Being the CEO of 5500 employees for a day at the age of 20 was probably one of the biggest defining moments I’ve had in life so far. It opened my mind to a world of possibilities that I hadn’t even thought of for myself… Some opportunities only come once in life and if you miss it … you’ve really missed it – I knew as soon as I heard of the CEO x1 programme that this was something I didn’t want to miss.
I remember walking into the Odger Berndtsons tall glassy building just opposite St. Paul’s Cathedral and feeling ready to face the last interview day. I had been in the running for the CEOx1 programme for a number of weeks now, and it was the last stretch before finally finding out if I would get the place that I had been competing for for sometime.
I wasn’t scared. Just ever so slightly jittery because I had heard that big companies can have really unique selection days.
I really enjoyed the interviews, we had a number of distinct, interesting and unique challenges that really made me be reflective about myself my own leadership styles and quite frankly challenged how good of a communicator I thought I was. There were students from all across the UK and we all had a bout of imposters-syndrome as we had lunch with the extraordinary London sky views behind us.
Cut to a few months later I found out that I had been paired with Ian Filby from DFS at the time, and I was incredibly excited to meet him because I had heard that he was a chemistry graduate who somehow worked his way into the world of business and executive management. I thought this was a really unique transition of industries and I was really intrigued to know more about his thought process of doing this. I was invited to the DFS headquarters in Doncaster.
I was a little unsure of what the day would bring, but as soon as I stepped through those doors I was treated with just an amazing warmth and dignity, the whole company gave me an immediate sense of belonging.
My first big discussion with Ian was over breakfast, he asked about my family and I asked about his. We talked about health, food, and the places we had traveled. And it was really the chance to understand him a little more as a person, to the point whereby I forgot that I was having breakfast with the CEO of a huge company. That was until the CFO came in and he started speaking numbers. I immeadiately took notice of how fast and efficient he was, giant spreadsheets with hundred of numbers were placed before him, and he instantly noticed the smallest mistakes in such vast amounts of data. We later spoke about how our science degrees are incredible way to help with analytical skills. This was no surprise for me, spreadsheets make my heart skip a beat so I felt right at home.
We next had a huge board meeting with all of the executives of the company and went through the week’s numbers and logistics and creative and development procedures. There were a few women present one of them being the CFO, and I think the biggest take-home from that meeting was just understanding how much of a team they all were. Ian was completely inclusive and had a real positive energy about how he was driving all of them forward.
We had a working lunch with some of the more senior executives and then were shipped over to the factories where the DFS sofas were made. I had a full afternoon of going through all of the different steps in the furniture compilation and the supervises roles with in the ground work of quality assurance as well as the logistics teams in packaging and delivery.
Then we came back to the headquarters for a few hours with the sales department. I spoke to some incredibly enthusiastic and driven individuals who had come up with their own ideas in delivering customer service and supporting their nationwide stores.
Then – and this was probably my favourite part of the day. Ian and myself came back to his office where I asked him questions about his life and the lessons he had learnt along the way.
One of the things I appreciated about seeing him in action; was the fact that whether he was talking to senior executives or supervisors at the factories, he remembered people’s names and he was so attentive to them in all of the conversations he held and was incredibly down to earth as well as being astonishingly quick and smart about his skills. I specifically remember him saying that he gives his team the ability to be freely creative and totally self-sufficient in the work they want to do – however with that freedom comes responsibility; and that when people take control of their own projects they feel like they have a personal stake in the company and that loyalty consequentially exudes out of their work. I saw it for myself first-hand.
Never underestimate your degree especially if it’s in STEM. All those equations and datasheets and research proposals and journal publications that you invest your soul into should never be despised… they may not seem entirely useful to you at the moment but they are and one day, those transferable skills everyone talks about … You will see them in their full glory – especially when a spreadsheet is pulled out !
And finally take some time for personal development; I’ve heard it said that your professional life is a reflection of who you are as a person; if your disorganised, If your home and environment isn’t well-kept, if you’re not kind, then your personal and professional brand will reflect exactly that. So take the time to invest in yourself. Listen to podcasts on how to be a more efficient individual, write down inconsistencies in your own character, find ways to progress in your own person, because when the opportunity comes when you get to showcase your work, if you are prepared, you’re more likely to experience it all in a bigger and better way.
This CEOx1 experience is running again for the 4th consecutive year, and we at GirlsInScience.co.uk have partnered with Odgers Berndston to make sure that you – our #GISGirls get first dibs.
Apply now ! – And let us know what you think! https://www.odgersberndtson.com/en-gb/ceox1day