Conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1992.
Hosted by Will Bachman.

Episode: 69

Carolyn Barnett Gibson, From Refugees to Boardrooms to Nuclear Submarines

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Show notes

Carolyn Gibson, a graduate of Harvard and Radcliffe, has had a diverse and different path since graduating from the university. She initially wanted to be an ambassador, but realized that she wouldn’t be a great ambassador to the United States due to her Dutch passport and not agreeing with the U.S. foreign policy. Instead, she decided to go into international aid and development. She tapped into the Harvard network to find information about Europe and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. She worked as a speechwriter for the High Commissioner herself, Madame Agata, and later landed a three-month internship with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

Carolyn was encouraged to work in the field. She had been working with two Italian men from Napoli who had received funding from George Soros to start a reunification program in the former Yugoslavia. She took up the offer to start a program using CD ROMs to record the names and photographs of children displaced during the war and make them available in UNHCR offices in the war zone for parents to find their children’s homes. She talks about the importance of International laws for protecting and helping refugees, and how the Harvard network can help alumni find positions. 


Working in Yugoslavia during the War

Carole recounts her experience in former Yugoslavia, where she helped reunite children with their parents. She experienced disillusionment with the war and the profiteering surrounding it, which led to loss of life and inappropriate media coverage. She talks about smuggling and how the role of the UN. Carolyn met her future husband, Trevor Gibson, who worked for the UN Fire and Rescue Service in Syria, which was a cowboy unit that was on the front lines, running ambulances and stopping fighting. Carolyn talks about the bias in the media and how  a lack of willingness to understand and inappropriate media coverage contributed to her disillusionment. They decided to leave Yugoslavia, and Carolyn was offered a post in East Africa helping reunite parents and their children after the Rwandan genocide. She and her husband eventually decided to return to the States in 1995, but decided to move to Scotland where her husband decided to pursue a law degree in Birmingham, UK. They found themselves in a city that was similar to the Detroit of the UK, with car manufacturers and coal mining where Carolyn worked as a copywriter for nonprofit organizations before she earned a scholarship to an MBA program from Warwick University. 


Working in Consulting at Deloitte

Carolyn talks about her experience of working in the management consulting practice of Deloitte. She started with Deloitte’s program leadership practice and later worked with a child support agency. Carolyn and her husband decided to stay in Birmingham to settle down and have children. She then moved to a local government practice with Deloitte. They set up the first contact center for multiple local governments in one spot, and she became a specialist in setting up cross-governmental contact centers. However, the local government practice and Deloitte’s public sector practice merged, which involved a lot more travel, so Carolyn decided to become a stay-at-home mom. 


Writing a Book on Teaching Languages

She had been home for 10 years, running the PTA and serving on the Board of Governors for a school, and she wrote a book on teaching other languages. She shares three key tips from the book: make fun, set aside time, give children exposure as much as possible to the language they find fun.  She discusses her experiences teaching their children French and moving to France for a year. They eventually moved back to Birmingham, which she has  found to be a friendly city and a great place to raise a family.

She moved out of the stay-at-home mom phase and started working in a startup tech company in Coventry, which focused on strategy execution software. She worked with top Fortune 500 companies, such as Nestle, Pratt Whitney, Societe Generale, Philips, L3, and energy companies and eventually became head of consulting. However, the company struggled to translate their investment into a working financial model, and she missed the opportunity to work with public sector organizations, but she gained their support to pursue a master’s degree at Oxford, which had links to the UK Government. 


Working for the U.K. Defense Ministry 

After completing her master’s, she worked for the Cabinet Office, particularly in the Ministry of Defense. She is in their strategic supplier program, which aims to align strategic suppliers with the UK Government’s goals and vice versa. She works with Rolls Royce, a company that makes engines and E power plants for their nuclear submarines, and Babcock, helping them work at a strategic level, aligning across government, and identifying problems and improving them. Carolyn talks about her accomplishments at the Ministry of Defense and her work as a consultant, where she can make specific nudges that make a big difference. She has helped resolve major contracts and ensured that the government’s goals are met. Carolyn explains the culture of a military environment, and how an open door and willingness to share information is crucial, as it allows for a more open and diverse workforce.  She found that the defense industry is highly meritocratic and open to new ideas, which is important for women in the industry. Carolyn is now considering pivoting back into the nonprofit world, particularly in the area of unconditional cash transfers, which she believes is a growing area in the United States. 


Influential Courses and Professors at Harvard

Carolyn shares the courses and professors at Harvard that resonated with her, including a course with Stanley Hoffmann about war, and a seminar with Rena Fonseca on India-China relations. She also shares her experiences with Stanley Hoffmann, who taught her the importance of holding onto convictions and ideas, and Rena Fonseca, who taught her the importance of perseverance and adaptability in the face of challenges. 



