Whether it be in my mentoring sessions or by chatting to keen people early on in their careers at networking and learning events, I’m often asked roundabout questions on the secret to becoming a C-suite executive, the exact path that they need to follow.
I’m not sure a straight-line path exists. Instead, I think there a few things that can accelerate that journey - seek out challenges, network and start something from scratch.
Sure, we all enjoy some well-deserved rest from time to time and you should see that as an essential part of the plan. It’s not easy to motivate yourself to take on endless challenges, but with some strategically-placed “rest” breaks, this is arguably one of the most important aspect of fulfilling your individual potential.
I started my career in the world of strategy consultancy at Roland Berger. For most university students, working as a strategy consultant is a coveted job that might sound glamorous – the hotels, the senior client access, the prestige, end of project dinners – but it was really tough in patches.
I experienced my fair share of 100-hour weeks. Despite protestations to the contrary, these take their toll. I do, however, look back fondly on some of these tough moments. It was here that I honed my resilience, learnt to look after myself even when facing severe pressure at work and learnt how to pull together as a team in the face of adversity.
It provided me with fantastic exposure to the world of business in a short time. And, gave me the experience of the 360-degree process of winning, serving, and managing clients, which has stood me in wonderful stead ever since.
Building from the ground up
I first entered the world of entrepreneurship during my time at BDO, where I was given the opportunity to start a local government consultancy from scratch: recruiting, building the brand, building the value proposition, and going to market.
This quasi “start-up” experience promoted me to move on from consulting and transition into venture building. Having spent over ten years in the world of strategy consultancy, it would’ve been easy to continue in the industry and follow a fairly linear career path. However, I realised that I wanted to get stuck into doing, as opposed to advising.
A great example of this is my time at Doctor Care Anywhere. When I joined, we had a three-person team working the equivalent of 10 working days per week between all of us!
I had to get involved in all areas of the business: setting up a team and creating a culture, crafting a vision for the company and securing funding, putting an idea into practice and then working out how to price and sell it.
In the end, it was an incredibly rewarding challenge that I absolutely loved. Whenever you have an opportunity to start something from scratch, take it. It might be hard, but it will teach you confidence, resilience, and you’ll demystify some assumptions you might’ve held about how difficult it is to do.
I originally moved to Blenheim Chalcot to focus on HealthTech, given my experience at Doctor Care Anywhere and before that healthcare consulting. However, less than 2 months in, I was offered the opportunity to take on my wider role as CEO of Blenheim Chalcot. Granted, this was a big surprise – but the opportunity was too great to pass up. A year and a half in, it’s proven to be a fantastic experience involving lots of learning and huge variety.
That doesn’t mean that it’s been without its challenges either; here at BC, I deal with a huge amount of stakeholders on a regular basis. There are 20 different CEOs of all the ventures, multiple partners, and a central team working across London, New York and Mumbai.
The breadth and depth that my brain has to cover is more than both consultancy and a single start-up experience combined – trying to understand and respond to the unique needs, issues and opportunities of multiple ventures at differing stages of growth!
Whilst the pace of delivery is energising and exciting, it is certainly demanding.
Unfortunately, female CEOs in the tech industry aren’t as common as they should be – something I’ve previously written about here. It’s clear that society still has a long way to go before there’s genuine gender equality in the workplace across all levels and sectors.
However, this shouldn’t discourage any young women from following their dreams going forward. Always challenge assumptions whenever you can; you’ll be better off for it, as will society at large.
My challenge for you
Network, network, network. Whilst I didn’t realise the value of networking until my late 20s, I strongly urge every one of you to sign up for a networking event right away and get stuck in as soon as you can.
Networking will allow you to see what you can do and to learn what you should be doing along the way to help you fulfil these goals. One valuable by-product of networking can be finding a mentor. Mentors can have an immensely positive impact both on your career and your personal life, so get out there and make some invaluable connections.
When I started my entrepreneurial career, I met with a variety of early-stage startup founders – many of whom I still meet up with to this day. It’s a wonderful privilege to be able to bounce ideas off people who have already been there and done that.
It will probably be uncomfortable to start off with, but that will make it so much more rewarding when it starts to pay dividends.
Finally, remember – don’t be afraid to challenge yourself.