KPMG hosted a panel discussion last night where some of the brightest stars of professional services marketing shared their reflections, insights and advice on how to break through to the next step of your career beyond Head of Marketing roles.

I’ve summarised the key points from speakers and contributors (Simon Slater, Practice Director of Thomson Snell & Passmore solicitors did, as usual, a fabulous job of moderating the discussion) as many points echo the advice I provide to more junior marketing staff at PM Forum training courses.  

How do you make the transition from head of marketing to a general management role?

Christopher Mills, COO at Schillings solicitors (a specialist practice of 45 people which has successfully repositioned from managing celebrity to corporate reputations) provided his views which included:

  • The finance director recruited him and provided a lot of support in the early days. It was a tipping point for his career when he got hold of the numbers and really got to know the business. His original MA in Marketing Management helped in developing confidence with the numbers.
  • He recognised early that many strategic and marketing projects extended out of the marketing silo and into client service, IT and HR areas. As the business support team was small, he was always keen to take on a variety of projects which went beyond marketing. He seized opportunities to help – for example, facilitating away days led to him having a role in business planning and he even managed renovations of the firm’s Georgian offices.
  • He completed training as a coach which was transformational in supporting the shift from manager to leader. Learning how to ask the right questions in the right way allowed him to help people (both lawyers and support staff) to be their best.

Tim Skipper supported the view that it was necessary to step outside of your comfort zone and tackle interesting projects. He added that there were many different types of business manager role and that you should keep trying as you are likely to find one that requires your particular skill set, experience and aspirations.

Heather Townsend commented that too many young marketers “bed hop” between firms after a couple of years which meant that they didn’t have enough time to really get to know the business and to generate the necessary credibility.

A member of the audience explained that having taken on a business management role in a large law firm she completed her ACCA accountancy qualification which enabled her to progress to Director of Global Operations. Others observed that there were more opportunities to grab projects in law firms than accountancy practices.

What are the attributes of a high performing person? 

Heather Townsend, author and coach, said that the fundamental issue was to think about was not so much of the role that you want but of the life that you want in the future – to see the big picture. She then said that there were four essential components to making progress:

  1. Ensure that your values match with those of your boss and the organisation
  2. Maintain a healthy mind and body so that you can deal effectively with stress
  3. Build a supportive network of people who can help you
  4. Play to your strengths

Tim mentioned that Generation Y people were far more focused on the life-work balance these days and Simon added that law firm DWF were allowing people to set up secure home offices for a fixed amount.

What are the experience, skills and attributes that PSFs look for in a CEO

Tim Skipper, MD at Totum Partners recruitment, said that there were many examples in law firms of people moving from marketing and human resources into CEO roles (which used a variety of job titles including COO, Business Manager, Practice Director and Operations Director).

At DLA over half of the DLA Business managers have a BD type background. 50% of law firms require an accountancy qualification for these roles. What is consistent is the ability to work with the numbers – to manage profitability, performance and pricing issues. However, having PRINCE2 project management or Six Sigma credentials were increasingly valued.

The ability to manage people (training and development competencies), to have a strategic approach and be comfortable with process efficiency were usually mentioned. He commented that many business development people had gained valuable experience when seconded to client organisations. The hallmark of success was being able to demonstrate what candidates had achieved in these specific areas.

In terms of personality, it was essential that candidates could work collaboratively with others, demonstrated strong relationships and there were “no sharp elbows”. Chris commented that it was important to side-step internal politics and always provide an objective view on what is right for the firm overall.

An audience member commented that to build credibility it was important to understand the technical product – particularly in client facing roles – even if candidates were not qualified accountants or lawyers. All agreed that good technical product knowledge was a requirement although there were differing views about how much.

Simon commented that whilst he had not gained formal management or financial qualifications, he made an early decision to take on some Non-Executive Director (NED) roles that helped develop a holistic and commercial perspective.

Summary nuggets 

Each panellist gave a nugget at the end:

Heather – Put aside some money to finance your own personal development

Tim – You may hit a few knock backs, but keep going

Chris – Put forward ideas, but remain neutral in the politics

Simon – Assume more responsibility than you are given

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