05:11 How Carolyn’s involvement  with the Harvard network helped her find work

10:30 Smuggling and profiteering in war-torn Yugoslavia

13:35 Media coverage of the war that was inappropriate

21:46 Working at Deloitte

24:00 Carolyn’s book on teaching kids languages 

28:07 Working in strategy execution software at a tech startup

31:06 Impressions at the Ministry of Defense 




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92-69.Carolyn Gibson


Carolyn Gibson, Will Bachman


Will Bachman  00:01

Hello, and welcome to the 90 T report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host will Bachman. And I’m excited to be here today with Carolyn Gibson, who some of you may have known in college as Carolyn Barnett. Carolyn, welcome to the show.


Carolyn Gibson  00:20

Hi, well, great to be here. Thanks for inviting me.


Will Bachman  00:23

So, Carolyn, tell me about your journey since graduating from Harvard?


Carolyn Gibson  00:29

Well, I’ve had quite a diverse and different path, I think. But I haven’t listened to some of your other podcasts. Everybody else has such an interesting and varied life as well. It’s, it’s fun to see them all and hear them all. And I just want to say, first, thank you so much for inviting me here. And also doing this for everyone. It’s just such a gift that you’re giving everybody the chance to hear from classmates and really connect this way. So thank you very much.


Will Bachman  01:00

That’s very cool to say it’s the highlight of my week when I do these. So. So yes, so talk to me about what happened.


Carolyn Gibson  01:08

So I guess I’ll start by saying, when I first started at Harvard, I really wanted to be an ambassador, but I studied history and languages and realized by the end that I probably wouldn’t be a great ambassador to the United States, as I had a Dutch passport, as well as a as a American one. And I didn’t quite agree with its foreign policy after having done a lot of the research around it. So instead, I wanted to really go into international aid and development. And I tapped up the Harvard network, which is something that you know, I know, a number of us have done and really benefit from, wrote to every alum that I knew, could get the whole hold of the details of in, in Europe, where I wanted to, you know, use my passport. And, and looked at the EU looked at Paris, UNESCO and all the international institutions in Geneva, and was fortunate enough, saved up some money over the summer I traveled over there interviewed in October and landed a three month internship with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees starting in January, so felt really excited about that. Right as the speechwriter for the High Commissioner herself, Madame Agata So, felt like I’d really landed on my feet, I was so excited to be there, I got, you know, arrived, got a room in a hostel and an old town walked everyday to work along the river and the and the lake. And we, you know, worked right in the Office of the High Commissioner writing speeches. So I was just over the moon that I had managed this and, and did that got extended for another three months, and then landed a job with a deputy High Commissioner after that, you know, just down down the down the road down the hole. And spend a year doing that, and then realized and was encouraged to get out to the field. So I had been working closely with a couple of Italian guys from Napoli really real characters. And they had got some funding from George Soros to start a reunification program in the former Yugoslavia during the war. there that was this was 9495. By then, and I took up their offer to go out there and, and start up this big program, which was novel at the time, it was using CD ROMs to record all the names and photographs of the children that had been displaced in the war. And to make those available in a secure way in UNHCR offices in the war zone so that parents could go and find where their children had been moved to. I don’t know if you remember that far back, but it was around you know, a bit like World War Two, you know, a lot of the people had just basically put their children on buses and and shipped them off to safe relatives and, and other places around Europe at the beginning of the war, and then lost track of them so this is the whole intention of doing that.


Will Bachman  04:40

Wow, that’s That’s amazing, to you know, reunite their kids with the parents, holy cow, and like before the internet and before really took off. So, all right, well, before we go on, can you just tell me how did that I mean, amazing. First job you his speech writer to the High Commissioner, you mentioned that you adapt the harbor network a little bit. Can you tell us specifically how that job came about how you got connected to that?


Carolyn Gibson  05:11

I wrote to an alum who was close friends with the High Commissioner. And they had the person that had been doing her speech writing her, her chief of staff was completely overwhelmed. And I think she just saw an opportunity to kind of bring somebody in and, and do that and work with our Chief Chief of Staff to, to do that a woman woman named Irene Kahn, at the time, who went on, I think, to work with Amnesty International after that as their CEO. So you know, it was really just a really exciting time to be there refugee numbers were, were much smaller than they are now, but still growing and a real problem for the world. So it was really nice to work in an agency, and with a high commissioner, who really understood that the legal basis of the work that they were doing, and the legal basis of refugees, and how important that was to maintain and continue to try to beat the drum about, you know, the fact that, that there is, there is a good reason why we have laws, international laws that bring people that allow people to cross borders, and get and get safety. And I feel like we’ve lost that a little bit now. And it’s hard to keep that message up. And it was part of, you know, something real formative time for me to really understand some of those concepts and, and resonate with, you know, the plight of refugees and migration migrants generally, but refugees in particular who don’t lose their rights in there. You do have rights.


