The world is unfair. We must play our part to correct an unlevel playing field. We need a rounded education to build confidence and develop leaders today. Science gives us the necessary strong analytical abilities. Music and the performing arts help us build confidence to exercise leadership because performing the arts builds confidence, and music is the food of love. Music opens our minds, raises awareness, expands our hearts, and inspires change. To put it boldly, perhaps it’s time for music and the performing arts to occupy more space in corporate offices, congress halls, and college classrooms. An inspiring shoemaker’s daughter who became a successful corporate executive and board chair, Ann Cairns shares with Anne Pratt how her childhood foray in the performing arts helped her build the confidence to become a global corporate leader; the world is unfair; why, and how corporates in the world now need to step up; her ‘Mandela Moment.’ Finally, she gives us her take on bold leadership and why it’s what the world needs now. Tune in for all these and more!
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A Shoemaker’s Daughter – A Global Corporate Exec. and Board Chair, Ann Cairns
Science and the Performing Arts Build Leadership Confidence for a Corporate Stage
Our thoughtful, bold leader in this episode joins us from Wilshire, a southern county in England. She is an accomplished global corporate executive and board chair. A shoemaker’s daughter with her mother’s flair for the theater, she transitioned from a mathematician and an award-winning research engineer into a global corporate executive with two doctorates from Sheffield University and Newcastle University in the United Kingdom.
After our conversation in 2022, she stepped down towards the end of the year as Vice Chair of Mastercard, looking after 3 billion customers worldwide. Before, she was Mastercard International Markets President with customer oversight in 200 countries. She spent many years in financial services with corporations like ABN-AMRO, Citigroup, and Alvarez & Marsal. She has served on Lightrock, AstraZeneca, ICE or Intercontinental Exchange, and Charity Bank boards.
As a champion of change for women’s empowerment. Until recently, she was Chair of the 30% Club and the Financial Alliance for Women and the Lead Non-Exec Director for the UK Government’s Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy. Stay tuned as she shares with us how Maths and the theater shaped her corporate career, why visiting Nelson Mandela’s prison cell changed her thinking, and why and how corporations now need to take the lead in this troubled, unjust, and challenged world. We warmly welcome Ann Cairns. Welcome to the show.
Ann, having you with us to be part of this conversation is wonderful. It’s a real privilege to have you share your wisdom.
Thank you. It’s lovely to be here talking to another Anne.
Also, one with a British heritage, I might add. It’s great to do that. You’ve had such a remarkable life. You’ve been a pioneering woman of change and a young research scientist. You’ve broken many glass ceilings in your life. I was wondering in terms of your early childhood and what shaped you. Can you take us back in time?
I had quite a poor upbringing in the North of England. I grew up in a mining town; my father wasn’t a miner; he was a shoemaker. One of the things that made me successful over the years as I had two very loving parents. I’m the middle child. I had an elder brother and a younger sister. We’re a very close family. My father always said to me that I could be anything I wanted. That was a good male role model to grow up with. My mom was always very theatrical and sent me to dancing and singing classes and many things that developed stage confidence and confidence in yourself. It was a great upbringing.
That’s wonderful. You talked about the exposure to the theater and being such a remarkable scientist with a pure Mathematics degree, etc. Do you think rounded education is significant in developing leaders worldwide?
The wider education or the science education?
The science and having had that childhood schooling of singing, dancing, and theater to build confidence.
It’s very important to develop that because, ultimately, when you become a leader, especially in the big corporate world, you’re successful because you can communicate your ideas. Those communication skills very early on in life are essential. No less so now that we’re into social media, it has become even more critical. Developing skills where you learn how to speak, project your voice, and present yourself is still a basic skill that every leader needs now.When you become a leader, especially in the big corporate world, your success depends on how you’re able to communicate ideas. So developing communication skills early on in life is important. Click To Tweet
Also, if you grow up in a very close community, you develop much empathy with people. Successful leaders are now empathetic, particularly during the pandemic. Employees are looking to their CEOs and their leaders, first of all, to trust them. They’ve got much more trust in them than politicians. Also, to lead them through tough times and empathize with how they live now.
That’s so valid. Was there a difficult defining moment in your childhood? Could you take us back to a challenging time? How did that impact you? How did you feel, and what light bulb moment helped you overcome that?
