Rouse in Profile: Holly White

Holly is a Technology Consultant in our London office, currently focusing on business development in China

After several years as Science & Innovation Counsellor at the British Embassy in Beijing, Holly recently joined our London office to support UK technology-based businesses looking to partner with businesses in China.  Her experience in Beijing is obviously valuable, but possibly just as valuable is her creative approach to business development.

Holly grew up in West London in an environment that encouraged independence and freethinking, but also stimulated an early interest in politics and current affairs. Family discussions around the dinner table were wide-ranging and lively, nearly always turning to politics at some stage.  But it was also an unusually creative environment.  When they met, Holly’s parents had been studying Physics, but they both had later abandoned the sciences for careers in more obviously creative fields. When Holly was growing up her father was working as a commercial photographer and her mother supporting the business; now he lectures in Photography and she has recently retired from teaching art.

At school, Holly was academically inclined, mad on history, and independently minded.  It didn’t take her long to decide that life at her all-girls’ school was overly structured and pressured and she was keen to broaden her horizons.   So her closest school friendships at school were with boys from the neighbouring boys’ school, who were much more willing to push the boundaries.  These friendships have stood the test of time.  One of the group is now a BBC filmmaker, working on films dealing with social injustice; one is Senior Data Scientist for the online clothing shop ASOS; one is a lawyer; and one a wine merchant.

Not surprisingly, when the time came to go to University, Holly chose to study history and politics, and it was at University that she began to develop a particular interest in policy development and implementation.   Unlike a lot of her friends, she had postponed any travel plans until she graduated.  By then, most of them had already taken time out to travel; so, having always loved the excitement of visiting new places, she decided to set off alone to South America.  Her parents were slightly apprehensive, but didn’t try to stop her.  She chose South America because it was a Latin based culture, but much more adventurous and exciting than Italy.  Maybe only someone who, like Holly, is half Italian would have come to that conclusion; still, she had a great adventure, meeting lots of interesting people along the way.  In Spanish speaking countries, she managed by adapting her Italian and speaking what must have been a rather strange sort of Italo/Spanish: when she got back to Italy, her relatives couldn’t stop laughing. 

Then it was time to get to work.  Her first job was with the local NHS looking after GP practices in the area.  Once again, it didn’t take Holly long to see that this wasn’t the place for her.  Although aspects of the work were interesting, the system was not working well: impossible demands were being made of employees and unrealistic deadlines set.  She concluded that it would be better to be working at the other end, telling people what to do in a more sensible way.  She moved on to several different Civil Service positions, before ultimately working as Chief of Staff for David Willetts, then Minister for Universities & Science.

Here, Holly found the work both challenging and fascinating.  In many ways, she was in her element, working to develop policy solutions in the context of a range of contradictory and conflicting views and priorities.  It was a matter of making assessments and judgments, finding a balance, and, above all, being creative.  She found it exciting.  And then there was the added bonus of extensive and interesting travel.  

One particularly memorable trip was to the UK Antarctic research base, which at the time had 50 researchers and was seeking additional funding.  Although the visit had been timed for the end of the summer season, before the weather gets too bad, it was still necessary to travel via the Falkland Islands, where the delegation had to stay an extra day because of bad weather.  To Holly, the place felt strangely deserted, just a few hundred people, and virtually all of them British.   The Antarctic, however, she describes as magical and otherworldly: pure glassy-white icebergs and ice cliffs sculpted by the wind, and deep blue seas.  The experience was unforgettable.

Then there were trade missions with the Prime Minister; for example, a flight to India on a plane full of CEOs of large companies, delegates from small companies, representatives of universities, Ministers, and aides from No. 10.  For Holly it was all a learning experience: her horizons were constantly expanding.  And when the possibility of a job as Science and Innovation Counsellor at the British Embassy in Beijing came up, she simply couldn’t resist.  It was the ideal job to move on to.

Somehow, in the middle of all these adventures and exciting professional opportunities, Holly had managed to find time for romance: she met her future husband during one of her early Civil Service placements. He had initially trained as a lawyer; then, having decided that Law was not for him, obtained a Masters in International Relations.  Now he works for the international internet-based market research and data analytics firm, YouGov.  He was keen that Holly should accept the Beijing position, and decided that he would spend his time learning Chinese, teaching English, and engaging in challenging physical adventures. One of the more challenging of these adventures was riding his bicycle across China, from Beijing to Kashgar, through deserts and sand storms.  It’s something that Holly, wouldn’t have dreamt of doing.  To her, spending two months, physically pushing oneself through horrible situations for no real reason, seems mad.  If she had two months free, she would be likely to choose the beaches and nature of South East Asia instead.

It’s perhaps something of a contradiction in terms, but Holly really can be described as a well-grounded free spirit.  She’s creative, independent and adventurous, but manages to put those attributes to the service of very practical ends – which may well give her, and her clients, an unfair, but perfectly legal, competitive advantage.