IWF UK Leadership Stories: Jan Morgan

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In the latest of our Leadership Stories, we feature our member Jan Morgan, a multi-talented entrepreneur and former Chair of IWF London (2001 to 2005). Her varied accomplishments include founding charities and her own business, and designing gardens. Jan writes about being brave in the face of adversity, in particular significant health problems.

What does being a leader mean to you?

A leader is a person who guides others’ actions or opinions and has the ability to take the lead in expressing the common views. She or he can clearly analyse needs, opportunities, and situations as well as present them so as to exert influence and lead to action or change. Leaders have the ability to express, motivate and direct actions emanating from the consensually formed wishes or views of a group and to take control and command leading to the fulfilment of a cause, occasionally involving risk to themselves or those they are leading or representing.

What have been the one or two biggest challenges in your life and how have you overcome them?

First, 25 years ago, I was headhunted to chair Alzheimer’s Research UK at a time when some people still thought Alzheimer’s was a Czech beer. When I arrived at the Cambridge office, I found there was no research being done and the Board was planning to build a multi-disciplinary research centre in a field outside Cambridge.

I formed a London ‘kitchen cabinet’ (mainly from IWF UK) and quickly realized I did not believe in the intended new centre. Shortly thereafter, I heard an inspirational IWF talk given by Frances Cairncross: ‘The Death of Distance’. On the way home it ‘clicked’: we should instead establish a multi-disciplinary research institute using a closed intranet. It was difficult to convince the Board of my vision so I had no choice but to put my chairmanship ‘on the line’. I was very scared with no supporters at first, but, by the end of the meeting, the entire Board, except for one, voted to go ahead with the virtual institute.

I then canvassed the five top-rated research centres, persuaded Lloyd’s of London to cover the infrastructure costs and launched the institute, which has grown to include nine top research departments and has been rated third in a worldwide scoring.

Second, in 1967 my contract as a staff nurse in casualty was cancelled on the grounds of ill health, as I had been diagnosed with cancer of the cervix. Following extensive surgery during which I suffered a collapsed lung, my bladder was externalized and I then developed an inguinal lymph cancer.

I had two children under five, very little money and my husband no longer fancied me with my 'peebag'.

It was scary, but I figured my options were death or for life to go ‘up’. I was at rock bottom and lonely, but happily my bladder function was re-established and two neighbours took care of me during the worst of the radiation treatment. Three years later, I was able to lead a normal life. I tried to return to the NHS but was declined as there was concern that I would be off sick a lot, so instead I entered the business world, since when life has been almost all ‘up’.

Tip: To anyone losing their hair, do try different coloured wigs: you will be treated very differently according to the colour. It is important to have a bit of fun every day!

What do you regard as your greatest successes, and why?

1. Putting Alzheimer’s in the public domain and raising awareness.

2. Improving the lives and surroundings of about 200 children in orphanages in Vilnius by establishing ‘LOST’ (Lithuanian Orphans Support Trust). We send a truckload of goods and visit every Christmas.

3. Together with Karen Erwin (former IWF Ireland President), bringing together a cross-party group of pre-eminent women at a conference in Northern Ireland on the ‘Role of the Media in a Democracy’, despite warnings to stay away – and founding IWF NI as a joint annexed group of UK and Ireland.

4. Being honoured as a ‘Legendary Woman of the Decade’ earlier this year, by the Women’s Economic Forum, where I sit on the advisory council.

How has your leadership style changed over time, and why?

Life has helped me overcome my natural shyness so that I am much less afraid of expressing my views and taking the lead. I regularly offer advice, particularly to the young, but no longer feel rejected if they disagree! I am no longer afraid of challenging group or Board decisions, and generally ‘get my way’ over important differences of opinion.

Instead of being a bit embarrassed, I enjoy the pleasures of success and find success sometimes leads to success! I consciously recognize speaking out is more important than being liked or popular.

What advice do you have for younger women aspiring to leadership roles?

  • Identify and adopt a supportive and trustworthy friendly mentor.
  • Take presentational courses: chairing meetings; hostile interviews; public speaking; speaking in front of the camera; good PR. One always picks up tips and they are fun!
  • Be as fully informed as possible.
  • Work for charities alongside your work – good PR and good for society!
  • Share good ideas for the workplace with your boss.
  • Don’t be afraid to think and talk ‘outside the box'!
  • Network wherever and whenever possible – always have a visiting card available (colours get noticed!)
Jan Morgan

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