A master in success: the inspiring story of an alumni

Newcastle alumni and current MasterCard International Markets President Ann Cairns gave a lecture in front of current students, alumni and staff on Friday.

Ann graduated from Newcastle with her MSc in Medical Statistics in 1979. A dashing career path, which included her working as the only female engineer in Killingsworth, lead her into the high-ends of finance. In her lecture, she emphasised on how her experience at University helped her extraordinary success.

“I love Newcastle and I’ve got family up here, so I come back quite often,” Ann told The Courier before her lecture. “I’ve always felt it’s an incredibly warm and friendly place, very easy to connect with people. Not just the University,but the whole town. The University reflects on that.

The campus has certainly changed. I can see that they’ve taken  out all the steps so it’s a lot more accessible now. It also looks a bit more glamorous compared to when I was here.”

In her talk, Ann emphasised on the importance of the connections you have and how they ultimately end up landing you a dream job.

“It’s really important to network and get referrals from all the people you meet,” Ann said in her lecture. “Because the truth is, that’s just how you get the job you want.”

Ann got her first job with British Gas immediately after University – in fact she interviewed with them before finishing and they were prepared to wait for five months for her to graduate. “I had no idea how to present myself at all,”

She got her first job in banking at CityBank on 1 October 1987 – 18 days before the stock market fell through on Black Monday. She has been climbing the career ladder ever since until she ended up in her current position with MasterCard.

“If you want something, just go to the person running it and talk to them directly,” she said. “What’s the worst that could happen? They could tell you to buzz off, but they probably won’t.”

Ann has worked in many different countries, including London, Holland, the US, and Iceland. She admitted that out of those, integrating into the culture of continental Europe was the hardest, even harder than the US. She did, however, also point out that “all that experience turned out to be very useful.”

Her current job still involves a lot of travelling – at least 40 weeks per year. However, Ann finds it particularly important to find the work-life balance and dedicate just as much time to her job as she would to her family. “It’s important to everyone to get that balance right and I don’t think that’s a very easy task in the current day and age,” she admitted.

Talking to The Courier, Ann gave her top advice for graduates, who may be anxious for their future:

“It’s absolutely fine not to know what you want to do for the rest of your life at this point,” she emphasised. “University career is just really the start of your learning. It’s all about the people you connect with, the networks you make, having flexible and transferable skills. It’s not so much about the content of your degree, the focus should be on constantly learning things.”

After her lecture, the audience took the floor, many thanking Ann for sharing her invaluable experience and asking insightful questions.

Ann is emphasised on the need to encourage girls to take up science subjects. “I think it would be great to have more science-oriented business women,” she pointed out. “Currently only 14% of people working in science are female. There’s something wrong in that picture and we definitely need to change it.”

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