Kate Marks with her OBE

Honoured: Kate Marks, who studied The Warwick Executive Diploma in Digital Leadership, with her OBE

England has experienced the wettest 18 months on record. This is a fact Kate Marks knows very well because she is used to keeping an eye on the weather.  

She is now in charge of digital services within incident management and resilience at the Environment Agency, and though she’s not always on emergency duty, old habits die hard. 

Kate is fresh from picking up her OBE at Windsor Castle, where she discussed the most recent flooding with the Princess Royal. She had been recognised in the latest New Year Honours List for services to flood risk management and equality, diversity and inclusion. 

One pioneering service she has helped deliver is emergency flood warning notifications – a service which alerts people if their property is in danger. 

“When you see your work pay off, helping to avert damage to people’s homes and saving lives – that’s rewarding,” she says.  

Her team design and upgrade flood forecasting and warning systems, using innovations in weather modelling and mapping in order to keep abreast of floods and incidents and to help teams on the ground. It is the variety of digital innovation and discovering new ways of presenting flood and incident risks that appeals. 

“But I’m a ‘people person’ first,” says Kate. “If there’s a problem, I’ll check the team is OK; they may have been working for 72 hours with few breaks.  

“Taking care of the people who take care of the systems is my approach. I’m lucky – I’m surrounded by people who want to make things better for the environment.” 

For the last couple of decades much of her work has revolved around preparing for bad weather and protecting communities.  

She adds: “I’ve worked on most of the major floods in the last 15 years. I’ve worked on legislation, policy, and supporting ministers.”  

Why Executive Education is important

In a new departure a couple of years ago she was granted an Inspiring Females Scholarship by Warwick Business School, where she completed The Warwick Executive Diploma in Digital Leadership.  

Returning to study after decades of public service left Kate feeling “slightly sweaty, slightly nervous...but there was lots of support, from tutors and the course director, stepping you through expectations”. 

She chose the course because it promised practical insights into her role and because the digital aspect offered something different.  

Traditional Environment Agency work is linear – building flood defences for instance. “We design something, it does the job.”  

But digital doesn’t follow traditional business models, she says. “That’s what attracted me to this course. With a business school too, I knew it would be grounded in practice and something I could immediately apply to the context in which we operate.” 

Part of that context is climate change, which promises that the Environment Agency will tackle ever more complex conditions.  

Kate says: “What we are now seeing are the interrelationships between water quality and climate change – it’s not going to get better and planning for the future is central to what we do.” 

Since completing the course, she’s been accepted onto an accelerated development scheme for talented deputy directors across the public and civil service – the Senior Leaders Scheme. 

“Until I completed the course at Warwick, I’d always thought I’d be an Environment Agency person for life,” she says. “While I am public sector through and through, and still loyal to the agency, I’m now open to other opportunities where I could add value.  

“Digital is one of those things that permeates so many different policy and operational fields. But it would have to be the right job, somewhere I could add value.” 

In her very scarce down time, she’s a Scout leader and sits on the national board of trustees for The Scout Association. Her two children aged nine and seven both belong, and she’s done her fair share of cub camps.  

Given an evening off, she’s a sci-fi fan – a nod to her science background and doctorate in flood modelling using Light Detection and Ranging (Lidar) data.  

She says: “Having a science and technical knowledge has helped in my current role – it does give me additional credibility.” 

Her latest honour from Princess Anne will only add to that credibility.