This week, 25 years ago, history was made when our first Graduation Ceremonies as Liverpool’s ‘new’ university were held here in the cathedral – and sitting over there, at one those ceremonies, was a student from Derby who was about to graduate with a BA Honours in Drama, Media and Cultural Studies.
That student was Natalie Gross, now standing here, with history once again being made, as she becomes the first of the first LJMU graduates to be made an Honorary Fellow of her alma mater.
After a gap year at a Senior High School in Nashville Tennessee, Natalie decided to come to Liverpool Polytechnic in 1990.
This was a bold move: the city of Liverpool was suffering from some image problems at the time and the whole discipline of media studies was in its infancy and subject to the same cynicism.
None of that put her off, and over the next three years she put body and soul into her course, which included acting (taking a few starring roles), directing, set designing and filming (including making a film for Brookside).
She also enjoyed student life to the full, and was actively involved in the Student Union where she was one of the founding members of the student radio station Shout fm, and also helped set up and played in the university’s first women’s football team – even getting the President’s father to cough up for the team’s kit!
After graduating with a 2.1 she became Vice President of the Students’ Union with responsibility for Finance and Services – and a year later became leader of the University’s new ‘Enquiry Management Unit’ – the first of its kind in the UK where she developed an innovative customer-focussed advisory service for prospective students (something she was clearly more than well qualified to do, given her own bold decision to come to Liverpool Polytechnic!). Meanwhile, she continued studying, part-time, for a Master’s Degree in Marketing which she completed successfully in 1998.
The following year she was appointed Head of Sales and Marketing at Amaze - the university’s first start-up company, founded by one of our former Student Presidents. It pioneered digital marketing and Natalie’s impact was both immediate and huge. Her passion and unlimited drive quickly led to her becoming Managing Partner and finally Chief Executive Officer – overseeing seemingly endless acquisitions, mergers and start-ups which led to the company being ranked 2nd in a survey of UK Digital Agencies, with a client portfolio that included Toyota, Unilever, Emirates and ASICS.
In 2017 she was appointed Managing Partner of THINK, one of the UK’s most respected independent digital agencies, where she is now responsible for driving its vision and growth strategy as well as being client partner of a number of its global clients such as Adecco and Arup. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management, an elected member of the British Interactive Media Association, which she has chaired for the last 2 years, and in a recent survey, she was recognised as one of the top three digital professionals in the UK.
Even with such an impressive and demanding professional career, she still finds time for other non-digital activities – she’s an avid world traveller and a Trustee of World Wildlife Fund-UK (reflecting her keen interest in environmental matters), and she still loves football – though possibly her only shortcoming is that she is an avid supporter of Arsenal, with Liverpool relegated to second choice, despite it being one of her company’s clients!
Pro-Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Natalie Gross is an amazing, glass-ceiling-shattering, alumna of whom we are all very proud, and who is living testimony to the truth not only of her own company’s strap line ‘Digital ambitions –realised’ but also ‘Fortune assists the bold’ the motto of her Liverpool alma mater which is emblazoned on our coat of arms in latin: Audentes fortuna iuvat.
Ergo, ego tibi commendo, hanc filiam praeclarum nostrae universitatis, quae in honorem sociae admittatur!