Lectures, Workshops & Keynote Speakers
We are delighted that so many alumnae choose to return to School to talk to current students about their lives and careers, and to run workshops on subjects as diverse as Medicine, Life Coaching, Finance, Artificial Intelligence, Computing & Maths, studying for an Arts degree, degree-level Apprenticeships, and so much more. It adds real value to the girls’ educational experience, and the sort of first-hand insight and breadth of knowledge that teachers simply cannot offer.
We are also honoured to host Old Girls as our Guest Speaker on Prizegiving and Commemoration day. It speaks volumes that we do not need to look beyond our own alumnae group to find superb speakers who are inspirational and accessible, and demonstrate the reward of ambition, hard work and determination.
We have hosted Fiona Sperry (MGC 1988 Leaver), a BAFTA nominated computer games entrepreneur to give the OGA Lecture in November; 10 Old Girls at the Careers Fair, including Mel Bles (MGC 1996), fashion photographer and Sarah Haywood (St James’s 1981), a global leader in event and wedding planning, who both gave talks; Ellie Hatt (2016), studying to be a Dentist at Liverpool University; and Caitlin Hughes (MGC 1998), CEO of Magnum Photos and non-executive Director of Juventus Football Club, who was our Guest Speaker at Prizegiving 2020. We are also delighted to have had as speakers, Sophie Grant (Mills, MGC 1999) in 2021, Kate Ferry (Kirkland, MGC 1991) in 2022 and Imogen Edwards-Jones (MGC 1986) in 2023.
Thank you to all Old Girls who volunteer their time in this way. It is much appreciated.
- ALISON ROBB - MSJ - 2010
- VICKY JONES - MGC - 1996
- FIONA SPERRY - MGC - 1988
- SUE GARRARD - MGC - 1978
Alison Robb presented a talk about her career during 'Pudding Club' on 13 January 2023. It was important as it gave insights into the possible opportunities we will have in the future. The key messages Alison expressed were the importance of making contacts, being passionate and to persevere.
To start, Alison talked about her time at Malvern St James and how she was still in close contact with her school friends, meeting up with them regularly for days out and dinners. It was fantastic to see a great example of MSJ friendship and how it can last through so many stages of people's lives.
After leaving school, Alison went to Durham University to read Law. However, she wasn't sure Law was the profession for her, so decided to look for internships in companies where she could gain a broader experience. In the meantime, she also decided to take time out to travel South America and gain invaluable life experience.
Starting her career
Upon her return, Alison applied and was successful in gaining an internship at Coutts and found she loved working there so much that she joined the company on a permanent basis as an Executive Assistant to the CEO. This meant she worked closely with the Senior Leadership Team, providing great contacts for her ongoing career development.
After this role, Alison became a member of the Strategy Team looking at processes and procedures. She noticed there was a gap in the company when it came to policies on sustainability. Upon raising this issue, Alison was given the opportunity to become Head of Sustainability and, despite this being a completely different role from what she was used to, she was hugely successful in driving the company’s sustainability mission and earned Coutts sustainability award.
After being in the Head of Sustainability role for around three years, Alison decided it was time to go back to a customer-facing part of the business. She now works as a Wealth Manager and is thoroughly enjoying it.
What we learnt
It was inspirational to hear how well Alison has progressed professionally. She is passionate, willing to seek opportunities and perseveres. In addition, she reminded us that it is also important to have fun and make the most of having time off as she demonstrated by taking time to travel South America after her degree.
Alison's talk concluded with a lot of questions about internships, gap years and interviews, on which Alison gave great advice. It was a fascinating talk, and it gave me many tips about expanding my career in the future.
- Written by Phoebe, OGA Prefect (Year 12)
Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway – inspiration from an Old Girl
The Old Girls’ Association was thrilled to welcome Old Girl Vicky Jones (MGC 1996) back to school recently. Vicky, a Life Coach, flew in from her home in Sydney to give an empowering and inspirational talk about creating a mindset for success and wellbeing.
Vicky is a graduate of Oxford Brookes University. In 2014, she swapped her career of 15 years in the media industry to follow her passion to inspire and empower individuals to be the best they can be. She does this through transformational coaching, mentoring, facilitation, keynote speaking and training programs. With a BSc in Biology and a strong interest in neuroscience she is fascinated by human behaviour and its impact on peak performance.