As far as childhood’s concerned, I won a scholarship to a school that was an hour and a half commute from my village. I was traveling three hours a day from the age of eleven. I was the worst traveler in the world. With travel sickness, I was physically sick on the bus on the way to school. After this, it went on for a couple of years, and I was thirteen. I told my parents I would love to attend the local school now and not have to travel to the city to be educated. They were pretty empathetic with this. They took me to the local school, and I met the headmaster. They did several tests on me to see how I would fit academically, my personality, and other tests.
The headmaster of that school said he felt that I was getting a fantastic education in the city and that it was great that I’d won the scholarship and should continue. That made my parents think. Within a year, my father applied and got a job in the city, and we moved, so I was much closer to school. That was an example of your parents caring about how you felt about things and helping you when you were struggling.
That’s a remarkable act of selfless love and giving. How did that change the way you ended up feeling about yourself?
At that stage, even though I’d never traveled and left where I was born, it was clear that you could change 1 or 2 things in your life that could create something that made you feel comfortable and function reasonably. I’ve always carried that with me with a view that I would change things if things weren’t working for me in my career and life regarding moving countries.
As far as my daughter was concerned, she changed schools five times before she was twelve. I was never frightened of that because I thought she was widening her experience and doing well, but if I had seen her struggling at any stage, I would’ve changed my mind about it. What I did with her when she was twelve was I moved back to the UK from America and put her into a school in the UK. We kept her there for the next couple of years of the pre-university period because I felt it was necessary to have some stability and comfort to perform well. It worked out well for her. I probably followed in my parent’s footsteps without thinking too much.
It’s a remarkably different approach to change, which people often struggle with. What strikes me about that from your early concerns and anxiety around travel, you’ve traveled so much around the world and have a lot of international travel. Returning to your career as Vice Chair of Mastercard, we all have those ups and downs and turbulent times; what has been a more difficult moment to manage, and how did you feel then?
I was at ABM AMRO Bank when the Royal Bank of Scotland took it over. I was 51 then and on the bank’s operating committee. I’d been talking to some consultants who were there during the hostile takeover, and I was saying, “Should I stay or should I go?” They talked to me and said, “I would think about going because you’re very senior, and things are not comfortable after a hostile takeover.” We could all imagine that.
I stepped out of banking at that stage. Being 51, I thought, “What should I do?” I knew I didn’t want to return to banking, but that was the only thing I knew. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. It was akin to coming out of university, looking around the world, and saying, “What should I be when I grow up,” but you’re 51.
At that stage, I was headhunted by a big restructuring company called Alvarez & Marsal. I effectively became the CEO of Lehman Holdings in Europe through to the Middle East. My life changed dramatically, but for about six months, I went through a period of trying to assess, “What do I want to do in life?” I wouldn’t say it was such a terrible time because I wasn’t concerned or nervous that I wouldn’t find anything, but it was a time of great uncertainty, thinking, “Where am I in my career, and is this the plateau of my career? Am I going to do a mixture of things now?”
The opposite was clearly the case because three years later, I joined Mastercard, and I’m working executive in 2023. We’re talking fourteen years on. Often when these things happen, people leave their corporate careers too quickly. I was lucky that that didn’t happen because the best times in my corporate life happened after that.
During that period of uncertainty, what was that emotional journey like for you? When did you have the light bulb moment?
I had several light bulb moments. I’ll go back to being a scientist. I was very interested in renewable energy. The companies that were springing up at that time focused on renewable energy. I didn’t make that move then, though I have subsequently become the lead non-executive director for a major government department in the UK that owns the net-zero agenda. Some of the seeds in these times of uncertainty come to fruition much later in life. Having the time to think about things is essential.
Also, as I’ve mentioned, I have a daughter and was doing a very big job all the time I had her. I had twelve weeks off for maternity leave, and when she was two, I ran a huge department with thousands of people for Citibank and, as you say, flew around the world. My daughter was a teenager when this big hostile takeover happened. She was invited to a friend from the school’s house who we didn’t know very well. She said, “Mom, how shall I introduce you?” I said, “What do you mean? Introduce me as your mom.” She said, “You’re always senior executive of that and leader of this. You’re still the employee, aren’t you?”