Will Bachman  06:53

An interesting point to me of your story there is that it sounds like this was not a position that had been advertised. And it may not even have been a position that they had, you know, necessarily in mind, but when a bright, young Harvard grad comes along, they thought, Oh, well, let’s create an opportunity for this person, this would be so helpful. It’s such an interesting kind of take on how like the best jobs come about. And how did you know that the person that you wrote to was friends with the High Commissioner, was that rent? Were you just writing to like every Harvard


Carolyn Gibson  07:29

wrote every Harvard alum that, you know, that basically had indicated their interest, you know, happy to receive those type of letters that I think the alumni office was pretty good about keeping that going?


Will Bachman  07:40

And, and like, what would you say, I’m interested in doing some kind of, you know, NGO type of work? Do you happen to know anyone? I mean, what was the letter about? I mean, obviously worked. So I’d love to know what the trick was.


Carolyn Gibson  07:54

Yeah, well, it was just open. And yeah, this is what I’ve done. And this is what I’d really like to do. And these are the skills that I have already, you know, what, you know, the language side study didn’t I? I lived in France for a year when I was younger. So I had good working knowledge of French and I think that helped. So So yeah, I think I just, you know, you just have to try. And I think people like to be of service, don’t they? So where they’re offered openings, and I’ve done it, I did it two or three times early in my career, and it was super helpful. So I don’t I think there are a lot of more rules nowadays about how you go


Will Bachman  08:33

about those. But what what what were the other two times this isn’t super instructive.


Carolyn Gibson  08:39

Oh, before that, I worked. I wanted to get some work in Europe the summer before. So I wrote again, wrote to some alums, and was connected to a director of HR in Mars company in Strasburg, and worked for a summer in their marketing department. Wow. So yeah, and that also through an alum who didn’t actually work there, but knew somebody who, you know, did internships. Yeah,


Will Bachman  09:10

reach out and ask for help. Okay, so we let’s go back to Yugoslavia. So you were helping reunite kids with their parents. And that must have been so rewarding when you got notified, notified, I imagine. I don’t know if you did that. notified. Okay. We we had a match. Tell me about what happened then.


Carolyn Gibson  09:35

Um, so I was there for probably about a year and a half all together. I traveled all around the war zones, to to the UNHCR offices to get this all set up and had a lot of exposure therefore, to you know, what was going on in in each place. Try to avoid, you know, when bombs were falling, because nobody really wants to register Children in those circumstances or, or travel out too much. But But still, you know, got a good, good sense of it and actually got really disillusioned and there was a lot of profiteering, you know, you got to real real sense of the profiteering around a war. Needless, you know, loss of life, media coverage that was completely inappropriate. You know, what’s


Will Bachman  10:27

an example of profiteering?


Carolyn Gibson  10:30

Oh, my goodness, where do I start? You know, one of the examples is that UNHCR setup a very famously set up a bakery in Sarajevo to, to bake fresh bread for people, because if they just gave them kind of off the shelf food, it went straight to the frontlines and didn’t feed the population that was just, it was just sold off or stolen. So the only way of keeping that going was to have fresh, you know, to have actually fresh produce in the city. And fresh. Yeah, that type of thing. There was people different war of the war, even the UN, kind of peacekeepers were selling off gasoline, there were, you know, smuggling going on left, right and center, in and out of the enclaves. There was actual situations, I don’t know if it was true or not where, you know, they would report, you know, one side would run out of bullets, and would then just actually go to the other side through an intermediary and say, you know, but let us buy some bullets for you, and they’ll sell so we can keep shooting you. I mean, I, you know, it’s just crazy. I had, you know, it was, it was a very, very difficult situation to kind of realize that actually, you were part of the problem as the UN and not part of the solution.


Will Bachman  12:05

And what was it part of the problem,


Carolyn Gibson  12:08

because, because we were bringing money in that was feeding the war we were bringing in, we were bringing in a guise of safety, that things were gonna, you know, we were taking care of things when actually, it was just maintaining a situation where people could continue to kill each other, was really difficult. And and there were certain people that I thought, were doing a good job. So I actually met my future husband there, in Syria, in the radio room at one point when I was coming in. And he was working for the UN Fire and Rescue Service. And they were kind of a cowboy unit trying to help out people, but they were, they were on the front lines actually running the ambulances to pick up people who had been shot or hurt. And also, stopping the fighting, he would he was in charge of actually calling up each side and saying, you know, stop shooting where the UN don’t shoot us. We’re picking up somebody and bringing them to the hospital. And we’ll be doing that on your side of the front line tomorrow. So let us do it. And there were so there were good people there and good. People doing good things. But overall, the overall effort was just feeding the war rather than helping it stop.


Will Bachman  13:27

Well, you said something about media coverage, that was inappropriate, say more about that.