We took some time out with Vicky to find out more about her time at school and the journey she’s been on since leaving…
Questions by Jenny Gallagher, OGA Prefect (Year 13)
What do you remember from your time at Malvern Girls’ College?
The friendships. I met my best friend (Philly King) on my first day at MGC – we’re godmother to each other’s children now. I also learnt a lot from being in a dorm (in Ivydene) of 21 girls, especially as some of them were three years older than me. MGC was a nurturing environment and I have really good memories of being there.
When you left MGC, you went on to study a science degree. Can you tell us about your university experience?
I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I left school so I decided to do a degree I knew I’d enjoy. I went to Oxford Brookes and studied Biology and Environmental Science. I worked really hard and got a 2:1. I think it’s really important to follow what you’re passionate about. Just like MGC, I made friends for life at university, as well as playing lots of lacrosse (which I did a lot of at school too).
After university you went into the media industry for 15 years. Did you enjoy it and can you tell us about moving from London to Sydney?
My first job was in Advertising. It was exciting and daunting at the same time, with lots of responsibility. I would always put my hand up to do things that other people wouldn’t and as a result, I was running a department and training senior members of the organisation within a year. Always be open to any opportunity and always take on more than your job description as this can lead to other opportunities. Richard Branson says he always hires the attitude because skills can be learnt.
Sitting in Leicester Square in London one rainy February day, I decided to apply for a working visa to Australia. It soon came through and I was heading to the other side of the world. I worked my way up at Fox Studios and became an Account Director. I loved the diversity of my job – and the glamour! I often went to red carpet events and film premieres, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Justin Timberlake, Jack Black and Ben Stiller. It was a really fun environment to work in.
You underwent quite a dramatic career change to become a Life Coach. What inspired this and what do you get from the job personally?
I changed career in 2014 after losing my brother suddenly. Whilst grieving our loss, I went in search of a more meaningful career. I considered going into teaching as I always wanted to give back through education.
I began researching life coaching, quickly realising it ticked off multiple passions of mine in one amazing career. I could work in challenging and dynamic environments; use my natural ability to inspire and motivate; and incorporate my love of science into my work – all of our actions are driven by our biology after all.
I have never been happier and I get a deep sense of fulfilment knowing that I am able to help people transform their lives on a daily basis. I now run regular group workshops across Australia, as well as having the flexibility to spend more time with my daughter, and family in the UK.
Why do you think it’s important for people and firms to have the kind of self-awareness that you teach? What benefits does it bring?
95% of the journey is about self-awareness and it’s empowering to have self-knowledge. When you know your true authentic strengths, you can be yourself. This is important for everyone. The idea of self-awareness is not a new one – it was Socrates who said, “know thyself”. It’s about investing in yourself. The most successful leaders are those who continue to grow on a personal level.
You have an array of testimonials singing your praises. Why do you think people value life coaching and the skills you teach?
With coaching, it’s about building trust with a client and being a best friend to them. As their coach you can tell them things that their friends and family may not say. It’s about giving people the gift of honest feedback, with their best interests at heart.
What one piece of advice would you give to girls today?
Know that you’re enough. Have trust in yourself and follow what you’re passionate about. Also…enjoy the journey.
Who inspires you?
My daughter, who’s nearly 10 years old. I want to be an amazing mother and role model for her.
Some inspiring quotes that Vicky shared with us…
“Attitude and the way you respond to a situation is your greatest asset.”
“The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling.” Fabienne Fredrickson
“We need to develop and nurture our minds on a daily basis.”
“There’s no such thing as failure, only feedback.”
“You can only be you.”
“Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
Fiona Sperry (MGC 1988) was interviewed by two Year 12 students after giving the OGA Lecture.
How exactly did you get into this industry?
That’s a good question because even now, when I meet people and they ask what I do and I tell them I make video games, they always say “What? Actual video games?” I worked in book publishing for a while, and then I knew that I wanted to leave there so I went to a recruitment agency and they kept putting me forward for advertising jobs, and I knew that’s not what I wanted to do because I really like making something, whether that’s a book or, now, a video game, or at the book publishers I started making CD-ROMS. I then went to the recruitment agency they suggested video games and I was like “Yeah, I don’t really know anything about video games”. And interestingly, in the interview for that job, they said to me that I had no experience with video games and I told them “No I don’t, but I’m very good at organising people”, and that’s what they needed. They needed people who would be able to organise their team and so they weren’t bothered that I didn’t have that experience because they could teach me about video games.
