This episode of Leaders With Ambition features Bridget Uebel, a Marketing and Business Development professional whose unique mix of traits and skills have flourished on a global stage.
As a Global Business Development and Marketing Leader, Bridget brings a rare depth of experience to leadership within the realm of legal services. As she explains to Nicky, the road has been varied, exciting and challenging in all the best ways.
Bridget began her career in London publishing, then joining an audit firm which was ultimately a gateway to Hong Kong – where she spent the next 16 years learning about various cultures (professional and personal), refining her ideas about effective business development, marketing and communications and eventually taking a leap into overseeing legal marketing services for international law firms interested in upping their game in Asia. It was an exciting transition that, over time, Bridget leveraged into an ever-bigger role as a trusted advisor and client-facing member of the team.
The work was stimulating and fulfilling, but Bridget finds that even the most compelling of careers can use a break now and again. In her case, the birth of her child presented the perfect opportunity to press pause, pursue a fine arts degree and catch her breath. When she felt ready to shift her work-life balance back towards legal services – work she had missed – her strong track record and robust network paved the way.
While her trajectory has included multiple roles with a variety of firms spanning responsibilities in the U.K., U.S., Europe and Asia, the things that have driven Bridget’s success have remained consistent throughout. Those foundational building blocks include:
Doing your homework.
Going the extra mile.
Prioritising and staying focused.
Growing a sturdy and supportive network.
Taking time to be intentional, stay refreshed.
Bridget shares with Nicky some great tips about keeping projects moving forward across departments and regions, why it’s important to make time to recharge, and what motivates her to give back through mentoring younger colleagues.
She also shares career highs, as well as strategies to address some of the most common workplace challenges.
Enjoy a conversation packed with details about the innovations and lessons that have defined Bridget’s marketing communications and business development career.
Born in north-eastern England, Bridget was keen from an early age to move to London in pursuit of an interesting career. She studied history, which qualified her “for everything and nothing,” but with an open mind she quickly found her way to a niche in marketing.
Moving to Asia
Writing has proven a key skill and differentiator for Bridget throughout her career through many different roles and sales/service contexts – including opportunities that took her to Hong Kong, where she quickly had to learn about different markets and cultures throughout Asia.
Bridget’s steep learning curve in Asia was facilitated by her attention to detail, preparation (“doing your homework”) and a genuine engagement with people both professionally and personally that built self-confidence and an all-important network.
Transitioning into professional services
When she began in law firm marketing and business development it was relatively unsophisticated: basic marketing, pitch materials, setting up content to promote services and increase visibility through PR and speaking appearances at industry events.
Bridget’s first gig in professional services marketing challenged her to adapt her marketing skill sets to an entirely new setting. She had to figure out how lawyers work, how Partners work, what types of services they offer and how clients buy those services.
As she moved between various top law firms opening offices in Hong Kong, Bridget was aided by her reputation and the network she had built within the legal community during a time of growth and expansion.
When she looks at her success in Asia, Bridget believes it came down to value add and adaptability. She knew what she could do and was the first to raise her hand when she perceived an opportunity to help grow the business.
Taking a step back
Once she decided to start a family, Bridget was able to take a step back. She initially kept a hand in with managing projects at Paul Hastings’ office in Hong Kong while also pursuing some creative pursuits that increased her work-life balance.
When Bridget’s daughter entered school, she felt ready (and eager) to return to work three days a week, which was challenging in terms of scope and required some narrowing of focus to manage the juggle. It also coincided with the 2008 financial crisis.
When she reached a critical fork in the road in terms of whether to continue with U.S.-based firms or take a step down in order to work with a London-based “Magic Circle” firm, Bridget’s network provided her with trusted perspective and direction.
Always game for growth and challenge, Bridget took on a much more client-facing role in her new job as Head of Client Communications and Relationships for Freshfields' Asia office. It was a great bridge into client-facing work.
Bridget ran the gauntlet, pitching 35 Asia partners and securing their buy-in for a new client development programme, which would require a collaborative effort and cultural shift across the global enterprise.
A move back to London after a 16-year absence introduced another new opportunity: A completely new role in which Bridget leveraged her international experience to lead the marketing and business development function for US firm Cadwalader's offices globally.