I had six weeks off when I left the bank and joined the restructuring company. I thought you should never feel guilty about what your kids think and feel about your career because they’re probably proud that you are CEO of this or chairman of it. Mothers often don’t feel that way.
That’s such an interesting point. You mentioned you had a couple of light bulb moments. Can you share with us briefly what they are? How did you pivot from that uncertainty to finding your new path?
I felt like learning something new, but I also had a moment where I said, “I’ve got such a deep career in financial services. I must be able to do something good with this.” I got invited for lunch with Tony Alvarez, who runs one of the biggest private restructuring companies in the world. This was the pre-Lehman collapse, and he said, “Some big bank is probably going to go bust around here. We need people with operating experience who enjoy fixing things, aren’t afraid to step forward, put themselves out there, make decisions often when you don’t have enough information, and help pull something together when you are in a crisis.”
I thought, “All of these things he’s saying to my appeal to me.” I love fixing things. I’m very good at managing crises. I was the first woman offshore in Britain on oil and gas rigs. You must learn how to escape from a burning platform, extinguish kerosene fires, drive lifeboats, and escape from helicopters. It takes a certain presence of mine to do this in a crisis. I thought, “I like this.”
The idea of being then able to bring your experience of banking to it was all coming together. His only question was whether I would be any good as a consultant. I’d been so used to having thousands of people work for me. Would I be okay stepping in and doing something independently after all these years? I felt good about that piece because I was used to working independently and loved it. I wasn’t on my own very long because Lehman collapsed, and I had to create a team, recruit people, and do all the things I was used to, but I felt a sense of freedom, “Now, I can get my hands dirty and do something instead of telling other people what to do.”
In that process, did you find that your mindset had to shift in any way, and if so, in what way?
You’re an owner-operator. You recruit and pay the team out of the income that you earn. I found that closeness to the business that you developed. You know this, Anne, because you are an entrepreneur. You have built your own business and your own team. This feeling of success and satisfaction you get from the closeness of the business you personally developed to the reward of people who worked with you to make that success is wonderful. That is not the same feeling in a big corporate company because you’re somewhat removed.When you are an entrepreneur and you have built your own business and own team, you get this feeling of success and satisfaction from the closeness of the business that you personally developed. Click To Tweet
Like you, I’ve also worked in the corporate environment and bigger multinationals and stuff. Somebody we both know is Unilever, which was a remarkable experience earlier on in my own career. From a corporate point of view, having gone through that transition in your career, did you find you have to shift your mindset within the corporate world when you step back into the corporate world?
Yes. It was speed because, basically, you are making decisions with sometimes very little information. You must act in the Lehman case because it was a live investment bank. Time was of the essence, but things like the restructuring company showed me that you could move whole data centers and set up the entire dealing room within weeks. These things are often planned for 1, 2, or 3 years. It’s like, “We’re going to set up a dealing room environment, and it’s going to look like this.” You give yourself a lot of planning and execution time.
That is something that we’ve learned from the pandemic as well. The government has to learn to move at speed, sometimes unsuccessfully, but sometimes successfully. From the UK government’s perspective, purchasing the vaccines was an example of how quickly they put the department together and got somebody to run it. It was a woman. She was from the PE world. Instead of backing one horse, she probably went across the board and ordered vaccines from several producers because she had that risk management mindset. The country very quickly had a war chest to fight this pandemic. These are great examples.
They are. Sometimes with speed, we make mistakes, but making mistakes is part of learning and being able to correct course rather than being too hard on oneself or the company for making mistakes in those circumstances.
You’re right. The way to develop the latest technology is to test and learn. That’s often the way that things are done. In the finance world, for example, in Mastercard, you can’t be issuing a whole new piece of technology to 3 billion people without it being tested, back-tested, and ensuring it all works. Still, the speed at which we do things is pretty impressive.
What struck me is that your role as Vice Chair of Mastercard emboldens, encourages, and calls on you to negotiate not only with business partners, governments, and non-government organizations but you are also as a member of the global management committee. With this global perspective of where the world is sitting right now, what are your biggest concerns about the world’s challenges in this time of uncertainty, turmoil, and turbulence? What are the big things that keep you awake at night?
