From the Olympics to the City…
Lizzie’s career has been far from linear; from Team GB, to five years in a magic circle law firm, Lizzie used an MBA to transition into new career territory; supporting the CEO of the London 2012 Olympics and as Chief of Staff at the Guardian Media Group. Now, Lizzie is Chief of Staff at AFME and continues to support the UK sports industry as an independent advisor to the Board of British Parasnowsport.
Firstly, congratulations! How did it feel to be announced winner of the Fold Woman Competition?
Thank you! I was thrilled to win – and humbled. The shortlist featured some incredible women, each with their own inspiring stories. I’m delighted to have had the chance to be part of a brand of which I am such a fan.
What prompted you to apply?
I have taken on some big challenges in my career and elsewhere in life, some by design, some not, and I wanted to share my story to inspire others facing similar circumstances. And, of course, who wouldn’t like a summer wardrobe from The Fold?
Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of applying next year?
Don’t hesitate. If you love the brand and want to share your story then go for it.
Your career path does not have to be linear. It’s a cliché but a career is a marathon not a sprint.
Your career has been incredibly varied. What drove your decision to step away from law and complete an MBA?
There were a number of factors. Certainly a lack – real or perceived – of female role models at the firm was one reason. Also, working in the capital markets team, I loved working with issuer boards and was frustrated that our role as advisers would come to an end just when the company had raised funds and was beginning to execute their strategy. I wanted to be the one in the board room making the decisions and growing the business.
Of course you don’t have to invest in an MBA to make a career change – but that is what was right for me at the time. INSEAD offered a unique programme structure: relatively short at ten months, the option to study in campuses across the globe and an incredibly supportive careers service and alumni network to tap into. It goes without saying that the academics are excellent – as is the legendary social life…!
You then went on to the role of Executive Assistant to Lord Deighton, CEO of the London Organising Committee of the Olympics, how did you transition from the MBA to this role?
I’m always impressed by those who know exactly what they want their next career move to be. I knew I wanted a change post-MBA, but I didn’t have a clear picture of what that would look like. There were so many possibilities. As I was attempting to change role, industry and geography all in one go, I needed to find some sort of anchor amidst the change. So I looked to the sports industry, specifically the Olympic Games. I had been an athlete in the Athens 2004 Games. I was passionate about the Olympic Movement and its goals and I wanted to learn more about the industry behind one of the world’s biggest sporting events.
Through the INSEAD alumni network, I landed an unpaid internship for 6 months working on evaluating the success of the first ever edition of the Youth Olympic Games. This project finished with a presentation to the International Olympic Committee at their headquarters in Lausanne – a real highlight for me. The experience gave me a good foundation in the business of the Games and the key stakeholders and leaders. So when the job came up to support Paul Deighton at the London 2012 Organising Committee I had a unique skill set to present at the interview – and I got the job.
I wanted to be the one in the board room making the decisions and growing the business.
Your career has taken you across the globe, was this intentional or has this happened organically?
This was absolutely intentional. One of the attractions of working at a global firm is the opportunity to work overseas and I grabbed it with both hands. I got a taste for Asia after 6 months in the Clifford Chance Hong Kong office. The size, scale, sights, sounds and smells of the continent were all new to me and I was hooked. I loved the challenge of learning how to do business effectively in different countries and cultures and I continue to draw on those skills today.
I was then lucky to be able to return to Asia – to Singapore for three years where I worked on transactions for companies in Indonesia, Malaysia and India. At that time the effects of the financial crisis were rapidly spreading across global markets. It was certainly tough work in uncertain market conditions – but those harder times helped me crystallise my ambition to make a change.
I’m now working in London again, which is the right place for my family at the moment. If the right opportunity arose, I’d certainly like to work overseas again. Whilst I have many more considerations these days than I did in my 20s, there is so much more of the world still for me to see and understand.
Your current role is Chief of Staff at AFME (previously Chief of Staff at the Guardian Media Group), could you tell us a little more about what the role of Chief of Staff entails and what your average day is like?
Chief of Staff is a somewhat nebulous job title. I’m often asked ‘so what do you actually do?’, swiftly followed by, ‘are you like C.J. in The West Wing?’. I wish! The role in a corporate setting is very different to a political one. Responsibilities can vary hugely depending on the particular company and for whom you work.
