Network - Alumni

OWL Community has a diverse and dynamic membership base, with representation on every continent and across a variety of industries.  Profiles of some of our global alumnae are below.

2013-2014 Events

1. Personal Development

McKinsey Centred Leadership Workshop

Women's Leadership OBN invited speakers from McKinsey's Women Matter. Since 2007, McKinsey’s Women Matter research has explored the role women play in the global workplace, their experiences and impact in senior-executive roles, and the performance benefits that companies gain from gender diversity. At the event, we heard findings from McKinsey’s research and participate in a session to discuss a new approach to leadership aimed at helping women become more self-confident and effective business leaders ('Centered Leadership'). 

Guest speakers: 

Smaranda Gosa-Mensing, Professional Development Manager and Head of UK Learning at McKinsey's London office

Ioana Parsons, Associate Principal in McKinsey's London office








Ascent Mentorship Programme

The Ascent Mentoring Programme is a one-on-one mentoring programme that pairs current Saïd Business School students and Oxford alumnae in the early stages of their career with experienced and successful Oxford University alumnae. For more information, see Ascent Mentorship Programme

MBA-MFE Mentorship Programme

Women's Leadership OBN organised a one-on-one mentoring programme that pairs current female MFE students with MBA students to help them build career path and share insights in the job application process. 


2. Social Equity

Negotiations and Mediations Workshop

A study of Carnegie Mellon MBA graduates found that the starting salary of male MBA graduates was 7.6% higher than female MBA graduates from the same program.  Research suggests that negotiation may account for a significant portion of the difference.  57% of the male graduates negotiated the initial salary offer, however only 7% of the women graduates negotiated.  The students that did negotiate were able to increase their starting salary by 7.4%. 

iwill and the Women’s Leadership OBN hosted a workshop on negotiation and mediation, and learned about the skills to close such gap. 

Guest speakers: 

Mary Jeanne Gaffney Tufano - A US trained attorney and a former Administrative Law Judge with the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission. 

George Bell - A current SBS MBA and a turnaround and restructuring consultant.

Small Business and Big Data Workshop

In parallel to the school programme (Entrepreneurship Project and GOTO), our OBN hosted a workshop on ‘Big Data and Small Business’ with a vision to both maximise the students' personal network and being a resilient entrepreneur. 

Guest speakers: 

Sophie Sparkes, Associate Analyst at Axicom 

Daniel Vasquez, Founder of Vasquez & Co. 


3. Global Impact

iwill event: Inspiring Values

Our OBN collaborated with iwill to organise a small talk seminar on Inspiring Values. At the event, we explored how values are the guiding forces in our lives through the eyes of inspirational women who have excelled in various fields. The speakers had shared practical insights on how their principles have helped shape their careers and ultimately guided their trajectory. 

Guest speakers:

Sarah Dunwell, Director of Social & Environmental Affairs, Company Shop (keynote speaker)

Catherine Quinn, COO and Associate Dean, Saïd Business School

Morgan H. McKenney, Global Business Head, Cross-Currency Payments, Treasury and Trade Solutions, Citi

Angela Darby, MBA Student and Olympian


Powershift 2014

Members of the Women's Leadership OBN was invited to attend the Power Shift: The Oxford Forum for Women in the World Economy that took place on 27-29 May 2014 at SBS. Power Shift is an annual symposium on 'women as economic actors in the global marketplace'. This year, the inaugural Forum was centred around the theme of Women in Finance. 

Gertrude Wong, Senior Manager, Sales Enablement EMEAR,
Cisco Systems

MBA 2005-06, Linacre College  |  Barcelona

You have worked for some of the largest corporations in the world – Cisco and – and in some unique geographies.  What do you think is the most significant operational lesson you have learned that has made you so successful at both companies?

One of the most important operational lessons I learned early in my career is to not fall into the trap of making assumptions. For example, don’t assume that even though a project seems like an obvious choice and has positive ROI, everyone who needs to approve it will do so.

When I was working at Wal-Mart, I ran a 3-month trial in 100 stores to place a plastic holder of phone card and shopping cards at the checkout area (one of the most valuable real-estates in the store). Financially this project was profitable but a central committee ultimately did not approve it. Although I had support from a few of the people in the decision-making committee, I should have done more to convince everyone in the committee, in advance, rather than assuming that everyone would approve because it was financially attractive.

I learned from this experience that when I needed to get approval in Cisco for the business case to expand operations into a new country, I would go to every department (e.g. sales, finance, legal, real-estate) beforehand, understand and overcome potential disagreements. It is important to gain buy-in before going through the official approval process. This way when it is time for approval, everyone is already on board.

