What do you do for a living?
Essentially I am a project manager working as part of the Property function of a large financial organisation. I work as part of a team looking at ways we can be as flexible as possible with the way we work. This could mean flexibility in terms of the hours we work, the location we work from or the equipment we use.
How did you get interested in what you do? What advice was available to you when you chose this career direction?
I didn’t really choose this career direction is just sort of happened. I joined the bank in 1999 as a Purchasing Manager and was heavily involved in tendering contracts for the Property Department. I found it a diverse department which encompassed topics as varied as industrial cleaning, air conditioning, catering, physical build, interior design and mail rooms. Although I did not come from a property background I found it easier to be in negotiations on contracts on the topics mentioned above than buying for example IT equipment or services, where I was clueless as to the “lingo” and so I kind of began to understand a bit about commercial property and how such multi-occupied premises were run and quite enjoyed it. As a result when a position came up working within Property itself, I applied for and got it and have kind of not moved on since!
What was your journey to reach the role you are in today?
I think my “journey” to the role I’m in today was one undertaken without a map! I have never been one of those people who knew what they wanted to do when they grew up (still don’t but that’s another issue). I used to be envious of my class mates at school who could say with certainty.. “ I plan to be a ….doctor/ lawyer/ teacher etc) I was pretty OK at most subjects in my mid-teens and so when it came to narrowing down to 3 subjects for A level I found this really difficult as there was no subject I particularly excelled at. As a result the advice I was given was to take sciences as they meant I would have greater flexibility in choice of degree and or career choice at a later stage (when presumably a light bulb would go off in my head and I’d “know” what I was meant to be). Looking back this was disastrous as my leaning was much more towards an “Arts” profile rather than a “Science” one, but I just didn’t recognise this at the time.
I took Chemistry, Physics and English at A level and let’s just say results day was not a happy one! I ended up re-doing a year at 6th form college and taking English, Economics and Sociology A levels instead. This time round was far more successful, not only in my subject choices but also my results. Although painful at the time when I failed my first attempts at A levels I think it was a good learning for me as I had never been exposed to the subjects of Economics or Sociology before then, and ended up really loving them. So much so, that I took a Sociology Degree at Southampton University.
Although a fabulous 3 years away from home, and a subject I enjoyed, I was not certain that a career in social work or academia was for me, and so came the next dilemma….. what was I qualified for with a BScSoc? The answer was I didn’t know, so ended up leaving university with my degree and getting a job as a sales assistant (a job I began to loathe) as I suddenly realised that I was now supposed to be in the working world and had to earn money!
To cut a very long story short, I left my shop job to take a temporary office job with the British Council relocating their London based staff to Manchester - this exposed me to “office life” which was very eye opening after 3 years studying and then hanging around a shop floor. This role lasted some 18 months and meant I became an official London commuter and having had the office experience I then applied (and got) a job with the American Embassy in London working as a Consular Officer. This meant I officially went to work in the USA every day (albeit the USA in Grosvenor Square London) and I stayed there for 6 years. Starting off in the Consular office working with Visa queries (of which there were thousands daily) then moving to take a role as PA to the Head of the Consular Department. My boss was a lady who had been one of the hostages in the US Embassy in Iran in the 1980s interestingly enough and from this role I got a much broader view of what other jobs there were in the Embassy as I had to liaise with all departments outside of the Consular section. As such this was a very educational stepping stone to my next role which was as a Procurement Manager with the US Embassy London.
Here again I wasn’t really qualified in purchasing, but decided to gain a post graduate qualification from the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply by studying at night. I learnt a lot on the job and had to buy and write contracts for an array of goods and services including freeze dried meals for the US Marines, building & construction works in US Embassy official’s homes including that of the Ambassador himself and photocopiers for Presidential visits. I regularly liaised, and sometimes visited other US Embassies abroad and was sent on training courses regularly to the State Department in Washington – a nice perk of the job! In 1995 I was part of a team sent across to Belfast to support the serving US President - Bill Clinton’s visit to Belfast. Long hours, hard work, but an interesting experience!
After 6 years working with the Americans I decided it was time to move on and now, fairly experienced in the world of purchasing, I applied for, and got a job with RBS in their purchasing Department in London. It was just before RBS took over National Westminster Bank and so I joined a team of 2 Procurement professionals in London only to be subsumed into a 50 strong team 6 months later when the 2 entities merged.
I have basically stayed with the same organisation since then although have held maybe 3 or 4 different roles in that time. I had the opportunity to move into the area of Continuous Improvement (WorkOut, Lean, Six Sigma etc) Innovation and Best Practice for some years which led to my move from London to Edinburgh and since then I have moved to focus on the Flexible working arena. This subject area I find very fascinating and important since it is not only a relatively new topic in many industries, but one which requires all the skills of a change manager to encourage others to embrace an historically unfamiliar concept, and move away from “line of sight” management towards a more “grown up” style of working. It also requires the bringing together or 3 areas in order to make the concept work – namely Property – we must have flexible offices and other spaces, Technology – we need the IT equipment to be able to connect remotely to our work IT systems and HR – we need contracts and People managers to allow varying options in the way we work. Although I am not saving lives or solving “world hunger” I do get some sense of satisfaction from my role, when I can see that truly helping teams and managers to embrace flexibility in the workspace, can bring not only work/life balance rewards, but also common sense cost savings in these austere times.
Talk me through a day in your life... what sorts of things would it involve?
I don’t think I ever have two days the same, but as with most office jobs I have numerous team calls, downloads, working groups to attend on a weekly basis. On top of this when working on a delivery project I would be liaising with the various contacts in the different businesses within the bank to move the particular project along – whether that would be at the early stages of educating people about the concept or actually mobilising work to undertake utilisation studies etc to see how frequently or infrequently space is used. There is a lot of face to face interviewing of managers to build a deeper understanding of the business unit with which we are working and making sure the right people are communicated with at the right time, with the right message. Currently I am liaising with a lot of university academics regarding a benchmarking piece of work we are doing and that has proved very interesting and eye opening. Not least because everything moves at a very different pace in academia!
Was it your planned career when you were 18?
No, I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to do at 18 but was told by the careers department that, having filled in some questionnaire, I should become a librarian!
What did your mum and dad want you to do?
My Dad wanted me to be a Solicitor or something in the legal profession (as I think secretly he had wanted this for himself). My mum wanted me to be a journalist – largely I think because she wanted me to read the news on TV!?
What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?
I’m still not actually sure what my career is - if’ it’s project management then I guess getting some form of qualification in Project Management would be helpful – although not essential – a lot of the time I use “common sense”. I think the best piece of career advice I ever received was to try as many things as possible and if nothing else it will tell you what you don’t want to be and this will help narrow down your choices. I think this was very true for me as I hated being a sales assistant, so a sales role was never going to be on the cards. That said I wouldn’t have known that unless I’d tried it.
I think for anyone I would say in my experience having a degree (albeit a non-vocational “ology”) and trying different jobs – learning from each one – have stood me in the best stead. Unless you are really sure what you want to do from an early age, I think the only way to explore and learn it to try things, talk to others and experience as much as you can for yourself. Often what the job description says and what the job is actually like are miles apart!
What other directions could you go in /work in within your field other than the job you have chosen?
I guess with Project Management you can deliver projects in all sorts of project areas so I could in theory go on to work outside of the Property field and leave my comfort zone of “buildings”. When you think about it most jobs involve some degree of Project Management just to put some order around your “things to do list” so any form of Administrative or Organisational role might also suit. For a while I did some training in Continuous Improvement Techniques so I guess I could look to move into being a trainer of some sort – although that may involve obtaining some sort of accreditation first.