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FIVE things I learned in my first year as a CEO

Last month marked a year in my role of Chief Exec of SEO London, a London-based charity of passionate staff of 15+ nationalities, united by a goal to create life changing opportunities for underrepresented young people in the UK and France. The time has flown by and has been a whirlwind of learning, growth, and exciting challenges and opportunities. 

As I pause to reflect on this milestone, I’m struck by our growth in the last year – we are now a team of 70 supporting nearly 4,000 students who are being trained by or interning at over 140 elite partner firms. No mean feat! 

So, what are the key learning points from my first year as a Chief Exec? 


1. Know your ‘why?’


Always focus on why you’re doing what you do. That’s what really drives and inspires you; and was perhaps the most important lesson I learnt from the decade I spent running EduKit where we partnered with hundreds of schools to improve wellbeing and mental health outcomes for their pupils.

SEO London’s mission of connecting underserved talent with great career opportunities is a simple one, but given the global protest seen after the George Floyd murder and the demands for us to finally see systemic change, I feel that programmes like ours are the only way to break cycles of poverty and drive long term change, whilst simultaneously helping our partner firms to become truly inclusive. We work tirelessly to ensure all young people can achieve their career potential at the highest levels – irrespective of where they live, their ethnic background or what their parents do.


2. Take stock before you can take off


Don’t try to do too much too fast. When I came into my role, this was the golden advice given to me by SEO London’s former Chair of 22 years, the formidable Randy Sesson. 

So, in my first few weeks I invested time to observe and get to know the charity from the ground up. I made a point of holding a 1:1 with every single team member, I sat in on student training sessions, I talked to our participants, and I met with many of our partner firms. This helped me to get an in-depth sense of how we were doing and our capacity to do more, and early conversations with junior staff were particularly valuable as I learnt so much about SEO London’s culture and values. And since joining, just a year ago our team has grown by over 20 staff.


3. It takes a village 


Collaboration is key, so I found it helpful to work closely with people both inside and outside of the charity who supported our vision. 

We all know the familiar adage about needing to bring together communities to support children and young adults. By working closely with schools, other charities, our partner firms and universities and colleges, we can find bold, creative solutions rather than constantly reinventing the wheel. 

Our newly formed youth advisory committee, with student representatives from all our programmes, will also help us to ensure our training is relevant and impactful for our participants. We have many great initiatives in place and will be looking to expand these over the coming weeks and months. 

4. Innovate to accumulate


Make space for innovation. I’ve long been an admirer of Google’s focus on staff-led innovation and the legendary Beer Fridays run by many tech firms. So we created Innovation Friday on the first Friday of each month, to capitalise on the strength and passion of our team over some soft drinks and nibbles.

Innovation Friday is funded centrally but driven by our junior team, many of whom have produced the ideas that led to many of the great initiatives we’ve introduced over the last 12 months. A slick onboarding process and buddying programme for new hires, our new student advisory committee, better support for low-income candidates and creative tech solutions to deepen our impact are just a few of the ideas from this forum that we’ve already implemented. At SEO London, innovation is in our DNA.  


5. There is still so much to be done. 

Without question, my first year has been challenging, creative, hard work and amazing fun and we’ve made tremendous strides forward. 

But in the wake of a global pandemic and now amid a cost-of-living crisis, there is still so much more to be done and in September we’ll be launching a raft of new measures to ensure we are reaching the students who need us the most. The team and I are more excited than ever about the opportunities that lie ahead.


You can be the change


We’ve designed a mentoring programme for busy professionals who want to make a difference. Would you like to get involved? It only takes one hour a month!

We have hundreds of school and university students in the UK and France seeking mentors and after a brief online induction you can start as a virtual mentor and change the life of a talented young person in need of guidance and support. You just need to dedicate one hour a month for a minimum of 6 months. There’s no fee for signing up. Just DM me or contact with MENTOR in the subject line for more details.


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