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News > Alumnae Interviews > 10 Questions with...OR Philippa Couttie

10 Questions with...OR Philippa Couttie

Baroness Philippa Couttie gives an insight into her work in the House of Lords, shares what practical items she would take to a desert island and what she would do with unlimited funds.
4 Jan 2022
Written by Sophie Osborne
Alumnae Interviews

Baroness Philippa Couttie (Roe, No. 4, 1972-80) started her career in public relations later becoming the chief excutive of a subsidiary of a publicly-quoted group. Following this, Philippa ventured into the City where she headed Schroder's principal finance group and became  a director of Citigroup, the world's largest bank. In 2005, Philippa left the private sector and joined local Government becoming leader of Westminster Council. She also sat on the Crime Reduction Board and London Local Enterprise Partnership. In 2016, she was elevated to House of Lords where she is a Conservative Party Whip and a member of  the EU Financial Affairs Select Committee.

What is your favourite memory of Roedean?

I do not have one specific favourite memory but many of being with my friends at weekends. In the Junior House we used to build dens in the school grounds and try make up on in the dorms. In the senior school we used to go into Brighton, dressed up and thinking how great we looked. We had fun and laughed a lot. Although I have lost contact with some of those friends, I remain fond of them for the important part they played in my life. 

What was the best piece of advice you were given whilst at School?

The most important thing that Roedean taught me is resilience. I learnt that, no matter how hard things appear or how unhappy you may feel, you have to find the strength to pull yourself through. Make a plan, find satisfaction in its execution and, even if things do not work out as intended, find contentment in what you have achieved then set a new goal. This approach has helped me meet the challenges I have faced throughout my life.

When you were at Roedean, what did you want to be when you ‘grew-up’?

An actress

What are you now you've grown up?

I have had three careers: marketing, investment banking and I am now a politician and a non executive director.

What does your job involve?

My role as a member of the European Affairs Select Committee involves scrutinising government legislation, negotiations and other activity relating to Europe. More generally in the House of Lords I give speeches and ask ministers questions relating to issues of concern or proposed legislation.

As a non executive director I act as a critical friend to the executive to ensure that the company is well run and that all decisions are made on a sound basis. My role is to challenge the thinking of the executive and, along with my fellow board members, approve all significant decisions made by the board. I also sit on audit committees as part of my NED role where we ensure robust processes are in place and that the the governance aspects of the company are sound. This includes the financials of the company but extends beyond just the numbers. I also chair the Mitie Social Value and Business Responsibility Committee and the Mitie Foundation, which I particularly enjoy. 

What have you done that you are most proud of?

Having my two, wonderful children against all the odds. I was diagnosed with breast cancer just 6 months after I was married. We had been trying for a family but naturally that had to stop while I had treatment. I was then told that I should not get pregnant as the hormones during pregnancy may affect my prognosis. Our children were born using a surrogate in the US. This was at a time when surrogacy was virtually unheard of.

What are the three objects you would take with you to a desert island?

I am a practical person and my list reflects this. I suspect if I included items for nostalgia or beauty I would soon regret it as I fought for survival.
A knife

A large net (for catching fish)

A large plastic sheet (not very eco friendly but I can’t think of anything else I could use instead to build something to desalinate water)

What is on your bucket list?

Visiting the ancient sites and seeing the flora and fauna I have not managed to see so far. This would include the stone churches of Ethiopia, the towns of Uzbekistan and the ancient sites of Iran and Israel. I would like to see pandas, gorillas, chimpanzees, oragutans and lemurs in their natural habitat and the butterfly migration in South America

If you had one year and unlimited funds, what would you do?

Set up a charity with sufficient investments to generate enough income to fund its activities. The charity would specialise in helping children reach their full potential. In the developing world this would include education, healthcare and mental and physical rehabilitation for those children affected by war. In the developed world, the charity would support children in care with mentoring and support to help them achieve good school results and enter the workplace, it would work with children involved with gangs and drugs to help steer them into a more productive life and work with youth clubs to help young people find constructive outlets for their energy.

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