What is it like being a woman in a very male-dominated industry?
It doesn’t bother me at all. There’s lots of very valid issues to do with gender inequality, but I have never had a problem with it. I am quite feisty, so I probably never really got into a situation where there was huge inequality. I think being the woman can have advantages because people will always remember you because you are the only woman in the room so when you stop and talk they listen and you don’t blend into a sea of men.
What is your favourite thing about your job and the video game industry in general right now?
I think it’s that a lot of what we do is completely unknown. Every year we apply for an RND grant from the government and it is awarded for work containing a degree of scientific uncertainty, which kind of sums up what I mean. Most days I’ll go to the office and we’ll have a technical challenge, and I’m not technical at all but over the years I’ve picked up an understanding from the programmers, and I can ask them questions to help them think about their options to try and solve problems. So I enjoy that, and I also immensely enjoy the fact that the work we do has the ability to touch so many people. When I worked in book publishing, I worked in academic book publishing at university level, so if we did really well we might sell 3000 copies, whereas if I do really well now I can sell 10,000,000 copies. So many fathers or sons say to me that their whole relationship with their father or son was built around playing my company’s games together, which allows you to feel really good because it feels like you’ve done something.
What made you decide to make your own business rather than continue working for other people?
I think there’s a few things. One, I much prefer working in a small team: When you work in a big company, there’s a certain amount of corporate politics that come with that and as you get older you become less tolerant of all that. Secondly, I have a daughter and working for yourself just gives you a lot more freedom to be at school for them.
When I was here, I didn’t see my mother from one exeat to half term. So, I saw her exeat, half- term, exeat; whereas now, the world’s very different with your children. There’s a lot more going on with parents and they’re much more involved in that.
So what is your company currently working on and could you tell us a bit about the process of developing a game?
Yes. Last April we released a game called ‘Dangerous Driving’ and we are currently working on a sequel to that. Or we might be - because we are also talking to quite a big company about potentially making something similar but for them.
So, the process of making a game is long; my business partner and I start by chatting about what we are going to make, so the decisions we’re really making is what we’re going to focus on. For example, shall we make it about being chased by the cops or shall we make it about the battle between you and the other racers? We think what the different rule sets are for. You try to design as much of that as possible, and then it’s just the painful, painful process of trying to get that onto a screen because obviously, there’s a lot of graphical technological challenges.
You currently focus on racing and driving games. Do you plan on branching into other genres and why do you stick to one now?
Our aim is to become the best in the world at what we do. We used to be the best in the world at making driving games and so we need to get back to that position. I think by specialising, it’ll heighten your chances of doing that. Also, because we try to stay away from making games where people kill each other because we’ve got lots of people doing it.
What is some advice that you would give the girls here if they were interested in going into your industry?
That's a good question. So if they were good at maths, I would say do a maths degree, because you can do no wrong with a maths degree: it sets you off for so many things and there is such a shortage of people with great maths skills. If they were just generally interested in it, I think I'd tell them to make a game.
So, in particular if they’re interested in becoming a designer or an artist or producer or just generally, they love games? Make a game. Even the guys I used to employ years ago had made games and now it’s so much easier. There are so many tools out there. So one real engine which we use is freely available for anybody to use and really accessible and there’s loads of tutorials that they provide that help you make a game.
So that would be my advice, even if you want to be involved more on the sort of marketing or PR then my advice is to just get as much experience in any field as you can and I'll talk about that as your experience of work generally is invaluable.
My own final piece of advice is, always make tea for everyone. People appreciate that.
SUE GARRARD (pictured on the left) spoke on a panel of Climate Change and Sustainability experts at an event organised and hosted by Alison Robb (MSJ, 2010), on the right of the photo, at Coutts in July 2019). It is fantastic to see two of our Old Girls pioneering change in such an important and topical area.
