Interview with Leila Guerra

Imperial College Business School’s new associate dean discusses her Spanish heritage, the challenges of balancing work and family, and how business schools should practise what they preach

February 1, 2018
Leila Guerra

Leila Guerra is the assistant dean of postgraduate programmes at the Lee Kong Chian School of Business at Singapore Management University. Next month, she will join Imperial College Business School as associate dean of programmes. Ms Guerra, who has previously held senior roles at the London Business School and at IE Business School, has lived in eight countries and speaks four languages.

Where and when were you born?
I was born in Valdepeñas – in La Mancha, Spain on 21 June 1977. It was the longest day of the year, marking the summer solstice.

How has this shaped who you are?
La Mancha is known for the novel Don Quixote and for the film-maker Pedro Almodóvar, [whose] strong female characters are inspired by the women of this region. I never experienced gender boundaries in my family. This has shaped my personal and professional journey quite significantly.

What have you learned from your time in Singapore?
Singapore is unique because of its forward-looking mentality, always thinking on how best to innovate and shape the country’s future to remain cutting-edge and relevant. I had never seen such a seamless integration between technological innovations, customer-oriented service and proximity to nature. Changi Airport’s new terminal is a great example.

What innovations do you think would improve business education the most?
Business education would improve significantly if schools practised what they teach. I’m always surprised by the frequent lack of use of technologies, or the dominant use of traditional marketing methods.

What has changed most in higher education in the past five to 10 years?
Our sector is experiencing a profound transformation, motivated by the rapid implementation of new technologies, a demand for new skills and changing student expectations. Ten years ago, a master’s degree provided a mostly unique path to one professional journey, whereas today such programmes present a wealth of opportunities. Not so long ago, edtech meant using a projector in class, and now we have virtual classrooms and the ability to study anywhere in the world.

What kind of undergraduate were you?
I was just a normal law undergraduate – being normal is undervalued, it’s perfectly fine to just be that! I made friends for life, fell completely and utterly in love, made mistakes and just had the time of my life.

What was your most memorable moment at university?
It was July 1998, and ETA had just kidnapped and assassinated a young councillor, Miguel Ángel Blanco. Together with more than 2 million people, we filled Madrid’s streets to claim an end to terrorism and violence. We were shocked, but not afraid to raise our voices. In a country full of contradictions and passionate debates, despite our differences we stood together, hands painted white, believing that together we could put an end to it.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Start running – it’s harder to get in shape later. I have always been more of a “book” person and have only recently discovered the joys of working out. Enjoy every moment with the people you love. Only worry about things – and people – that really matter. Accept yourself, including your imperfections.

What are the best and worst things about your job?
The best: seeing students on their first day, with a world of possibilities in front of them, and being fully aware that your job has a real impact on their life. The worst: occasionally a student fails and you have to let them go. It’s always a hard situation.

Have you had a eureka moment?
This will sound a bit clichéd, but giving birth to my kids was a eureka moment for me. It’s difficult to explain, but I felt how I was changing inside and suddenly saw life differently. [They were] the most remarkable moments in my life.

Tell us about someone you’ve always admired.
My husband, who doesn’t mind people judging him for being a stay-at-home dad as it supports my career.

What keeps you awake at night?
I worry about many things – isn’t that part of being human? Politics, climate change, terrorism…and on a more personal level, finding the balance between a successful career and a happy family, educating my kids, maintaining the passion in my job, [and] meeting objectives.

What’s your biggest regret?
I don’t really have big regrets, but sometimes a slight feeling of guilt. Having lived abroad for so long, you feel the distance. I’m the friend who misses weddings, birthdays and big celebrations. Skype has become part of the family.

What do you do for fun?
My husband says working is my hobby! But on weekends you’ll rarely find me at home, I’d rather be travelling or just outdoors. I’m also a big fan of adrenaline, so anything that sounds adventurous, I’m in.

What saddens you?
Last year’s macroeconomic and political changes truly saddened me. Intolerance and ignorance, denying humankind’s impact on nature and climate, the vicious terrorist attacks happening all over the world.

What brings you comfort?
Simple things; a day by the sea with my family, playing with my kids, reading a good book, accomplishing something unexpected (I just finished my first half-marathon) and the feeling of a job well done.

holly.else@timeshighereducation.com


Appointments

Sir Adrian Smith has been named director of the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national research centre for artificial intelligence. Currently vice-chancellor of the University of London, Sir Adrian will take up the new role in the autumn. He was formerly principal of Queen Mary University of London, and director general of knowledge and innovation in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Sir Adrian said: “The Alan Turing Institute has a unique role to play in ensuring that the UK fully exploits the potential advances in data science and AI to transform business and social systems for the benefit of society. I am delighted to have the opportunity to lead the institute in its next phase of development.”

Helen O’Sullivan has been appointed pro vice-chancellor of education at Keele University. Professor O’Sullivan joins Keele from the University of Liverpool, where she was associate pro vice-chancellor (online learning) and professor of medical education. “I’m looking forward to helping Keele push forward and differentiate on what we offer our students, and work-ing on employability opportunities and civic volunteer engagements, so our students can learn a wide range of skills and thrive in a complex world,” Professor O’Sullivan said.

Clare Lees, professor of medieval literature at King’s College London, has been named director of the Institute of English Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, from September.

Helen Mountfield, a leading human rights and education barrister, has been elected principal of Mansfield College, Oxford, from September. She is the college’s third female head of house in succession, following Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws and, before that, Diana Walford.

Peter Halligan has been appointed chief scientific adviser for Wales. He is currently honorary professor of neuropsychology at Cardiff University and chief executive of the Learned Society of Wales.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Related articles

Related universities

Reader's comments (2)

Thanks ,I will be happy to begin studying Best regards
Good interview,and thanks for more information

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments