The Queen of Execution – Amanda Blanc on Desert Island Discs
I love Desert Island Discs – I love hearing the stories of people’s success and recognition, love hearing their music choices, the book and the luxury item they would take with them. All reveal so much about a person’s character in such an enjoyable space of time.
Last week I listened to Amanda Blanc, Group CEO of Aviva, one of just eight women at the top of a FTSE 100 company. Amidst some great music choices, she tells the story of her background, the characteristics that helped lead to her success, and speaking out against sexism and misogyny.
Here’s my synopsis of the characteristics that helped lead to her success, so many of which reflect those of the women we interviewed for our Wonder Women book.
Just do it
Amanda is known by as colleagues as the ‘Queen of Execution’ – she explains this:
I just like to get things done. So often in life people just talk and talk and talk. There’s a time for talking but there should definitely be a time for doing. If you achieve something – it may not be 100% perfect – but doing something is better than sitting and adjudicating at the side.Amanda Blanc
It’s important to embrace change and take on new challenges. You need to summon your inner confidence and self-belief to be brave, to stand up for what you believe in, and to confront the conscious and unconscious bias that is still prevalent in the workplace and society.
Amanda has spoken out against the sexism and misogyny that many women – including herself – have encountered during their careers. In 2022 she called out disparaging comments made to her by some of the male shareholders at her company’s own AGM. Her published riposte received some 1.6m views in the space of a few days.
Bravery was also highlighted as an important attribute by the Wonder Women we interviewed:
I have a natural curiosity, want to upset the status quo, and like to be pushed outside my comfort zone.Elaine Barnes
I have always been willing to take chances. I think the real reasons I became a CEO was because I was crazy enough to accept it.Helle Muller Petersen
If nobody will challenge or think differently, nothing will ever change. You have to stop sometimes and think differently to make a difference.Elena Marchenko
Amanda chose the Taylor Swift song This is me to illustrate the importance of being your authentic self. Don’t pretend to be something you are not and be kind to yourself. You should stand up for who you are – and you certainly don’t have to be an alpha male to be successful.
Amanda also talked about how being a FTSE 100 CEO is all encompassing, but she’s now quite vocal about work/life balance. She tends to go into work early and leave early and encourages her team to go home – to live their lives and be with their families.
In our Wonder Women interviews many cited the importance of sharing who you are in your personal life and how this can make you happier and more successful in your professional life. People accept you for who you are.
Never get embarrassed about showing your emotions, it shows your passions. We see women crying as a weakness and men angry as a strength, but they’re both expressing passions, each is valid.Sarah Henwood
Have your support systems in place
Coming from a Welsh mining town, Amanda talked about the value of community, people around you who can help you out, a great team of people you work with – and most importantly – having a partner who supports you and your career aspirations. This theme came through very strongly in the Wonder Women interviews – especially when kids arrive.
If mums and dads are better supported in their work and with their families, companies all over the world will thrive.
I thoroughly recommend listening to Amanda Blanc’s Desert Island Discs. Great words of wisdom and great music choices!