Leadership Lessons

You can show leadership at any stage of your career

Lan Tu AKC (Mathematics & Chemistry, 1989) is the Senior Independent Director at Shawbrook Bank, a UK major challenger bank, and an Independent Non-Executive Director at WNS Global Services, a business management processing company. Prior to this she was Chief Executive of Virgin Money Investments, served as Chief Strategy Officer for Standard Life PLC and held several senior roles at American Express.

At King’s, Lan has been an independent member of the College Council since 2016 and was appointed Vice Chair in November 2021. She chairs the Remuneration Committee and the newly formed Staff & Culture Strategy Committee, and she is a member of the Audit, Risk & Compliance Committee. Here, Lan shares her reflections on leadership.

What does ‘leadership’ mean to you?

As a people leader, it’s about clearly articulating what the organisation should achieve, how it should do this – the values within which you and the team will operate – and then helping your team perform in their jobs so that their (and in turn the organisation’s) objectives are achieved.

In business, you can show leadership at any stage of your career. Leadership doesn’t require one to be anointed a ‘leader’. For example, you can show thought leadership by promoting a way to solve an issue, you can show team leadership by taking on responsibility for a task for the group, or you can show personal leadership by going the extra step to resolve a customer’s query.

How did King’s help you in your career journey?

King’s was fundamental in teaching me how to think in a structured manner and to solve problems across different subject areas. It was an enriching experience as I pursued a joint degree in Mathematics & Chemistry and also completed the Associateship of King’s College (AKC).

I remember Professor Rosemary Satchell, a standout chemistry professor who had smashed the glass ceiling, rising to her senior departmental position while being a working mother, which was quite a rarity at the time.

What decisions does the College Council make?

Council’s role is to help shape the best experience for King’s students and staff. We do this by advising on and approving the university strategy, ensuring King’s financial stability in partnership with senior leadership, holding the senior leaders to account, appointing the President & Principal, and planning for succession. We’re not there to manage the university, which is the responsibility of the President & Principal and the senior team.

An example of Council’s work that stands out to me is providing prudent oversight for major investments, such as new technology to enhance and improve the student experience. It’s so rewarding to see the new King’s Student app which streamlines essential digital interfaces for students, making their day-to-day much easier.

Another example is how, together with the President & Principal, we identified the need to elevate and embed people and culture at the heart of King’s decision-making. As an alumna, I’ve seen first-hand that it’s the people who make King’s a success and that’s why Council has introduced the Staff & Culture Strategy Committee – to steer and shape this critical area of focus.

It’s so rewarding to see the new King’s Student app which streamlines essential digital interfaces for students, making their day-to-day much easier.

How do your leadership roles complement one another?

Being in management and responsible for delivery of my company’s strategy allowed me to appreciate the work of the King’s leadership team and the challenges that management teams face. This helped me with my role on Council, as its purpose is to act as a critical friend: providing challenge when helpful, giving an external perspective, offering professional expertise, sharing constructive feedback and inviting further emphasis or deeper consideration.

What advice would you give to students or graduates for success in life after King’s?

Carpe diem. The ethos of King’s is to make the world a better place by educating the next generation of leaders. Your time at King’s will have shaped you in many ways, not only by giving you an excellent education in your subject but also by exposing you to the diversity of opportunities that the world presents. There is no time like the present to follow your dreams.