We all need role models. These trailblazing leaders are representing women in Britain across sectors and industries – and they’re having a global impact.
Lorenza Brescia is the general manager of a pharmaceutical company that produces bio-identical hormone medicines. Previously, she founded iQela Mobile, the UK’s first mobile operator to serve the B2B needs of small and medium-sized enterprises. It helps these firms with cloud-based solutions, such as virtual receptionists. Brescia is originally from Italy and lived in Paris for 10 years before moving to London in 2011 to study at London Business School (LBS). Brescia was also the chief operating officer of Arborea, a cleantech start-up that makes ‘bionic leaves’. Prior to LBS, she was strategy director at Redmill Marketing Associates, responsible for creating the company’s strategy consultancy practice. “People – not organisations – should be trusted until proven otherwise.”
“My motto? Do it with passion or not at all”
Her biggest role model is her husband: “He’s a successful entrepreneur because he’s always able to see the positive in every negative thing that happens to him. This is the only way to succeed.”
Read more on the importance of involving men in the gender equality debate.
Brescia is warm and always brimming with new ideas. Like many of the greatest leaders, she gains wisdom from her mistakes. One of her greatest lessons came from an error in judgement. “Never again,” she says. “My previous venture failed because we chose the wrong supplier – critical to the business – based on a recommendation from a trusted industry leader. Now I know to always perform due diligence, whatever the apparent bona fides or recommendations.”
Her message is that business is all about people: your company doesn’t exist, the people who work in it do. “My most valuable skill is empowering other people to be successful by motivating them and giving them the opportunity to take responsibility.
“I’ve worked with inventors, having been involved in several start-ups from inception to commercialisation in different fields, ranging from IT to cleantech and biotech. This is where my added value is strongest, to help investors bring their ideas to market.”
Noa Gafni is the founder and CEO of Impact Squared, a “movement building consultancy” that works with social causes to spread their message and motivate people to take action. She began her career as an entrepreneur, founding a social network for women in 2005, and then headed up social media at Hearst Magazines. During her MBA at LBS in 2009, Gafni became deeply interested in the world of international organisations and social change. After LBS, she joined the World Economic Forum as global leadership fellow and head of communications for the Global Shapers Community, an initiative for millennials based in more than 250 cities in 130 countries. “As an entrepreneur who works all around the world, being adaptable is incredibly important. In any one month, I can travel to five countries and navigate between speaking engagements, client meetings, black-tie dinners and hackathons.”
“Being able to move between cultures, languages and drastically different situations isn’t just useful, it’s necessary”
Gafni is curious about how the world is changing through technology and the opportunity it holds to do some good. She says: “The fourth industrial revolution is well underway and the societal shifts will be massive. I think it’s incredibly exciting to prepare for the changes that are coming relatively soon, from self-driving cars to 3D-printed organs and e-government. There’s much discourse about the negative aspects of these changes, but I think there’s so much positivity that businesses – and all sectors – can embrace.”
Over the years, Gafni has adapted her leadership style to cater to people’s strengths, knowing when to step in and when to leave her team to it. Her expertise? Tapping into people’s motivations. She says: “I approach my clients and employees with empathy. People are complex and don’t always express what they want. When I’ve try to understand their underlying needs and why they approach a problem in a particular way, I see the best results.”
Brynne Kennedy is the founder of MOVE Guides, which helps HR teams move their employees around the world. She founded the company in 2012, after experiencing first-hand the challenges of international relocation as an investment banker for Lehman Brothers and investor at Standard Chartered. Kennedy, renowned for her technology and global mobility expertise, received the 2016 Women of the Future award for ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’. She has pledged 1% of MOVE Guides’ revenue to Mobility4All, which helps refugees. She studied LBS’s MBA in 2010.
“I believe London is the most exciting place on earth from which to build a global business”
Kennedy’s entrepreneurial journey began when she left the US to work as an investment banker in Asia and India. She soon experienced many of the challenges of global mobility, such as finding an apartment and opening a bank account – frustrating experiences that prompted her to drive change.
At LBS, Kennedy gained a diverse global network. She says: “This created a whole new set of opportunities, one of which was the chance to work part-time for Heather McGregor from Taylor Bennett, who writes a weekly column in the Financial Times. A great mentor, she introduced me to contacts ranging from FTSE 100 chairmen to members of the royal family.”
Read what Kennedy has to say about making hard choices.
One of her biggest lessons is unwavering dedication. She says: “When you start out, you need passion. Turning an idea into a profitable business is hard and people will question your every move. If you don’t 100% believe in what you’re trying to accomplish, you won’t be able to convince others to join you on your journey.
“Modern careers require global perspectives, strong networks and innovative thought.”
Vivian Hunt, Managing Partner for UK and Ireland at McKinsey & Company, has been featured by the Financial Times as one of the ‘European Women to Watch’ as well as the 30 most influential people in the City of London. Over 20 years she’s become a powerful spokesperson on racial and gender diversity.
In 1989, Hunt joined the US Peace Corps, working as a midwife and care worker in Senegal. She then became a researcher for management consulting firm Booz, Allen & Hamilton, before moving into healthcare. Prior to her latest role, Hunt led McKinsey’s pharmaceutical and medical products strategy in EMEA. Now she provides strategic advice to leading British firms in the private, public and third sectors. “If women – who account for half the world’s population – do not achieve their full economic potential, the global economy will suffer.”
“This is not a glass-ceiling problem – it’s a pipeline one. The progress we’ve made so far is not good enough. We need to turbocharge our efforts”
Hunt co-authored a McKinsey Global Institute report, which states that bridging the gender gap could add as much as US$12 trillion (£9.8 trillion) to GDP globally by 2025. The research highlighted that if women played an identical role to men in the labour market, Britain’s GDP could increase by £150 billion by 2025.
Hunt’s father had a saying: “As we think, so we speak and as we speak, so we are”, which has shaped one of her core beliefs: your thoughts and the words you speak matter.
Helena Morrissey is the head of personal investing for Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), one of Europe’s largest asset managers and a major global investor. She also has nine children. Morrissey joined LGIM in 2017 from Newton, where she was CEO for 15 years, before becoming non-executive chairman. During her tenure, Newton’s assets under management grew from £20 billion to £50 billion.
Morrissey founded the 30% Club in 2010, a cross-business initiative aimed at achieving better gender-balanced boards through voluntary, business-led change. The proportion of women on UK company boards more than doubled in the following five years and there are now 11 30% Clubs worldwide. Morrissey was recognised by Fortune Magazine as one of the ‘World’s 50 Greatest Leaders’ in 2015 and as the Financial Times ‘Person of the Year’ in 2017 at its Boldness in Business Awards.
“The 30% Club has sought to find ways to improve the pipeline of women for future senior executive roles and to help companies develop their female executive talent”
Morrissey has made it her mission to push for equality, founding the 30% Club to get more women on boards – with a caveat: “It’s not about quotas.” She says: “It’s about women and men moving the debate forward. It's about achieving more women on boards at senior levels. It’s about making a conscious effort.”
Morrissey was honoured in the Queen’s birthday list in 2017 for promoting diversity in the financial services sector. In one interview, she said: “It’s almost 100 years ago that women got the right to vote in this country. Then 100 years later, a woman gets a damehood for working on the same sort of thing – that’s progress.”
Morrissey urges business leaders to involve men in the gender debate, to achieve quicker progress. “I wanted to reach out to chairmen in the country and ask them to change their business culture,” she says. And she is.
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