Nikki Hill is an executive coach passionate about helping professionals find their voice and stride as they step up in their careers. She’s worked in organisational behaviour roles across luxury fashion, telecommunications, food retail and financial services. In her personal career journey, she describes her multi-interest studies in Edinburgh, Cambridge and London, her experiences in the Far East and Europe, and her ongoing self-development. This is Nikki’s story:
“I remember the moment a lightbulb went off in my head and I knew what I wanted to do in my career. I was in a lecture theatre in London, learning about the GLOBE study of leadership, and all of a sudden my interests in culture, psychology, business and careers collided. It was Week 2 in a Foundations of Management course at the London School of Economics (LSE) I’d signed up for after graduating from university and I was hoping it would help give me a sense of direction about what to do next.
Up until then I’d had a whole range of wildly different career ambitions. I’d started university at 18 studying Law at Edinburgh University, with grand aspirations to be an international human rights lawyer. By the end of the first year I never wanted to read another statute again and my two sets of work experience - shadowing a barrister in Brisbane, Australia, and a family solicitor in Oxford, United Kingdom - had only cemented the fact that I loved the idea more than the reality of practicing law.
Take two involved studying English, Drama and Education at Homerton College, Cambridge, and conjured up visions of working as an editor or starting my own theatre company, before shifting to teaching after ten years or so ‘in industry’. Towards the end of my final year I’d been introduced to the idea of management accounting which I thought sounded rather appealing. It seemed to be about understanding the story behind numbers and being able to influence decisions based on insight derived from how a company was performing in different areas. I reasoned I could do that for a theatre and still be connected in that way. And, that was why I signed up for the Foundations of Management course that led to my epiphany - I went in wanting to learn more about accounting, and discovered a love for something completely different!
Suffice it to say I’ve had varied interests along the way, and my falling for Organisational Behaviour (business psychology) as a passion felt notably different... The jobs that seemed most connected to Organisational Behaviour were in Human Resources (HR) and I secured a three month graduate internship at the CIPD - the United Kingdom’s professional institute for HR.
For the first time, the idea of what I thought I wanted to do matched up with the reality of the role. The more I learned, the more I was interested. I definitely struck it lucky being asked by the CIPD to support a research project on ‘How to Attract Top Graduates into the HR Profession’ and I had great freedom in designing and running the study, interpreting the results and making recommendations. I learned how important it is to stay curious and open minded when looking for the right fit for your career. We spend far too much of our lives at work to not care about what we do or settle on a path too early based on what seems to be a good idea, even when experience tells us otherwise.
Prakash Chandramohan is an experienced executive who has implemented several transitions in his career, across industries and countries. An authentic leader, he’s also recognised for his strong sense of purpose and principles while working in the corporate world. As a Protagion mentor, he guides individuals on how to manage their own transitions successfully. And, he’s implementing another transition himself at the moment too! This is his personal journey:
“Early in my career I had a mentor who gave me advice on how to go about building my career. His advice was to look for “wide-open spaces” to carve out a niche, where there was the complete absence of competition. This is harder said than done of course. It involves a lot of exploration along with a fair degree of risk and uncertainty. But the prize at the end is becoming one of a few with the ideas, skills & experience for solving a certain type of problem.
I’m now two decades into my career, and the advice still resonates with me. Having most recently spent eight years at a UK wealth management firm, I left my executive role at the beginning of 2020 because I wanted to get more closely involved in how to empower people to understand their financial world better. I was struck by how much value there is in financial advice yet how few people seek it or even consider it. I had several hunches as to how this problem could be solved but there was no way to investigate them properly without leaving my full-time job. This “middle Britain” challenge has become my passion.
The bigger and bolder you are in the transitions you seek, the greater the surprises will be for you and the more unique you will become.”
What I have found, by making transitions in my career, is that opportunities have been given to me that weren’t afforded to others and I’ve been able to crack a number of problems along the way, as a result of knowledge & skills I acquired in a completely different field. This has really kept me going and given me the confidence to stay nimble in my career...
One of my professional bodies arranges sessions for its members involved in and/or interested in Non-Executive Director roles, and I particularly enjoy attending those sessions. As an experienced professional myself, I find the interaction and discussions at these events both enlightening and inspiring – debating practical situations with fellow professionals and learning from their decades of wisdom about possible approaches to challenges, what works and what doesn’t, and applying professional judgement.
It’s partly the value I’ve gained from participating in those events, and other discussions with the leaders involved, that inspired me to write a number of articles for Non-Executive Directors (NEDs), and share them all with you on our website. We hope you find them useful at different stages along your own exploration of (and fulfilment of) these roles.
This article is based on a position paper on mentorship for governing body members by the Corporate Governance Network (CGN), a forum set up by the Institute of Directors (IoD) in South Africa and PwC, the multinational professional services firm. The CGN describes itself as a “forum for professionals in the corporate governance field to amass their combined knowledge and experience to provide directors and senior executives with the tools to understand and implement sound governance”.
It builds on our previous NED-focused article which shared the IoD’s advice for future NEDs and concluded with discussion on evaluation of your performance as a NED, plus how the IoD highly recommends mentorship as it provides “valuable support, advice and insight into complex problems”. However, the IoD also noted that “careful thought needs to be given to the nature of the relationship and individual responsibilities within the [specific] context”.
Read more for discussion around the why and who of NED mentoring, differences in skills required of executives and non-executives, areas where mentoring and skills development can help NEDs, and skills required from mentors.