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ULaw Business Advisory Board: An interview with Jane Medcraft

Our new Business Advisory Board includes Jane Medcraft, a senior manager in the rail industry working in London, joining to offer her knowledge and experience in commercial and customer management and negotiation. She also brings a keen interest in responsible business and diversity. Jane gained her GDL from our Birmingham campus in 2005 and completed her LPC in Chester in 2007.

I really enjoyed working on defence engineering projects when I left University with an engineering degree and then moved into the commercial function to gain more business experience. I worked on export contracts for Hawk aircraft for a few years while doing my GDL and LPC in my spare time. I loved negotiating with the customers and dealing with all my internal stakeholders. I left to do my training contract with a top 10 law firm and managed to secure a six month secondment to the China office. I ended up spending almost two months in Mongolia on my own working on a deal which was being led out of the London office. I qualified at the height of the recession and moved to in-house roles straight away. I worked as an in-house solicitor for another five years, getting my ICSA qualification along the way - getting as diverse an experience as I could in-house. After a few years as a lawyer, I decided to do an Executive MBA at the University of Oxford and then moved back into the commercial function of big companies as I really missed being heavily involved in the business decisions.

I’m now a senior manager working on the commercial aspects of multiple projects, often in a troubleshooting role. I believe that the combination of engineering, law and business qualifications are an excellent grounding for almost any senior role. However, it is the experience of working cross-border and cross-culturally which has really taught me how to build teams from the inside. That is invaluable when you are trying to influence people and resolve issues in a positive way.

I love the fact that two days are rarely the same. Currently I work on multiple projects and deal with many different customers, both internally and externally. I could be negotiating a contract one day, resolving a dispute another, dealing with personnel issues, training or producing reports for a board. 

A key skill I’ve developed is to pause for a little while before diving in with solutions. It often becomes clear that the real issue isn’t the one you first thought. Often things that look like major issues can be resolved by finding the right person to speak to. A bit like removing the thorn from an angry lion’s paw.

Seeing the people behind the tasks is also key for me. If you can build a relationship with people, whether they’re colleagues, customers or suppliers they will often surprise you if you focus on relationship first.

My legal education helped me to understand the governance basis of the business world. I had already worked in the business world for quite a while before I did my legal education at ULaw and I found that it really interesting to learn the theory behind the tasks I often did at work.

As alumni of ULaw I am keen to help build the next generation of business leaders. Particularly in convincing the legal professions of the benefit and necessity of business education as well as legal education. It was the right time for me to take on a board role and I am really excited to be involved.

With the calibre and the breadth of experience of the Business Advisory Board members, the Board will be able to help ULaw’s curriculum and additional activities to be cutting edge within the legal and business arena. There are still too few lawyers and governance professionals with a strong business education. Also, with the ever increasing governance focus in business, ULaw’s Business School is uniquely placed to develop business leaders with a firm grounding in ethics and governance. 

I hope to bring a different perspective on business education to the Advisory Board. I have worked in high-tech manufacturing industries for a large portion of my career.

To be a great leader in business, I think you need a combination of skill, education, experience and awareness of yourself and others. These are key elements however, I believe what wraps them into a great leader is passion for the business and the team you are leading. The best leaders I’ve worked with have found a way to remain quite humble and people focussed despite dealing with the business challenges in a firm way. 

I think one of the biggest challenges the next generation of business leaders will face going forward is actually coming from the lack of career structure due to newer working models. It will take quite a shift in thinking to not only develop and retain but also identify those employees with the ability and passion to move the business forward in the future. Knowledge needs to be met with experience and exposure to gain the real skills that future business leaders will need. It’s certainly going to be an interesting time while we work out how that can be resolved.

For students hoping to succeed in the business world, focus on experience and exposure not just on salary and outward career progression. The experiences you have earlier on in your career will help shape your knowledge and viability for the later stages. 

Finding out who you are and what makes you tick is key to maximising your career prospects. Whether that’s through travelling, volunteering, exploring or any other activity.  As well as building your confidence, it also helps you to develop the self-awareness you’ll need when working in or leading teams.