"I would like some of my legacy to help other students trying to extend their education"
Yvana Reeves came to Surrey as a mature student in 2002 to study a master's degree in Change Agent Skills and Strategies. Having been supported through a legacy gift from her godmother, Yvana is now supporting the next generation of students looking to extend their education.
Can you tell us about your career prior to arriving at Surrey?
I had little idea about what to do with my underwhelming A level results in History, Art and English in 1967. But I did have plenty of evidence of leadership roles at school, including being Head Girl, Head of House and captain of various sports teams. A career in management seemed possible and I appreciated advice to try retail at Marks & Spencer. They had an excellent management training scheme and I was accepted to learn about human resource management. Equal opportunities in commercial careers didn’t happen until 1975, by which time I was well-established in a job I enjoyed in charge of staff in large M&S stores.
Then followed a series of roles in the Baker Street Head Office of M&S. I worked in management recruitment, career planning, training and development before taking a senior role as Head of HR for the Food Group, then a third of the business.
I switched to more commercial roles in my last three years with them, as Sales Controller for M&S Financial Services, which was focused on training store staff to sell the new financial products being introduced to stores.
By 1991 the landscape for management was changing. The introduction of computers meant management information was more easily shared and fewer managers were needed. A downturn in business across Europe meant a recession was coming. M&S were cutting back too and my role was nearly done. I decided to take some time to review what I wanted and left retailing.
Within a year I had set up as an independent consultant and was working in a range of sectors providing training design and consulting. I was running management courses on topics like performance management, influencing skills, time management, and presentation skills. I was enjoying working with new people, new ideas and different business sectors.
Within three years I was clear about three things:
- That training alone didn’t seem to deliver the outcomes companies were hoping for
- I needed to get closer to the leadership team to understand the context of the changes they were seeking
- The organisational consultants I met at conferences and workshops didn’t rely on training alone to effect change.
I was curious about the process of change consulting and stepped away from delivering training courses. I collaborated with experienced consultants and built or was part of teams providing strategic workshops and targeted interventions. This might be meeting a whole team in an organisation to hear their views on proposed changes and to involve them in achieving effective change. Sometimes a ‘slice’ of an organisation, different levels of people meeting together, would provide insights into the wider culture and the stumbling blocks to change.
You then chose to undertake a master's degree. Why did you choose Surrey?
In the early 1990’s the MSc at Surrey in Change Agent Skills and Strategies, had a brilliant reputation among organisational consultants. It was seen as providing scope to study theory and to apply that theory to real client projects. I’d met two of the three lecturers at workshops and conferences and was impressed by their involvement and skills. One, Paul Tosey, encouraged me to apply.
What was it like to study at Surrey?
Initially terrifying! I had left school with A levels and hadn’t formally studied much since then. However, I was lucky subsequently to have had plenty of training and development as I pursued a management career.
I was fifty when I crossed the threshold of the University, looked over by Guildford Cathedral’s tower.
I had so much to learn about how to study, how to find my way among twenty or so other mature students, how to write essays and eventually how to approach a dissertation. Support from the tutors and experienced guest consultants was invaluable. Gradually the incredible mass of new impressions and learning began to make more sense. We students shared our knowledge, and supported each other’s learning in peer groups. We were encouraged to experiment and to explore, to learn from setbacks and to delve deeply into the impact of change on ourselves.
But we loved the grounds and often seemed to be outside, discussing and sharing experiences, hearing about challenges and successes with clients as we became more confident in applying what we were learning.
Gaining the tools of learning and critical thinking helped immensely to provide a foundation for future awareness and confidence. The subject of how change affects individuals, groups and organisations has been an incredibly useful one to have studied at that point in my life. It continues to inform how I live and share my life today.
How did your career develop post-Surrey?
The learning while at Surrey University informed much of my new-found skills and thinking. New business relationships were formed and several of us became colleagues on projects.
Two key clients provided a foundation for my work:
One of the Big Four accountancies employed a team of us for twelve years to design and deliver a programme called Foundation Consulting to their intake of young consultants. I was one of the two external designers, a lead trainer and project deputy for the duration of the assignment.
The other client was the last of the independent insurance broking firms in the City. They retained me and a colleague for six years to run twice yearly strategic awaydays for their board, followed by communication workshops and training for their senior brokers and team managers.
The twenty years of training and consulting felt busy and productive. I had so many interesting projects during this time and retained friendships that have endured into retirement!
Why did you decide to leave a legacy?
A much-loved god-mother left me a small legacy and I decided that I would use it to fund my time at Surrey. I didn’t expect to have ‘spare’ money available by my seventies but that is indeed the case. I would like some of my legacy to help other students trying to extend their education who may have difficulty funding themselves.
Would you encourage others to leave a legacy gift?
Of course. This is such an individual decision and many people have family members they want to support. For me, education is such a vital start in life, as an asset. It is an important way of ensuring future generations apply intelligence to the personal and societal challenges they will undoubtedly face.