Carolyn Gibson  13:35

Um, so the media would stand in one particular location, where they could get a really good view of, you know, the right pictures of people getting shot, and just take pictures of them. And they, because the location that they could stand and report on was over on one side, then you got a very one sided view of who was being shot, whereas people were being shot on all sides, weren’t they? So, so there was a definite bias in the media that you could see and also a lack of willingness to kind of understand and present the whole picture of what’s going on. Okay. Yeah,


Will Bachman  14:18

so you got disillusioned in Yugoslavia with it sounds like part of the you know, partly with the international aid effort, keep going, what happened then in your life?


Carolyn Gibson  14:30

Um, so as I said, I met my future husband there, Trevor Gibson, he, he and I both got quite disillusioned, and we decided to, to, you know, try to figure out a new path. So I was offered a short term assignment to try and see whether something might be helpful. The same sort of reunification program might be helpful after the Rwandan genocide. I, so I did a short assignment down in, in that area in East Africa. And try that out and actually wasn’t appropriate. And it was even felt even more inappropriate in that context to sort of try and help a society that I didn’t understand and didn’t didn’t know how to, to engage with without being kind of the white. You know, non, you know, in ignorant person coming in. And, and that didn’t work very well. So I, so eventually, I came back. And we, we decided that we would try and, you know, go back to the states and work there. Got got there in August 1995. And my husband who hadn’t done it, even a university degree, even though he was doing all this high level un negotiation, stuff, couldn’t get a job. And I and we weren’t married at that point. And we thought, we’ll have to, we’ll have to do something else. So we moved back to Scotland, where he came from originally. And within three weeks, he decided, well, he just needs to get a university degree. And it was this was September, and he called up all the areas, all the universities and all throughout all of the UK and gone on to a law program in Birmingham, starting two weeks before we arrived, sorry, arrived two weeks late for this program. And all of a sudden, we found ourselves in, in Birmingham, UK, which was not where we’d intended to land. But that’s where we were. And I don’t know if anybody of that knows Birmingham, but it’s a bit like the Detroit of the UK, it’s the car manufacturers. It’s the start of the Industrial Revolution, lots of coal mining, or previously bit rundown on its way up at that point, starting to come back to life. But not not particularly pretty not particularly, you know, good for jobs. And I got a job as a copywriter to try and make ends meet, working on doing copywriting for nonprofits. And, and tried to make that work. My husband did just, you know, hadn’t been in school for 12 years, had only done finished at 16. And previously, was all of a sudden in a lock program. And, and was trying to make that work. And we were both thinking, Oh, what have we done? So, why we landed here? What are we doing? And so he decided that he might try and go back to East Africa and, and get a job in in Goma and gotten the job. And he said, you just need to learn some more French so we spent a month learning French in the summer afterward, still had his law degree in the background, just in case if you want to go back to that. And, and three weeks before we were both meant to go down there in September 96. At that point, go ma the refugee camp in Goma got overrun and decimated. So so we were, you know, realized how lucky we were to be where we were and not in Goma and just decide to continue. Continue on. So I did what my husband had done before and called her and all the MBA programs. Actually, I started in the UK and Warwick, University of Warwick MBA program, which is quite well known in the UK, but not well known elsewhere. was only half an hour down the road. Let me start and gave me a full scholarship.


Will Bachman  18:59

Scholarship to an MBA program. Okay, yeah. That’s pretty great. All right.


Carolyn Gibson  19:06

So he continued his law degree. I did. My I did. My MBA is one year MBA. So it was really convenient and then joined Deloitte in their management consulting practice, straight afterwards. All right. So he’s still working on this and he’s still one more year of his law degree. I just started. I started with Deloitte went into their program leadership practice with my program management background, and I immediately got put on a y2k program. Yeah, so I did that for a year or so. And then was really missing public sector practice. So you know, went and did some work with the child support agency for two years after that. Which was really eye opening. So I did program management process design and tried to help them set up everything with regard to making sure that the child support payments across the UK were working properly. Really interesting time. But then, at that point, my husband and I were planning to get married, and but at that point, but we were just getting married. And I knew we were going to try and have kids. And and I thought I need to plan ahead so that I’m not in management, because I’ll say, which is you know, very well, of course, a lot of travel to to get place brackets settle down a little bit more, we’re still in Birmingham. And the reason why we’re still in Birmingham is because my husband, older kids came to live with us in 1998. So, so every every effort that we had tried to leave for what, because his wonderful kids were 11 and seven at the time. And they were had been in in Northern Ireland. And they there, it was just around the end of you know, rent the Good Friday and things were a little bit rocky, and they had their, their house was attacked by paramilitaries and their mother decided they weren’t safe to live there anymore. So so they came to live with us and my son got his, my oldest one got into the best school in Birmingham. And, and he was there from year seven. And that meant he would be there for eight more years. And then


Will Bachman  21:41

we were like, Okay, we’re still in Birmingham, to settle down in Birmingham.


