBA/Self Help tapes falls mercifully into the shadows a little around her. There is, it is clear, another path to success.

Don’t be thick-skinned, be resilient…
There were questions from the audience about how could a woman develop a thicker skin in order to be successful. I felt Helena’s answers to these questions were wonderfully open and honest. She made it clear that she was not a thick skinned person, but her answer made it clear to us all I think, that she was resilient. The old adage of it not being how you fall, but how you get up, rang in my ears.

Fair Dues…
Please be clear that all that I have said to date is not saying that Helena came across as any sort of wallflower or soft touch. It was abundantly clearly that when the time is right then she, even if it made her ill to have to say it, gently, but firmly said that thing that needed to be said… And, also if the company that you are with doesn’t value your contribution, then it may be time to find one that does.

Be pragmatic…
There might have been a romantic notion amongst some of the rowers present (ex or otherwise!) that Newton’s sponsoring of the Women’s Boat Race was a powerful woman supporting other women. Yes and No. Yes, Helena was clearly drawn to supporting the race, but no, that didn’t make it a done deal. It had to make business sense as well. Happily, the somewhat startling discrepancy between the men’s and women’s Boat Races made the initial investment a very appealing way to connect to a very strong brand and message of success and courage over adversity. All of which resonate well in the corporate world.

Overall, it was such a relief to see that the idea that success is not the sole remit of arrogant, aggressive and thick-skinned individuals. While no doubt there is place for them at the top too, there clearly and increasingly seems to be space around them for other people. People like Helena and (hopefully) people like us.

The next Speaker Series event will be with Dame Louise Makin on Wednesday 25th February – See here for details and how to book.