I don’t think anybody on the planet doesn’t think about global warming. I went to COP26 in Glasgow, and some very interesting discussions were there. As usual, when you have big global meetings, it probably hasn’t gone as far as it should have, but one very encouraging thing is everyone is thinking about it. My former government department has an entire net zero plan by 2050. Mastercard has the same and pulled it back in several years. There are things like that going on.
At the same time, the world is changing dramatically in terms of technology. Artificial intelligence is used in everyday life all the time now from our recommended systems on Netflix. “You watched Game of Thrones; here’s what you want to watch.” Also, customer service chatbots for loans are being made through banks using artificial intelligence for the population. There are pluses and minuses because everybody’s human and programmers are human. You see a lot of biases being programmed into systems.
In the case of the loans in Sweden, it seemed that women were getting fewer bank loans than when they popped in and chatted with the local bank manager. When we see these things, we must think about them deeply and correct them before we build something globally systemic. There are things like that to think about. We know we’re not on a level playing field regarding gender equality in the workforce, but the pandemic has highlighted that so much more.
On the one hand, as women, we’ve all been hoping for more flexibility in our lives. The pandemic gave us that and this wonderful tool of Zoom that we’re using. On the other hand, it took it away because I’m not in this category, but many of the people working with me are working parents, which has been tough, like homeschooling. I think a lot of respect for teachers, by the way. My husband was a schoolteacher all his life. It’s a harder job than you think.
I am in a spectrum that has an elderly mother. My mother is 92 and caring for the elderly during this time. Sometimes people are in the middle of that. They’ve got kids and caring for their elderly parents, and it’s tough. We know that it hasn’t fallen equally on women and men. How we design our working environment for the future will be very important for the business world. There are so many things. You could go on forever with these thoughts.The way that we design our working environment for the future is going to be very important for the business world. Click To Tweet
The whole thing around financial inclusion for women, women empowerment, and diversity is very close to your heart. Previously, I picked up in one of your interviews. You mentioned that between 2015 and 2020, you brought 500 million women into the broader financial inclusion spectrum. You also made the point, which I found very interesting, that we need gender diversity to create a more decent, ethical world. I heard you say there’s a business case for gender, diversity, inclusion, and belonging. Can you briefly talk to us about that? What is the business case? Why is this so close to your heart?
McKinsey has done studies that say that companies that are more diverse at the top of the companies outperform those less diverse in the market. They’ve got databases that they’re using. It’s difficult to say about cause and effect because maybe those companies are good anyway. I’m not proposing any massive statistical relationship there, but empirically, that’s what they see.
The whole thing is that capitalism has moved to stakeholder capitalism these days. Instead of waking up in the morning and caring what your stock price and bottom line are, people are running businesses with the view that you can’t be successful in a failing world. Therefore, you must care about your employees, the broader market you serve, and the society you serve.
First, you see it in the Millennial generation; they vote with their feet. They’re not going to join companies without purpose. If you think about your wider customer base, Mastercard, for example, has 3 billion consumers we serve worldwide. Suppose we were giving very poor messages about what we stand for. In that case, what our products stand for, shown to be unfair in how we dealt with people in our supply chain, employed people, or talked about people in society, would be completely bad for our business. You can see that.
On the society side, you mentioned 500 million people, they weren’t all women, but there was a high percentage of women because women are more financially excluded than men. The thing is, we did 500 million between 2015 and 2020. Now, we’re going for our next 500 million. It’s clearly good for our business. It’s not us sitting here going, “This is a totally philanthropic exercise,” because our business is a flow business. The more people connected to the internet, use our products, or are connected to the banking system, the better our business does. There’s nothing wrong with doing well by doing good. You mentioned Unilever, which is another company that thinks about these things.There's nothing wrong with doing well by doing good. Click To Tweet
What is your biggest fear for our generation and the next?
I’m pretty afraid that we don’t act quickly enough in the case of climate change. We cannot rely on politics to get where we need to be. The corporate world has to step up to it. We need a lot of technological innovation to bring us to 1 1/2 degrees. It is a burning platform. I fear that many people haven’t realized that yet. The boiling frog syndrome fears the water getting hotter, but we haven’t figured it out yet. Coming from South Africa, perhaps this is more self-evident to you than others, but it’s a real fear. It’s the big issue of our time.