Carolyn Gibson  21:46

So we settled down in Birmingham, and I found it, I moved to the local government practice of Deloitte. When when once we got married, and I thought, Okay, well have, we have the older kids, we’re gonna have some kids, I’ll be able to work on a local government practice, it’ll be great. I did lots of E government programs and set up the very first con contact center for multiple local governments all together in one, one spot. So Jonathan got to be a bit of a specialist in setting up cross cross governmental contact centers, which was fun and really rewarding actually. And then the the local government practice and in Deloitte and the kind of wider public sector practice merged, and I all of a sudden was required to travel again. And by that time, I had two kids. And I thought, This is not right. So I stopped, I resigned. My husband came partner in a law practice that he had joined after he finished and and I became a stay at home mom, which was a shock to the system, to say the least.


Will Bachman  23:00

Wow, consulting firms and other professional service firms. Now, so many of them have, like these initiatives to help, you know, have more minorities, more women particular like, you know, hiring, and then they shoot themselves in the foot by saying, oh, yeah, you have to travel and they had a perfectly good role for you there locally, they could have maybe held on to you.


Carolyn Gibson  23:23

Yeah, it was really hard. I was on the partner track and everything, obviously. And, and I had never intended to stop working. And I just, I really did find it quite disillusioning that I couldn’t make any exceptions to that or whatever. But, you know, like you said, that’s the way the world now I think it’s the world’s changed a lot since then. So which is a good thing.


Will Bachman  23:45

So you were stay at home mom and tell and then kind of keep playing data. But I don’t think that you, you continue in that forever, because I saw on LinkedIn that you have done some work for the Defense Ministry of UK.


Carolyn Gibson  24:00

Yeah, so I was actually home for 10 years. So I, you know, ran the PTA and was on the Board of Governors for the school and wrote a book a book. Yeah, I wrote a book on how to teach other languages are still maintained, maintain a huge interest in languages. And I had hoped when I moved to Europe that I’d marry some, you know, Italian, or French or Russian or whatever, you know, some of the some of the you had some wonderful language I could teach my kids on Scottish didn’t, you know, didn’t fit the bill, really. So I had to try and do it myself with my, you know, my, you know, sort of not rudimentary French, but reasonable French, but not bilingual by any means. And yeah, and I thought, Oh, well, I’ll just write a little book and help other people try and do the same thing. So I did that as a kind of hobby, which was fun,


Will Bachman  24:51

or for listeners who want to help their kids learn a language what are what are three or four of the key tips from that book that we can take away? And what’s the title? Sure the title your listeners want


Carolyn Gibson  25:03

  1. It’s called catching tongues, how to teach your children the other language, even though you don’t speak Britney shelf, something along those lines. And my top tips are, you know, make fun, set aside time to do it. And just, you know, give, give children exposure as much as you possibly can in their in their context. And you know, whatever they find fun doing if they like watching TV, change the channel, change the language to a different one. DVDs are great that way. And I’m sure you can do that on Netflix nowadays as well change the language and play music in the car. And we did lots of audiobooks in the car and things like that. So it was it was fun, without trying to be too onerous about it. And I think they did get the fun of it, which is what I wanted them to get. They both enjoy languages now even if they you know, when they study it, and they feel as though they have the competence to learn, which a lot of people don’t get nowadays they don’t they feel like they’re not good at it. And that’s it, which is such a shame so.


Will Bachman  26:14

So your kids, you taught them French?


Carolyn Gibson  26:18

I did. I taught them French and then I didn’t feel like that was good enough. I don’t know I was doing good enough. So because that’s the problem with nowadays. And I’m, I’m my kids to France for a year. Oh, wow. Yeah, we moved to the we moved to it. I’m from Vermont originally and I and I wanted them to learn how to speak French and to ski. So we moved to the Alps. For a year. My husband, my husband commuted every other weekend and enrolled them in school when they were five and seven. Yeah. So the older kids had left had left by then so I could I could do that sounds


Will Bachman  26:58

good. Wow. Okay, so your kids went to school in France for a year. That is pretty cool. Yeah.


Carolyn Gibson  27:04

And then I, we realized we couldn’t, you know, it was too hard to be doing this committee on my husband, and I lost it on the kids. And so we moved back to Birmingham. So, and for me, I do a disservice for me is the most friendly, really wonderful city to live in. I shouldn’t I shouldn’t say, you know, there. There are lots of wonderful things about Birmingham. And it’s very central to the rest of the UK. And it’s a wonderful place to raise a family. So I shouldn’t you know, but it wasn’t the Alps. And it wasn’t beautiful. And I’ve grown up in the mountains. And when I came back from Birmingham at that point, I thought, actually, you know, this is what I miss, I miss being in the mountains. I miss this. And someday I’m gonna get back there. I just made that commitment at that point. But it wasn’t then.


Will Bachman  27:57

So so your kids got old enough. And you moved out of the stay at home mom phase of life and what happened then?


