University Life

Leicester Alumni Interview With…Chris Yates

Written by Holly Aylward

This is the first of a series of interviews with former students from The University of Leicester. The aim of these interviews will be to provide a connection between past and present students as well as exploring what has changed. This interview is with former Leicester student Chris Yates who attended the university from 1985 to 1988.

Q – What did you study at Leicester?

A – I studied a BA Combined Arts in Psychology.

Q – Where did you live in Leicester? Were you in halls in your first year?

A – I lived in Villiers Hall in Oadby for my first year. They knocked it down because we were so much strife! And then Highfields for 2 years.

Q – What did you enjoy most about your time at Leicester?

A – I Loved the friendship – the mix of the student life with the fun of Highfields. Mostly it was about friendships for life.

Q – Can you tell us about your career since graduating from Leicester?

After Leicester, I thought I would go into clinical psychology but instead moved to occupational psychology. I worked for American Express in London, Singapore, Australia and New York specialising in organisational development and design. I did a lot of work post 9/11 rebuilding the strategy and culture of American Express after the building was hit. I then moved back to the UK in 2004 and worked for HSBC at Canary Wharf in London. It was the time of the financial crisis. As the Group Head of Organisational Development, I worked to build a global culture after HSBC grew from 60,000 to 500,000. Next, I worked at Caterpillar in the mid-west of America and then at Microsoft as the Chief Learning Officer before joining Ford Motor Company as the Chief Talent Officer. At Ford, I am responsible for the culture, learning and development, global recruitment, HR policy, Human Capital Management, analytics and a range of other things such as thinking through how the company responds to stuff like COVID, diversity, equity and inclusion.

I have also co-authored two books. The first ‘Rewire’, was born out of frustration that most of the work on diversity has failed to address systemic bias. We have developed a new approach using techniques from clinical psychology such as ‘priming’ and ‘flooding’, intending to show that propaganda used intentionally can help eradicate bias. This seems obvious, but if you believe that advertising works then, you can make people less sexist by controlling the media narrative within an organisation. We saw tremendous results hence the book. The second book called ‘Share’ is about the growth of nationalism around the world, based on the advent of the 4th industrial revolution and globalisation. Global corporations are more powerful than most governments today, and the rush to short term gain has seen an increase in the scale and speed of change across societies. With any tech advance, there is societal disruption, and then people look for easy answers and easy targets to blame. We argue in the book that the long-term solution is to put empathy for society at the heart of the organisational strategy.

Q – How has the world changed since your time at university?

A – Leicester brings back fond strong memories of a place to learn, debate and party. I also was the Entertainment Secretary for Villers Hall and served on the Ent’s committee for the Uni, booking bands mostly and organising events and marches to London. We supported the miners’ strike, regularly marched about freeing Mandela and opposed the student loan system. I recall Leicester as a place of hot political debate and action, often sending dozens of coaches to participate in student protests in the 1980s. Students today seem so much more passive by comparison.

Q – What advice would you give to a student at Leicester today?

A – My advice would be to appreciate student life. Don’t rush into a career. I took 2 years out, and it helped give me perspective. Don’t chase money too early. Life is long. Value experiences over quick progression. When you look back, the friendships and the experiences that you make are more valuable than any projects so live each day to the fullest of that day’s potential. Carpe Diem and all that!


Holly Aylward is a second year English student and treasurer for Leicester Student Magazine