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My career story - an interview with James McMillan

From Louis, to numbers, and then to HR…

James has had multiple careers working in luxury retail, audit and accountancy, corporate finance, business consulting and HR Programme Management.

“I started out working for Louis Vuitton in stock and logistics as well as sales which helped me to develop an extremely expensive taste in luxury goods!”

Unfortunately, Louis didn’t offer a graduate scheme and so James decided to take the leap and got a place on a graduate programme training to become a Chartered Accountant.

“I built my initial experience in audit and corporate finance (mergers and acquisitions) which meant I became skilled in detailed forensic analysis, reviewing business operating models, commercial decision making, growth strategy, and project management delivery. Importantly, this was where I learnt how to deconstruct and process information but also present it to different groups of people for different purposes.”

James is very much someone who likes to experience new roles and different sectors and has had a breadth of varied experience, building and developing new skills with every move.

 

Using existing skills in something new…

Within a year James knew that accountancy wasn’t necessarily for him but decided to approach this revelation strategically and developed a five year plan. James knew that during the five years he needed to have completed his accountancy exams in order to be able to go on and get the job he really wanted. It was important that he develop the skills that accountancy required.

“I’m always moving to use existing skills in something new. I’ve always focused on the skills I had that were transferring with me and what new skills I would acquire as part of that career move.”

James’ skills focused approach has enabled him to make moves across different disciplines and departments.

“I’d only been in BT a short time but 12 months in I moved from a finance role with the Group Transformation team into a programme management role in line of business HR, which from the outside perspective might look unconnected, but actually, running a department and team to achieve results for the business is very familiar no matter what your discipline. You just need to learn the context/subject matter of what you’re going in to. In my personal view, the more commercially astute you are about how your role fits into the wider organisation, along with learning a bit about what other people do, the more rounded you will be.”

 

Balancing your experience with that of others in order to make decisions…

For James one of his biggest career challenges was taking on leadership roles. This has challenged him not only from a personal development perspective but also from a professional one too.

“It’s a completely different way of thinking – you have to balance your own rich experience with the experience of others in order to make decisions. Distinguishing your own professional judgement with what other people know is exciting and gives you a great opportunity to learn from others. There is also a fine line between developing a leadership style and sticking to yours. There will always be feedback of how you could do better or approach something differently but there comes a time in everyone’s career where you actually want to make a conscious choice to say “I like the way I do this” or “this is the way I want to work” and stick by it. That’s tough to do at first!”

 

Being 100% committed …

Through any challenges James has faced he has always remembered that he needs to be 100% committed. For James this has definitely been the key to success.

“The most stretched I’ve ever been was doing my professional accountancy qualification whilst working. Balancing work and study is a mammoth undertaking and my biggest take-away was not to underestimate what’s required. You also need to be 100% committed to making it happen or you’ll find it pretty painful!”

James has always been fiercely determined and analytical about what he needs to do. He takes professional and personal development very seriously.

“Every opportunity there is to do a self-review I look against job standards, look at my goals, make sure I understand how they relate and then I look at the level above and what is missing.”

 

Stay curious and think wider…

James has many top tips for having a healthy and fulfilling career one of the most important is …

"To stay curious and think wider than just your own role. If you can be self-aware enough to understand what impact your role has on the business, then you’re already elevating the way you think."

Alongside being curious…

"Networking undoubtedly helps broaden your horizons but also gives you access to what opportunities might be out there. The majority of roles you find out about are recommended or you just hear about – I love asking people “what do you think I’d be good at?” because often they’ve heard of a role I would never have dreamed of doing, or knew it existed, and actually I have the right skill set.”

When it comes to careers remember…

“Development isn’t something that comes to you, it’s something you have to go after. Careers are always a two-way street – you have to balance the needs of the business with your own and look for the opportunity to satisfy both.”