Carolyn Gibson  28:07

Yeah, so my husband decided to set up his own law practice. And that was my chance to get back into workplace and I pretty much just apply to any job that was in local area that was remotely interesting. And I was really fortunate. And there was a startup tech company in Coventry, doing strategy execution software. So a real high class strategy, program management, continuous improvement, goal deployment, everything that you could possibly think of is in that kind of intellectual package of how do you do strategy and how do you get it done in one software tool, and working with top Fortune 500 companies, so the likes of Nestle and Pratt Whitney and Societe Generale and Philips and L three and energy companies, you name it, they were working with it, all the biggest names. And they were just down the road. So I was able to go down, I was able to start working with them and eventually became head of consulting. So I helped these companies decide how they’re going to do their strategy, what they were going to focus on first, and you know, how they therefore could best use the software to deliver their their strategy and and support it, which was really exciting. I got to work with lots of different companies doing all sorts of huge, huge strategic changes. And that’s what I did four or five years.


Will Bachman  29:45

That is amazing. And what happened then,


Carolyn Gibson  29:49

and then the company was despite being in it was one of these typical tech companies where everybody was so invested in software and so invested in it that it would get lots of investment and then couldn’t quite translate that into a working financial model for going forward. And it never grew as much as expected, there wasn’t as much public sector work, I did some work with NHS Trusts and with us health companies as well, but not as much as I wanted to do. And I was really missing it. So I got them to support me to do another master. So another free masters, yes. And Oxford, on major program management. So going back to my roots, but I did it on purpose, because the Oxford program has huge links into the UK Government. And I thought this is my chance to go jump into the UK Government. And sure enough, when I finished my UK, my master’s, I was able to land a job with the Cabinet Office. You can Kevin office, but particularly in deployed in the ministry of defense.


Will Bachman  31:01

And are you allowed to share kind of what sort of programs you work on there?


Carolyn Gibson  31:06

Yeah, of course. So I am in their strategic supplier program, which is the reason why I want to do it, which is really exciting for me intellectually, and also in the UK Government, obviously, because the programs are so big is to try and not only do strategy internally in an organization, even a big multi multilateral as I was working with before, but to work across, into across the public private boundaries. And so this program was particularly set up to basically make sure that the biggest strategic suppliers to the defense and, and wider UK Government or actually aligned with the goals of the UK Government and vice versa, that we had some alignment and that that it feels like the industrial base was working hand in hand with the UK Government to to deliver in a more efficient and effective way the the outputs and outcomes that both we’re looking for. And so I work with a company called Rolls Royce, who make the engines as well as the E powerplant for their nuclear submarines. And, and also with another company called Babcock, to try and help them kind of work at a strategic level, aligning across government about what actually we’re trying to do together. And then at a systemic level, what are what are all the problems that we’re seeing across the programs that we’re doing together? And how can we improve those and then on an operational level, if there’s something going wrong on a particular contract, to try and unpick that and help move it forward to sort of kind of thorn is removed, and we can and our relationship can blossom from there. So that’s what I do on a day to day basis.


Will Bachman  33:03

Tell me about one, you know, accomplishment that you’ve had at the Ministry of Defense and the programs there that you’re that you’re particularly proud of.


Carolyn Gibson  33:17

You know, one of the the things that are so so great about doing this work is that it’s it’s all exciting and rewarding and varied and fit like consultant, right, you’re doing things across a number of areas, and, but it’s particularly when you can come in and make a specific kind of nudge, a lot of the work is nudging that, that makes a big difference. So, last year, there was a huge problems around a particular very, very big and important contract, in terms of actually getting the terms, terms agreed between the two parties, the government and the supplier. And, and it was beings, it had actually stalled for a whole year, which is a huge amount of cost. And I managed to get the CEO and the relationship leading in march into a series of meetings, which allowed them to take the problems out of the weeds and make a big strategic kind of decision together about how they were going to go forward with this contract. Which completely unblocked it and allowed the contract to, to, to be in a position to be signed. So you know, which, you know, in the effect of that 10 billion pounds worth of work that was unblocked. So I was really proud of being able to kind of knock heads together in a way to be able to get that over the line for the benefit of everybody. If you can imagine not only the value of the contract and the kind of work that would be done with it, but just the day to day if the people that are trying to get this done and it was being delayed and late, late, and they couldn’t. And it was unblocked, I just, it’s such a waste of time and effort for everybody. So that was really good. And the other thing that I’ve been doing, which I’ve really been really proud of is, and again, I don’t know how much you work with the government, but getting a government to talk in one voice to and across departments, it’s really difficult. And the watch some of the work that we’ve done with, with Rolls Royce, in particular, when they were going through the pandemic, was really critical to getting all of government lined up, around what needed to be done to support the company, in, you know, a transparent way to allow it to, to kind of get through the pandemic with Rolls Royce in particular, as is also civil aviation companies, you know, and they produce engineers for civil aviation. And obviously, simulation, aviation fell off a cliff. So there was a lot of work around that that was really interesting around how you get government lined up across defense, civil business, Treasury, to really work together and make sure that everybody’s pulling in the same direction. And alongside the company, to make sure that every bit everybody’s doing the right, kind of the right things for the company and for the country. And that was really, really exciting. Really interesting. So, yeah,


Will Bachman  36:35

what do you what have you learned about the defense industry, that would surprise the 22 year old self that, you know, did not want to become an ambassador? Because, you know, she didn’t like the foreign policy, you know, actions that the United States has taken from time to time like what what have you learned that has that has said, would have surprised your, your earlier self?