We both have great love, admiration, and respect for Nelson Mandela, a remarkable leader who played a significant role worldwide. Could you take us back in time? Is there a moment that stands out when Nelson Mandela touched your heart, opened your mind, and inspired your leadership?
You mentioned that I traveled a lot and I’ve been to South Africa many times. The first time that I heard about Nelson Mandela was all the free Nelson Mandela concerts. When I went to Robben Island, and saw the living conditions and thought about what days must have been like on that island. It struck me what an incredible presence of mind he must have had to continue day after day.
He was in prison for 27 years of his life. He emerged from that situation and became the first Black president in South Africa in his mid-70s. It made me think about how long life can be, how important it is to keep going to the end, not give up on anything, and feel that there’s always something more to do. There’s always something more to learn. I honestly believe that. That’s why I’m still in the corporate world. That’s also why I contribute to many other things, such as previously leading the 30% Club, Financial Alliance for Women, and a government department in the UK. I’m joining the board of a Social Impact Fund because this will help the world get to where it needs to be.
Mandela epitomizes all of that. He continued to keep going and learned. He also has massive, as you said, influences worldwide. It’s spectacular. You can’t even imagine it. I’m sure he changed dramatically as a man because he was a political activist when he was younger. Yet, he was very much into reconciliation to be able to take his place as president.
One of the things about that is you can’t please all the people all the time. As you age, you benefit from seeing many other people’s points of view. We have a lot of discussions about people coping with mental illness, feeling under stress, and these things. It made me think, “What is it in some individuals that they can suffer such incredible things, and yet their mental capacity to come out of it and move forward is so strong?” If we could capture that for everyone, wouldn’t that be fantastic?
There are those difficult moments. I’m curious how did you harness that in your own life?
My life has been wonderful. When I look at other people, I think that I’ve been incredibly lucky in my life. In times when I’ve felt down, I’m not the person who gets depressed or who feels that things are unrecoverable at any point. I’m a very optimistic and happy person. Therefore, I don’t think I’ve gone through anything like that, but I think people respond differently. Don’t go to bed in a bad temper. I’ve been married for many years. I can honestly say that we’ve never had an evening where we said, “That’s it.” Despite our ups and downs over the years, we’re not speaking to each other. I’ve always tried to solve things when they feel bad.
That’s a very important point. Coming back to Mandela, do you think his leadership example is relevant now, and if so, in what way?
It’s completely relevant because the world faces a lot of adversity, as we’ve discussed. The world is facing a tremendous amount of change. He showed that many changes are good and that you must be inclusive if you move forward geopolitically or in business. His idea of diversity and how he returned and dealt with people who’d imprisoned him. It shows the incredible presence of mind and leadership.
In the corporate world, you’re going to disagree with people. In the political world, you are too. Trying to find a way through that and a way that works for everyone is the right thing to do; that’s how his mind worked. That’s very relevant. Also, his communication skills. He trained as a lawyer but had a wonderful way of putting things and saying things. I never met him, but I’m sure you did. I imagine he was a very charismatic person.
Incredibly with a remarkable presence. What you say about the path, his words, and his presence is interesting, but there’s so much more. That’s how relevant that is now. If Mandela were alive, what do you think he would be saying to the corporate boardrooms?
He would say, “Take responsibility for your place in the world. You are in a global institution, so you must serve many people across many geographies. You must find a way to do business and the right business everywhere worldwide.” He would be encouraging the corporate leaders to do the things that some of them are doing, like inclusion, purposeful leadership, and thinking through how to mend some of the supply chains that have been broken. He would probably be saying quite a lot about the distribution of vaccines and the impact of the pandemic. He would be pushing for global research and connectivity on a global basis to solve the world’s biggest problems. He’d be a fantastic voice. Sadly, one of the few voices in the political arena.
Breaking away slightly to a couple of fun facts, could you share something about your childhood that was a fun or happy memory growing up in your family?
I had an elder brother. I told you he’s also a mathematician but quite a scientist. I remember my grandmother was looking after us once, and she said, “Where’s John?” John had got a chemistry set for Christmas. I don’t think anybody buys their kids chemistry sets anymore. He was about 11 or 12. As my grandmother asked this question, there was an enormous explosion from the outhouse. My brother comes out very proud with no eyebrows. He had a very interesting career, but in later life, he was one of these brilliant mathematicians that dealt with swaps and things like this in the financial world. It’s one of those memories because nothing bad happened. If anything bad had happened, that would’ve been awful, but you remember it as funny.
