Wendy Hart read History at St Anne's College, graduating in 1988. She joined Grant Thornton in the same year, and was quickly put forward for Partnership. Today, she works as a Corporate Finance and Strategic Advisory Specialist. Oxford Women in Business was delighted to host her on Tuesday 5th November.
Wendy applied to Grant Thornton after graduating, when the accounting firm was one of the 'Big 7', and the largest in Oxford. Despite being offered jobs in London, she decided to stay in Oxford and work within the growing business community here. She first joined the Audit Practice section of the company first, which she explained was daunting for her as somebody who was not naturally numerical. She had to pass various accounting exams after a year, which (to the relief of many present) she maintained was definitely within the realms of possibility for those who do not often deal with numbers. She added that experiencing this with a cohort of other graduates eased the challenge slightly.
In 1996 she took up a secondement posting to NatWest Corporate Bank, in a consultant management role, located in Reading. This was also an intensive course, involving bank managing and liaising with around five or six businesses a week. Wendy is still in contact with her Reading network and believes that the placement was vital for the development of her skills and confidence, which led her back to Grant Thornton in 1998.
As soon as she returned, she was put forward for Partnership, which was earlier than is customary; she was only 31 years old. During the assessments for this she was also pregnant with her first child. Interestingly, Wendy told us that she would have found the decision on whether to continue working through motherhood too difficult and the so the unplanned situation that forced her to persevere and remain in work was actually beneficial.
From that point on Wendy added to her skills; she became a trained mentor and was involved in various programmes within the company such as 'Future Perspectives'. She made the first vital steps in building the firm into a technology practice, and became the national Head of Technology for the business, which is now one of the largest sectors within the firm. Although she has two daughters, she has always managed to work full–time. She says that rather than trying to keep her working and home life separate, the key is to keep them in balance. She thanks the maternity leave legislation for making it easier for women to combine parenting with employment.
Those present were grateful for Wendy's honesty in admitting that when she started in the practice, the environment was very patriarchal. She remains the only female corporate finance partner, and she still finds it daunting to walk into a room full of men. Unfortunately, Wendy does not see the future changing immediately for areas like corporate finance, though increasingly areas such as audit and tax are attracting far more senior women.
Wendy's engaging talk certainly acted as a spur to the ambition of students from humanities or arts backgrounds considering careers corporate finance. OxWIB is very grateful to have hosted her.