AFME (The Association for Financial Markets in Europe) is the trade association focused on Europe’s wholesale capital markets. We represent the leading global and European banks and other significant market players. My remit there is broad. I report to the CEO and am responsible for ensuring he is adequately prepared for his key interactions, both internally and externally with member firms, policymakers and regulators to name a but a few. In addition I run AFME’s corporate governance, including the preparation and execution of AFME Board meetings. I have line management for AFME’s events, membership and media relations teams and our CRM & website leads. I’m also responsible for AFME’s finances, strategy and business planning and am a member of the Senior Management Team. In addition I pick up specific projects where needed, for example I’m currently working with colleagues on AFME’s diversity strategy.
So what do I actually do day to day? Plenty of meetings, which, like anyone, I would like to do less of. I find standing up keeps them as short as possible; general people management, for example meeting direct reports, looking at our progress against budgets, planning new concepts or projects. I may write a meeting brief, pulling in contributions from the subject matter experts around the floor. I could be writing a speech for our CEO to launch one of AFME’s latest publications. Every day is different. Every day I have to do something which I haven’t done before, or which is outside my comfort zone. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’m lucky to have so much variety, though that’s not to say that some days I don’t feel overwhelmed. When that happens I don’t panic. I prioritise (often ruthlessly) and make sure I’m working as efficiently as possible. I wasn’t always like that – but living through the first year of my twins’ lives taught me whatever I had left to learn about resilience. When I returned to work when they were one, I had a new found ability to keep perspective even in the busiest times. You can find transferable skills in the unlikeliest of places. I’d highly recommend a Chief of Staff role to anyone looking for broad experience in a company. Although well established in the US, they can be hard roles in the UK and Europe, but I think more and more companies and leaders are seeing the benefits of having this kind of support.
I loved the challenge of learning how to do business effectively in different countries and cultures and continue to draw on those skills today.
Being Chief of Staff involves an incredible amount of diplomacy – you have done a great job of being the person behind the scenes and also making your own mark. Was this always the case or is this something you’ve had to train yourself in?
That’s correct – it does take a lot of diplomacy. Emotional intelligence is a hugely important, often underrated skill, but one I enjoy cultivating. I have a natural interest in people – in what motivates them and in understanding why people behave in certain ways in the work place. I knew when I started my first Chief of Staff role that the first thing to do should be to build relationships with the senior managers and other key individuals in the organisation, to find out what made them tick, how they saw their relationship with the CEO, and therefore how I could help them and how they could help me.
In terms of the balance between being behind the scenes and making one’s own mark, certainly one of the frustrations of the Chief of Staff role can be trying to find measures of success. It’s hard to quantify how successful your support of an individual has been other than through personal opinion. I think you know you are doing well, however, when a senior leader looks to you for advice and guidance. Now that I have done this role a couple of times, at AFME I wanted to ensure I had line management responsibility as well as traditional Chief of Staff responsibilities so that I could really test a different set of skills.
What do you love most about your current position?
AFME is a great size – around 80 people – based in London, Brussels and soon in Frankfurt. That size of organisation is small enough to get to know everyone well. My colleagues are friendly, professional, intellectually curious and expert in some very complex fields. We work at the cutting edge of financial regulation. We advocate for efficient, effective markets, which in turn create jobs and growth in Europe – a positive outcome for all. Brexit is a key area for us – it’s very motivating to be at the forefront of such a significant period of change.
What has been the best piece of career advice you have been given?
Change is possible, don’t be afraid to try it, but understand it takes perseverance to see it through. Be flexible and open to opportunity.
Be authentic at work, but be careful not to use the excuse of ‘being yourself’ to avoid stretching yourself and going outside your comfort zone.
Do you have a role model/mentor?
I don’t have any formal mentoring in place but there are several individuals who offer me different types of support and advice which I seek out as and when required. I take time to stay in contact with my previous managers from whom I have learnt, and continue to learn, a great deal. My peers and other alumni from INSEAD have taken many varied and successful career paths and are always willing to offer advice and share experiences.
What advice would you offer to others on navigating and planning their own career path?
Your career path does not have to be linear. It’s a cliché but a career is a marathon not a sprint. We will be working for 40+ years. There can be periods of acceleration and periods of consolidation, ups and downs and sideways moves and radical changes in any career – and that’s perfectly acceptable.