As he is four and a half years older than me, there’d be times I would be saying to him, “I can’t get to sleep,” because my mind’s overactive, and things like this. He’d say, “I’m going to give you a little Math problem,” and I would be about seven. I’d say, “Okay.” He’d say, “Calculate the number of seconds in a century, and don’t forget the leap years because I know the answer, and I’m going to check it.” I’m going like, “My goodness.”
You had a tough Math teacher before you even got to school was your Math. That’s remarkable. What would you say to your twelve-year-old self?
Keep that feeling of remembering to enjoy everything. Sometimes when things get tough, you forget to enjoy yourself. I have found that it took time to stay a little longer because I’ve traveled around the world and done lots of different things. I would spend some time in the place I was visiting, enjoy the culture, and meet the people. It made a difference in how well I understood how to do business.Keep that feeling of remembering to enjoy everything. Sometimes when things get tough, you forget to enjoy yourself. Click To Tweet
I could do that later on when my husband had retired and started to travel around the world with me a bit more so I wouldn’t have to fly home at the weekend. We would go to Dubai, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Singapore, an all-in-one trip. Stay a couple of days here and there at the weekends in different places, soak up the whole atmosphere, and enjoy life.
Could you share one thing about yourself that very few people know?
I’m such an open book, and I’m not sure there is too much about me that people don’t know. I’m a bit of a tele addict, and I love reading. I’ve retained my love of the theater, and my daughter has a little theater company. I’m very supportive of that. Combining the arts, businesses, and sciences is important in my life.
It seems like you’re also passing it on to the next generation.
I hope so.
For our final few moments, when we talk about leading boldly into the future, what are your thoughts around boldness, moral courage, and the importance of people developing that boldness at this moment in time in world history?
It is also pretty lacking in some parts of society. People look up to leaders that take bold actions. I’m thinking of somebody like Angela Merkel, whom I haven’t met, but I’ve watched her over the years and greatly respected her. If I think about the financial world, you do see people stepping up and saying, “We’re not going to follow down this route because we think it’s sailing too close to the wind in terms of regulation or that’s not a good thing to do for the population, in general.” That is what’s needed at this point in time.
Ultimately, people gain respect even if it can be very uncomfortable and put things like their jobs at risk. I’m trying to think of an instance where I’ve seen someone do it, which hasn’t worked well in the long term. I honestly can’t think of that because usually, the people capable of doing that can forge their own path as well and will bounce back.
In terms of managing the risks.
I advocate for more women in business because I’ve seen women make tough decisions. I see it in the political world for sure, but there are few and far between examples because there are few and far between world leaders who are women. It’s not to say that women are always more honest than men. It’s just some of the women leaders that rise to the top are bold. They’ve had to be, like Janet Yellen and Ruth Ginsburg, to get there. Maybe that’s a better way of saying it.
Any final closing thoughts broadly enough and from the diva?
The world is not fair. Nelson Mandela’s adult life with Apartheid and what happened in his own country wasn’t even a question of fairness. It was grossly unfair and visibly so. When you’re presented with a problem, especially when it comes to people and making people judgments, it’s important to constantly ask yourself, “Am I being fair about this? Is there something I’ve got to do to correct something that isn’t a level playing field?”
I talked about bias in artificial intelligence. We know, for example, that artificial intelligence does not do facial recognition as well for people with black skin. It can lead to terrible consequences. You have to keep a very open mind and continually ask yourself. We’re all brought up with our own prejudices. We see the world through stereotypes. We have to fight against our own stereotypical points of view to be able to move on. Remembering, recognizing, and always challenging yourself is probably the best thing you could do.
Ann, it’s been such a delight to speak to you. Thank you so much. We’re so excited that you are a champion of change, part of this movement, and helping the world to wake up, step up, and speak out. I look forward to our following conversation. Come back and talk to us again. Thank you. God bless you.
Thank you very much, Anne.
