Following my masters year, I gained a placement at the European Space Agency. I enjoyed it and I was surrounded by interesting, clever people, but I felt that the research world was too theoretical. I realised that what I’d enjoyed the most at university was being student president, working with people to make a difference. I decided to look for a career that would involve a blend of using your smarts and working in teams to solve commercial problems. I stumbled across technical consulting and joined a company that is now Detica.
As a consultant I gained great experience of different businesses and travelled to South Africa and New York. The downside was that once you finished your project, you left; you never got to see your hard work pay off. So, when I was headhunted by HFC Bank, it felt like the right time to go into industry. The type of consulting I did was around managing customer relationships and analysing customer data and those skills sat naturally in marketing; it was a good fit.
Learning about myself and management
HFC gave me a lot of responsibility at a young age, but supported me well. It was around this time that I began to truly understand how I best like to work and about the nature of management. I like to be given difficult things to achieve and then given the space to work through them. I enjoy working with people more experienced and cleverer than me because it always rubs off. I also learned that when you manage a team you stop being known for your individual contributions and instead for what your teams do: you create the conditions to enable your team to achieve outcomes, rather than actually achieving them yourself.
Coping with challenges
My first role at RBS involved helping to set the strategic direction of UK retail and commercial banking. I took my knowledge of banking and spent time with senior colleagues, helping them to create a strategy that they could execute. My dad had worked at RBS for 40 years and I felt bad that I was part of the management team when it came close to bankruptcy; I was determined to be part of the team that turned things around, and I took on challenging roles to enable that. For example, I came up with a strategy that transformed our call centres into somewhere that delivered good customer service and made a positive difference to our employees. Our employee engagement went up, our customer satisfaction levels went up (albeit from low levels) and our costs went down.
It was the hardest period of my professional life, but I think I contributed quite a lot. When taking on something difficult, you have to go back to your values and how you approach problems. Then you ask for advice. As you become more senior, you are open to more criticism. It is important to remember your values and stay resilient.
Moving to HSBC
I really enjoyed working for RBS, but was reaching the point at which I was looking for something new when I took a call about a role at HSBC. I now look after banking for consumers in the UK and the teams that run the branches, build digital capability, make products and service the customers across HSBC UK, First Direct, M&S Bank and John Lewis Financial Services.
Yesterday, I got in at 6.30 am, and answered some customer complaints that had come in overnight. I attended a meeting about some improvement projects. I then met with the chief executive of one of our partner charities, the Alzheimer's Society, to see how we could build on our partnership. Next, I met with my marketing and finance directors to work out the financial capacity we had for marketing, and then with our risk officer to discuss how changes in the UK economy would affect our business. I finished with a call to a colleague I’m coaching and left at 7.00 pm.
I enjoy having the opportunity to make every day a bit easier to work here and to be a customer of ours. I also enjoy watching people grow. I am a great believer in giving direction and coaching and then helping people to find the fun in what they do. I am very aware that our frontline employees have the toughest jobs: our call centre staff take 60 to 80 calls a day and have to deliver the same standard of customer service throughout.
Sometimes graduates feel like they need to act as if they have all the answers – but no organisation expects that. I like to see that they are constantly learning and that they care: what we do in our bank matters because, if you have your health, it is your wealth that decides your living standards. I’d give similar advice to graduates who are choosing between employers: seek a company in whose purpose you believe and one that will keep you learning.
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