Carolyn Gibson  37:08

I’ll tell you what, it’s not quite what you’re looking for. But the thing that surprised me most as I’ve worked in business, as you know, I’ve worked in public sector, private sector, small companies, big companies, tech companies, you know, you name it, the defense area is the most meritocratic. Most open to new ideas. Most. If you have a good idea, and you’re willing to put your neck out to express it, and you, you will be heard, in this environment as a woman. Yeah, which is, I was really surprised. I’ve never been in an environment where I, when you go, when you go into a meeting, they go around the room, at the beginning at the end, and make sure everybody has had the chance to say something, and they listen to every word that everybody says. And as a woman in that environment, that’s the first time that’s ever happened to me, honestly,


Will Bachman  38:25

what do you say is driving that?


Carolyn Gibson  38:30

I, I wonder whether it’s because in a military environment, you have to have that open door, because otherwise you’re going to miss the biggest risks. And the biggest opportunities. And there’s much more willingness, therefore, to keep an open door and an open mind. It’s certainly been my experience, I’m sure it’s not cases throughout. But my experience is, is definitely that, that there is a real openness to understanding what’s going on and, and situation, that kind of rookie mindset of, we have to know what’s going on all over the place. And we need to understand the information is really key. It’s not to say there are other things that are going on, there’s a lot of problems with the number, the levels of the hierarchy, which means that my role is really important. And then I can go and talk to people on the ground. And I can see that that information is being filtered up in a way to the seniors, that is very, very distorted, because of different people’s information, the way they interpret the information. There’s a lot of Chinese whispers, in other words, and a lot of distortion in the information. But if you can go down to the coalface and talk to people and bring that information direct to the seniors they’re willing to hear it doesn’t mean they’re not going to sit there and go Well, I didn’t hear that from so and so. They’ll be like, Oh, that’s really great that you’ve done wrote me that information, you know. So it’s it’s, it’s it’s a fantastically interesting and meritocratic environment to work in, that I would not have expected when I was even before I joined.


Will Bachman  40:19

Tell me about a course or professor that you had at Harvard, that continues to resonate with you.


Carolyn Gibson  40:29

I just wanted to say actually, if it’s all right before the story’s not quite finished, so


Will Bachman  40:33

keep going. Keep going.


Carolyn Gibson  40:35

Yeah. And that I have, I am now and I’ve made this very clear to my to some people in my organization that, that I’m pivoting again, I’m going back into the nonprofit world in in a few months. And I’m particularly looking at a unconditional cash transfers is an area to go into. So I wanted to put that out there just in case there are people listening to this who know something about unconditional cash transfers, I would like to, you know, reach out and talk to me about it. Because I, I think it’s a hugely growing in interesting area, humanitarian aid and refugee also aid and also helping in quarters of the United States. So, so I just put that out there, because I’ve got, I’m hopefully going to be pivoting again in a few years. So why is this space


Will Bachman  41:31

you, you are the expert at putting the word out to the Harvard alumni community. So alright, so unconditional cash transfers, if you know, someone reach out to Carolyn. And I normally do this at the end of the show, but I’ll just do it now. Because it just came up. If people want to follow up with you, or find you online, how would they get in touch with you?


Carolyn Gibson  41:58

I’m on LinkedIn, under Carolyn Gibson. And I’m obviously in the Harvard 92 Facebook group as well. Thanks to Gabrielle and everybody for doing setting those things up, Ben. And, yeah, just reach out on either of those.


Will Bachman  42:15

All right. Okay, so now we’ll do the closing question. So tell us about, yes, any course or professor that continues to resonate with you.


