Where did you go to university and what did you study?
I did a Bachelor’s degree in Manufacturing Systems Engineering at Warwick. What was different about the course I did and why I chose Warwick was that it had a common first year, so you covered a bit of everything and it gave you a good grounding in each of the different elements. Then, in your second year, it allowed you to choose which discipline you wanted to focus on.
At the end of the third year there was an option for those who were doing well to stay on for a fourth year in Engineering Management. What that did was continue some of the engineering skills but also prepare you with business studies skills – understanding financial elements, covering HR. It was very useful for me because it gave me insight into other areas of business and helped me to become a more rounded individual.
How useful were your summer placements? What skills and experience did you pick up?
I had three work placements while I was at university, which gave me a rounded business acumen. Especially the Unilever placement, as I ended up doing quite a lot of work on logistical models, which was very much akin to finance. As a result of that and the studies I did in my fourth year, I ended up going into finance on a Procter and Gamble graduate scheme, instead of pursuing a career in manufacturing.
For one placement I actually worked in a steelworks, which was really lethal! The first part of my placement was learning about health and safety, trying to understand how people get injured. The second half was spent understanding how services (water, electricity etc.) were being passed around the business. Very interesting, but not an industry I wanted to work in!
Tell me a little bit about what it’s like working at giffgaff?
First of all, when you come into giffgaff the first thing that will hit you is how friendly everyone is. It is an open environment, and a young office space as well, as you expect from a company trying to operate in the space that we are.
We have great people, we encourage people to be collaborative and we expect our workers to live our values as well, putting our member community first. It might sound a little clichéd but we do put our members first and at the heart of everything we do.
We have a great balance of people being open and friendly, but still a little bit gritty and wanting to do a good job. It opens up better communication because if people don’t feel free to say what they feel, issues can bubble up and become big problems before others get to know about them. So it’s very important that our people feel comfortable talking about anything otherwise things can get out of hand.
What makes giffgaff different?
giffgaff is one of the few youth brands still out there and is certainly one of the only ones that is going to be trusted to do something like financial services. The thing that we have is a strong community that makes us more transparent and more open than other brands on the market. It also keeps us honest, because members are actively engaged in the running of the business. If they don’t like something, they’ll post about it and we need to take heed of that.
What advice would you give to someone who is one day looking to progress to board level in their career?
There are three things that stick out. Perseverance is key and you have to roll with a lot of punches. And you see it in life, especially in sports and with Olympians. It doesn’t matter if you don’t come first straight away because a lot of people don’t, but it’s the people who keep on trying and endure that become successful. Sometimes endurance is even more important than talent.
Another one is ‘it only works if it all works’. That’s quite an important one. Some people ask “what’s the most important thing”, and it’s not like that. It only works if it all works, and I think a lot of people are too simplistic about business. That’s one of the reasons giffgaff has succeeded, by ensuring everything works together.
And treat everyone with respect. Even if you violently disagree with something, on the darkest of days, things are never as bad as they seem.
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