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Building confidence through helping others

I began my life at Hawthorn as an Intern transitioning straight from university. Hawthorn was in its very early years. On my first day I joined a team of 15 and now with around 70 colleagues I’ve seen Hawthorn go through many different stages of growth over the past seven years.

What makes working at Hawthorn unique?

Despite the huge changes that the organisation has undergone, Hawthorn has maintained some of the qualities that I enjoyed when I first joined. No matter what level, from intern to CEO, everyone is encouraged to be creative and contribute their ideas and perspectives. Influencing the strategy and building relationships with clients, journalists or other stakeholders isn’t reserved for the most senior team members – Hawthorn encourages everyone to develop connections and take ownership of tasks and responsibilities.

What has been your most memorable experience with Hawthorn?

I’ve been lucky enough to travel with clients. These obviously stand out as great memories with Hawthorn, whether it’s Didcot or Sao Paolo. My first experience was as an analyst, and I travelled solo to Zambia to see a client. It was daunting but shows how younger people in the organisation are trusted and empowered to be independent and own client relationships.

Another, more recent highlight was visiting our client, Suzano, in Brazil last year. Visiting their offices, factories and farms, and spending time with the communications team and members of the executive committee, including the CEO, really helped us get under the skin of the company and better understand its people and culture. As we started working with Suzano during lockdown, separated by a global quarantine and thousands of miles, building that client relationship in person was invaluable.

Tell us about your hobbies / how do you like to spend your free time?

I love making the most of everything that makes London special. Discovering new restaurants, going to gigs, sitting in pub gardens, visiting markets and parks. When I need to clear my head, I’m doing anything active and outdoorsy whether that’s running, hiking, playing netball and cycling (which came in handy during our Hawthorn team cycle from Pisa to Rome last year).

Why did you decide to become a mental health first aider in the workplace? Why is it important?

Many of us spend more time with our colleagues than our friends and family. Yet talking about our health is still often a taboo. This goes for our physical health, but especially for our mental health. If someone is physically ill it’s generally easy to see what’s wrong, but it isn’t so easy for mental health and many people don’t feel able to speak up when they are struggling.

Our industry is dynamic and fast paced and that’s what attracts many to the sector, but it can also be demanding and comes with its fair share of pressure. Understanding this from first-hand experience is what inspired me to become a Mental Health First Aider and volunteer myself, as a first port of call for anyone who wants to talk about any issues however large or small.

What have you learned about yourself?

Being a mental health First Aider doesn’t mean I’ve always found having challenging conversations easy. Like many people, I felt unsure how to approach a friend, family member or colleague who didn’t seem themselves or was going through a tough time. One of the reasons I wanted to become a Mental Health First Aider was to learn how to approach topics that felt outside my comfort zone.

I now feel much more confident simply asking someone how they are, and I understand that it can be ok to probe. It’s been so valuable, and I don’t just use this in my official role as a Mental Health First Aider, but in everyday situations with my friends and family.

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People Stories:  Leadership, empathy and family

What do you enjoy most about your role?

My role is unique at Hawthorn because I’m in charge of operations in the UK and overseas. I enjoy the challenge of helping the business make the transition from a start-up to an SME operating internationally. This spans everything from ensuring the right employee support structures are in place, establishing our brand overseas, putting in place the right infrastructure to deliver our vision, ensuring it is sustainable and remaining true to our core values. This is an ongoing and exciting challenge and I’m continuously learning.  

What advice would you give someone looking to work at Hawthorn?

I’ve been really struck by how entrepreneurial Hawthorn is. It’s key to our success and is very empowering.

I think anyone looking to join us needs to be confident in their abilities to plough their own furrow and build their own niche. It requires quite a bit of mettle, however once it’s done, there’s no limit to what you can achieve in Hawthorn.

What are the unique strengths you believe you bring to the workplace as a female leader?

My skills of strategic and empathetic leadership and of highly effective industriousness have all contributed to my professional success. As a female leader, I hope to model the rewards which balancing a successful career with bringing up a family can bring.  My children and family are exceptionally important to me. At times keeping everything going smoothly can be challenging, particularly if you are the primary carer holding a senior professional position. However, the sense of fulfilment, both on a personal level, and as a role-model and mentor, is immense.

Who has inspired you the most throughout your career? What have they taught you?

