Chapel Hill grad gets British honor

Fields Wicker-Miurin is awarded the OBE for contributions to international business

Staff WriterJune 29, 2007 

— CORRECTION: This story erred in stating the number of people who have received that award and incorrectly implied that the Beatles received an Officer of the British Empire award. The Officer of the British Empire award is one of five honors that are categories of the Order of the British Empire award system. The Beatles received the Member of the British Empire Award, an OBE system honor that is given for outstanding service in and to the community.

The Beatles may have partied when they received an OBE, one of the British government's highest honors, but for Fields Wicker-Miurin, the celebration had to wait.

"I didn't tell anybody. I didn't have any time," said the 1976 Chapel Hill High School graduate. "I had to keep working. I sent an e-mail to my husband and asked him to get the [news]papers."

An OBE, or Officer of the British Empire, is one of five distinctions that recognizes British citizens who have made a significant impact in a field.

Wicker-Miurin, honored this month for her contributions to international business, was not popping champagne because she was in Sichuan Province in southwestern China representing the organization she co-founded, Leaders' Quest.

The organization sends leaders from different sectors to countries that are playing an increasingly important role in the world. They see the world from a new perspective, learn about themselves as leaders and help develop leaders in the host country. Leaders' Quest has programs in India, China, southern Africa and Brazil, with plans to add Russia next year.

About 2,000 people receive the OBE each year. Half are placed on the Queen's Birthday Honours List, as Wicker-Miurin was this year, and the rest on a list that comes out on New Year's Day.

"The OBE is just really wonderful. Not many women get it, and not many people born in other countries do either," Wicker-Miurin said. "I was thrilled."

She wasn't the only one.

"[Leaders' Quest] is really excited and very proud," she said. "Someone said she got goosebumps all over. ... In this country, it's a recognition that people really value and are very pleased when someone they know gets it."

It is such an honor, her company insisted on new business cards reading: Fields Wicker-Miurin, OBE.

For her family, which has lived in Chapel Hill since 1955, it is a great honor to add to her long list.

For three years, Wicker-Miurin ran the London Stock Exchange, completely shifting it to an electronic system.

She also held prominent positions at Wachovia, and several committees in education, arts, the public sector and the government. She was chairwoman of a government investment committee that oversees all government subsidies to businesses.

"She has always been a person if she starts off in a direction, she keeps going in that direction no matter what the obstacles are," said her brother, Thomas Wicker, 39. "She has the ability to simply decide she is going to improve things and makes those improvements happen."

Wicker-Miurin decided to leave international finance and create Leaders' Quest when she realized what it meant to lead, and lead well.

"When leading a high-profile organization, it became very clear to me that the quality of leaders we had across the board is probably not the kind of leadership we needed in the 21st century," she said. "The more I saw at the top of organizations, the more I became concerned with what I wasn't seeing."

Staff writer Carolina Astigarraga can be reached at 932-2025 or carolina.astigarraga@ newsobserver.com.

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