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Fiona Mckenzie | 40 Outstanding Global Women 2023

 

Leveraging life experience to build a global career

Fiona Mckenzie is Head of Global Consultancy (Private Clients) at Carfax
Education, helping parents to access the very best education for their child to
set them up for a lifetime of success. Fiona acts as advisor, mentor and guide
to support families to make one of the most important decisions for their
child’s future and to find education solutions for wherever they want to go.
The experience she brings to the role runs right from her childhood through
her early career, university experience, motherhood and later career.

Her understanding of how schools are run, the importance of supporting
families to make the right choices, and how to navigate the complex world of
university applications has been built up over many years. As the wife of a
headmaster she has direct experience of liaising with staff and parents. She
has also been a governor of several UK schools, and is the parent of four children
who have all been educated in British boarding schools and UK and US
universities. Fiona has an entrepreneurial mindset and has always worked
either for herself setting up her own businesses or in schools. These skills and
experiences enabled her to turbo-charge her career in her 50s when her
children were grown up.

“I had acquired a range of skills and experiences in the preceding years, which
equipped me to do this.” she explains.

 

 

“I started my fully fledged career at the age of 50, and I have really enjoyed it because I have the
maturity and the wisdom and confidence that I have gained over many years of lived experience.”

Fiona Mckenzie, Head of Carfax Education

Crisis management and people skills

Indeed, the importance of education and the opportunities it can unlock runs
right through her life, from the time she joined Rugby School at sixth form as
one of only 30 girls among 750 boys.
“Until the age of 16 I was at an all-girls school,” she explains. “I was one of the
first girls to go to Rugby because my father had attended Rugby and he didn’t
have any sons so he was delighted when he found out the school had decided
to accept girls,” she explains. “It was a very formative experience and I
absolutely loved my time there. It was tough dealing with a man’s world so it
was a real learning curve in that sense, but it was fantastic to be in a
school that gave you so many opportunities. I don’t think I would have gone to university if I had stayed at my girls’ school. Rugby really broadened my
horizons and gave me confidence to pursue my ambitions.”

Her father was a wine shipper and her mother was a pioneer as a female
entrepreneur in the 1970’s running a catering business which gave the young
Fiona a good grounding in people skills and crisis management.
“Running your own business as a woman was unusual at this time so she was a great role model for a working mother,” Fiona says. “It was a very ‘hands on’ childhood. Learning that customer service experience early on has been
invaluable.”
She took a gap year after school and then studied for an MA in History of Art
and Management Science at the University of St Andrews. She married as soon as she graduated and went to work for Jones Lang Wootton in Australia, with her new husband, who was a teacher.
“That was an amazing experience, going to live in another country and figuring out married life and living and working so far from home. My story is quite unusual because I got married at 22 and I had four children under the age of six by the time I was 30. My early years were all about family and child raising and I wouldn’t change that for a minute. I always felt that I would have my career later and, fortunately, that’s how it’s turned out to be.”
On returning to the UK, her husband became headmaster of Milton Abbey
School in Dorset, and Fiona became head of history of art, taking pupils on
school trips to Europe to see the galleries.

Her understanding of how schools work, what makes a good educational
experience, and the importance of preparing children for university and later life was honed during these years.

Education and support in the Middle East

In 2010, her husband’s job moved the family to Dubai, where he became head
of Repton School in Nad al Sheba. At the same time, Fiona became the first
female president of the Rugbeian Society, a role of which she is very proud of and which involved focusing on fundraising among the alumni and developing an internship programme to give young alumni opportunities for work experience.
While she was in the Middle East, she was approached for a role as education
consultant and became director of Gabbitas Education before moving to
Carfax five years later.
“I realised I knew a huge amount about schools and about parents and
education generally, so it was exactly my skillset,” she explains. She set up the Middle East branch of Gabbitas and grew the business, increasing revenue and reach. She then moved to Carfax, where she helps families across a variety of educational sectors.
“Navigating the educational landscape, especially on a global basis, can be
challenging for families and it can be a quite terrifying experience to have to
start picking schools and education pathways for your child,” she says. “They
look to us for advice on how to plan out their education, what sort of
education roadmap they need to be considering. We are here to guide and
mentor on that journey and to provide our expertise,” she says.
Many of the families from her global client base want to send their children to
UK universities and top academic institutions in Europe and the US.

Leadership style and female careers

Fiona describes her leadership style as “very collaborative” and thrives on co-
operation and teamwork. For women in particular, it is important to be
aware that often our careers are not linear, but that moving sideways to gain
new skills and experiences can be useful in the long run. “Be open to
opportunities and take a risk in your career because that way you progress and grow.”

She says it is hard for women with a young family to deliver on driving
forwards a demanding career, but there are plenty of opportunities to explore
later in life.
“I started my fully fledged career at the age of 50, and I have really enjoyed it
because I have the maturity and the wisdom and confidence that I have gained over many years of lived experience,” she says. “For the clients I work with, that experience and practical guidance, knowing that I have raised a family and been deeply immersed in education from a personal and professional perspective, is very reassuring.”
Fiona has been recognised as a top education advisor by Spears and as the
chief advisor for the leading international schools guide, ‘The Schools Index’. She is regularly invited to chair panels and contribute to the media on education
matters.

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