Class of 2018: International business boss jets in to pick up honour

Karen Walker

Published on 06 July 2018

Karen Walker was among 25 top marketing chiefs lined up by the US Association of National Advertisers (ANA) to form a high powered international Growth Council to discuss and develop the industry she thrives in.

But today she was able to put business on the back-burner as she celebrated becoming an Honorary Doctor of Business Administration at the University of Sunderland.

Karen, who grew up in Sunderland, works for Cisco, the California-based worldwide leader in IT and networking and, since 2015, has held the title of Senior Vice President Marketing and Chief Marketing Officer.

But, despite all her international success, Karen returned home to Wearside on Friday where she received her honour on the pitch of her beloved SAFC.

Karen told graduating students that they should not let their degree ‘put them in a box’.

“My degree is in Chemistry, I worked as an engineer, and now I am a Chief Marketing Officer.  

“I took many small risks early in my career, that were uncomfortable, but that allowed me to live and work in three continents and to meet my husband of 30 years.”

Karen’s style of work is famous for combining the art and science of marketing, putting the customer at the heart of everything.

She likes to quote Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said. And they’ll forget what you did. But they’ll never forget how you made them feel.”

Karen also borrows a line from one of her favourite leaders, John Wooden coach of the UCLA basketball team for many years – who said: “The star of the team is the team.” It reflects how strongly she feels towards her colleagues and how they come together.

Karen’s route to this position spans 20 years in the IT industry, with senior posts in Europe, America and the Asia-Pacific region.  She gained a Joint Honours BSc in Chemistry and Business Studies from Loughborough University and joined the British arm of the Hewlett Packard computer company. Incidently, when she told her parents she was joining HP they thought she was getting into brown sauce.

Putting her business success aside, Karen is a dedicated follower of Sunderland AFC. Her daughter played in a national soccer league in America for many years, and her father-in-law was a FIFA referee who helped to get the 1994 World Cup to the United States