Anne Kiem: 'You are at least as good as those around you, even if they seem more confident'

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Anne Kiem is chief executive of the Association of Business Schools. She aims to improve the growth of business and the economy in the UK by connecting business and educators and is interested in students’ views on the effectiveness of financial education in contributing to financial inclusion.

Ms Kiem grew up in Australia and then trained as a teacher and taught maths in London before moving into finance. She has worked as a portfolio manager and a fixed-income strategist at Barclays Bank. Before joining the ABS, she was chief executive of the Institute of Financial Services at ifs University College.

In her spare time, Ms Kiem is an honorary steward at Westminster Abbey and enjoys listening to live music.

1. What is an average day at work like?

I like to be at my desk by 8am, partly because the tube is a little more civilised at that time, but also because it also gives me some quiet time to prepare for the day ahead. I have an open-door policy and anyone can come and speak to me about anything. I want to know what is going on. It means that anything might happen, but I like it like that. I also go and talk to people to see what is going on. I don’t want to be some faceless leader. I escape the building at lunchtime when I can. I think it is important to try to take some time out during the day to help me keep a perspective on what is going on.

2. Who inspires you?

I heard Joy Spence talk at a graduation ceremony a few years ago and she was brilliant. She came from a humble upbringing in Jamaica and went from being a chemistry teacher to becoming the first ever female rum master blender in the world. She has been Master Blender at J. Wray and Nephew in Jamaica for many years. But more than her amazing achievements, driven by her determination, she is also very amusing and modest, always looking to help others. She still teaches people about chemistry in her spare time because of her passion for the subject and her belief in the transformative potential of education.

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

I would try to shake things up a bit by asking people to articulate what would make working here better in an attempt to get people thinking as a collective rather than as individuals. I would give everyone business puzzles, maths challenges and reasoning problems to make them think outside their usual boxes. I would try to build a team spirit and a fun feeling of logic.

4. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

There are so many! Perhaps the biggest is to never be afraid to ask the question ‘Why?’ Some of the most intelligent and successful people I know don’t mind asking that question over and over again. So many things are as they are or done the way they are because that is the way they have always been, or how they have always been done. We should focus on what it is we are trying to achieve and then think again about how we best achieve it.

5. What is the worst job you have ever had?

Delivering newspapers - I was 19, studying at university in Australia and the distances are so large in many parts of Australia that a teenager on a bicycle method doesn’t really work. We drove an old VW beetle with the driver’s door removed to allow the driver enough space to throw the papers from the car. My job was to sit in the back and hand over the right paper and call out the addresses. We had to do it at 3am before the traffic became too heavy. It wasn’t difficult work, but to then go off to university and study partial differential equations was a bit surreal, and I confess I sometimes found it difficult to stay awake in lectures.

6. What advice would you give to women graduating this year from business school?

Be confident. You are at least as good as those around you, even if they seem more confident. If you made it to and through business school, you have a lot to offer. Believe in yourself. But remember you have a lot to learn. Get some experience and listen to those who have experience. You might disagree with what you hear, but you need to hear it. You will need to work hard and prove yourself, but so does everyone else.

7. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?

I don’t behave any differently. I have never really been conscious of being in male-dominated environments. I guess if I thought about it I would have said that most of my colleagues are male, but I am always myself and expect everyone to treat everyone else with respect. I think it is important to have a mix of people working together. All-female environments have their own difficulties.

8. What is the last book you read?

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. I read it while on holiday in Newfoundland. I like to read something connected with the place I am in when I am on holiday. It helps me develop a better feel for the character of a place and of its people. I read The Last Storytellers by Richard Hamilton when I was on holiday in Morocco. I don’t think it would have had as much impact if I hadn’t been there.

9. What are your top tips for networking?

Network everywhere. If you really want to network with someone, research them and their interests (and their politics) before you approach them at a random event. Think of interesting subjects in which you share an interest. Networks are everywhere, not just in business. The thing is to be interested and interesting without being pushy.

10. What are your future plans?

To build on the success of the ABS and leave my mark. I hope the ABS can become further established as a major contributor to the growth of business and the economy in the UK by connecting business and educators.

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