Carolyn Gibson  42:26

I just mentioned to one good experience of one kind of interesting experience. I had a course with Stanley Hoffman, around the about war. And just for me, it was really, really interesting and obviously resonates for me now, as in my current work, which I’d never have expected. And I had a really interesting experience where I was luckily, able to be in one of the, you know, focus groups with the professor. And he raised the point and I raised a counter argument on something, and he just dismissed it entirely, completely dismissed it in front of all these, you know, in front of the group, and then and I was kind of devastated or something. I thought that was a really good point. And then in the following lecture, he raised the same as me, as I had. And so it was an interesting experience that I thought, well, actually, you know, you’re, it’s, it’s very easy to think that you have made some Dennett something wrong. Or Denson said something wrong or said something that was erroneous, and especially as you know, so, a lot of hardware, people are very perfectionist and very, you know, key on your ideas and to nice to know that actually, not only had that landed, even though it gives me credit for it, but but it wasn’t a valid idea. And I think that that was a really important lesson for me to think or actually, even if somebody says, No, that’s ridiculous. You have to hold on to your convictions and your ideas. You know that that was a really good lesson for me. And then the other one was a seminar I took with Rena Fonseca, and I was really lucky to land in that seminar. It was on India China relations. And I was really lucky to learn in that summer because I applied for something else and the teacher had guts, the presser got sick and two weeks into it. They weren’t returning and actually had to find a course at the last minute to fill that that gap and, and she allowed me on our seminar. And we had a really, I really resonated with with with Rena. And she was the first woman that I’d known that was wearing, you know, wore a sari to, to class some, you know, and it was, you know, very openly her being herself in a kind of, kind of straight jacket, academic environments. So that was one thing. But also we had this one seminar where she gave two we set this up on two sides, one to represent India one just represent China and In an on a really complicated issue, and we had all the facts, and we’re meant to try and come to what I understood was we were meant to try and actually resolve the issue come to some sort of conclusion, what could we have done that they the sides hadn’t done in this particular scenario in history. And I was quite devastated. Because basically, both sides just jumped in with their entrenched views. And we got nowhere for the class. And I thought it was such an interesting thing, where, even when we were, you know, not the pocket protagonists, if you like, in this situation, we’re not the warring parties. That was so easy to jump into that mindset of, oh, well, we have to pretend that were the warring parties, but that by the end, none of us could come to a conclusion. And I looked at her at the end is like, where are we supposed to try and resolve this problem and try and work out? What would have been the ideal situation here? What what could we have done to actually fix this? And she said, yeah, that was my intention. I’m surprised. She wasn’t surprised that I would. So I was thinking, there’s a really less good lesson that, you know, we’re, we’re so good at play acting, aren’t we, as human beings, it’s sometimes we forget that we can step back and be rational and be kind of objective and, and at some point, even when replay acting can go wrong, you know, so,


Will Bachman  46:23

most interesting Oh, yeah, I think those sorts of roleplay exercises are one of the best possible things to do in a classroom, and it’s there so rarely done. But I would actually reflect slightly differently on that exercise, which was you did it right. You know, you did a right, I think pointed exercise to me, is that there irreconcilable differences, right. Like, if you had been able to, oh, just sort of come to a great, you know, negotiated truce, or like, you know, resolution of the issues in an hour, then someone was probably not representing the country that they’re supposed to represent appropriately. Right. Because the countries haven’t been able to do it, you know, over, you know, decades of diplomacy.


Carolyn Gibson  47:11

Yeah. Although I think that the the decade, you’re right, in the sense that you, you couldn’t come to an intellectual decision conclusion on something, but that rarely plays out with the populations and the media and the stakeholders that you’re trying to assuage when, at the same time is doing the negotiation. Right. So, so, so if but if you took all those things aside and tried to think well, wow, could you like, a little bit like my, you know, take it precisely my my experience with with the Ministry of Defense, where you take the CEO of one organization and take the CEO of another organization, and in theory, they have, you know, there’s, there’s wide water between them, but you lock them in a room for a little while, and they know, they have to work together. And they know, they have to deal with this, because the rest of you know, the whole relationship relies on it. And sure enough, they can come to a conclusion, right? You know, so there are ways around these things. And there are possibilities, it’s just that you have to set up the environment correctly to make it happen, don’t you? It’s the environment that makes it worthwhile. And that’s what that’s what I that’s one of my things that I really want to do is, in my future, you know, is is take that experience that I have, and say, Okay, how do we create the environment whereby organizations with irreconcilable differences, or and, you know, or goals that don’t align? Or, you know, different stakeholders that are holding them back? How can we create the environment where we can make that actually that agreement happen? That’s what really makes it makes me excited for the future.


Will Bachman  48:56

Well, Carolyn, thank you for sharing your rich set of diverse experiences, Yugoslavia, UNHCR, Africa, and then an MBA living in France for a year with your kids. But what an amazing journey you’ve had. Thank you so much for joining. And listeners, if you go to 90 t You can get the full transcript of this episode, as well as every other episode of the show. Carolyn, thank you for joining today.


Carolyn Gibson  49:26

Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate this. And again, what a great gift you’re giving everybody and I just am so in awe that you’re taking the time to do it. So really great, and so happy to share my experience as well. If anybody else wants to, you know, reach out in terms of understanding not just about unconditional cash transfers, but anything related to what I can help out. I’d rather I’d like to repay the debt that I have to all those Harvard alums from the past.