I’ve been inspired by many women and men throughout my career, but one person that stands out is Lord Deighton. His successful career has spanned the commercial and public service worlds, serving at one point as Chief Executive of the 2012 London Olympics. I worked with him closely in my previous role as Chief Operating Officer of King’s College Wimbledon, running the UK schools and setting up schools round the world. His leadership style really impressed me. He was a hands-off leader who set very high standards which you felt inspired to meet – at the same time providing clear direction and tremendous support and counsel. He empowered me as a female leader and gave me confidence to achieve more than I could have imagined. Two invaluable lessons I learnt from him were to listen carefully, and to be on top of your brief.

Are there any quotes you live and work by?

My personal philosophy has three tenets: work hard, support others and lead by example.  

What are your hobbies, and how do you spend your free time?

Walking the dog- and with my family, travelling, when time allows! I am Maltese so always find myself heading back to the Mediterranean. I’m really interested in current affairs, so I spend a lot of my free time reading about and listening to podcasts on the latest developments in business, society, and politics. I also enjoy swimming, reading fiction and watching as many films as I can.

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Five things you need to know about Labour’s NPF document

Conference season is almost upon us and there is huge anticipation this year as these are likely to be the final annual conferences before the next general election.

For Labour, that means it is the last formal opportunity for party members to contribute to the manifesto, which is why there is some excitement about the publication of the National Policy Forum (NPF) final documents. 

Here are the five things you need to know.

1. The NPF is elected to shape Labour policy

For those of you who aren’t Labour nerds, you might be wondering what this is and why it matters. Briefly, the NPF is an elected group of Labour members, trade union members and the Shadow Cabinet who debate and shape policy submissions. They last met for a long weekend in July and agreed a wide-ranging policy programme which is being circulated today. It matters because, as a democratic socialist party, Labour members expect to be able to shape policy.

2. Don’t believe the hype – this is not the manifesto

Despite all the noise, we are a long way from the Labour manifesto. First, this document needs to be endorsed by delegates at Labour party conference in October – where it can still be amended. Then Starmer and his team will spend the next year listening to businesses, unions, trade bodies, and of course the public, before the manifesto is finalised at the Clause V meeting just before the General Election.

3. It’s the economy, stupid

This may not be the manifesto, but it’s still important. And the 50 most important words in this document are found on Page 7 and are worth repeating:

Labour’s fiscal rules, as set out by Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, are non-negotiable. They will apply to every decision taken by a Labour government, with no exceptions. That means that Labour will not borrow to fund day-to-day spending, and we will reduce national debt as a share of the economy.”

Confirmation, if it were needed, that Labour believes the path to No.10 lies in demonstrating that it is they, not the Conservatives, who can be trusted with the economy. This will mean battles with their own supporters about how much change Labour can promise, but Starmer and Reeves have made the calculation that it is the public who determine election results, not Labour members.  

4. Labour is walking a tightrope with the Unions

Thirteen years of Conservative government have left most Unions focused on getting Labour over the line at the next election. But relations could be seriously tested if Labour wins. The NPF document contains many policies that Unions will like in the ‘A New Deal for Working People’ section (page 35), such as commitments to repeal anti-union legislation. Unions will expect action on those in the first 100 days of a Labour government – and Starmer will be criticised, as Blair was, if he doesn’t repeal Conservative Trade Union legislation. Greater pressure still may come from elsewhere – re-read the Reeves 50 words on the economy, then consider that some public sector unions have been asking for 18% pay rises. Tough negotiations lie ahead for Labour and the Unions.

5. Labour still has plenty of decisions to make

The NPF document and the Five Missions tell us Labour’s priorities, the direction they want to take the country in, and some of the policies they want to enact in government. But they can’t do much of it without the private sector. Starmer has been in listening mode with businesses since day one of becoming leader. He wants to present Labour as the party of business at the next election so that voters will believe his targets on growth and the economy. If you have something to contribute to that conversation, Labour will want to hear from you.

If there was ever a time to engage with the Labour Party, the time is now.

By Grace Skelton, Associate Director

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A lesson on the importance of workplace culture by James Davey

What role has Hawthorn played in helping you to grow professionally and personally?

It’s played an enormous role in my professional development – perhaps unsurprisingly, as I joined as a graduate and have now worked here for the best part of a decade! But it’s not just a case of time served. Through that entire period, I’ve been lucky enough to work with and learn from really smart, capable, interesting people – both colleagues and clients – and to do varied work that has been consistently challenging and intellectually engaging. Personally, it’s been hugely formative too – as well as a lot of fun.

What have you learnt working in a fast-growing business and the changes this brings?

In a smaller business, you can more clearly trace the connection between what you’re doing and the performance of the company. It breeds an added sense of investment – building longstanding client relationships or winning new business palpably helps the company to grow.

