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Southampton Business School

Southampton Business School students contribute to ‘Women in Business’ Helen Alexander Memorial Lecture 2020

Published: 8 October 2020
Dame Emma Walmsley

Dame Emma Walmsley, Chief Executive Officer of GlaxoSmithKline and named in the Queen's Birthday Honours list 10 October 2020, led this year’s annual Helen Alexander Memorial Lecture in honour of Dame Helen Alexander on Tuesday 29 September.

Helen was the Chancellor of the University of Southampton between 2011 and 2017, and was known at Southampton as a wonderful role model to a generation of men and women who followed her career. She was also a much loved and pioneering figure in British business and this annual lecture is held in honour of her memory. The event is supported by four organisations she was associated with: the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), The Economist, Informa (which purchased UBM) and the University of Southampton.

This year, the event took the form of a virtual fireside chat, with Dame Emma Walmsley, who topped Fortune Magazine’s ‘Most Powerful International Women’ list in 2018, and is the first (and only) woman to run a major pharmaceutical company in the world. Hosted by Zanny Minton Beddoes, Editor-in-Chief of The Economist, the overarching theme of the lecture was “Women on Business” and we heard Emma discuss what the quest for COVID-19 vaccines has revealed about the purpose of business.

They talked through many important issues relating to the impact of the pandemic for pharmaceutical companies and wider economy, as well as the role of business leaders and a diverse workforce during this unprecedented period.

Emma said: “There is so much excitement in innovation. The acceleration of investment, and the advancement in technologies in vaccine testing has been staggering. We recognise that so much of our research starts at universities and we are so proud and thankful to have such a great relationship with the University of Southampton. It’s these strong relationships that provide the UK with a true competitive advantage in research & development.”

All guests had an exclusive opportunity to join a live Q&A session with Dame Emma Walmsley, opened by Professor Diana Eccles, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine. Among the guests were fourteen students and alumni from across the University, including 12 from Southampton Business School including : Caitlin Deavy, Laura Wassell, Claudia Durran, Alice Dontantonio, Maria Fjellbirkeland, Angelica Pettafor, Paulina Rodriguez,  Nansy Sbaraglia, Karolina Votrubova, Julia Wolf, and Cindy Cindy.  Students played a prominent role in the Q&A session, asking Emma thought-provoking questions.  Alice Dontantonio asked Emma about her leadership style and career trajectory, Nansy Sbaraglia explored the role of innovation in the pharmaceutical industry and GSK and Julia Wolf asked about employee/employer loyalty, with Emma advising pick well and get it right first time.

Some of the key messages for Southampton Business School students were learning is the most important thing you can do, don’t compromise, success follows motivation, be open to explore new opportunities, and stay ambitious.  

Professor Laura Costanzo, Head of Southampton Business School, said :  “I am proud of the contribution of the Southampton Business School students to this event, which has clearly provided real insights into the business world and future career expectations and aspirations. The Southampton Business School fosters an inclusive environment where everyone, staff and students, can flourish. Students are at the heart of the learning experience and we aim to provide them with all the opportunities, like this event for example, to enable them to appreciate the multi-faced aspects of the world of practice and, therefore, shape their ambitions as they progress with their experiential learning”.  

You can watch the lecture below.


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