Professor Alyson Warhurst stresses the importance of academic training and promotes PhDs, especially for women. She believes that personal success is derived from talent and expertise, luck and a good mentor.
Professor Alyson Warhurst
Chief Executive Officer
Alyson Warhurst is CEO and Founder of risk analysis and mapping company Maplecroft. Over the past ten years she has built Maplecroft into the leading source of extra-financial risk intelligence for the world’s largest multinational corporations; banks and asset managers; governments and NGOs. Coming from an academic background, she now advises global companies and organisations at board level on issues including: global and political risks, human rights, ethical supply chains, corporate reputation and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Warhurst is a consultant to the World Economic Forum (WEF), where she is also part of the faculty; she is a member of Clinton Global Initiative and on the Board of Trustees at Transparency International UK. From 1999 to 2009 Warhurst was Chair of Strategy and International Development at Warwick Business School, where she won the inaugural Faculty Pioneer ‘Beyond Grey Pinstripes Award’ (called by the FT the “Business School Oscars”), regularly won the ‘Outstanding Teacher Award’ and was made an Honorary Professor in 2010. She is an accomplished speaker at high-level international events and has written several books and more than 100 articles, including a regular column for Business Week. In 2010 Warhurst was a recipient of a Business Insurance Magazine ‘Women to Watch’ award.
What is your career-defining moment?
It was when I recognised that risk can and must be brought to life through mapping and measuring complex issues in challenging geographies.
Which woman in business most inspires you and why?
There are three women that have a broad influence on me: Aung San Suu Kyi, who is an inspiration for standing by her principles, as well as her understanding of the importance of responsible business in rebuilding her country; Hilary Clinton for her understanding of the importance of human rights, especially those affecting women in Africa; and the Body Shop’s Founder Anita Roddick for her influential teaching style and product innovation.
What is the biggest challenge you are facing just now?
Running a business as it grows and moves into second-stage growth is very challenging, especially in today’s economic climate. It requires hard work and 24/7 engagement.
What couldn’t you manage without?
I could not be without a brilliant senior team and the loyal and competent employees and colleagues that have been with us from the beginning.
What is your next major objective?
We are an ambitious business. The next major objective is to realise the goal of becoming the world leader in risk mapping, analysis and political risk advisory services.
What advice would you give to other women in treasury?
There is no substitute for hard work and achievement. Criticisms and obstacles are often put in your way, so it is important not to allow those things to tie you up. There is no substitute for putting your head down, working hard and letting the end results speak for themselves. I am a real believer in building careers one brick at a time, ensuring that you move on to the next brick and keep moving upwards. Finding a good mentor is paramount to guide you through this process.
If there is one thing you could have done differently in your career path so far, what would that be?
If I could have done things differently, I would have written more books. At the pinnacle of my career as a professor, I still had a lot of writing to do which I believe would have had an impact. But I chose to build a business instead and it is difficult to do both at the same time. When I retire from business, I would like to write – but perhaps by then it might be a more creative novel.
“There is no substitute for putting your head down, working hard and letting the end results speak for themselves.”
Professor Alyson Warhurst began her career in academia with a geology and geography degree, moving into political science and international relations and completed a PhD with a large amount of field work in Latin America. “The challenge I set myself was exploring why there had been no success in transforming the mineral wealth of the Andes into economic wealth for the countries it touches (Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru and Chile), in the same way that Canada and the US transformed the Rockies from natural to national wealth. This main thesis has been something that has intrigued me throughout my academic career,” she explains.
Warhurst distinguished herself as an academic and became the youngest UK business school professor at the time she was appointed Chair of the Bath School of Management in 1994. Five years later, she was awarded a Chair at Warwick Business School where she set up a corporate citizenship unit. She had fairly large teams of researchers who worked on various types of PhDs to understand business influences in emerging markets and what made for business/government/society success in these areas.
At Warwick she taught an MBA module on business and society, which came first out of 92 different modules that were undertaken at Warwick, something which she is extremely proud of. “I received the outstanding teacher award every year and that really mattered to me,” Warhurst says. However, her teaching experience made her realise that when teaching it is critical to bring words to life and in order to learn students have to be enjoying themselves. “I came up with the concept of mapping risk, which builds on my geography background. The concept is based on using visually compelling ways of presenting data in charts and maps to explain risk and a range of different issues relevant to the complex emerging markets business environment,” she explains. She attributes this insight as her “career-defining moment”.
The concept was also based on many years living and working in China, Myanmar, parts of Africa and virtually every country in Latin America. “Words just don’t do that business environment justice, so I developed a visual alternative,” she says.
When Warhurst reached 50 she took early retirement, so she changed course in 2005 and committed to working with business and life partner, Ed Cole, in developing software and mapping applications. She started working full-time as CEO of Maplecroft from 2009. Since then the company has grown by 40% and now employs 100 people. She believes that the company is successful despite the recession because “everyone wants/needs to understand risk in emerging economies”.
In her day-to-day work, Warhurst has worked hard in the last year to build up a senior team of 12 people. Her three key areas of responsibility are:
Business development: she still enjoys travelling and meeting new people to expand the business.
Maintain quality and ensure career development; peer reviews; and ensuring talent development across the business with a strong emphasis on research quality.
Business strategy; ensuring that the strategic aims of the business are met.
“I don’t have my eyes just on revenue but also on valuation,” she says. “It is about ensuring revenues are high and that they keep growing and are sufficient.” She is very comfortable taking risks so the company is not yet in profit because the revenue is invested in building the business and new areas of research and innovation. “I am a strong believer in R&D and maintaining everything so there isn’t a day that goes by that we are not innovating in one way or another.” Valuation is also important to Warhurst, ensuring that the company has long-term contracts, a good senior team and that the business is on sound ground and has all the right indicators.
She believes academic training is important and promotes PhDs, especially for women. “A PhD is a formidable building block in any career and a great accomplishment,” she says and looks for this when recruiting, as well as often suggesting a PhD when giving career advice. “You have to achieve a certain standard in terms of understanding methodology and innovating with respect to methodology after having spent time out in the field. All the ingredients in producing a successful PhD are the ingredients I look for in employees.”
Warhurst is mindful of gender balance in her company and of ensuring that the support is there across the board, taking into account the special situation that women find themselves when they are building their careers. She believes that personal success is derived from talent and expertise, luck and a good mentor. “You need all three – one on its own is not sufficient,” she says.