It’s also served as an object lesson in the importance of workplace culture. So much about the business has changed from when I was the sixth or seventh employee in the company, when it was barely a year old, to where we are today. A lot of work has gone into ensuring that growth doesn’t come at the expense of what made the business succeed in the first place – the people, the environment, and the quality of work.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

I considered sports journalism but didn’t go much further than a couple of bylines in the Essex Chronicle and some partisan match reports for our football club’s programme. Then as a student binge-watching the likes of The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire and The Shield, I thought about TV writing.

I didn’t envisage myself working in communications – like many people, I knew almost nothing about it as a career. Nor would I have expected to focus on financial services, as someone whose academic interests were in political history. It’s been a happy accident to end up where I am!

What advice would you give someone who is looking to work at Hawthorn?

No matter which sector or communications discipline you focus on, it’s beneficial to have a well-rounded understanding of the wider news agenda, as well as both the media and political landscapes. I advocate carving out time every day to solely focus on reading the news from a range of sources that work for you. What we do can often be fast-moving and quite intensive, and you can be so wrapped up in the detail of what you’re working on, that it’s deceptively easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Tell us about your hobbies / how do you like to spend your free time?

I love playing football – I’m regularly corralling colleagues into signing up for our office 5-aside games – and am a big Arsenal fan. Sports aside, I enjoy watching films, reading modern history, playing chess, and doing pub quizzes.

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Working in another country and not losing yourself in the process by Salonee Gadgil

What was it like moving to London and starting a career here?

I moved to London eight years ago from Mumbai, not quite knowing whether it was going to be a summer fling or a life-long love affair. I was told London would be a hard place to find work, but I’m a bit of a hustler and applied for around 50 jobs in my first three weeks. As luck would have it – and I believe luck has a role to play – I ended up with an interview at Centaur Media and landed my first job.

Workwise, I fitted in from day one. But the work itself is never the hard part when you move to a different part of the world, it’s getting used to all the fluffy human stuff that takes time, effort, thought, and (in my case) a therapist.

When you first arrive in a culture it’s very tempting to change so you can fit in better.

What advice would you give to someone looking to move to work in another country?

When you first arrive in a culture it’s very tempting to change so you can fit in better. It’s a bit like going back to middle school where you feel like you must dress, sound, act, eat like those around you. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with trying to embrace the new culture you have chosen to move to, but don’t lose all of yourself in the process. Your background and the fact you come with a different cultural perspective is an asset to your new workplace.

What drew you to working at Hawthorn?

Intrigue. Hawthorn is a quirky place, and I mean this as a compliment. Early in the interview process, it became apparent to me that it is full of very intelligent people with strange niche interests, colorful backgrounds, and atypical career paths. I wasn’t sure if I’d fit in, and exactly how my role would evolve, but I knew for sure it wouldn’t be boring.

How do you explain what you do to your family and friends?

The honest answer is I don’t try too hard to explain what I do. Most of my family and friends think I’m a writer, which is true; and that I write for corporates and brands, which is also true. But they think I am only a writer, which is not true. I started my career as a copywriter and then worked in journalism before I moved to communications, so words are at the center of my craft and where I get a lot of my creative satisfaction from. In a funny kind of way, I am attached to being defined as ‘a writer’, and a little make-belief never hurt anyone.

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Changing careers can be reinvigorating and fun by Stephen Atkinson

What made you decide to change your career? How has it felt?

For the first three decades of my career, I worked for one bank. Although I had a fantastic time there, doing many different things in multiple jobs, I always wondered if I could succeed doing something completely different elsewhere. Banking is, quite rightly, a heavily regulated industry, but I wanted something a little more creative and fast-flowing, where I could have a more immediate impact. Having really enjoyed leadership and communications-type roles, somehow, I beat a path to Hawthorn’s door.

Starting afresh has been a complete re-boot – I’m challenged daily, learn from much younger colleagues with completely new skills to me, and as we build the business, I find myself getting to grips with a much more entrepreneurial approach. I also help and advise wonderful clients in a wide range of industries and have had some incredible experiences along the way, whether that be visiting the world’s largest eucalyptus farm in Brazil, witnessing 3D nano printing at Nottingham University or discussing the merits of wild swimming with a renowned neurosurgeon while sitting in a freezing stream in the Cairngorms. Moving from a large multinational of over 80,000 people to a fast-growing business with less than 80 people has been the most reinvigorating thing I’ve done in my career.

I knew I wanted to join within about ten seconds of arriving for my interview.

Steve Atkinson Partner

What drew you to Hawthorn?

