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Laureation Address – Dame Marjorie Scardino

Dame Marjorie Scardino
Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws

Laureation by Professor Huw Davies
School of Management
Friday 22 June 2012


Dame Marjorie Scardino

Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, Dame Marjorie Scardino.

Dame Marjorie Scardino is Chief Executive of Pearson, the international education and media group made up of Pearson Education, Penguin and The Financial Times Group. She is also a non-executive director of Nokia Corporation, and a member of a number of charitable and advisory boards, including Oxfam, The MacArthur Foundation, and The Carter Center. In recognition of her services to the media, Ms Scardino was named Dame Commander in February 2002.

Born in America, Dame Marjorie adopted British Citizenship over a decade ago. Educated first with a Bachelors in French & Psychology at Baylor University in Texas, she then graduated in Law at the University of San Francisco. While working as the Managing Partner of a law firm in Savannah, Georgia, Ms Scardino and her husband launched and published a weekly newspaper – The Georgia Gazette. In 1984, this newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing corruption. What followed from here is a long and distinguished career in the business of publishing.

But such bare bones hide the colour, the values and the steel of Ms Scardino. She was once described as “like a character from a John Grisham novel, born in Arizona, raised in Texas, where she made a name for herself as a rodeo rider, with spells as a civil rights campaigner, crime-fighting journalist and tough-talking lawyer”. An excellent training then for a career in business – and a salutary lesson for our new graduands on transferable skill-sets and adaptability.

A number of enduring themes link the impressive trajectory of Dame Marjorie with that of St Andrews, albeit in our case over a slightly longer time frame.

Both St Andrews University and Dame Marjorie Scardino can lay claim to Notable firsts: in our case as the First Scottish University at a date long long ago. In contrasting and shocking recency, Dame Marjorie became the first female Chief Executive of a FTSE 100 company in just 1997.

That it took almost to the end of the second millennium for a woman to break through to the highest echelons of business should cause us to reflect on the skills, talent and tenacity it must have taken to smash that particular glass ceiling. Indeed, for five years, Ms Scardino was the only female Chief Executive in the FTSE 100. Even now, 15 years later, Dame Marjorie is one of just five women leading FTSE 100 companies.

This fact should outrage at least half – and hopefully all – of our graduating year, and speaks volumes about the challenges of the senior business environment, and the need for more aggressive action to open up those workplaces for all talents.

A second theme that links us is longevity. The University of St Andrews lays proud claim to its 600-year history, the longest in Scotland, and one of the longest in Europe. Dame Marjorie too can lay claim to longevity: at 15 years and counting, she remains one of the longest-serving CEOs in that revolving-door club of the FTSE 100, a feat not lost on our current Principal, I’m sure.
But more substantively, St Andrews and Dame Marjorie – through her work at Pearson and elsewhere – share a passion for books, for the knowledge contained therein, for communication of this knowledge, and for the emancipatory power of ideas. Since the first effective printing presses – some 30 years after the foundation of the University at St Andrews – courageous and innovative individuals have sought to bring the printed word to the masses.

Dame Marjorie has been at the forefront of this endeavour for over three decades. Pearson, under her leadership, now has a turnover of almost six billion pounds and employs over 40,000 staff – largely in its education publishing arm. In business terms, it has spectacularly outperformed the FTSE 100 in recent years, rising more than 50% over the most turbulent times of the past five years compared to a 10% drop in the blue-chip index overall.

Such results have been built on rather different values than merely the unfettered pursuit of profit. As incoming Chief Executive to Pearson Ms Scardino declared to an astonished City: “Profit is a by-product. It’s a by-product of doing something that people want or need efficiently. The purpose of a corporation is what drives it.” We in the School of Management try to engage our students with ideas of ‘responsible enterprise’ and such challenges to City orthodoxy on the primacy of profit and shareholder value are welcome exemplars on which we can draw.

Chancellor, in recognition of her major contribution to business and to educational publishing, I invite you to confer on Dame Marjorie Scardino the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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