Dame Shan Morgan DCMG (Class of 1973)

Shan Morgan 2
Tell us what you do for a living?
At the moment I run the Civil Service of the devolved Welsh Government – which means I lead about 5,500 staff working in our offices across Wales. We spend around £17 billion a year on delivering a wide range of core public services – Including health, education, business support, the environment, agriculture, housing and skills. But I’ve spent over half of my career as a diplomat in the Foreign Office, living in Brussels, Paris, Argentina and London.
Are you doing what you thought you’d be doing after you left school?
I had no idea what I expected to do after I left school, apart from wanting to go to university. And I’m glad to say I’ve had an exciting and varied career without ever having had a plan! What I’ve always been good at is spotting opportunities and taking them. Sometimes having a fixed plan means you don’t see or don’t take opportunities that could lead down a different path. For me, taking the unexpected opportunity of a secondment to Brussels was the start of a fascinating career in European relations.
What’s been your inspiration – what’s pulled you forwards and into your current role?
I love change , especially moving to new places and getting under the skin of different countries and cultures. I think the longest I’ve stayed in any single job has been 5 years (in Brussels). When I was appointed to my current job in Cardiff I decided to treat it as a new foreign posting – after all, Wales has its own language, culture and politics. 
What would you say is your biggest achievement to date, the thing you’re most proud of? Professionally or personally!
I’m probably proudest of having been UK Ambassador to Argentina – at a time when the relationship between our governments was at a very low point and it was hard to build positive relationships and promote UK interests. Argentina is an endlessly fascinating country and It was an extraordinary job, giving me privileged access to a wide range of people and places. But I won’t forget watching Argentine militants hurling hand grenades at the walls of my embassy on the 30th anniversary of the invasion of the Falklands. Fortunately the riot police held them back.
Was there a particular teacher, or a moment at school that particularly inspired you?
The RLS teacher who most inspired me was Dorothy (Dot) White, an energetic and energising English teacher who inspired us to read literature with critical insight but emotional engagement. A great character, with a real zest for life. And a formidable house mistress in the Rotherfield boarding house.
How important do you think your school days were in shaping who you are today?
School days provided a really strong platform for the rest of my life. I spent my time at RLS as a boarder in  Rotherfield as my parents lived in Hong Kong then Cyprus. I have to say I didn’t enjoy the constraints of boarding life, but it certainly built resilience and independence. I enjoyed it a lot more when my sister Ann joined me as a boarder. And the RLS gave me a surprise bonus when I went to a 40 year reunion and re-met a former fellow pupil – we got married a few years later! Thanks to Tony, I’m in regular contact with others from the class of 73 including Sue Dix (Noble), Paul Bryden and Marsh Norris. So the RLS has given me more than I could ever have expected!
What’s your work:life balance like? How important is that to you?
My work:life balance could probably be improved! But I really enjoy my job, which is what matters to me. I make sure I build in physical exercise to switch off – gym sessions and cycling. And we spend happy weekends relaxing at our seafront house in Falmouth – Tony’s an accomplished sailor.
What advice would you give to today’s students who may be struggling to choose which path to take beyond school?
I think it’s really important to work out what you enjoy (and don’t enjoy) doing – you’ll always shine most brightly at something you genuinely enjoy and care about. And work takes up too much of your time not to enjoy it. I believe it’s fundamentally important to choose a path where you’ll be able to keep on learning and developing. If you work for an employer, choose one who will invest in your training and development – don’t settle for less. And try things out – work experience opportunities or internships are a great way to get a sense of the options. But as I said earlier, don’t feel you have to follow a plan if that just constrains your options. Keep opening new doors and expanding your networks.
Finally, do you have a favourite quote, expression or mantra which inspires you to keep going?
I have a favourite poem – ‘Ithaca’ by the 20th century Greek poet Constantine Cavafy translated by Edmund Keeley . It’s a genuinely inspiring (short!) poem. The message is that in life you should make sure you take time to enjoy the journey, not just focus on a particular destination. I’ve definitely had a marvellous journey!

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