Kathryn Farmer is an MBA scholarship student at London Business School and was on the short list for the Women of the Future Awards, MBA Star category 2010. She grew up in Worcestershire in the UK and has a history degree from Girton College, Cambridge University.
Ms Farmer’s work experience to date includes a gap year after college at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), where she was the youngest test manager on the largest project in financial services and a period at Corven Consulting, prior to starting her MBA. After graduation, she will be moving to Australia to work for Boston Consulting Group.
Ms Farmer is a sports enthusiast and enjoys travelling, reading and spending time with friends.
1. What academic achievement are you most proud of to date?
Although not necessarily an academic achievement, I am incredibly proud to have been short-listed for the Women of the Future Awards MBA Star in 2010. This is a new category introduced by Pinky Lilani to recognise female MBA students of exceptional vision, talent and promise. I was incredibly honoured to be nominated and very humbled to feel such support from my peers, teachers and former colleagues.
2. When did you know you wanted to study for an MBA?
Having majored in history at university, I always knew that I would need to fill in the blanks in my business knowledge. A full-time MBA seemed to be the best route for me personally and one that was encouraged by several of my colleagues who had enjoyed their course. My goal was to challenge myself by learning new topics and also to really immerse myself in the whole business school experience. I chose to study at London Business School as it is a really diverse community and I find the course is helping me to develop alternative views on business through working with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, careers and experiences of global markets.
3. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?
Set your sights high. This is something that has been reinforced over time by various people but the first person (outside my family) to really say this to me was my history teacher at senior school. He was a very softly spoken but inspirational man who told me that I could achieve big things if I believed in myself. I remind myself of this when I worry that I might fail a stretch goal. This is not to fool myself into believing I can achieve everything, but because I will never know if I don’t at least try.
4. What would you do if you were dean of a business school for the day?
I have to admit I would probably change little of what our dean, Sir Andrew Likierman, does as I think he is a great example of a modern business school leader. Someone who is in touch with the student body, has a successful record as an academic and who can also ably represent the best interests of the school’s community externally. So, how to top that? I think I would really value just speaking to people and understanding their views on the school and what we could do to improve it. I think that this would be very meaningful when in a decision-making position. Oh – and I would give us bank holidays off too!
5. What is your biggest lesson learnt?
Don’t allow yourself to become complacent. When I look back at errors I have made or things I have failed in, I can see that a little bit of complacency made me lose focus on the end goal. It is enough to shock me into realising that I am not superwoman or that doing something before does not necessarily mean you can do it perfectly again. It serves to remind me that one must always work hard and not take things or people for granted.
6. What advice would you give to women in business?
Have confidence in your abilities. A lot of women, including myself at times, are too polite and mindful of hierarchy and, as a result don’t end up pushing their ideas through when they need to. It is important to take the opportunities to be heard and accounted for and to show others how you really think.
7. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?
Consultancy can be a very male-dominated environment but one which I didn’t find to be terribly difficult. In fact, some of my best mentors during my career prior to my MBA were men. The one tip I would give to other women (although it applies to everyone) is to be confident and speak up. Things will not come to those who hold back.
8. What is your favourite business book?
My boss at Corven gave me From Good to Great by Jim Collins one time when we were in Boston on business. We were staying in Harvard and it was the first real business book that I enjoyed reading. It seems appropriate to list this book as it got me thinking about my readiness for business school.
9. What is your favourite memory of school?
In my senior high school years, I really enjoyed debating and my sister and I became a bit of a ‘double act’. Competitions took us to different parts of the country and I got a real thrill from arguing a case I did not necessarily believe in. I enjoyed flipping an argument on its head and getting beneath the surface of the subject. I particularly loved the challenge of the closing speech when you had to summarise your case as well as make an impromptu criticism of the opposition’s argument.
10. What are your future plans?
Post graduation, I am joining Boston Consulting Group in their Sydney office. I am very excited about the move as it opens new doors for me. It is my first opportunity to live and work abroad for a long period of time and I am looking forward to working with new clients in different industries to those that I have worked with before.
Outside of work, I am looking forward to exploring a new part of the world and making the most of the outdoors lifestyle! Ultimately, I would like to continue to develop, learn from others and achieve my ambitions. I chose to do an MBA at this stage in my career to prove that I have the skills and capability required to take on senior management responsibilities. I hope one day that I will be able to translate this into running my own business.
Interview by Charlotte Clarke