Over time perhaps Bridget’s favourite aspect of working across a multinational law firm was building and mentoring members of a close-knit global team, developing careers as well as evolving new systems.
Moving into a Consulting role
In 2018, Bridget moved into a consulting role both as a lifestyle choice and as a showcase for the knowledge she had accumulated across industries and corporate cultures. She enjoyed the role of trouble-shooter and problem-solver.
A big part of Bridget’s personal mandate involves sharing what she has learned with others as well as exposing herself to 360-degree learning from junior team members who bring their own diverse perspectives.
A Word of Advice
Be really conscious of who the stakeholders are within your organisation. External networking is important, but in terms of career development Bridget’s most exciting advancements have been nurtured along by mentors and champions internal to the organisations in which she has worked.
Bridget's Career Highlights:
All the people with whom she has had the good fortune to work.
Taking on her first role developing an innovative, client-facing business development program at Freshfields.
Being invited by the chairman to lead the global marketing and business development team at Cadwalader.
Cultivating teams and coaching junior staff members.
Connecting the dots: Using her communications and facilitation skills to create business development opportunities as a point of intersection across departments, countries and disciplines.
Managing multiple internal stakeholders – not only Partners/Lawyers but teams from differing cultures and communications styles.
Prioritising competing demands and priorities.
Ensuring unified strategic plans, including teaching people how to say ‘no’ when necessary.
Executing on projects and frontloading follow-up.
Maintaining work-life balance with equanimity.
Bridget believes that Covid19 has definitively accelerated all things digital, such as the adoption of CRMs and other forms of tech.
Marketing and business development has matured a lot over the past 20 years as the legal services industry as a whole has grown and evolved. Bridget believes that niche specialties will increasingly fill marketing and business development functions.
Words of Wisdom
Bridget recommends reading "How to Advance Your Career in Professional Services Marketing: Be More Purposeful and Strategic with Your Career Direction," by Dominic Ayres, a new book in which she is featured (along with Ambition's very own Director, Matthew Gardner).
Always volunteer for projects and then work hard.
Spending time in other markets is invaluable; try to work abroad.
Enjoy yourself! However challenging, make the work fun!
“I like a challenge. I’ve always enjoyed challenges in my life and my work.”
“My first foray into legal marketing was trying to figure out what each firm needed … and then working with Partners to build out those resources and the tools to sell services, build visibility and win business.”
Work-life balance is tricky. Everybody who works in the legal industry knows that it’s not an easy life. It’s a very demanding industry … and I will be honest, it’s hard.”
“You can work hard, but you can work smart as well.”
“Stepping out a little really reinforced to me that (legal professional services) was something I really wanted to continue and carry on.”
“Over time the Partners trusted me to talk to clients, which is huge. It took a lot of time and didn’t happen straightaway. I spent a lot of time understanding the clients and preparing for meetings.”
“Senior leadership roles are demanding and challenging. Every once in a while, it’s good to take a breather.”
“Every single level of where you are in a legal career is challenging, so you have to work at a strategic level but also make sure that you’re delivering projects and completing them, whether for big teams of people or on your own.”
“Finding what fills up your cup, gives you energy and keeps you positive for the day, as well as family and friends, are all very important.”
“The whole legal services industry is changing a lot and we’ll continue to see massive change, so we’ll have to adapt our skills over time.”
“Spending time in another market, understanding the challenges and concerns, is really valuable. It was a career gamechanger for me. If you have the opportunity … it’s very well worth looking at that.”
About Bridget Uebel:
With more than 25 years of international business development, marketing and communications experience in the professional services sector, Bridget delivers value, insight, opportunity and industry best practice to both the firms she works for and their clients. Bridget has held key positions at Norton Rose Fulbright, Hogan Lovells and Cadwallader, Wickersham & Taft.
About the host, Nicky Acuna Ocana:
Nicky has led high performing recruitment teams for over 20 years. As the Managing Director of Ambition UK, she leads a team of highly-skilled recruitment consultants who are experts in their niche specialist areas. With an extensive network of senior and board-level contacts, she is also heavily involved in Executive Search, focusing on Director level appointments across Business Services for a range of Professional Services firms.
If you're a Leader with Ambition from a professional services firm and would like to feature as a guest in a future podcast, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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