Whether it be in my mentoring sessions or by chatting to keen young people 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 want to emphasise that the key to realising your ambitions lies in constantly seeking out challenges.
Sure, we all enjoy some well-deserved comfort 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 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.
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 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 was also wonderful exposure to the world of business; I was able to go through 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.
I found the whole process fascinating and so decided that I wanted 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 between all of us!
I had to get involved in all areas of the business: setting up a team, securing funding, working closely with the original founders to put their idea into practice, creating a culture, and crafting a vision for the company.
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, an area which had become my speciality over the previous few years with Doctor Care Anywhere. However, after 8 weeks 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; 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 of over 200 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 – I’m constantly having to deal with multiple ventures at differing stages of growth who are all facing unique challenges and opportunities.
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.
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.
So, that’s my challenge for all of you. 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 – always keep on challenging yourself.