Written by Tito Otegbeye (OGA Prefect 2018-19):
On the 22nd of November 2018, Old Girl Sue Garrard came back to Malvern St James to give a lecture on the issue of sustainability in today’s world. The compelling, thought-provoking lecture consisted of her many exciting journeys and adventures in the corporate world, from Whitehall to advertising and on to FMCG giant Unilever, where most recently she was the Executive Vice President of Communications and Sustainable Business. To witness Sue’s drive and passion for a more sustainable and eco-friendly way of doing business was truly an amazing experience, as was her passion for women to change the world. Her top tips on how we can help ourselves to reach our personal goals are messages that we shall carry with us. After the lecture, I interviewed Sue for the magazine.
Tito: What do you remember from your time at MGC and what were your favourite moments?
Sue: I remember only being able to have a bath twice a week for ten minutes and I remember not being able to phone home! I tend to remember the things which I found difficult to deal with, and that made me quite rebellious. My happiest memories are of the music corridor: I played the flute. Music is a great transporter.
T: What do you think the legacy of your education is?
S: It taught me resilience. I joined MGC when I was fourteen and everyone had got all their friendships sorted, and that was very difficult. I had to deal with that. The choices we had here were massive - sports, art, clubs of every kind, which helped me pick out the things that I was good at. If these opportunities weren’t presented I’d never have known that I loved music and drama. I was also part of the riding team (and it is great to see that that is still going!).
T: As a woman, do you think it is harder for us to develop our own career path?
S: No, I have never believed in a glass ceiling; I’ve never encountered one. I think that mentality leads you down a route that’s about political correctness, and being recruited because of your gender not because of your capability and experience. I think women can do whatever they want. I think we are limitless in our abilities and we are naturally much better collaborators. A woman has to choose what her priorities are, but that’s the challenge of life all the way through. It’s about the choices you make and the trade-offs because life is all about that.
T: What inspired you to join Unilever?
S: When I was working in the Department for Work and Pensions, there was a change in government. They wanted to cut the size of the civil service by half a million jobs; I had only been in post for five years and it’s cheaper to cut those who haven’t been there very long. So I knew my days were numbered. I started to think of other options, where I could have some kind of positive impact. And then Unilever just landed in my lap: a company trying to be a responsible face of capitalism. You can achieve much more in a company than you can in government where you are limited by relatively short terms of office and shifting political sands - and so it had my name written all over it.
T: Who gives you your biggest inspiration?
S: For a very long time it has been my CEO at Unilever, Paul Polman, who has been so determined to lead business in a more responsible and socially aware way. He has been very courageous and visionary.
T: As the Executive Vice President of Communications and Sustainable Business at Unilever, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt?
S: As Nelson Mandela says, ‘Everything seems impossible until it’s done’. If you really want to make a difference, it’s hard, and the easiest thing to do is to allow the barriers in your own mind to get in the way. But we have such a capacity if we want to: when you are absolutely determined that you are going to make a change, it is truly remarkable what you can achieve. I have learnt much about what humans are capable of: what you can achieve on your own is tiny, but what you can achieve when you get everybody wanting the same thing is amazing. When you are a leader, whatever level you are, your job is not to tell people what to do, but to inspire them to make the change.
T: You say that one of the most empowering things is knowing yourself. How do you get to that point?
S: You never stop learning about yourself, but usually we don’t take time out to understand ourselves. To really understand what motivates us and knowing our values is key. We need to step out from ourselves and listen to the feedback people give us as this can make us better. Knowing yourself is a life journey.
T: In regards to the issue of sustainability and global warming, what do you think businesses should do to change and tackle this, and how do we manage those who don’t want change?
S: You need to think about big companies in two separate boxes. In one box are the businesses where the whole business is causing the problem – for example, the fossil fuel companies. Those industries have to fundamentally change, and in the end this will probably be achieved by government taxation and other new industries and technologies evolving to replace them. In the second box are companies who innately are doing good things, but the fact they exist mean they are producing carbon. So what you want to see is those companies doing their bit to reduce their emissions and operating in a way that will contribute to the solution. They will also be paying people, directly and indirectly through their whole supply chain – are they providing fair conditions and pay? Are they helping socially in the countries where they operate?
T: What is one piece of advice you would give girls today thinking of their own career paths?
S: It’s got to be Ikigai, the Japanese expression which refers to the things that bring value and a sense of worth to your life. As you go through you next ten or twenty years, try to get away from the mentality that life is a competition. Success and fulfilment are not a race. Try to get into the space where you know that you can get to my age and look back and say, that was a life well spent, a life that has meaning; because that’s the fuel that gives you the joy of being on this planet.