Rebecca Rennison’s grandfather was a wartime code-breaker. She wants to inspire other women and provide support for projects to promote mental health awareness. Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright reports.
IF you are blessed with an eye for detail, you can crack a code and win a war.
Bletchley Park code breaker Arthur Beswick and his colleagues proved that maths could destroy tyrants. Today, his granddaughter Rebecca Rennison is immensely proud of Mr Beswick’s wartime service, even though he died long before she was born.
Churchill described the Bletchley staff as “the geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled”. The team at Bletchley devised methods to enable the Allied forces to decipher the military codes and cyphers used by the Axis nations. This intelligence supported Allied military operations and marked the start of the computer age. However, the vital role played by the Bletchley workers remained hidden for decades due to official secrecy and the code breakers’ discretion.
“My grandfather was a mathematician, who could also speak German and Japanese,’ said Ms Rennison. “He died when my mum was just eight. Obviously I’ve been to Bletchley Park several times and the family has just bought a commemorative brick there in his honour. I wish I could have met him. There are so many questions.”
Ms Rennison, who is PwC’s new Leeds-based corporate finance director, inherited her grandfather’s love of numbers. But her real passion is for the stories and faces behind the figures. Ms Rennison is a seasoned professional who spent 15 years working for Raymond James Financial in Vancouver, Canada, where she completed mergers and acquisitions across North America.
Ms Rennison believes business must have a human face. She is particularly keen to provide encouragement to girls who may not have the support they need at home. During her time in Canada, Ms Rennison served as a board member for the Big Sisters of BC Lower Mainland, a not-for-profit group that provides supportive mentoring relationships to young girls who may be facing challenges like bullying, isolation, poverty, abuse, social anxiety and low self-esteem.
She said: “The Big Sisters is an organisation that is focused on helping young girls. The programme matches an older person, or big sister, with a younger person, or little sister, and they spend time together and provide extra support and act as a role model, because perhaps the girls don’t have that at home.
“I joined the board because I feel it’s very important to help young people in the local community and especially young girls.”
One of the girls was inspired to express her feelings for the Big Sisters project in song.
Ms Rennison recalled: “At the start of the annual charity dinner, one of the little sisters sang, ‘Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys. She got a standing ovation and she spoke about how big an impact having a ‘big sister’ had had on her.
“It shows the power of showing someone that you care - by taking the time to listen - and letting them know you’re always there. It was a truly remarkable and memorable evening.
“ She said she had really benefited from having consistent contact with somebody she could talk to in a way that was safe. So if she was worried about girls picking on her, for example, she could talk to somebody about it in confidence.
“It’s that fantastic scenario where everybody benefits, including the big sisters, so it’s a virtuous circle. I’m very passionate about giving something back to the local community.”
Ms Rennison was born in the UK and moved with her family to Canada when she was a child. She started her career in assurance and tax, where she had the chance to display her firm grasp of maths.
“I’ve always really liked numbers,” she said. “There’s always a story behind those numbers and I wanted to have a really good understanding of what that is. At the end of the day, you are helping people.
“Moving to Canada was so exciting. I loved the opportunity and I was at the right age to enjoy it. It was a fantastic place to live.”
Canada’s greatest strength is its diversity, which the nation loves to celebrate, according to Ms Rennison.
“Because it’s so vast there is a forging together of communities. I’m very proud to have been born in the UK. I met and married somebody who is also from the North of England. We took the big decision to move back to the North.”
Ms Rennison will focus on mergers and acquisitions in her new role, often on a global scale. She believes the key quality for any adviser is the ability to listen, regardless of where you are based.
She added: “Providing advisory services you need to know what the client’s road map is. The first point is to listen properly to what the objectives are of the shareholder or entrepreneur or CEO. You can then come back to them properly with options.
“Often they may already know where they want to go. But our role is also to explore all other option as well.
“In Vancouver, I was mainly doing transactions between Canada and the US.
“Since I’ve been back in the UK, I’ve been doing transactions with Japan, South Africa, Switzerland and what I really want to continue to do in the Yorkshire market is make sure that the international business community is aware of the great businesses we have got in this region.”
She believes firms must embrace policies that support mental wellbeing.
“Mental health is becoming more of a priority because high profile individuals are getting behind campaigns,’’ said Ms Rennison.
“It’s important to outline what you should do if you feel you are struggling. It’s OK to ask for help. People are more aware because they know somebody who has struggled with mental health, whether it’s a family member or a colleague, and they have recovered. So there are success stories, whereas people in the past did not talk about it. They suffered in silence. PwC are doing a lot to get behind mental health awareness day. We are coaching staff so they can reach out to somebody who might be struggling. Our people are our greatest assets and we need to make sure we take care of them.”
She added: “I hope people will say that I made a difference in the business community as well as the local community. I want to be a catalyst for change.”
Like her grandfather, Ms Rennison knows that data is only valuable when placed in skilled hands.
Title: Director, Corporate Finance M&A at PwC
D.o.b: July 10, 1973
Education: Bachelor in Business Administration (Accounting), Chartered Accountant, Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
First job: Evening/weekend receptionist at Royal LePage – a real estate agent
Last book read: Century Trilogy, by Ken Follett, the best historical fiction I’ve ever read!
Favourite holiday destination: Vancouver, Canada
Favourite movie: The Imitation Game (my grandfather was a codebreaker at Bletchley Park during WWII)
Thing you are most proud of: Having the courage to change and create new adventures by moving back to the UK