Karen Blackett OBE became Chancellor during the University’s 25th anniversary and 25 years after completing her undergraduate geography degree at the University in 1992. As the chairwoman of MediaCom, the UK’s largest media agency, Karen is no stranger to working with young people as she established MediaCom’s apprenticeship scheme for 18-24 year olds in 2012.
Karen is the most senior woman from a Black, Asian and minority-ethnic background in the UK Advertising and Media industry. She has featured five times in the Power List of Britain’s 100 Most Influential People of African and African Caribbean Heritage. She is the first Chancellor to be an alumna of the University.
The alumni team were lucky enough to have a chat with her about her time at Portsmouth and how her career has developed:
Why did you decide to study a Geography degree?
I loved the subject and I believe you should do what you are passionate about.
Why did you choose to study at the University of Portsmouth?
I wanted to do a BA in Geography and not a BSC. Portsmouth was the best BA Geography course out there.
What’s your fondest memory of Portsmouth?
The friends I made, some of the them lifelong. Being by the beach and sea in the summer.
What’s your wildest memory of Portsmouth?
When the American Naval Ship docked, the population of the city doubled as did the nightclubs, especially Joanna’s!
What was your first job out of University?
I started at MEC (the Media Agency) just under a year after graduating.
Why didn’t you choose Geography as a career?
Due to having a love for advertising from a very young age.
How did you get into Media/Marketing?
I interviewed at MEC and had to present the pros and cons of advertising on Sky TV, the irony as it’s now our biggest client.
What does a typical day look like for you?
There is no typical day, sometimes all my meetings are internal, sometimes they are all client focused, I might be travelling to one of our 5 regional offices or abroad with a client. One day is never the same.
What is your proudest achievement so far?
Receiving my OBE and topping the PowerList in 2015.
What was your reaction when you were asked to be the University’s new Chancellor?
Total honour and privilege, and 25 years after graduating. Slightly daunting too taking over from the lovely Sandi and also Sheila Hancock before Sandi, I am very different!
What would you like to make happen during your time as Chancellor?
I would like to get all the students of Portsmouth ready for life outside of University. They are going to have portfolio careers and will be working a lot longer than previous generations so stamina and resilience are going to be key.
What inspires you?
Seeing talent flourish and fly.
What was the last gift you gave someone and who did you give it to?
DrinkO board game, I gave it to one of the mum’s at school who has become a good friend.
What’s your favourite ‘80s and ‘90s tune?
80’s - Candy by Cameo
90’s – No Scrubs by TLC
What was the last thing you watched on television?
Bake Off of course – loving Sandi and Noel.
What is the funniest thing that has happened to you recently?
The unexpected, accidental, and decidedly uncomfortable modelling career. In the last week I have had a photo shoot for a book, soon to be released called Slay in Your Lane and I also had to record a piece to camera, while walking, for BET and the Black Girls Rock trailer. I am not a model!