"The apprenticeship I did opened many doors for me, but that opportunity isn’t as available today as it should be to working-class people. I want to help change that."
Gillian Keegan was steadily building a political career when she happened to meet fellow London Business School (LBS) alumna Justine Greening at Reunion in 2015.
The pair chatted for two hours, with Justine – now Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities – happy to give her tips for getting ahead in UK politics. “I asked if she minded giving me some guidance on becoming an MP,” Gillian says. “She explained how she got into parliament and what I needed to know to take the same journey.”
For Gillian, getting advice from an LBS alumna shows how powerful the School’s network is. Since then, she has achieved her ambition of becoming a British MP by winning the Chichester seat in the 2017 general election.
Coming from a working-class background, Gillian’s motivation is to give others the same opportunities she had. She counts herself lucky to have had a successful business career that started when she joined a car factory as an apprentice, aged 16. But others from the same background aren’t so fortunate.
“There’s a contrast between where I started in Huyton (Merseyside) and where I ended up. Not many people have the chance to become a senior executive in business [Gillian worked for manufacturing, banking and IT companies in the UK and Spain) and then a politician. The apprenticeship I did opened many doors for me, but that opportunity isn’t as available today as it should be to working-class people. I want to help change that.”
Gillian’s decision to become a politician can be traced back to an LBS lecture by Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice, in 2010. At the time, Gillian was taking the Sloan Masters in Leadership and Strategy. “I was inspired when listening to Lynda talk about how people were more likely to live longer, giving them time for two or three careers,” Gillian says.
“I had been in international business for 27 years and didn’t want to do the same thing for the next 27 years. So while working out what I wanted to do next, I decided to take the Sloan.”
The programme taught Gillian how leaders need to adapt to an ever-changing world. “What got you into the role of leader is no longer enough,” she says. “You have to change from being the smartest person in the room to coaching the smartest people in the room.”
Taking the Sloan was an opportunity to think about her own leadership style and the challenges facing today’s executives. “The 21st century leadership model is one where you’re constantly on show and connected through social media. There’s an expectation that you’ll be accessible, which is one of the things that puts people off going into politics.”
Despite the drawbacks, Gillian decided to pursue a career in politics after completing the Sloan. She says LBS prepared her for life as a politician and provided friends who offer alternative political views.
“For anyone studying at LBS, having a strong group within your stream is really important. They’re not only friends for life, but also people who you can discuss things with in confidence. I have a group of LBS friends I talk to about politics. They all have varying jobs, experiences, backgrounds and political views, which is ideal as they bring different perspectives.”