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Life in the City helps Pippa Whittaker prepare for the Boat Race with Cambridge University Women's Boat Club

Cambridge University Women's Boat Club's Pippa Whittaker. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cambridge University Women's Boat Club's Pippa Whittaker. Picture: Keith Heppell

Pippa Whittaker should consider writing a modern twist on the 1980s film Trading Places.

While the original featured a commodities broker and a homeless street hustler swapping lives, this version would be involve an elite rower swapping their oar for life in the City.

And the central character would be based on the life of the 27-year-old Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club member.

It is quite the tale of a girl that grew up in Henley watching the royal regatta and went on to earn GB success and Commonwealth Regatta gold in the single and double sculls before a chance encounter led to a new life as a junior equity finance trader.

Now she is combining both lives, back on the water with CUWBC and studying a masters of finance at Christ’s College.

To Whittaker, it is nothing startling, but the spur of the moment way she jumped from one environment to a completely new one is impressive just for the go-getting attitude, if nothing else.

“Leander do corporate days and so companies come and you take them out in an eight, you have a few athletes in and they have a few eights,” said Whittaker.

“We had loads of companies come but this really cool woman came once and she was a trader. I guess I just liked her and I asked for a job.

“It’s not more complicated than that. I did some work experience with them, and it was really fun.

“She gave me a job and I went and worked for her.

“I’m very competitive. I don’t know what made me do that. I don’t think I’m shy and retiring, and I don’t think anyone in the boat would describe me as that either.

“I do think people want to help in the world, and what do you have to lose? You might as well ask - I think I ask a lot of questions though.

“I lived with William Warr [a Blue with Cambridge, 2015, and Oxford, 2017] so I think I probably learnt from him, he will ask for anything. I thought ‘the worst that can happen is they say no so you should probably try’. It can fail, but at least you’ve tried.”

At the time, Whittaker was rowing full-time with Leander, her hometown club.

It was there that she set off on a route to racing for Great Britain as an under-16 in an international against France, and on to three gold medals at the Coupe de la Jeunesse for GB in 2009.

Studying at Loughborough University from 2010 was the next port of call, and success was achieved in the BUCS championship single, and there were then golds in the women’s four at the World University Games and the single and double sculls at the Commonwealth Regatta in 2014.

The corporate world then called, and Whittaker believes that plenty of comparisons can be made between sport and the trading floor.

“There are big characters, and it’s quite a competitive environment,” she said. “I can only speak for the team I worked in but teamwork was so important.

“It wasn’t dissimilar to how you have to work in rowing. You’ve all got your thing you need to do to get it right, but equally there were six of us on the desk and we had to work together.

“We had different types of roles, two people for generating ideas, two people on executions, I was financing. You had to pass ideas back and forth all day, it was similar in that way.

“I think it’s a similar type of person. There are things that I learned in rowing that I used in work, and things that I learned in work that I use in rowing.”

Whittaker did keep her oar in the water while working, rowing out of Thames Rowing Club – the club that Cambridge boat out of in Putney – thanks to an understanding boss that let her go training every evening.

But there was also a desire to further progress her career. By going directly into the profession, Whittaker cut out the more circuitous route of a graduate scheme which involves rotating around different departments.

Therefore, after visiting an open day at the Judge Business School, she decided to apply for the masters of finance – and by studying at Cambridge it permitted being able to row as well.

“I wouldn’t change the desk I worked on, but I haven’t learnt other bits of finance so I felt like my knowledge was pretty niche and it’s good to see what other bits there are,” explained Whittaker.

“Everyone in your class has worked for at least three years in a finance role so it’s super different I guess to most degrees here where people come from their undergrad to a masters degree.

“It’s a lot like an MBA but very technically focused on finance.”

And both the studies and rowing are living up to expectations.

“I don’t think you come to Cambridge and think either the degree or rowing would be easy – both are tough. But I think that makes it more rewarding than anything,” says Whittaker.

“It’s pretty cool to be part of, and I hope everyone feels like that in the whole squad.

“It’s a road for ever and it’s a different experience to any other rowing because of the history.

“It’s quite amazing how involved the alumni still are and the traditions, and you feel like it’s more than just rowing.”

Now all that is needed to complete the Hollywood ending is victory for Cambridge on Sunday.

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