I knew I wanted to join within about ten seconds of arriving for my interview. A younger member of the team teased me for wearing a suit and tie, and I liked the fact that we’re not too deferential or hierarchical and that everyone can voice their opinion.

We’re also extremely well connected and have a host of people with different backgrounds and experiences. If I want an insightful opinion on Scottish devolution, or someone fluent in Mandarin, or access to a leader in a particular academic or business field, chances are that we can do that. Someone described us as both book-smart and street-smart, and that’s not too far from the truth.

As someone over 50, I’m now more interested in doing work that keeps me relevant and creative. Hawthorn is a young, vibrant, and outgoing place and offers plenty of opportunities to do this.

What advice would you give someone contemplating a career change?

You regret the things you don’t do, not the things you do. In hindsight, I should have moved earlier and taken more of a risk. I was jaded, cynical, and faking it more than I wanted to – if this resonates, it’s probably time for a change.

Carving out the time and energy to decide what to do next is never easy but talk to as many people as possible and make sure you leave each meeting with two new contacts. It was my network, not headhunters, which led me to my new career.

What career advice would you give your younger self?

It takes time to hit your stride. I started out following a traditional banking ‘left brain’ path of science, economics, and numbers, yet ended up spending the best parts of my career using more of the ‘right side’ of my brain, reading, writing, and speaking for a living. I didn’t see that coming at all, and becoming a Partner in a communications consultancy certainly wasn’t in my life plan! So don’t stress too much in your early 20s – it doesn’t matter if you don’t get it right immediately after school or university. Use this time to explore, learn and understand who you really are and what you enjoy. I only really discovered I loved leading people and teams in my late 20s and early 30s. I also found my love for reading and words around then as well, having not enjoyed it at school at all.

You have more time than you think – especially as careers are going to last 50 years or more, and jobs you’ll do later in your career may not even exist yet. Do as many different things as you can to gain experience, understand what motivates you and what lights your fire. Ultimately, doing what you enjoy will lead to success and fulfilment.

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Embracing change, wellbeing, and personal growth by Sarah-Jane Wakefield

What drew you to working at Hawthorn?

If you’d told me two years ago, I’d be joining a communications consultancy I would have laughed at you and said no chance! But 18 months ago, I quit my job, because it was no longer right for me. I was burnt out and something needed to change.

Shortly afterwards, I was contacted by an old colleague (and friend) who had recently taken the step from the corporate world to a communications consultancy and was loving it. He thought I would too, would add value to the business and so introduced me to the CEO. I got offered this exciting (and scary) opportunity to do something really quite different and help build out a new part of the business at Hawthorn based on my expertise. I thought I should give it a go.

I quickly discovered I’d joined an impressive, dynamic, entrepreneurial, and fun company with a truly positive culture that focuses on empowerment, creativity, collaboration, big ideas, and fun (again!).

I’m a big believer in personal growth – we should never stop learning (and unlearning) – it’s what keeps things interesting and provides new opportunities.

Sarah-Jane Wakefield Senior Director, Head of Employee Communication and Engagement

What do you love most about your job?

It’s a cliché – but for me it’s the people. I work with or interact with everyone at Hawthorn during the week. We’re a diligent, supportive, collaborative bunch and I never stop being amazed by their creativity and ideas. I also love the empowerment and trust you are given and the real variety – no client is the same and no one day is the same.

How is wellbeing supported at Hawthorn?

I come from a generation where wellbeing wasn’t something that was talked about in the workplace (or really anywhere). However, due to my own personal experiences with burnout, mental health, and now the menopause, wellbeing at work really matters to me.

It’s also important that it matters to my employer. Here at Hawthorn, it really does. I’ve been given the support and a platform to help drive and shape the change I want to see as part of our ongoing review of the support we provide to our people.

I’ve become a Mental Health First Aider, Menopause Champion and have collaborated with the senior leaders to introduce wide-ranging support for the key moments or unexpected challenges in people’s lives covering physical, social, mental, and financial wellbeing.

Are there any new skills you’re trying to learn?

I’m a big believer in personal growth – we should never stop learning (and unlearning) – it’s what keeps things interesting and provides new opportunities. It’s also become clear that the jobs we’ll all be doing in the future don’t even exist yet.

Currently, I’m exploring Artificial Intelligence’s impact on our profession and increasing my understanding of neurodiversity to support colleagues effectively.

What career advice would you give to your younger self?

There’s lots, but a few things stand out:

  • Be brave, curious and seize unexpected opportunities for growth.
  • Embrace challenges, step out of your comfort zone, and keep learning to experience new things.
  • Embrace change for career-building opportunities and unexpected outcomes.
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