An Interview With…

Allison Lewis is a 'Group Field Administration Development Manager' for an international credit provider in Leeds. In this interview, she explains how she took a rather unconventional route to her chosen career...

What does your job entail?

I am a key member of the Sales & Service Performance team and my role is to ensure that administration provides adequate control and business support. The Administration function over the next 3 years will be in a state of transition/transformation because new technology will be introduced. As a result, the manual transactional activities will cease and change will be implemented across the group. I am responsible for leading the group’s strategy and making this change happen whilst ensuring effective and efficient business continuation. On a regular basis I provide direction to the markets where we operate in Europe and Mexico and work in collaboration with remote teams to optimise our administration teams. My roles also include ensuring control is maintained, increasing productivity and reducing operating costs.

What educational and career steps did you take to get to where you are now?

After completing my A-levels, I did a one year foundation course in design to be able to get into university. I was not particularly academic but graphics, art and design, came naturally to me. I went on to study 3 dimensional design and innovation at the University of South Wales.

After graduating, I worked within the art/design field, firstly as a sign workshop supervisor for a pub and restaurant company in Salisbury and then on various roles in the sign-writing and graphics world. As I began to build up some contacts, I realised that I would be able to go it alone, so I set myself up as a self-employed visual artist. I had previously taken a course in business ownership and management directly after I left university so I was good to go.

During this time, I found opportunity’s to work for other sign-writing companies and the local council for one off projects as well as finding a private client that wanted extensive paint effects and various finishes throughout her mansion house that she was renovating. This found me new contacts and I registered with the ELS (Education and Lecturing Services). Through this I got an opportunity to lecture part time in interior design and specialist paint finishes. Due to the fact that this was only part time, and to ensure I could continue to work for myself, I also took on a job as a money collector for Provident. This introduced me to very different worlds. By day I was spending time painting ceilings to look like the Sistine chapel for an ex ballerina. On 2 nights a week I had to drive around less fortunate areas to collect weekly loan payments as an agent.

The customers relied on me for various things. Some elderly people welcomed my visit as they saw no one else and were glad to see someone who could assist with filling in forms. Others, well quite frankly did everything to avoid me. This was difficult to handle and having this role gave me some life skills and I felt ready to face the world.

At this point I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Therefore I decided to move back to South Wales closer to my family. This was the point where my career path completely changed. I applied for a manager’s position at Provident. Being an agent had given me a great insight into how to manage and support a team of ten. At the time this was just a temporary thing for me, but I found that I thoroughly enjoyed the job and decided to continue working for them. I picked up the finance aspect of the job along the way and saw exciting opportunities to be able to go on secondment to our international markets across Europe/Mexico.

In order to get the opportunity to go to a market to be a trouble shooter I first had to go through the rankings to a higher level in the company to get more knowledge and experience. I achieved this within a few years and this meant relocating again in the UK.

Eventually, I was offered a position in Poland as a ‘business development manager’. This was my first assignment and I stayed two and a half years before joining the team at head office. I have been in Leeds for almost 8 years and had various positions (project manager, Compliance manager, Field performance, change implementation). Today I am responsible for over 1000 staff across the markets, which is a great challenge.

What do you like about your job?

I travel 50% of the time and am fortunate to be able to see the world. I love being involved in transformational change and getting opportunities for personal development. I frequently get opportunities to learn from external consultants and to take extra courses, which is all good for CV building.

Is there anything about your job that you dislike?

Yes definitely! Firstly it’s very difficult is to maintain the relationships you have built with the people in the markets and also to maintain how groups are perceived by the markets. They think that head office is like big brother watching them constantly and I am not sure they really understand the value that we bring to them. Often you get the sense that they say ‘yes, yes, yes’ when you are there and then when you have left their side they pull in the opposite direction, which can be very frustrating. Another major thing about my job I dislike is when we are told to deliver significant change to our back office. Unfortunately this usually results in people being made redundant, which I absolutely hate doing.

Describe a typical work day for you?

My first job in the morning is reading and sending lots of emails and generally preparing key messages and presentation slides to support the projects I am working on. Much of my time is spent in meetings to give business advice and to get details of how various systems should work. During these meetings, I spend a lot of time trying to persuade others to buy into a vision they simply cannot see. I also have to plan for my trips abroad, all the time managing my budgets and when I get back, I have to write up reports on what was achieved. From time to time, I am involved in other things as well like internal audit and fraud matters, particularly if it has been committed by one of the admin staff members. This is rare but does happen.

Do you have any tips for students who might be interested in this career path?

My career path has been obscure as it’s a little off track, but what I would say is don’t be afraid to put yourself out there to try different things. If you get into an international company, be kind to yourself as business and travel can be quite stressful and very tiring. Take advantage of any training opportunities ‘in-house’ or available to you through the HR department as it’s always good to learn new skills.

Networking is very important. There is a large element of not what you know but who you know and never forget the importance of a sponsor – they can make or break your career.

What advice would you give your student self with hindsight?

Take full advantage of the course you are doing and start to get some experience in your line of work prior to leaving uni. However it’s not the end of the world if you end up somewhere different so don’t stress if you’re not sure what you want to do yet. I was fortunate enough to get many opportunities to explore different career paths and as a result but have built a 17 year successful career doing something that is totally unrelated.

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