Friday, November 24th, 2017.

Anna Cook inspired Excelsior pupils with her life story

A leading business woman’s rise to the top to lead a team of 7,000 staff delivering Sky’s customer services inspired dozens of Excelsior Academy pupils thinking about their own futures.

Anna Cook is Director of Customer Service at media giant Sky, overseeing its contact with 12 million customers.

Her stellar career started from humble beginnings on a Hull council estate, and as she told pupils, a strong work ethic helped her overcome feelings of being different to those from more privileged backgrounds as she worked hard through school, a degree course at Newcastle University and employment in London.

Anna’s inspirational words to students at Excelsior were as part of the Speakers for Schools charity programme where leading lights from business share their insights with the next generation.

Founded by ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston, Anna is one of scores of top business names including former Prime Minister David Cameron, BBC newsreader and presenter Sophie Raworth and the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, who give their time to encourage young people to achieve their goals through their own life experiences.

Anna, of Whitley Bay, spends much of her working week commuting to London or to offices in Edinburgh, India and Bulgaria.

As a working mother who often finds herself the only woman in male dominated meetings, she emphasised to the girls in the audience that they can reach their goals by keeping their dream at the forefront of their minds and making the most of their education.

“My mother told me that education gives you choices – if you get good grades behind you, you can get to wherever you want to go,” said Anna, who is also Director of Women in Leadership at Sky.

“It’s all about aspiration. If you believe that you can be anything that you want to be and you keep going after it and believe in it, you can make it happen if you work really, really hard.”

Anna took her inspiration to work in business after watching the hit film ‘Working Girl’ starring Melanie Griffith as a working class secretary who makes her way to the top of a New York investment bank.

Anna came to study at Newcastle University and worked long shifts in McDonald’s on Northumberland Street, plus a bar job in the evening, to fund her studies.

She travelled to Australia to work in recruitment for a time after gaining her degree – a 2:2 falling below her expectations.

Despite being knocked back by companies for the roles she applied for, she refused to give up on her dream of working in business and found employment in London.

“Many of the people working in London are from privileged backgrounds,” said Anna.

“I wanted to be in business, I wanted to work hard. The hardest part is being different.

“Firstly, I was a Northerner and I was a woman and I went into software development where there were no women, just me.

“But the reality was that by having a different background, that was a strength that they needed. They needed that difference so I could explain who their customers were and how they felt.

“That made me better than the person sat next to me from Oxford with a degree. All that stuff made me really, really tough. You take that, you own it and you work out how you make it your strength.”