In 2015, thanks to the help of a number of amazing supporters and sponsors, WeAreTheCity ran the first of its Rising Star awards programmes. The aim of the awards was to identify 50 future leaders and role models under a management level across 10 different industries. After a staggering amount of nominations and an intensive judging period, we finally arrived at our shortlist and opened the public vote. The public vote resulted in over 15,000 votes from across 112 different countries and galvanized amazing support from our nominees’ networks, their companies, the press, as well as our own sponsors and supporters. After a final judging process, we identified our amazing top 50 winners and celebrated their awards alongside our sponsors, friends and supporters at the House of Commons in September.

First, we speak with Memona Mohammad of BT, who was one of our winners of Rising Stars in Technology, sponsored by Morgan Stanley.

Memona, please tell us what has happened in your career since winning the Rising Star awards back in September?

Memona Mohammad - Rising Star 2015 winnerI was featured on BT’s internal homepage, “BT Today”, in an article that shared some coverage of the award’s celebrations and acted as a thank you to colleagues who supported me, right from the nominations through to voting. It was great to get the encouragement and recognition both internally and externally.

Since the awards, the winners from the Technology category were invited to a celebratory lunch at Morgan Stanley. This was really nice of Morgan Stanley to host us. We were able to meet with other inspirational people from the firm, including Gerard Hester, Mark Looker, Ulla Harker, Harvey Weller, Louise Zenasni, Bo Lu and Katherine Loe. They have reached senior positions and worked in areas such as Foreign Exchange and Emerging Markets Technology, Technology & Data, Operational Support, Institutional and Wealth Management and some have even featured on WeAreTheCity.

Once a month, I am now also mentoring four female students, aged between 15-16 from a school in East Croydon. My aim is to help the students build on their strengths and confidence, stretch their capabilities and pursue their interests whilst learning about the opportunities and options they have when leaving school. As part of the Ethnic Minority Network Mentoring Scheme, I have also started mentoring an apprentice, who is in her second year at BT. It is truly rewarding to give back to others, helping them to think about their achievements, their future and how they can find opportunities that are right for them.

I have also been given the opportunity to take on more responsibility in my current role as an Account Manager, working with additional customers, taking on work from a new contract and being one of the main interfaces from BT. By doing so, I have been helping to build on their IT services, global WAN, ensuring customer satisfaction and innovation. I have also been able to learn more about the portfolio and how BT can help other service providers. I believe that there is no glass ceiling, there is only a mirror and the only thing stopping you from progressing is yourself, so don’t let that be a barrier.

What top tips would you give to our other members to enhance their careers?

• Help others. Whether it’s in the workplace or at events volunteering, when you are helping others you are sharing your experience, advice and knowledge and inspiring others to want to do well. At the same time you are also putting into practice your own skills and building on them. It’s a chance to do some networking, practicing how to present yourself and learning a lot from others around you too.

• Understand how your role fits into the company you work for, where the work comes from and the teams involved in the end-to-end processes. You also get to meet more people this way, building your relationships in the team and your knowledge too. Knowledge is power and I believe it helps to know the detail. You have to be willing to learn and encourage others to do the same.

• Really listen to other people and anyone you meet. Be open-minded and learn about their journey; listen to their stories, advice and decisions in life.

Next, we talk to Sarah Gerken of Willis, one of our winners of our Insurance Rising Stars category, which was sponsored by Lloyds.

Sarah, what has happened since winning your Rising Star award in September?

Sarah Gerken - Rising Star 2015 winnerSince winning the Rising Stars in Insurance Award, I have been promoted to the role of Account Director, something that usually takes a number of years to achieve. In this new role, I am responsible for the insurance and risk management of a rapidly expanding pharmaceutical company. My work to date has received special praise from the company’s CFO, Risk Manager and Company Secretary. I have also been invited to talk to graduates who joined the company in 2015 and mentor younger insurance professionals. Finally, an article dedicated to my success was published on the company’s intranet site.

So what top tips would you give to our other members to enhance their careers?

