Careers are long and so are memories! Host Nicky Acuna Ocana’s guest on this episode of Leaders With Ambition is Owen Williams whose career demonstrates why it’s so important to cultivate – and maintain – healthy work relationships.
Over the course of his busy and highly successful career, Owen has been afforded the opportunity to circle back repeatedly to former employers to take on exciting new roles.
As Director of Marketing & BD at Simmons & Simmons, Owen’s skill sets are an amalgamation of leadership and growth opportunities at multiple firms.
The common denominators throughout his career:
A sense of fun and even greater sense of commitment to excellence.
He and his teams are all about working hard and to the highest standards, delivering on-time and generating good will. As a leader, Owen’s focus is on hiring the right people, supporting creativity and growth – then getting out of the way.
At this stage in his dynamic journey, Owen can clearly see the many workplace mentors who have shaped his path and is gladly paying it forward, providing guidance to others coming up through the ranks. Learn about Owen’s career highlights as well as the challenges he has encountered while driving change within the professional services space. He also offers words of wisdom for those who aspire to greater leadership roles and opportunities.
Above all, Owen leaves us with a vivid example of the power of networks to build meaningful, fulfilling careers in which professional relationships are rich and recurring. (Hint: Don’t burn bridges!)
“Careers are long. And memories are maybe even longer,” says Owen. “So it’s vitally important to maintain healthy relationships and leave on good terms.” The dividends are real!
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Owen attributes some of the traits most useful in his career to an early sibling dynamic in which he found himself playing the role of diplomat. He also discovered early his affinity for people and communication in general.
Coming out of university, Owen was without any clear direction so he went home to Croydon and started working as a hotel bartender. Finding his way into an entry-level job at Canon, he latched onto the work quickly and was also introduced to an Executive who would become a lifelong mentor.
Coming up just at the inflection point between analogue and digital technologies, Owen learned about writing tenders and office solutions. A short stint in sales persuaded him that he required something more creative in his work.
Taking the plunge
Owen accepted a contract to write pitch materials for Herbert Smith – an introduction to the world of large legal services firms. That was 21 years ago and his career quickly took off through early roles at several organizations.
Owen has remained engaged with professional services year-after-year because of brilliant mentorship, the high calibre of people and standards for excellence.
Owen loves to have fun at work. He believes an upbeat environment provides the glue that holds teams together through the hard times.
A Business Development Manager role at Latham & Watkins introduced Owen’s first opportunity to lead a team, which proved to be a great learning experience.
Looking to become more customer-facing (as opposed to back office), Owen seized an opportunity to work on pitches for Deloitte and moved through progressively larger roles.
In a short two years at Deloitte, Owen consolidated his skill sets, picked up new ones, learned about the financial services sector and strengthened his network significantly.
Owen learned from mentors about the importance of connecting at a personal level with clients and finding out their drivers.
Key elements to building a career
Be curious. Ask questions. You don’t constantly or immediately need to opine.
Deliver. Deliver. Deliver. On time and high quality.
Work hard and focus appropriately.
Returning to legal services
As Global Head of Proposals at Clifford Chance, Owen was drawn to the leadership and training opportunity, the chance to put new systems and processes in place and spearhead high-stakes tenders for the organisation.
A return to Herbert Smith educated Owen to the nuances and challenges of mergers as he navigated the transition, identifying client synergies and blending corporate cultures.
On a tip-off about the environment and innovative approach at Simmons & Simmons, Owen did some homework and found his way into the newly created role, managing global practices and markets. His has assembled a high-performing and a cohesive team that only strengthened through the pandemic.
Tips for retaining talent
Ensure that they see potential for career growth.
Recruit from different places.
Pull together people with diverse skills who desire to work as a team.
Hire people with a strong desire to work hard. Then reward that ethic!
Offer learning opportunities.
Facilitating the merger between Herbert Smith and Freehills.
The intense growth and learning that took place during his stint at Deloitte.
Learning to cultivate and understand client relationships in-depth during his time at Herbert Smith.
Building his team and working on innovative projects while at Simmons & Simmons.
Leadership isn’t binary. It’s a process of constant self-awareness and evolution.
Making time to step away from the work regularly to honestly assess.
Words of wisdom
Hard work is foundational above all else.
Deliver quality and never let it drop.
As a leader, be authentic and honest.
Hire people who understand and will fit well with the team dynamic.
Get out of the way. Trust people to do their jobs.
“I like keeping busy and work is a core part.”
“I know my skill sets and I stick to them!”
“Leadership was always something I was keen to get into. It took a bit of time to get there. I was not exactly brilliant at it when I (started out) but I’ve learned.”
“I don’t see work as work. I see work as an extension of my life. That’s the most important thing for me: I still get enjoyment form it.”
“If you work effectively enough together as a buyer and a seller, you can really unlock the value in the middle.”
“Curiosity is really powerful. There’s a temptation to deliver and to speak and share everything you’ve got when actually the opposite is more valuable. Being curious. Asking questions.”
“Careers are long. And memories are even longer … So it’s vitally important to maintain healthy relationships and leave on good terms.”
“Mergers are tough because you play a role where you are trying to make it as seamless as possible, but it’s a tough, stressful environment.”
“My job is to not get in the way … A leader’s job is about making (other people’s jobs) as easy as possible, removing barriers, giving them a lift up if they need it or a kick in the bum sometimes. Just don’t get in the way.”
About Owen Williams:
Owen is a Business Development professional who has over 20 years' experience of working in the professional services sector, primarily with law firms. He joined Simmons & Simmons over four years ago and has since worked across all offices and practices. He has led and been involved in a range of projects and initiatives aimed at strengthening client relationships and supporting teams in the development of bespoke solutions to meet client opportunities and challenges.
About Nicky Acuna Ocana:
Nicky has led high performing recruitment teams for over 20 years. As the Regional Managing Director of Ambition UK, Europe and USA, she leads a team of highly-skilled recruitment consultants who are experts in their niche specialist areas across Business Services for a range of Professional Services firms.