Inspiring shoemaker’s daughter, global corporate executive, and board chair, Ann Cairns, left me with three dominant thoughts. The world is unfair, but in an unfair world, music and the performing arts can help us exercise leadership and inspire change because music is the food of love. How many of you, like me, have experienced unconscious bias, a built-in disparity, and inequality, where we become the outsider, the outlier, looking from the outside? Perhaps like being too thin, suffering from bulimia, not thin enough, too young, too old, too Black, too Brown, or too White, an American dreamer in nowhere land, praying at the wrong house of worship, loving the wrong person, living on the wrong side of the street, even perhaps being too rich to be accepted or too poor to gain entry.
One of the most staggering inequalities in this financially affluent world is the deepening divide between rich and poor. Forbes revealed that the world’s richest 1% have captured 63% of global wealth. A Paris research group, the World Inequality Lab, reported that the world’s wealth is 10% owned 76% of global wealth. The poorest half earn a tiny fraction.
In times of trouble, how many of you like me turn to music, to listen, to sing along, or sing and dance, the time to emote, to release, to express those unexpressed emotions, to uplift our spirits, and to inspire hope? Although William Shakespeare’s famous opening line on Twelfth Night, “If music be the food of love play on,” in real life and leadership, this rings true despite the irony and context of the play. Music is the food of love.
On our music’s biggest night, the 65th Annual Grammy Awards Ceremony, we saw a diverse melting pot of outliers and inliers come together to celebrate and passionately perform people like Beyonce, Harry Styles, Jay-Z, Bonnie Raitt, and the multi-award-winning EGOT, Viola Davis, to name a few. With music at the center of their lives, history was made impossible became possible, and cherished dreams came true, not only for the performing artists but for countless fans too.
Music and the performing arts can build our confidence, help us exercise leadership, and inspire change in the world. Perhaps it’s time for music and the performing arts to occupy more space in corporate boardrooms, offices, congress halls, and college classrooms. You, too, can tap into the power of music and the performing arts to build your confidence, exercise leadership, and inspire change because music is the food of love. Until next time, remember that leading boldly is about making thoughtful clear choices. Bold leadership is about taking action one bold step at a time. One bold step for you, but together, a giant step for humanity.
- Ann Cairns
- 30% Club
- Financial Alliance for Women
- UK Government’s Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy
- Social Impact Fund
About Ann Cairns
Ann Cairns, Former Executive Vice Chair of Mastercard
In her former role as Vice Chair, Ann represented Mastercard worldwide, focusing on inclusion, diversity, and innovation. She played the important role of senior ambassador and executive leader with a global remit and was part of the company’s global management committee.
She was passionate about Mastercard’s role in delivering inclusion through innovation and built new global partnerships with governments, businesses, and NGOs.
Before this appointment, Ann was President of International Markets and was responsible for managing all customer-related activities in over 200 countries worldwide. In this role, she focused on building sustainable growth rates across both mature and emerging markets. She led the company’s expansion into new and diverse geographies. She opened up new customer segments, embracing digital evolution while driving an increased focus on safety, security, and convenience.
Ann brings over 20 years’ of experience working in senior management positions across Europe and the U.S., where she ran global retail, commercial, and investment banking operations. Before joining Mastercard in August 2011, Ann was head of the Financial Services Group with Alvarez & Marsal in London. She led the European team managing Lehman Brothers Holdings International through the Chapter 11 process. In addition, she helped restructure banks across Europe, including Ireland & Iceland.
Ann has also held senior positions within many global organizations, including a tenure as CEO of Transaction Banking at ABN-AMRO and 15 years in senior operational positions at Citigroup.
Ann acted as chair of ICE Clear Europe, one of the world’s leading clearing houses owned by the Fortune 500 company Intercontinental Exchange (ICE). She was also the global chair of the 30% Club and the chair of the Financial Alliance for Women. In addition, Ann is the lead non-executive board member for the UK government’s Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and is a member of the UK government’s AI Council. She has previously held board positions with ICE, AstraZeneca, and Charity Bank and chaired the ABN foundation.
She has a Pure Mathematics degree, an honorary doctorate from Sheffield University, an M.Sc. with research into medical statistics, and an honorary doctorate from Newcastle University. An early career as an award-winning research engineer culminated in the role as the Head of Offshore Engineer-Planning for British Gas, where Ann was the first woman qualified to go offshore in Britain.