Embrace opportunity. Planning can often be at the cost of recognising and grasping opportunity when it presents itself. Someone once told me that no career is complete without at least one redundancy. I’m not sure I agree entirely, but equally I cannot think of one person I know for whom a redundancy has not ultimately led to a positive change. Plan, yes, have goals and ambitions, yes, but also make sure to recognise opportunity, even in the unlikeliest of places.
As a very interesting read on life and career planning in the 21st century, I’d highly recommend reading Gratton & Scott’s The 100-Year Life.
Be authentic at work, but be careful not to use the excuse of ‘being yourself’ to avoid stretching yourself and going outside your comfort zone.
Both you and your husband are keen athletes and you even competed in the Team GB Olympic rowing team in 2004. Tell us more about the experience of competing in the games and how sport impacts your personal/professional life?
Going to the Olympics is certainly a unique experience. Representing your country amongst so many others, and all the hard work, dark, cold winter training sessions and literal blood, sweat and tears paying off create a huge sense of pride. That said, it’s a challenge to strike a balance between taking in everything the Games has to offer, but also remaining focused on the job in hand – to execute your best performance at the allotted date and time. I also have to mention the parties we went to after competition was finished. They were certainly some of the best I will ever go to!
There are a couple of ways in which I can translate what I’ve learnt from sport into everyday life. The ability to be coached is one. After five years under the daily instruction of team coaches, I’m pretty good at taking criticism and making improvements. It’s important to be able to give, to accept and to process feedback in the workplace and sport prepared me well for this.
I also have developed good resilience and really understand what it means to take responsibility for my own performance. I know what motivates me and I know my own weaknesses and how to best avoid getting caught out by them. I know that, for me, methodical preparation builds confidence which in turn fuels good performances, so when I have something important or challenging ahead of me at work, I make sure I take the time to be fully prepared and rehearsed, which helps me put on my best performance.
I still keep up my interest in the sports industry and the success of our athletes through my role as an independent advisor to the Board of British Parasnowsport, currently preparing athletes for competition at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.
How do you find the time to work full-time, parent and fit in rowing/running?
Good question. Fitting everything in definitely requires thought and coordination. I have very good support: a husband who shares responsibilities at home equally, excellent childcare and a supportive work place. It’s a balancing act. I don’t always get it right but am careful to adapt when needed.
I don’t row any more but I do like to stay fit. Unfortunately exercise often gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list, but I try not to let it because it helps me to unwind and always lifts my mood. My competitive instincts are still there, but for now I’m quite happy going running with a good podcast.
What does Lizzie Goodburn do to unwind? Do you ever just veg out at home with a pizza and a box set?
Absolutely. More than I’d like to admit! I think it’s a hangover from my days as an athlete that I do not find it hard to switch off and do absolutely nothing. My husband has a busy and varied job himself and it’s always interesting to swap stories. I like to read (a whole range from fiction – good quality and sometimes questionable quality- to biography to factual), even if it is just a few pages. I’m strict with myself to avoid the traps that can detract from the little down time available to me in the day. I don’t check email in the evenings unless it’s absolutely necessary and certainly never last thing at night. Another athlete hangover is that I like to get a good amount of sleep!
With so many personal achievements (including being a mother to three, not to mention twins!) what is your own personal highlight and is there a burning ambition you haven’t yet realised?
Although my career is still a work in progress – after all, I still have another 30-odd years of it left – I’m really proud to have seen through a radical career change. It was a risky decision and required investment. It also took dogged perseverance but it worked and has given me unique opportunities. There’s plenty still I want to achieve. In the future I’d love to take on a COO role. But of course I’m always open to opportunity – who knows what might come along.
Outside work, the first year of my twins’ lives was a true test of mental and physical resilience. I’m not afraid to admit that those were some of the most challenging times I’ve lived through and there were weeks when I really didn’t recognise myself any more. But I’ve come through it thanks to the support of so many people, not least my husband, family and friends, and everyone is now thriving. When I’m having a tough period at work, or am right out of my comfort zone, I do remind myself of those early days, often alone, responsible for two small humans and suddenly everything is in perspective again.
Lastly, as the winner of a new Fold summer wardrobe, which items do you have your eye on and why?
I find summer work dressing can be challenging – how to look City-smart but still dress for the warm weather? The Hampton dress in sage jacquard is definitely on my list. It’s beautifully cut from lovely fabric and will be a desk-to-dinner classic.