Former Head of MI5; Chair of the Wellcome Trust
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As Head of the Security Service, Eliza dealt with the wake of 9/11 and a growing threat from Al-Qaeda. She doubled the size of MI5 and transformed their old approach to staff. She went on to serve as a cross-bench Peer and as Chair of the Wellcome Trust, the UK’s largest charity and one of the biggest funders of medical research in the world. With insights and lessons on leadership from throughout her career, Eliza explains that leadership is not about command and control, but vision and strategy: “You must be honest about difficulties, but demonstrate your confidence in the future and in your people.”
Eliza Manningham-Buller headed Britain’s Security Service (MI5) from 2002 to 2007, leading the organisation through substantial change in the wake of 9/11 and the threat from Al-Qaeda. During her time at the helm MI5 doubled in size, opened eight new offices and altered its approach to the professional development of staff with the establishment of a training academy. As well as serving as a Peer, Eliza later became Chair of the Wellcome Trust, the UK’s largest charity and one of the biggest funders of medical research in the world.
Earlier in her career, Eliza led MI5’s investigation into the Lockerbie bombing. She also served in Washington during the first Gulf war, returning to establish the Service’s intelligence effort against the Provisional IRA in mainland Britain. She joined the board and assumed lead responsibility for work on Irish terrorism, surveillance, technical collection, finance and IT before becoming Deputy Director General in charge of intelligence operations.
In presentations Eliza covers many lessons in leadership from throughout her career, drawing on her experience in the most demanding of environments to stress the need for leaders in any walk of life to engage in frank dialogue and invite criticism: “Do not try to be something you’re not, take responsibility for your team and remember that praising people takes seconds and can make an enormous difference. And don’t forget that humour can be found even in the most awful situations.”
Eliza Manningham-Buller is an active cross-bench Peer serving on numerous committees including the Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology. As Chair of the Wellcome Trust, she has helped lead the world’s second largest non-governmental provider (behind the Gates Foundation) of funds for scientific research into all aspects of health and wellbing, from infection to mental health, as well as responding to Covid-19. Eliza was also chosen to deliver the prestigious BBC Reith Lectures and her analysis of the theme Securing Freedom formed the basis of her book of the same title.
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Leadership isn't just something Eliza talks about; it's there in everything she does. She handles questions brilliantly, her tone is steady and considered, and she holds the room in a way that only someone who’s used to being listened to can. In fact the former MI5 boss is disarmingly approachable, witty and warm (and not at all scary). JLA Agent Nicola Jones