From junior account lead to CEO – 5 tips on progressing from within
13 years ago I joined a small and buzzing company called FreshMinds. I’d sent my CV into the recruitment arm of the business, hoping to become one of the high-flyers who might be placed in a role by their Talent business. Instead, I found myself being offered an interview for a junior account development role within FreshMinds itself.
My previous roles had been at large corporates and, as I contemplated the move from large corporate to small start-up, I was warned by my father of the ‘risk and uncertainty’ that a small company would present. But, despite the paternal forewarnings, I was hooked by the people I met throughout the interview process – they were high energy, driven, ambitious and inspiring – they made me feel like this was a ride that I wanted to join. With two entrepreneurs at the helm, and a fearless drive for success, this business felt a world away from the middle management heavy organisations I’d come from. And from interview one, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it.
At this stage in my career, I had two blue-chip grad-schemes under my belt, and more training than I’d ever been able to use. In fact, it had been a source of frustration that I had been trained to handle all kinds of scenarios: tough negotiation, large-scale presentation, managing others (to name a few areas) and yet rarely, had I gotten a chance to put training into practice. All that changed from the minute I started at FreshMinds, and suddenly my previously unused training became very useful!
From day one, life at FreshMinds was fast paced, always challenging my thinking, and pushing me to learn at a new kind of pace, using my own initiative to find the right path ahead. The pace of the day-to-day was almost matched by the pace of my career. I quickly found myself managing one, then two, then five line reports, before taking on responsibility for sector teams, then client services, then becoming deputy MD and more recently CEO.
Thirteen years on and this business is buzzing more than ever. The ride that I wanted to join so much at the beginning has, without a doubt, been the ride of my life. It’s an experience that I want every person who joins this business to feel that they can emulate. So, as I reflect on the road that I have travelled, here are my 5 tips for navigating your way through a business, whether you’re at the start of the journey or well on the way:
1. Bring your A game. Every day.
My approach to work, whether my first role or the role I am in now, has always been to give it my best shot, every day. This has meant being very clear on what success looks like (both personally and professionally) and then working hard to achieve it. My advice to new hires who are hungry to move up the career ladder is to recognise that promotions do not come on a plate, you need to work for them. Bringing your A game, every day, is the best way to achieve success and to make promotion happen.
2. Welcome constructive feedback.
Constructive feedback can smart a bit (none of us likes to hear about what we’re not doing well) but without it you’ll never realise your potential. I have seen people transform their performance based on their reaction to constructive feedback. So, as an observer of what it can do, and as somebody who has worked hard to tackle my own areas for improvement, my advice is to welcome feedback and use it to take yourself to the next level.
3. Have the courage to ‘lean in’.
Always strive to speak up to fix the things that are broken or that could be better – people, culture, processes, managers. Having the confidence to feed back on issues and share ideas for improvement will serve you well and help make your workplace a place that you love, and somewhere where you are proud to be. I believe that this attitude has helped me to drive positive change and, in turn, progress through the business. There is a ‘watch out’ here though – speaking up to improve a business may not be popular with everybody. However, this should not deter you from ‘leaning in’ and having a voice. Based on my own experiences, suggestions that may cause ripples in the short term, typically build greater happiness, trust and respect in the longer term.
4. Be prepared for hard work.
Climbing through a company is not easy. Resilience, perseverance and hard work are key drivers of success. I have worked with energy and enthusiasm at every step of my career, and it has paid off.
5. You don’t have to aim for the top from day one.
Thirteen years ago, if you had told me during my interview that I would end up running the company I might have fallen off my chair. At the time I joined, I was not focused on the top of the ladder, I wasn’t even aiming for a few rungs ahead. Instead, I aimed to smash performance at every step of the climb, something that kept me moving onwards and upwards. In my early career at FreshMinds, surrounded by extroverts who shared their visions of running their own business someday, I wondered if this ‘failure’ to aim for the top of the mountain made me unambitious. I have since learned that, if anything, it’s quite the opposite. Steely determination to always navigate to the next step has given me a clear path to the top.