What are the biggest challenges in creating resilient operations at scale for diverse sales teams?

The biggest challenge is finding the right talent with the right skills to lead who shares the same values as the company. This is the same whether it is Wal-Mart, Cisco, or any other company that operates at a large scale.

One of the biggest challenges at Wal-Mart was finding people who could manage all the new stores globally. These people are the face of the company to the public and will lead a team of employees. Companies usually run into problems when one of the leaders in a country or regional sales area doesn’t act in a way that represents the company’s core values. When they do, that’s when the company will do well in the long-term.

In partnering with the sales leader in Cisco covering Africa, for example, we created a development program for general managers, bringing them to corporate San Jose to speak with senior executives of the company. We had given the keys of the local office to these general managers, but they had limited experience of what the company really stood for. The development program experience really helped the general managers know first hand what the company expects and made them better able to instil the same values into their local employees.

How can the Oxford alumni community support what you’re doing?

In my heart I am an entrepreneur. That spirit has made me successful in the companies I have worked with because I tend to challenge the status quo and execute diligently. I wonder how that translates to the entrepreneurial world. Would I succeed?

The Oxford alumni community has many like-minded and experienced people who are willing to help and to connect. For example from the Oxford Ascent Mentoring Programme I have met two amazingly successful women. My college Linacre also has been very active in connecting alumni worldwide.

What do you think is Oxford’s best-kept secret?

All the specialists in every field imaginable. The university provides a very strong academic foundation but at the same time supports students reading and specializing in a variety of fields. I have met many students who are specialists from the Roman Olympics, to specialists in a nearly extinct bird variety in the Amazon jungle. These specialists advance our knowledge not only within the Oxford community, but also for everyone globally.

Tell us something about you that is not on your CV.

I am a Chinese soap opera junkie. I think it is a modern form of reading Jane Austen novels (I am an Austen fan).

When do you feel that you are most yourself?

When I am with my son, William, the fun side of me comes out.

How would you describe your leadership style in three words?

Authentic, Focused, Energetic.


Cynthia Sweeney Barnes, Former Managing Director,
HSBC Global Asset Management

Executive MBA 2009-10, Lincoln College  |  London

Please briefly describe your most recent leadership role as Managing Director and Global Head of Sovereigns and Supranationals at HSBC Asset Management.

My role and that of the team was to meet the investment needs of national government bodies such as sovereign wealth funds, central banks, national pension systems and so forth.  Our clients came from just about every corner of the World, each with different needs and objectives.  In addition to managing reserves and other pools of national savings we worked to provide training and skills enhancement to help expand and improve the experience and expertise of our clients, often nationals of the country who might not always have the access to or the same advantages that many of us from G10 countries often take for granted.

Have you seen a significant shift in the way sovereign/supranational clients prefer to manage investment risk after the global financial crisis?

The global financial crisis has had numerous by-products one of which has been the suppression of interest rates in developed economies coupled with the extraordinary measures taken by developed market central banks in their effort to instil stability domestically and into the wider global financial system.  At first, sovereigns were less concerned about low interest rates provided their investments had the lowest perceived level of risk coupled with highest levels of liquidity.  This manifested itself in a so-called ‘flight to safety’ to US treasuries and the US dollar.  Gold also benefited due to its perceived safe haven status though some were also attracted to the asset class speculatively.

That said, investors, particularly those with hundreds of millions or even billions to place in the markets at any one time, cannot sit in low or effectively negatively yielding investments (due to higher levels of inflation) in perpetuity.  Many sovereigns have started to move into higher returning instruments such as emerging market bonds or equities with a history of high and sustained dividend payments.  Others have expanded further into alternative investments particularly property and infrastructure as a hedge against inflation as well as a counter to the low yielding portion of their portfolios.

The Sovereigns and Supranationals group was newly created when you were asked to lead it.  What do you think it takes to be successfully entrepreneurial in a huge multi-national like HSBC compared to smaller organisations?

In many respects entrepreneurship is entrepreneurship.  You need to be resourceful, creative, high energy, focused yet flexible.  It’s not always easy to be nimble and entrepreneurial in a big company but certainly possible.  It’s easy to get subsumed in a lot of ‘noise’ that really isn’t relevant to the business you are trying to build.  It’s important to sail through this while determining which attributes of the parent company are best leveraged and which are best not, all the while keeping an eye on the baseline requirements of your employer around, for example, return on investment and the mode of your operating model.

