Listen to this article
Ginny Gibson is deputy dean of the University of Reading Henley Business School in the UK. She grew up in Toronto, Canada and studied at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario. After graduating, she won a scholarship to study a postgraduate programme in real estate at Reading. She went on to hold various roles at the university before becoming deputy dean, including associate dean for teaching and learning for the faculty of economics and social science.
1. Who inspires you?
I am inspired by women who have made it to the top of their industry. I had the pleasure of presenting Dame Alison Carnwath with her honorary doctorate from the University of Reading, of which she is an alumna. Alison’s career in investment banking and finance took her to the top of a number of organisations and she is currently the only female chairman of a FTSE 100 company, Land Securities. She is also a champion of women in business and has spoken out about what organisations need to do to retain and promote their women employees as future leaders.
2. What is an average day at work like?
I tend to get up at about 6:30am and am at my desk around 8:00am. I usually have time to respond to emails and get the day started. There are always a number of meetings to chair or attend as well as more informal catch ups with colleagues. Lunchtime is either in a meeting or chatting downstairs in the business school building. Afternoons, more of the same and then the evening can lead to a range of events from welcome dinners for new MBA students to keynote lectures that we host in London. All in all, my time is used pretty intensively and I couldn’t be without my very efficient PA!
3. How do you deal with pressure?
I need three key things to deal with pressure. The first is to keep a list of things I need to do. I still keep my list in a book (rather than electronically) as the act of writing seems to help tame the tasks. It is something I do at the start of each week to keep clear about what my priorities are and then keep it updated during the week. The second is to get regular exercise to let go of the stress. I go to the gym at weekends and try and do something during the week. The final thing is to get enough sleep. I am not one of those people who can survive on four hours sleep a night. I need at least seven hours to remain focused and productive.
4. What is your biggest lesson learnt?
Patience! I have lots of ideas and I often want things to happen quickly. But change takes time. You need to bring people with you and the organisational climate needs to be right. Sometimes, you need to sit on an idea for a few months before the time is right. Developing patience and tenacity to make things happen are essential for ensuring that things move forward in a positive way.
5. What advice would you give to women graduating this year from business school?
If you want to succeed you need to be known. That means not only must you perform well in your job but you need to be visible and therefore have to develop a network inside and outside the organisation. If you can find yourself a mentor – someone who you admire and who you feel you can be honest with and seek advice from. That can prove to be invaluable in helping to navigate through the politics of organisations. Also, try to find someone who might be able to act as a sponsor – someone more senior who can speak up for you and recommend you for new projects or roles to help you develop your career. Building professional relationships at work is essential and as a woman you are likely to have the necessary skills you need to do this effectively. Trust those instincts and don’t be afraid to ask.
6. What are your top tips for networking?
Sometimes people feel that networking requires particular skills. Actually it is probably more about confidence and an interest in people. First, you need to remember that in new situations, most people feel somewhat ill-at-ease. You just need to drive through that – put on that smile and start a conversation. Second, as well as being a good talker, networking is about being a good listener – taking a real interest in the person who you are in conversation with.
To build the relationship, you need to remember some key things about the people in your network – that might be something about their role, like a challenging assignment they were dealing with or something more personal like their interest in travelling. In either case, this helps to put some glue into the relationship. I am a member of some networks both formal and informal. I find that it is often the more informal ones which prove to be most valuable but it takes more effort to keep these together.
7. What is your favourite memory from your time at Richard Ivey?
Business school was an intense experience – a real work hard, play hard environment. I’m not sure I would call this my favourite memory but it certainly had an impact. Each week we had a case study assignment to do over a 48-hour period. I remember many a late-night discussion with my study group arguing the nuances of the case, writing the report by hand and then either typing up or getting it to a professional typist and finally going into the business school to submit it in the assignment box before noon – after which it would be locked. On Saturday night, someone on the programme would have a house party …and then we were back in class on Monday at 8:30am, reviewing three new case studies. This was a great preparation for the world of work – working in teams, delivering to deadlines and writing succinct reports – and it has served me well throughout my career.
8. What academic achievement are you most proud of?
I am probably most proud of being given the Significant Contribution to Corporate Real Estate by CoreNet, the industry body for those working on the occupier side of the real estate sector. Developing ideas and models around the effective management of real estate as a key organisational resource is my core area of research. I have written many papers, undertaken a wide range of research contracts and developed a postgraduate programme to support professionals in enhancing their practice. It was very rewarding to have my work recognised as having had real impact. I think that is what most academics in business school hope may happen, but I was one of the lucky ones to have been recognised.
9. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?
Not sure whether I would do things much differently. In any case, life is full of surprises and serendipity. I found myself in the UK after applying for a scholarship on a whim. If I hadn’t done that I probably would still be in Toronto working in the one of the big corporate companies. In the UK after my masters, I found myself applying for academic positions following being asked too many times in interviews with real estate firms if I could type – the answer was yes but only because I had been a computer analyst, as I reminded them!
When at Reading, I found myself as one of the first associate deans within the university for a new faculty of economics and social science – but only because I asked. You make your own luck, or at least influence it, and my career has had lots of interesting opportunities and challenges.
10. What is your plan B?
Sometimes I think I should have been an engineer – but I now have a son who is pursuing engineering as a career. Everything comes around!