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Quickfire with Martha Lane Fox

Martha Lane Fox studied at Magdalen College. She co-founded lastminute.com with Brent Hoberman in 1998, offering late holiday deals online, and was a pioneer of the dotcom industry. Now she has a very broad portfolio in public service, business and charities.

A Member of the House of Lords since 2013, Chancellor of the Open University since 2014, President of the British Chambers of Commerce since 2022, Martha Lane Fox is on the boards of several commercial companies, including Chair of Lucky Voice Group and We Transfer, and Director of Chanel.

She is a leading advocate for human rights, women’s rights and social justice, founder and patron of a number of charities including Reprieve (which campaigns for justice, defending marginalised people facing human rights abuses, often by powerful governments), Just for Kids Law (providing legal advice and representation to young people in contact with the criminal justice system to ensure their legal rights are respected and promoted, and their voices heard and valued) and the Tessa Jowell Foundation (inspiring ambitious, long-term change to improve quality of life and longer-term outcomes for brain cancer patients).

You studied Ancient and Modern History at Magdalen, what impact did this have? 

MLF: History taught me to ask questions.

How would you characterise your career trajectory thus far? 

MLF: Diversity, sustainability and responsibility. I have had incredible opportunities but always been tilting to entrepreneurism from LastMinute.com to GOV.UK to Lucky Voice. I want to lend my small voice to things that matter.

Please could you talk about the charities and causes you support, and what they do. What are the toughest challenges?

MLF: I am very lucky to have worked in the public, private and charitable sector. I have supported criminal justice causes such as Reprieve and Just for Kids Law and big institutions like the Open University.

What is it like to be a Member of the House of Lords? 

MLF: Complex!

Can being a Member of the Lords make a difference? 

MLF: Yes, it is an incredible legislative and public platform.

What are your main policy interests? 

MLF: I am a Crossbench peer and so independent and try to get involved in topics I work on – digital, education, business.

What do you see as the future of the Lords?

MLF: Complex!

What would you like to change?

MLF: How people get there – I applied and had an interview and everyone should do this.

What would you like to see in terms of the UK’s relationship with the EU? 

MLF: Re-engagement.

Are Horizon and Copernicus pointers to future engagement? 

MLF: Fingers crossed.

Has the public mood in the UK shifted? 

MLF: Marginally – I think we should be a Member of the EU but I think that most of the country is tired of the debate.

What does being Chancellor of the Open University involve?

MLF: Being a symbol and an ambassador and doing the amazing degree ceremonies. 

How would you single out the OU from other universities in the UK and worldwide?

MLF: Access to anybody to study as flexibility as they want.

You have been a great business pioneer and advocate. What started your interest in and passion for business?

MLF: I’m not sure I’m very good at business but I love thinking about how to solve problems and I love working with brilliant people.

What are the biggest challenges UK businesses face now, what needs to happen to help businesses grow and prosper, and what can you do, as Chamber of Commerce President and more widely, to support that process?

MLF: Being a globally trading country, moving to net zero, solving our skills crisis and keeping up with technology.

Do your board roles focus more on strategy and oversight, or can you get into the detail of what is going on in each firm?

MLF: Depends – some smaller companies you are in the detail. At Twitter for the six months before sale, we were just upholding the law!

What advice do you have for students and young professionals who aspire to make a positive impact on society?

MLF: I’ll quote Martin Luther King “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

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