You have had a long career in asset management to date.  How have you seen the relationship between asset owners and asset managers develop since the industry boom of the 1980s?

I started my career in the second half of the 80s; a fantastic time to join this booming industry which, despite some less than proud exceptions, has generally helped millions achieve their financial and life goals.  In the past there was less information and experience on both sides of the table.  For example, investors tended to focus on returns and less about the risks that were being taken or the costs involved.  Today, there is much more transparency and access to detailed information which is beneficial to all parties.  As a result, investors are in a better position to articulate their requirements to their managers and the industry responds whether in the form of low priced passive products or value for money higher risk and return options.

How did you know it was the right time to leave certain roles over time and take up the new opportunities ahead of you?

All roles or our time in them have a certain life cycle and it’s inevitably better to leave rather than to overstay. Knowing when one is ready to move on is not always obvious but at the end of the day we each need to be the owners of our own careers.   I would always prefer to be the architect of my next move rather than waiting for an opportunity to appear though, of course, they sometimes do.  I used to think if I did a really good job that it would be enough to advance but it’s not always enough.  You have to raise your hand, put yourself out there, and not assume that you will be the first name that comes to mind when others may be thrusting themselves forward. 

In my career, I have also reached out to create new roles by imagining where I could add value in an organization and putting myself and a plan forward. Sometimes taking up new opportunities can mean a career change or even a career break.  For me, I took the decision and was fortunate enough to be in a position to leave the workforce for a period of time to be at home with my young family.  However, I have kept my skills and contacts up to date.  After all, a career break is not retirement!

What is helpful advice for women who are peaking in their careers at the same time as having children?

In my experience there is rarely an ‘ideal’ time to combine family and career.  I suppose I would only urge other professional women to do what feels right for them in the context of their home and professional life.  Make your own definition of what constitutes success both as a parent and a professional and use this as your benchmark. 

I would also try to think in the round about the work day and environment.  It’s a lot easier and accepted than it used to be to work flexibly whether that means joining a meeting virtually or sending emails at a time of day (or night) that works best for you.  Thinking and working laterally isn’t a luxury when you’re Mum, it’s a necessity!  I wouldn’t opt out of the office environment if possible though.  A lot of information is exchanged and networks built and fostered through face time.  Also in thinking about maintaining career momentum, it is an old adage but true nevertheless that when one is out of sight one is also often out of mind...

What's next after HSBC and how could the Oxford community help?

I am returning to the workforce following a break at home with my children and am eager to put my professional and international experience plus my MBA back to work in the context of a suitable full-time role or part-time position in conjunction with an independent board role.

One does hear how women are underrepresented on boards though it doesn't appear, based on my experience to date, that the obstacle is in a lack of qualified female candidates.  Rather, it seems that the key obstacle for women getting their first board role is getting their first board role. One way the Oxford community can help this cause more broadly is to support strong women candidates who tick all the boxes apart from prior board experience while providing support to ease the transition from management or academia to an independent directorship role.

What has been the greatest challenge that your time at Oxford helped you overcome?

Having spent so much time in one industry it can sometimes feel that you’re not suitably qualified to work anywhere else.  Oxford helped showed me that how one thinks and the ability to apply one’s experience and skills in multiple scenarios can be much more valuable than time served in a particular sector or industry.

Tell us something about you that is not on your CV.

I trained as a safari guide in Kenya’s Masai Mara just for the love of the experience and that most spectacular place.

Are you:

  • always too early or too late to catch a flight?  Never too late but almost always later than I ought to be.
  • introverted or extroverted?  Both!  It depends on the circumstances.  When I’m in a business setting where I am confident about my knowledge and experience I’m almost always extroverted but put me at a local village tea and I tend to clam up!
  • an early bird or a night owl?  Both!  I challenge anyone with two children under 5 to have control over their sleeping patterns! 


Trudi Lang, Associate Director, Strategic Foresight,
World Economic Forum

DPhil 2007-12 (Management Studies), Green Templeton College  |  Geneva

Please tell us about your work with the Strategic Foresight team.

 The Strategic Foresight team convenes and supports stakeholders across sectors to better understand and address complex, strategic problems.  The work is inter-organizational and multistakeholder in terms of governance and participation, and provides a space in which communities, common understanding and trust can emerge.  Beyond creating awareness about plausible alternative scenarios, questioning mental models and improving the robustness of decision-making, the work is useful in developing a systemic understanding of challenges.

Your DPhil research, at a simplified level, focused on managing complexity in turbulent environments using scenario planning.  How do you translate your research into practice in your current role?

