Ten Questions

April 15, 2013 12:15 am

Queen Nworisara-Quinn

Queen Nworisara Quinn

Queen Nworisara Quinn: "I think it is important for women to feel comfortable trusting their instincts in the workplace"

Queen Nworisara-Quinn is a PhD student in management studies at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School in the UK. She is also a graduate of the school’s MPhil in innovation, strategy and organisational behaviour, which she obtained as a Gates Cambridge Scholar.

Focusing on how perceptions influence the flow of capital towards frontier African markets, Ms Nworisara-Quinn hopes to develop research that will help improve access to capital for African companies and entrepreneurs. She is also the co-founder of The Cambridge Africa Business Network Conference, a student and alumni-led initiative that promotes dialogue about business in Africa while working to encourage best practices in business leadership.

Ms Nworisara-Quinn was born in Nigeria and studied international politics at Penn State University and public policy at Harvard University. Her first job was as a programme manager at an education non-profit organisation called The Fund for American Studies, she then went on to work as an associate at Citigroup and joined the African Development Bank through their young professionals programme, working as an investment officer.

In her spare time, Ms Nworisara-Quinn enjoys pilates, hiking, film, travel and west African and French cuisine.

1. Who are your business influences?

Oprah Winfrey, because she seems to strike the balance of being incredibly successful in business while aspiring towards spiritual enlightenment. It’s fascinating to hear the anecdotes and lessons learnt from her experiences in the media industry. She was recently quoted saying: “For anybody who is thinking about taking a risk, you have to always come back to: what are your fundamental principles, what are your fundamental beliefs about yourself and what is your intention?” I think that level of self-awareness and reflection is critical for decision-making and serves as a good basis for exercising leadership.

2. When did you know you wanted to study for a PhD?

While at the African Development Bank, I was part of an incredible team that shaped my beliefs about the importance of great leadership. I learnt early on that leadership can be riddled with volatility and it is important to remain focused on the mission of the organisation and the clients we intend to serve. Even as we tried to create the mechanisms to promote economic prosperity, we had to always remember that “dignity was more important to the human spirit than wealth” – which is a quote by Jacqueline Novagrantz, founder of the Acumen Fund. This experience inspired me to examine financial organisations that attempt to achieve both social and commercial objectives and how this affects their performance and organisational development.

3. What academic achievement are you most proud of to date?

I am proud to have been awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to pursue my postgraduate studies. Only 90 postgraduate scholarships are awarded each year and I feel extremely fortunate to be among a group of students who are equally passionate and committed to making a positive difference in the world and improving the lives of others.

4. What would you do if you were dean of a business school for the day?

With only a day to work with, I would focus on articulating a bold agenda of key priorities, which would include developing new partnerships with African business schools in an effort to promote research and case studies that are inclusive of the challenges faced by managers in frontier markets. I would also prioritise the recruitment of more female faculty members.

5. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

That sometimes the most disappointing thing in life can be the greatest lesson and can serve as a catalyst for profound growth and transformation. Our mindset and state of consciousness is what determines if we are fulfilling our destiny and living our life’s purpose – it’s how we choose to respond to the challenges in our life that propels us to another level of personal growth.

6. Have you even been to any workshops/seminars that have helped you in your career?

I took a course at the Kennedy School on leadership taught by Dean Williams. One of the key lessons from that course related to the power of small groups. We often fail to realise that most big decisions are made in small groups. The course gave me a sense of awareness and understanding about group dynamics and the influence that one can have as an individual in exercising leadership and shaping the dynamics of a group. Even by simply having an acute awareness of body language and attitudes, one can begin to assess the consciousness of the group, especially during moments of key decision making.

7. What advice would you give to women in business?

I think it is important for women to feel comfortable trusting their instincts in the workplace. Often, we may identify issues or raise questions that may be unpopular but could be incredibly important. We have to feel comfortable trusting our gut and begin to take risks. Having a champion or two within the organisation can make this easier, so it is also very important to build allies.

8. What is the last book you read?

Finance and the Good Society by Robert Shiller. I enjoyed reading about the historical significance and social utility finance has had in our society. The book has an interesting subtext that encourages young people to enter the financial industry as a way to improve it. However, it raises questions for me about whether fundamental cultural change can really come from within the financial industry or whether it will require more external shocks.

9. What is your favourite business book?

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It was fascinating to read about the systematic biases we all have in our decision-making. I would like to explore how his research findings can be broadly applied to better understand investment behaviour and decision making in organisations.

10. What is your life philosophy?

The quote by Henry David Thoreau, the American philosopher, sums it up nicely: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”

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