Thinking of the first day you walked through the Merton Lodge arch, what was your first impression?
It was exactly as I thought it should be – I had very romantic notions of what Oxford would be like, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Even in those days it seemed steeped in the past – the Porter’s Lodge with the pigeonholes, the dining tables and benches, the eccentric tutors… but that gave it a hallowed feeling. As a Canadian, I was seeking out something that felt foreign to me, and yet comforting and home.
Do you have a particular memory that stands out from your time at Merton?
There are many – being the only person with a computer and a ‘brick’ phone and more importantly, a mini-fridge in the whole College, they used to call my room ‘Silicon Valley’. I remember once my printer broke and I asked John Carey if I could read my essay off the laptop and he looked quite alarmed and said that someone else could read their essay that day.
John Carey taught me to write. I remember him critiquing someone’s essay for being tentative and telling us, "Never say, ‘could be seen to be’ – it’s is, is, is." It wasn’t much fun for other student in that tutorial but I’ve never forgotten it. Be clear, be sure and don’t be apologetic about what you think. It was a great lesson for me as a female student.
The Time Ceremony was something wonderfully bizarre – do you still walk backwards around the quad in sub fusc when the clocks go back?
And I also remember trying to start an Environment Club and only two Fresher boys came along. The College wasn’t known for its activism. Though we did manage to boycott Nestlé coffee in the JCR. I’m hoping students today are more engaged with politics than we were. Our generation has lost a lot of time.
Tell us something about yourself that we would not know.
I spent a month during university living in a tent on a beach in Madagascar. Henry Weldon (fellow Mertonian) had organised a group of divers to help the Malagash researchers on a WWF project to map a coral reef. I didn’t have SCUBA qualifications, but I could speak a little French, so my job was translating what they’d seen for the scientists – though my fishy vocabulary was quite limited, I could stretch to ‘poisson d’ange’.
What tips would you give your younger self to prepare for the career you have achieved?
Don’t be afraid to fail and make mistakes. Spend as much time on the shop floor as you do with your nose in a book. My education was fundamental to my confidence as a female in business and to my career because it taught me academic rigour in developing a clear argument and articulating the evidence to support it. That’s what business strategy is about. The rest is all about people. Spending time at Oxford opened up the possibility of having fun with smart people. That’s what drives me to this day.
Describe Merton in three words.
History. Intellect. Excellence.