My research also focused on the building of social capital and the value of the cognitive dimension – the creation of new shared systems of meaning among a group of people – in leading this building.  The insights from my research about how scenario planning can build this cognitive dimension have been very helpful for me as I work with stakeholders to create mutual understanding about complex issues.

In which areas do you focus in the Strategic Foresight team?

Over the last five months, I have been fortunate to have been involved in projects exploring the future economic development of Russia, the future role of civil society and the future of sustainable health systems.

Given the accelerated turbulence that exists in many economies, what in your opinion are the top three issues today that could benefit most from scenario planning?

  • Future models of economic growth
  • Regionalism versus globalism
  • Equality of opportunity 

The Strategic Foresight team’s work is interorganisational and multistakeholder.  What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced working across several boundaries?

Understanding who the stakeholders are in relation to an issue – and how they are to be engaged - is absolutely essential.  Good mapping of major stakeholders at the beginning of a project can go a long way towards minimising problems of working across boundaries.  In addition, providing time and interactive opportunities is important so that people across sectors can develop a shared language and mutual understanding of an issue.

What past experiences do you think best prepared you for your current role?

I have worked or been involved in all sectors – government, private, not for profit and universities.  This has given me a good sense of how each operates (and what is important to them) as well as how they relate to each other.

What is one current professional challenge you are looking for help with?

Languages!  Working in an international environment it is helpful to have some diversity in the languages spoken. 

What’s your favourite memory from Oxford?

The people I met – friends, colleagues, faculty and others through their networks.  I think Oxford is an amazing place for the people it attracts.

Where would you be if you weren’t responding to this?

It not telling you about myself, I would be walking around Lake Geneva.

Tell us something about you that is not on your CV.

I would love to learn to fly.

When do you feel that you are most yourself?

Doing something I love with people I care a lot about.


Christie George, Director, New Media Ventures

MBA 2007-08, Harris Manchester College  |  San Francisco

Please describe what you do?

New Media Ventures is the first US network of investors putting money into technology startups that create progressive political change.  I play a kind of matchmaking role between promising startups and investors looking to support companies with high growth potential that are also making a difference.  I’m also a cofounder of LoudSauce, a crowdfunded advertising platform that helps spread ideas that matter.

Tell us more about the vision that is driving you – the intersection between media and progressive change seems like a unique investment theme?

I’ve always been interested in media.  Before I came to Oxford, I was a film distributor for several years, and I’ve long been interested in how media shapes the way we think.  While I was at Oxford, I became more and more interested in how things work at the earliest stages of an enterprise: everything from financing to early growth.  Technology has disrupted politics in many ways over the years.  I moved back to the US two years before the 2012 presidential election.  And the timing was perfect to put my passion for media together with new skills to experiment toward a unique investment approach: political impact investment.

What's the most inspiring deal you've worked on?

Our network is just getting started with investments, so I’m largely inspired by the story our portfolio tells as a whole.  We support both non-profit and for-profit startups, which is relatively unique.

While we look for startups that leverage technology and new media, what that looks like is pretty diverse: Upworthy, one of the fastest growing media companies of all time, is looking to make meaningful stories go viral; Nationalfield, which also operates in the UK, has innovated performance management software; companies like SumofUs and UltraViolet are literally creating new movements from the ground up, around corporate accountability and gender equality, respectively.  It’s pretty inspiring to help support these efforts at the earliest stages.

What were the lessons from your time at Women Make Movies that prompted you to go the B-school route?

I saw some phenomenal content while I was working at Women Make Movies.  But there’s a relatively limited audience for independent films.  I wasn’t sure if that was a cultural issue, a context issue, a business issue or something else.  I thought business school might be a way of figuring out the answers.  Or at least figuring out how to ask the right questions. It turned out to be the best decision I ever made – both personally and professionally.

Why San Francisco and the Bay Area?

There’s a culture of innovation that permeates everything from technology to the arts.  It’s also a highly collaborative environment.  There’s not a lot of people saying, “No, that would never work.” It’s more like, “Let’s try it.”  The combination of innovation and a willingness to experiment makes it a pretty compelling place to live and work.

What is one specific way that the Oxford alumni community can support what you’re doing?

We already work with some outstanding women entrepreneurs and investors, but I’d love to see more – on both the investor and the entrepreneur side.  I’d also love to see more traditional investors getting actively involved in both the impact space and the startup arena.

What’s your favourite memory from Oxford?

My MBA Strategic Consulting Project! With my classmates Lindsay Miller, Alyson Goodner and Mitsuihiro Saito, I spent the summer in Tanzania with a social enterprise called APOPO, which trains rats for humanitarian purposes such as mine action and tuberculosis detection. It was by far the best experience of my MBA. I got to put into practice everything I had learned on the course and got to know three classmates in a much deeper way.

What keeps you awake at night?

Episodes of The Wire.

Are you an early bird or a night owl?

A night owl that is making the slow and painful transition to early bird now that I live on the West Coast!


Catherine Berman, Senior Vice President, Entrepreneur Programs, Astia

MBA 2005-06, New College  |  San Francisco

What’s the most interesting start-up you’ve seen recently?  And the most unusual?

Most interesting: Waze, a crowed-based navigation and traffic app. You can avoid traffic as Waze pools from real-time community driving patterns to provide drivers the optimal route.  I have used this in both Silicon Valley and Los Angeles – absolutely brilliant.

Most unusual: Fresh Takes Kitchen.  A very interesting model that addresses the issue of obesity in low-income communities using an innovative distribution model.  A better approach to the “healthy” fast food concept.

Why do you work to promote women’s entrepreneurship rather than entrepreneurship in general?

I encourage entrepreneurship in general as I believe currently we tap into a fraction of our creative energy to solve real world problems.  I offer counsel to both men and women as I enjoy helping others pursue their big vision.

My current focus on women in entrepreneurship is a product of the issue at hand: women access less than 10% of venture capital and angel investment globally. This prevents women from pursuing high-growth business opportunities and stifles our innovation pipeline.  Women are launching businesses at an increasingly high frequency but the success rates are disappointing.  How can we provide the access to expertise, capital and networks to help women succeed?  These are sharp women that can and will succeed.  If I can help break down some of the hurdles that prevent their success, I am happy to do so.

What do you argue is unique to women’s entrepreneurship?

It is interesting.  I know we often focus on the difference between a man and a woman entrepreneur but there are actually some striking similarities.  I know the data has shown us that high-growth women entrepreneurs are not much different than their male counterparts.  High-growth woman founders take risks, build teams, and pursue big opportunities.

Some of the differences I have found stem from both learnings through Astia and my own experiences working with women entrepreneurs.  Women typically self-assess differently, often over-preparing and under-promoting themselves. I also find that a large number of women entrepreneurs pursue opportunities that solve a problem they are intimately familiar with, something they believe has meaning.  This creates an exciting pipeline of business ideas with a strong mission or public good. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of women pursuing ventures that are pure money-making schemes. Regardless of the venture, all of these women generally bring passion, focus and an ability to collaborate to the table.

Do you believe entrepreneurs are born or that people can become entrepreneurs?

I believe people can become entrepreneurs, but there are certainly some that seem to have a particular talent for creating and driving a vision.  Those that grow into entrepreneurship, I have found, tend to work hard and learn from other successful entrepreneurs to adopt some of those patterns and thought processes.  For all entrepreneurs, it comes down to execution.  At Astia, I see inspiring business ideas every day.  The question becomes – is this the team that can execute?

You’ve had opportunities to work in India, Israel, and Central and South America – what common observations can you make about entrepreneurs in these regions?

Common themes include incredible drive and amazing resourcefulness.  When you don’t have a sophisticated entrepreneurial ecosystem at your fingertips, you need to make the best of what is there and drive harder.  I have been amazed by entrepreneurs in Israel who can switch from working in a structured environment (the military) to working in a loose, creative start-up environment.  I have been inspired by Latin American entrepreneurs who build incredibly creative solutions to solve the societal problems that the often corrupt governments will not address.

These entrepreneurs remind us that you don’t need to go to a top MBA school or know a famous venture capitalist to solve a real problem. Their reach may be local but their impact is impressive.

What is one way that the Oxford alumni community can support what you’re doing?

Astia is always looking to bring on new community members that interested in women-led innovation.  If you are an expert/professional, investor or high-growth entrepreneur, I encourage you to get involved! 

Where are you when you are filling this in?  Where would you be if you weren’t doing this?

On my couch in my home in California.  If not completing this, I would be on the floor upstairs, playing with my son, Paolo.

Tell us something about you that is not on your CV.

I am quite playful.  I believe in keeping a youthful perspective on the world – we often take ourselves too seriously.  Some of the best ideas come from letting go and being open to the outlandish.

Founded in 1999 in Silicon Valley, Astia is an innovative global not-for-profit organization that propels women's full participation as entrepreneurs and leaders in high-growth businesses, fueling innovation and driving economic growth.  Astia offers programs for high-growth start-ups that deliver results. 

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