Speaking about her life and career in the Secret Service, Dame Stella Rimington is invited to talk at a wide range of commercial engagements as both an after dinner speaker and keynote speaker. Her audiences include corporate clients, business professionals, public and private sectors, trade associations and schools.
From a formal presentation on leadership, organisational change, national security or risk management to a more informal and light-hearted presentation about her lifetime’s experiences, Dame Stella’s straightforward, friendly and approachable demeanour are combined with a candid, informed and intelligent opinion.
Telling her story...
She tailors her speech according to each event and is very happy to take questions. The one thing she will not do is tell a client how to run their business or impart business management advice; Dame Stella tells her story and the audience can then take from it what they will; incorporating any elements into their own lives or circumstances, as appropriate.
Leadership and organisational change
Having led MI5 through the unprecedented change from a closed to open organisation, Dame Stella Rimington is superb speaker on Leadership.
A radical change imposed by government, nobody had thought how this might affect the personal safety, and morale, of everyone involved. That lack of thought caused immense strain and pressure – she had to lead everyone through that too.
This involved looking after and managing all ranks within the organisation, at a time when the world was under increased threats and when you had moving targets – for example, from the IRA, to global terrorism and Al Quaeda. And the change from people who would not die for their cause (IRA) to those who wanted to be martyrs (AQ) and who were therefore more dangerous.
The skill set of a spy
MI5 employs individuals with a very diverse range of skills and personality traits – from the cautious (who like detailed, painstaking work), to those who know they will have to take risks and make far-reaching decisions, with insufficient information, that might avert an international disaster. It’s not simply a matter of “having a hunch”, or wandering around with a gun, like James Bond.
And unlike the corporate sector, as a government agency, the British Secret Service could not hand out large salaries, bonuses or perks to staff who did well. That was not an option. It was enough to know that everyone had worked together to achieve the right result – which is, in brief, keeping the country and its citizens safe.
However, Dame Stella realised that her staff needed to be acknowledged and their morale boosted, and so she arranged for the Prime Minister or senior Cabinet Minister to meet her team, and thank them. This may seem very straightforward and commonplace to us, now – but it was revolutionary at the time.
As a keynote or after dinner speaker, Dame Stella Rimington does not have to follow the restrictions to which her successors such as Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller must adhere. After Dame Stella left, the rules were changed.
For example, corporate clients and other bookers are permitted to mention that Dame Stella is taking part in an event, whereas Dame Eliza cannot be mentioned. And they may use a photo of Dame Stella in pre-event marketing to attract delegates/colleagues to attend her speech.