Kate Swann, BSc Business and Management Studies 1986
Chancellor of the University of Bradford, CEO of the SSP Group
Kate Swann was officially installed as the new Chancellor of the University of Bradford in February 2016. She became the formal head of the University in succession to the sportsman and politician, Imran Khan, who stepped down from the post in November 2014.
Since graduating from Bradford in 1986 Kate has gone on to become one of the UK’s most successful businesswomen. Kate was appointed CEO of the SSP group in September 2013, following ten years as CEO of WH Smith. Prior to this she was Managing Director of Argos and also served as Managing Director at Homebase.
She began her career at Tesco in 1989 as a graduate trainee and throughout her career has held a number of senior marketing roles within retail at Homepride Foods, Coca Cola and Dixons Group. She was awarded an honorary degree from Bradford in 2007. In 2006 she was listed in the top 50 most powerful women in business.
The Chancellor is the formal Head of the University, whose official duties are to confer degrees on graduating students, and to chair the University’s Court. The Chancellor also plays a key role in the University’s life as an ambassador for the institution in the UK and internationally.
After graduating from Bradford in 1986 how have you kept in touch and remained involved with the University?
“I have been a member of the Advisory Board at the University’s School of Management for many years and was also delighted to be awarded an honorary doctorate from the University in 2007. At the ceremony I was re-introduced to one of my original statistics lecturers!”
How did you feel when you were asked to take on the position of Chancellor?
“My first reaction was one of shock, my second reaction was to interrogate the Vice-Chancellor to find the ‘catch’, (I must have been in business to long!), but very quickly I was thrilled and very humbled to be asked.”
What does the University of Bradford’s future look like to you?
“One of the many reasons I took up the role of Chancellor was because I felt that the University was at a really interesting point in its history. We have just seen its 50th anniversary and I have every confidence that the next 50 years will be even more successful and exhilarating than the first 50, so the future looks incredibly exciting to me.”
What do you intend to do in your role as Chancellor to help Bradford’s development as world leading Technology University?
“I am not known for my capability with technology – so technically I am not going to be much use at all – what I am known for is taking technology and making it work for customers and shareholders in the businesses I’ve run – so I will be a strong advocate for focussing on technology that can make a real difference in the real world.”
What in your view is the role of Universities in today’s society?
“I think the role of universities is very wide reaching in today’s society – some parts of the role that particularly resonate with me are helping to develop individuals that go out into the world and make a real difference to it: and creating change that really makes a positive difference to society.”
What have been the key highlights of your life so far (besides being appointed as Chancellor of the University of Bradford)?
“That’s a hard question, as I’ve been lucky enough to have many highlights – working with great people, making a difference to the fortunes of businesses I’ve run. One that sticks in my memory is the first time I saw an empty Coca-Cola bottle in the gutter on the North Circular Road – and knowing it was the bottle that I and my team had developed and designed and that the UK was the 1st country in the world to launch this bottle.”
Have you got a personal life philosophy you could share with us?
“I’ve been given loads of good advice over the years and one piece that has stuck with me is – there are 24 hours in every day and you can achieve a heck of a lot in 24 hours.”
Who or what has had the greatest influence on your life and career and why?
“Lots of people and experiences have influenced me, from my parents and family to the people I’ve worked with and I’ve always tried not to be scared to take on new experiences, as, good or bad they are virtually always learning experiences.”
What do you think makes an outstanding leader?
“That’s a tough one to answer – I try to be really clear what we want to achieve and communicate that in a consistent way that people can buy into and understand. Recently I have been given some feedback from my entire team as part of our team development process, typical positive words that come out are words like, clarity, passion, focus, challenge and drive. I won’t share the areas for development as I don’t think I have quite enough space here – but my team are very forthright.”
What advice would you give to a young graduate seeking to make their mark in the world of work?
“My advice would be to set your sights high and you will be amazed at what you can achieve.”
Published June 2016