Judith Cobham-Lowe OBE (1964)

"Radio 4 recently asked: “Are your seventies the happiest time of your life?”A surprising number of contributors said “yes”; I would have been one of them.

Last December, faced with celebrating a Birthday ending in zero, or imitating the actions of a Trappist Monk, I went for broke, marking my 70th with a black-tie party for 115 friends from around the world, in the gilded, candlelit Hall of London’s Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths.

In May 2017, I shall become the first woman Master of that Livery Company in 700 years. And this time last week, I was in the Casino at Monte Carlo (for the opera, not the gambling – honestly!). So being 70 is not all bad.

That’s now, but what came before? A great deal of luck, certainly, though opportunity doesn’t knock loudly; it sidles into the room and waits to see whether you notice. My first break came after a degree from London University and a postgraduate scholarship to Cologne’s WiSo Facultaet.Home from Germany, and studying part-time for my Institute of Linguists exams, a classmate asked if, with an economics background and four languages, I’d like to become a Research Fellow in International Management at what is now Cass Business School, London.Well, yes!Not all plain sailing though.On day one, a colleague surveyed me, unclamped a massive cigar and opined: “We don’t like women here, we never have; they don’t get on and they never will”.(Four years later, when I’d had my first book on European Management published, and been headhunted by a rival business school, Cigar Man was the person begging me to stay.)

Another piece of luck came a few years later.On the back of experience in City, Manchester, Oxford and Warwick business schools, I’d set up an international Corporate Strategy Consultancy.Despite, with my staff team, advising some fascinating global Boards, like BP, BT, and Glaxo, after nine years, I wanted some variety.So I applied for my first Non-Executive Director role.The retired Colonel conducting the interview asked some perfunctory questions, then mentioned my husband, like him, ex-Military.Suddenly he exclaimed: “I was SO in love with your husband’s first wife!” (who sadly died young).Just when I was wondering which answer wouldn’t cost me the job, he grinned and added – “But we were both aged five at the time”.

That bond established, he recommended me to the PLC Board concerned, as their and the Institute of Directors’ first ever female Director appointment.This ‘notoriety’ got me a headline article in ‘The Director’ magazine (accompanied by a cartoon of a smiling redhead chopping through a handful of Old School ties). That publicity in turn led to Directorships with HM Treasury (as the Department’s first woman), the BBC, and eventually five construction companies.

For the last 20 years, construction – and the role that women can play in it – has been one of my passions. I love the fact that you start with a few lines on a screen and three years later you’re looking (in my case) at the Scottish Parliament, the Olympic Athletes’ Village, or a new Cancer Hospital.(This enthusiasm led to me last year receiving an OBE for ‘services to construction, particularly women in construction.’)

So much for the career.But (leaving aside the amazing understanding of my husband and son) none of this would have been possible without the grounding that King Edward’s provides.Ours is a fantastic school.Whilst creating lifelong friendships, it takes intellectual excellence for granted, teaches you the value of hard work, and above all, gives you the confidence that as a woman you can do ANYTHING!

So I may have been lucky in life.But I’ve also been an OE.And that has been far more important."

- Judy