Ladies and gentlemen, good morning and welcome to University of Bristol on this momentous occasion. My name is Professor Palie Smart, Head of School of Management.
Pro Vice-Chancellor ..Social inequality, - is one of the global grand challenges of our time; and it demands universities like ours, civil society, government and businesses to work together to find solutions. Sometimes, a single individual can become the powerful creative force, that releases the entrepreneurial spirit that might lead us to a much-desired, sustainable and inclusive economy.
Our financial services are the envy of the industrial world … and it is people like Sam who have served the UK’s global reputation for business incubation, new start-up survival and innovation …. and if this wasn’t enough! they have also repurposed ‘business as usual’ for social good.
Sam Smith - always the timid underdog at school, but with a powerful sense of duty to the world - arrived as a young woman at University of Bristol in 1992; and she began to change her life.
Her personal freedom cry became “I don’t know! But I will learn!”, which was sometimes heard echoing in the corridors of Wills student hall. And these were also Sam’s words when she left the safehouse of KPMG – a global top 4 Accountancy firm – to enter the smaller, idiosyncratic world of corporate finance.
In today’s male-dominated boardrooms, glass ceilings and sticky floors, Sam has channelled her considerable energy to leave an indelible mark in society; inspiring women to lead with confidence and compassion.
Throughout history, we have witnessed many great women of strength, who have tried to use their innate ability to make a difference in the world. What they often discover, is that innate ability only gets them so far, and what ultimately defines success is their sheer hard work and drive; over that of others.
Some of you will have realised this already - that it is the challenging times in our lives, when we discover who we really are and uncover an unstoppable sense of mission and purpose. Sam was only a little older than many of you in the audience today when she ... led a partial corporate buyout to create a new firm . “Ok! - I’ll do it” she tells the CEO, “I don’t know what I am doing” ... “but I’ll learn as I go”
In my conversation with Sam, we chuckle as we’re reminded of Eleanor Roosevelt , the diplomat, activist and First Lady of the United States, who famously said: “Women are like teabags! We don’t know our true strength until we are in hot water.” These words don’t quite portray the glamour of corporate highlife or the demure Sam but they make the point well: that sometimes you have to venture forward into extreme environments that will test you, and that you have to have faith in yourself – faith that you will discover new capabilities that will see you through challenging times.
Sam Smith started her career in 1998 when she joined the private client broker JM Finn, after qualifying as a chartered accountant. She founded FinnCap in 2007 by leading the buyout of JM Finn’s corporate advisory and broking division. Subsequently, Sam has worked on over 200 transactions, IPOs and secondary fund raisings. In April 2010 she completed the purchase of the remaining shareholding from JM Finn. Under her leadership, as the youngest, and only female Chief Executive of a City broker, FinnCap is now one of the leading and fastest-growing independent brokers in the City of London.
So what lies behind Sam’s success? I hear you ask Earlier in her career, Sam found this question difficult to answer. Today, she is more reflective and recognises the firm foundations of her success were laid down very early in her life by her family. Her mother was a force of nature and her grandmother had an addictive ‘can-do anything’ attitude about most things in life . Sam never saw barriers to achievement and her father’s hard-earned praise; kept her keen to do better. As you sit with your proud parents in this grand hall today, do spare a thought for their positive influences on your life and your success to date.
Sam recognises that alongside the privilege her success brings it also comes with an acute sense of responsibility to those less fortunate than herself in society. Today she campaigns and advocates for placing entrepreneurship at the heart of the school curriculum – so young people can learn how to start their own business. She is keen to ensure that the world of business delivers greater social value. Outside her duties as CEO, Sam Smith is actively involved in various voluntary and mentoring projects through Pinky Lilani’s “Women of the Future” and The Prince’s Trust. She is also Patron of the Modern Muse project, which encourages millions of young girls throughout the UK to look at business careers and entrepreneurship; as a way to achieve their dreams. Her patronage extends to the Women’s Leadership Group and she is an Advisory Board Member at Everywoman Ltd and the Quoted Companies Alliance; and a trustee for the centre for entrepreneurs and new entrepreneurs foundation.
Sam Smith is a Bristol alumna who is a successful businesswoman and who actively promotes enterprise and, in particular, acts as a mentor and role model for women in business. I hope Sam’s story inspires many of you – AS our next generation of future leaders and global citizens.
Pro Vice-Chancellor, I present to you Samantha Jane Smith as eminently worthy of the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris cowsa (honoris causa).