Could you describe your role at Zenith?
At Zenith I am an Operations Manager. I am responsible for planning, forecasting projects and portfolios of work, resource management, all whilst maintaining our high standards of delivery to support the business’s growth. Each day is varied – one day may be executing a plan for a month end, the next, embedding operational tools to enhance resource management. In all areas, there’s a degree of proportionality to apply – some projects require more management than others, so it’s about understanding the task at hand, and managing risks and issues. For clients, this means that the consultants are focused on the technical details, whilst I take care of the overall deliverable.
How did you get into this type of work?
In terms of what got me to the role, I actually wasn’t sure what to do with my Maths degree when I left university. I came across a company known as Resolution at the time and joined their graduate scheme to become an Actuary. This involved working at the same time as being funded and supported to do the actuarial exams. I’m quite interest-led, so being able to rotate round different areas was a good thing for me. One of these areas introduced me to Project Management – which is similar to what I do now. I took the opportunity to move into this space and stopped taking the actuarial exams. I have also spent time in both Risk and Audit, mostly looking through the Actuarial lens.
What is this kind of work like?
Well, the work initially saw me really understanding how people operate and trying to change and improve that in the projects they do. It was useful to have worked in different areas in the actuarial sector because it helps me to support the team, whether that be planning at a low level of detail, or forecasting resource as a much higher level.
Is variety important in your role?
Absolutely. I have been in roles where I’ve had to update the same spreadsheets on a weekly basis, so it’s very different from that! I really struggled with those production line processes as there was little scope for change or improvements.
In my role, I am able to change and improve different things within projects, making things more efficient – this could be from increased planning and monitoring, through to strengthening control environments. There’s a degree of creativity involved too. It’s about reducing waste, whether this is time, money, or resources; and adding value. This will change for every project.
Can it be difficult to change well-established practices?
Definitely. You have to understand that everyone is unique and has a different drive for change. There is a balance to offset between how much change you can make and how comfortable people will be with that change. However, the advantage at Zenith is that there are great existing project delivery processes in place and a common commitment to quality project delivery. The focus of my role is therefore to support the consultants in the wide range of outsourcing and consulting projects they undertake, and incrementally evolve our capability to match our growth.
You mentioned your Maths degree leading you to the actuarial world. Did you know this world existed whilst at University?
Not really. From a young age, I had always been led by my interests, which was probably quite frustrating for both my parents and teachers – one term it could vary from Astrophysics, to Geography, to Spanish, and the next would be all in on Psychology! When it came to applying to university though, I chose Maths out of the long list of subjects I was interested in because it seemed safe and sensible. I certainly wasn’t thinking so much about my career at the end of it: I originally planned to continue my studying in Medical Statistics, before deciding against it.
Do you still have a variety of interests outside of work?
Yes, I’m still quite geeky! Instead of following the celebrity world and reality TV, I much prefer to be watching a documentary or reading. I also have three young children and a young dog, which takes up quite a lot of time, but what’s left outside of that I like to devote to those interests. My most recent obsession is Egyptian Archaeology – I loved going to see the Tutankhamun exhibition in London a couple of years ago. I’m also really looking forward to visiting the National Space Centre with my daughters soon.
Are you comfortable with just working from home?
It definitely makes a change: my whole role really involves talking to people, so I experienced change when this was no longer face-to-face. For me, it is still important to have conversations throughout the day, whether that is by taking the dog for a walk instead of chatting to people over a coffee.
Finally, if you could have a dinner party and invite three people, dead or alive, as well as a chef to prepare your meal, who would you choose?
This is something that I have actually thought about before. The difficulty is that, for me, it always ends up being a banquet, there are so many people I would want to invite, so for this reason I will stick to the land of the living!
For the meal, I would pick a chef local to me, Glynn Purnell. I have been to his restaurant, Purnell’s, in Birmingham a couple of times and really enjoyed it. Aside from the food and drink, the most important aspect of a dinner party for me is laughter, so I’m choosing comedians with strong moral compasses (in my opinion). Billy Connolly is a classic, multi-generational comedian, but he’s also led an interesting and difficult life. Joe Lycett is a local comedian who I would also invite: he’s been in the news recently for causing a little political disruption, and I’ve admired his work exposing greenwashing. Lastly, I would invite Ruby Wax, since she’s had such a glamorous yet erratic life, recently becoming a real advocate for mental health.