Alumni Profiles: Kate Barnett (GEMBA’18D)

A bit of fun along the way

“No Guts, No Glory” beamed the poster from my teenage bedroom wall – an incongruous cartoon Garfield the Cat poster picturing him pivoting at the top of a ski slope.

I recalled this message as I walked into my first factory manager role aged 31. I tried to boost my own confidence by striding purposefully through the corridors of the plant that produced one million cans a day for the food industry. I’d been told this was the first female Plant Manager position in Metalbox’s 75-year UK history and it was a role I’d been aiming for since being a sponsored engineering student (aged 18) with the company. Now as Crown Holdings Inc, it was part of an $8bn multinational and one of the largest metal packaging companies in the world – a terrific career where standards are high for a product whose integrity is taken for granted.

The metal in food cans is infinitely recyclable without degradation meaning that today may have the same metal in your soup can or beer ‘tinnie’ as 50 years ago, and the same metal can continue to be reused for the baked beans cans of your children’s children.

INSEAD’s “Force for Good” resonates. To me it is important that the product I contribute to manufacturing in the world is worthy. So it was an exciting opportunity to join the University of Cambridge’s examinations business, Cambridge Assessment. As a qualified engineer from arch-rival Oxford University I thought they wouldn’t even interview me, but my husband quoted my coxing chant of ‘go for it’. He and I met whilst rowing on the River Isis and I’ve never been allowed to forget the motivating calls that invited the start of our relationship. So I summoned the guts and took the glory of the Group Operations Director role, leading business transformation with the responsibility for the secure print and supply of millions of confidential exam papers to 170 countries worldwide.

I enjoy Operations – executing strategy to achieve a vision efficiently by combining end-to-end planning and inspiring a workforce at all levels … with a bit of fun along the way! As Professor Enver Yucesan made me realise: I’m good at Operations and the ‘enthusiastic achiever’ I had been labelled was demonstrated from the thrill of multi-tasking and developing high performing teams.

My INSEAD journey began as I got itchy feet at Cambridge – I had received the highest annual appraisal category, never before awarded to a director, and was contemplating “what next”. Sensing I may leave before he was ready to retire, my boss suggested an executive MBA. 20 years into my career with at least 20 more to go, this was the boost I needed. And I was encouraged to aim high.

Coming to Fonty the first time I thought how can such a distinguished institution accept me? Fortunately, over canapés I met with a Lithuanian lady who felt the same and we made a pact: I’ll apply if you do too. Discovering we’d both been accepted was as joyous as discovering I wasn’t alone in being sucked into the Imposter Syndrome, and GEMBA 2018 was the most stimulating year.

Today, I do my part to help customers make the world healthier, cleaner and safer, driven in my work as Global Operations Director with Thermo Fisher Scientific. The theme of “Force for Good” is alive and well: I’m enjoying utilising GEMBA learnings to structure global manufacturing strategy and lead business turnaround of two London sites. The energy from INSEAD colleagues is infectious and topped up regularly through reunions and gatherings – we are always learning!

To all my classmates, thanks for my two best take-aways from INSEAD: the ability now to ask great questions, and a whole chunk of self-awareness to be comfortable in one’s own skin… so we can all try to make a difference that matters in the world.

October 2019