How I got where I am today: Business manager

Published: 05 Sep 2014

Isla Stewart, 37, business manager at Xcite Media explains how in her career she has learned to ring the changes

What did you want to be when you were young?
A telephone receptionist and then a fashion designer
 
What are the main career stepping stones you have taken?
I loved art at school and always wanted to work in fashion, however when I was not accepted to Gray’s School of Art my parents suggested I applied for university. I ended up studying psychology and graduated with a 2:1 honours BSc in Psychology.


I continued with a PhD for two years, whilst also working for a fashion retailer, but eventually left studies behind to work full time in retail management, opening up a brand new store in Dundee.


At the age of 25 I realised I wanted a change of career, still working with people, but in a different environment and in Aberdeen.


I went to work for Croner Consulting as a sales co-ordinator, and within six months was promoted to account manager where I was taught some of the most important, and indeed toughest lessons of my career, working in a target-driven sales environment.


After two years I moved on to work as a sales and marketing manager for Prestige Scotland. This is the catering and events company for Aberdeen Football Club, which I stayed with for eight years. I worked with an amazing team, both at AFC and Prestige Scotland, focusing on corporate and private events.


After eight years there I had developed as much as I could and, after a chat with my dad and a lot of thought, I handed in my notice without having secured another job.


That same day, my current employer Xcite Media approached me saying it must be fate and after 18 months I haven’t looked back.

Are you scared of making mistakes?
No, I’m not. I really do believe that you learn from every mistake, and as long as you aren’t reckless with your decisions, particularly when representing your employer, and are apologetic if you need to be, then mistakes can actually be hugely important in moving a business forward and developing your experience.
 
Pet hate?
Unkind people. Being kind brings out the best in almost everyone. Being kind can also sometimes mean that you have to be harsh, but if you try to be considerate of others you can usually work through anything.
 
Who's been your greatest influence?
My mum and dad. They taught me to have strong morals, to have belief in my decisions, and not to settle for something if you aren’t happy.
 
What advice have you ignored?
In my very first account management position I was told I had to be more corporate in my attitude, “talk the talk” and “play the game”. I ignored it, because if I hadn’t I would have made a complete idiot of myself and wouldn’t have made it past my three month probation.
 
Best achievement so far?
Launching, organising, selling and running Trades Awards, Scotland’s only award ceremony for tradesmen and trades business, within a five month period (with an awesome team behind me).

What do you want to achieve in the rest of your career?
I have never been very good at looking long term career-wise. If I wake up in the morning and still feel happy and excited going into work, then that is good for me. I love working for Xcite Media, and have been given the opportunity to learn and develop in ways that I have never had before, so
if I get to do this for a while longer I will be very grateful.
 
What's your idea of the perfect retirement?
I cannot picture what my retirement will look like, I think I will work as
long as I am able because my brain goes crazy if it isn’t kept busy.


Perhaps I’ll have a funky clothes shop by then, being ran by someone with much more energy than me. I’ll just pop in on a Saturday morning with my
friends to choose our outfits for
our night out later at the bingo.
 
Is the “career for life" a thing of the past?
I don’t think it is a thing of the past, but I do think that we are much more open now to career changes and leaps of faith when it comes to employment. For me, if you are happy in your job and feel fulfilled then stay as long as you like. I had a job that I loved for eight years, but towards the end I realised I had stopped learning and things had got a little stale. So I took a leap of faith.
 
What would your autobiography be called?

Kindness Pays.

What would you name some of the chapters?


Paranoid Android, Leap of Faith, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, Fashion Fix.

What's the best way to motivate others?

I have learned that different people are motivated by different things and that you need to do a little digging sometimes to find out what these things are.
I think knowledge motivates employees too, and an understanding of the importance of their own role in the big scheme of things, so I try my best to make sure everyone in our team is aware of this and the impact they can have at work.
 
Your favourite stress-buster?
I took up running for fundraising purposes a few years ago and realised that it is also an amazing stress buster. It really does give me a chance to empty my head for an hour or two, think some happy adrenalin-induced thoughts, and afterwards whatever was worrying you usually doesn’t seem too bad.
 
What's your best career advice?
Always be yourself. You might have to reign in the jokes, or change your approach to a meeting every now and then, but if you are always yourself no one can catch you out.

What's your dream job?
My dream job is still to work in fashion somehow. I’m not entirely sure I have the skill sets for fashion design, but I can’t stop thinking about the possibility of a fashion-based event in Aberdeen as a compromise, so maybe watch this space…

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