• Set yourself short (6 month) and longer term (2-3 year) goals. Write down how you plan to achieve those goals to avoid career stagnation. These have to be flexible enough so that any opportunities can be seized. The longer-term goals should include your next promotion/role.

• Seek out mentors. I have a mix of mentors whose careers I aspire to and/or who have been successful in their chosen field. Regular mentor meetings help ensure that you are on track with your goals and help to facilitate your progression through networking suggestions, introductions and advice.

• Continual learning. Always challenge yourself to learn new skills. Companies are often willing to invest in their staff. Therefore do not be afraid to push to be sent on training and development courses.

Finally, we talk to Debbie Grimshaw of Brother UK, one of our EA/PA category winners of 2015 Rising Stars, which was sponsored by Barclays.

Debbie, what has happened since winning your Rising Star award in September?

debbie grimshaw - Rising Star 2015 winnerWinning the award has raised my profile greatly in the EA/PA world and my network has extended beyond Manchester and the UK – I am now connected with EAs/PAs all over the world.

I have been featured on our company Twitter feed, our internal social media platform Yammer, through Manchester PA Network and I have written some PA magazine articles.

Following the award I was asked to contribute to Exceptional EA showcases, Real Careers, in which administrators from around the globe generously share the benefit of their experience by means of an interview. This has reached administrators in all corners of the world and in various industries.

I was extended an invitation to do my very first speaking event with EUMA at their regional training day in Manchester. It was an honour to be interviewed by Sheila Anderson, Founder of EUMA North West about my career and in particular my recent Rising Star award.

Then came the amazing offer from Victoria Darragh to sit on the board of the new EPAA, launching in January 2016 as a Non-Executive Director. I am absolutely thrilled and honoured to join the line-up of inspiring assistants that make up the board for this new and much needed professional association.

Last but certainly not least I was nominated for a Manchester PA Network Ambassador award in the inaugural Manchester PA of the Year Awards held in November 2015. I did not win in my nominated category, but I was stunned and absolutely speechless to receive the overall Manchester PA of the Year Award 2015.

Before winning the Rising Star award nobody really knew Debbie Grimshaw. Since then though, I’ve built my personal brand, had a platform in which to share experience and knowledge, pushed outside of my comfort zone speaking in public, won an award which will go down in history as the first ever Manchester PA of the Year and am now very excited to give back to the EA/PA community by joining the EPAA Board in 2016.

What top tips would you give to our other members to enhance their careers?

On the train down to the shortlist event at Bloomberg headquarters, I was questioning myself as to why I had ended up on a shortlist alongside other PAs who I felt already had huge profiles and were so well established in the EA/PA community. Having met those other PAs, listened to Vanessa Vallely speaking and after chatting with others about their nominations, I came away with a completely different mind-set. Yes I have worked hard, I have come a long way from the days of starting out as a receptionist/secretary, I am inspiring others and I did deserve to be there on that shortlist. So thank you WATC you have taught me to believe in myself.

My 3 top tips are:
• Find yourself a mentor. Having the right people to advise and support you should be part of your development strategy and never stay in a role where you can’t be heard, contribute or learn. Continue to invest in your personal development to open doors to broader responsibilities.

• Network online and in person. There is a huge amount of low cost or free training on offer, delivered by some really inspirational people. My career has grown, doors have opened and opportunities have come about, just by being connected with those people I have met at networking events. I now have the Google of Manchester at my fingertips…there’s not a question you can put to the network that someone won’t come back on with help, suggestions or even a solution for you.

• Give back and support others. Not only does it help them, but it’s great for your own personal development too. Whilst awards are wonderful to receive, my greatest reward will be to see someone else reach this achievement and know that sharing my knowledge and experience has helped them on their journey to success. At Brother UK, one of our values is to ‘grow ourselves by growing others’ and I truly get so much out of doing just that!

WeAreTheCity would like to extend our sincere thanks to all of our Rising Stars for sharing their successes with us. We are sure you will agree that they are all achieving amazing things and offering sound advice to future Rising Stars.

We look forward to featuring more of our Rising Stars next week. Please note our Rising Star programme for 2016 opens on 1st February 2016. More details will be posted to the site during January – click here for more information and to register your interest in our awards