Meet Priya Downes

Cass BSc alumna and Director of Merchandising, Fiorucci, reflects on her career to date

Cass Business School is proud of its strong alumni community which includes 45,000+ alumni across more than 160 countries.  Our alumni are an important part of the Cass Global Women’s Leadership Programme, offering support, mentoring and advice to our current Global Women’s Scholars as well as women across Cass.

As part of a new series celebrating Cass Women, we spoke to valued alumna Priya Downes, BSc Actuarial Science (2002), to hear about her life and career to date.  If you’re a Cass alumna with an interesting story to tell, or would like to nominate another Cass woman for the series, please drop us a line at

We caught up with Priya Downes, BSc Actuarial Science (2002) and Director of Merchandising, Fiorucci, to hear about career to date and her thoughts on women's leadership.

What led you to choose your particular career?

Honestly - good preparation, a passion and opportunity. Whilst my graduating degree subject wasn’t ultimately what I ended up feeling passionate about pursuing as a career, I leveraged the skills I learnt at Cass to take steps into the industry I ultimately wanted to pursue a job in. I’m now, 15 years on, working as a Fashion Executive - who would have thought that in my graduating Actuarial Science class! I had a passion and I wasn’t afraid to pursue it even if it took me two jobs to realise this. I don’t regret the journey, it made me the person I am today and I’ve worked with some of the most talented and interesting people across many industries. I feel that not being ‘industry pure’ makes my decision making as a leader much more rich and innovative.

What inspired you to study at Cass?

The world class faculty, proximity to the heart of one of the top financial markets and ultimately its high ranking for my chosen degree subject, Actuarial Science.  Although not the primary reason I chose to study at Cass, something that I truly valued was the diversity of people.  Studying with people of so many different nationalities, cultures and from different demographics prepares you well for a global career and also a new level of intellectual vigour.

How do you apply your Cass experience to your career?

Aim for the best, and don’t be afraid to have setbacks. Like everyone, I had my disappointments along the way but unless you fall hard every now and again you’ll never rise high.

What advice would you give to women considering studying here?

Help each other, often we are so focused on striving to overcome our own battles, including gender ones, that we forget to help each other. Be strong, competitive and fearless yes but be compassionate for one another to help work towards a wider goal for all women.

Have you had any particular female role models who have inspired you along the way?

I have many, at least a dozen for so many reasons. In my personal career I’ve been so privileged to work with some of them - Angela Arhendts (ex CEO of Burberry now SVP at Apple) for her charisma and not being afraid to take on Silicon Valley as an outsider. Carmen La-Pointe Young - Auditor General for the United Nations who broke so many gender ceilings as a single mother.  I also admire Hillary Clinton for her resilience in the face of so much criticism and defeat in two elections; Sheryl Sandberg for speaking so candidly about ‘Leaning in’ and then not being afraid to show vulnerability when her husband passed away suddenly. Finally closer to my fashion heart, Gabrielle Chanel, who designed the first non-corseted dresses and trousers for women at a time when women had to no choices but dress to society norms. She freed women in more ways than just their clothes!

Find out more

Find out more about Cass Global Women here.

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