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NEWS > Alumnae News > The incredible true story of the woman who dared to make waves

The incredible true story of the woman who dared to make waves

No one exemplifies the LEH motto 'Hope Favours the Bold' quite like former professional yachtswoman and alumna Jeni Mundy who returns to the school to give a Remarkable Women Lecture later this year.
Jeni  Mundy (LEH 1971-1981) earned a place in the history books when she joined the first ever all-female crew to compete in the notoriously difficult Whitbread Round the World Race in 1989/90.  The inspiring story of triumph agains the odds gave her the confidence to lead a pioneering life. She went on to become the first female Chief Technology Officer for Vodafone and is now Managing Director UK and Ireland for Visa.

Jeni says: “I don't think I would have gone on to become the first ever female Chief Technology Officer for Vodafone without my experiences on Maiden.”

She adds: “Just because there's no one who looks like you doing it today, doesn't mean you can't do it tomorrow. I learned about the power of teamwork and the immense satisfaction and ability to conquer everything that comes with it. If I can help inspire even one other girl to push herself further than she felt she could, then that is a good day.”

Jeni hasn’t been afraid to take on one male-dominated industry after another. After leaving LEH, she gained a BSc in Maths with Philosophy at the University of East Anglia, before becoming a professional ocean-racing yachtswoman for six years. Part of her role on board was to install and fix all the electrics and electronics, so after leaving professional sailing, she was inspired to take an MSc in electronic engineering at Cardiff University.

Jeni went on to work in New Zealand telecommunications in various Engineering roles and is now a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineers.  She returned to the UK as Director of Telecom Systems for Vodafone in 2005, where she remained for nearly 12 years, working her way up to being their first female Chief Technology Officer.  She joined Visa in October 2018 and is now Managing Director UK and Ireland.

Jeni has proved at every stage of her career that she isn’t afraid to break down barriers.  She puts that fierce courage and determination down to being part of the first all-women crew to take part in the Round the World Whitbread race in 1989-90.

The gripping real-life story of taking part in the longest and most challenging race on earth on board the Maiden yacht, of the ocean terrors and the raging sexism faced by the all-women crew, has been turned into a feature-length documentary. ‘Maiden’ is currently available to view on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Prime Video and the Sky Store.

In 1989, sailing was still considered exclusively as a man’s sport.  The all-women crew were repeatedly told it was something they couldn’t do – that they wouldn’t be able to handle the danger of sailing across treacherous waters, that the sailing would be too physically demanding, that they wouldn’t even complete the first leg of the race.

Sceptical journalists covering the race took bets on how quickly Maiden would drop out of the contest and even asked the crew during TV interviews if they had packed enough waterproof mascara to last the trip.

The harder it became, the more determined the crew were to succeed. They wanted to prove the naysayers wrong and to demonstrate that with hard work and persistence you can overcome great odds to make dreams come true.

Maiden concluded the last 3,800-mile leg of the race from Fort Lauderdale to Southampton in May 1990.  After surviving a tornado and the final five days with no food, the women arrived home to a rapturous welcome. Their final position was second place overall in their class; the best result of a British boat in 17 years and remains unbeaten to this day.

The inspiring story has an equally moving ending. The Maiden yacht was discovered in 2014 in the Seychelles, rotting and unloved. Following a crowd-funding campaign, it has been extensively renovated and is now taking part on a world tour, skippered by a new generation of highly talented all-female crew members. Their mission is create awareness of the 130 million girls who are currently not afforded an education and to raise funds for the charities who campaign for that basic human right.

Jeni Mundy's Remarkable Women Lecutre: 'Breaking Boundaries has been postponed.  She will return to LEH to give the talk later this year.  We hope to announce the new date shortly. Tickets to see ‘Breaking Boundaries with Jeni Mundy’ will cost £15, £5 concessions, with all proceeds going to the Bursary Fund.   

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