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​Leaders With Ambition - Jessica Gowar

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Being bold may not always come naturally to Jess Gowar, who is Nicky Acuna Ocana’s guest on this episode of Leaders with Ambition. But she has cultivated her capacity for clear, straightforward communication and in doing so, has risen to become Partner for Markets & Clients at BDO UK.

Originally from Canada, Jess is a dynamic marketing professional who has evolved from a new arrival in London (when she literally got lost at the airport) to becoming a leader, mentor and exemplary industry networker. In this episode, Jess shares her career journey, philosophy about branding, thoughts on the value of data-driven marketing approaches and the constant work-life juggle.

Variety and challenge are the elements, Jess says, that bring the fun! This conversation serves as a reminder of the importance of connecting with authenticity and candour, even for those of us who are introverts by nature. The work that Jess has done to carve out a place for marketing at the leadership table is incredible.

The episode wraps up with Jess’s thoughts on career lessons, highlights and challenges – as well as this advice to keep in mind; “I don’t like being wrong, but when I make mistakes I want to learn from them,” she says. “I think making mistakes is more valuable than not making them and that challenges me to be bold in ways that I might not naturally be.”

If you enjoyed this discussion, please clickhere to find previous episodes of Leaders with Ambition.

Starting Out

Jess’s journey of self-determination started with her self-funded (by working multiple jobs) double degree - Bachelor of Arts, Economics and Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com.), Marketing at Saint Marys University in Canada. She then moved to London and set out on her career journey, an adventure that offered the prospects and opportunities for the advancement that she desired. Despite her very solid economics and marketing degree from Canada, landing in London without connections made it tough to break into financial services. Marketing became a bridge into professional services for Jess. Stretching into new roles has been key to Jess’s career progression and development.

Her Career Journey in Marketing

Jess picked up a range of key skills through a series of roles and marketing environments over the course of her early career. Jess explains how she balances marketing’s creative mandate with the need for pragmatic return on investment and sustainability. Marketing is a fast-changing and complex industry that requires a clear sense of what tools to deploy in what way, what time and with what expectations.

She explains how to help Partners and other senior stakeholders gain a more nuanced understanding of the ROI marketing provides. Why it’s critical (and research backs this up) to have a CMO and take seriously the value of brand and marketing strategy. Jess also discusses her personal life and how she juggled young children and a big job, and this led to making choices and trade-offs on a collaborative basis with her husband.

Life at BDO

What makes the company and experience so special is:

  • Core corporate values.

  • Highest quality leadership.

  • Latitude for team members to make choices within reasonable structures.

  • A unique position within the sector.

  • Managing more than 100 employees spread across the UK has given Jess an opportunity to constantly grow and invest in mentoring and elevating those around her.

  • Making Partner - A tip of the hat to the many people at BDO who supported Jess’s career development and a pat on the back for some “bloody hard work.”

  • How BDO has started carving out a formal pathway to partnership for client and non-client-facing individuals. Jess has been among the trail-blazers.

Jess’s Career Lessons

  • Pay attention to detail!

  • Take enough time to make good decisions.

  • Triple-check content.

  • Things like spellcheck and the accuracy of contact phone numbers matter!

Career Highlights

  • Working with people with whom she has connected.

  • Identifying what’s exciting and how to incorporate it in campaigns.

  • Staying engaged with the work at every juncture to keep it fresh.

  • Rebranding BDO – and bringing leadership (and staff) along in a unified way.


  • A bit of an introvert, Jess is very intentional about where, with whom and for what purpose she connects.

  • Most of her networking occurs within BDO, which has 400 Partners to understand and engage.

  • Jess makes a point of following the careers of team members who move on to other positions – and keeping an eye out for possible opportunities to collaborate.

  • She reflects on the compelling role that data plays in backing up business cases and validating various approaches to corporate messaging, closing the “perception gap” and selling the story.

Biggest Challenges

  • Balancing priorities as a mother of two and full-time worker.

  • Keeping her own energy reserves replenished.

  • Ensuring that her team members’ work-life balance is likewise supported.

Words of Advice

  • 'Don’t chase job titles, chase the responsibility – the role and learning curve. Be careful of getting caught up in the label!'

  • 'The more candid your marketing strategy conversations with stakeholders, the more value you’ll bring.'

  • 'There are moments when being quiet is not as helpful as being bold.'

  • 'Make mistakes and learn from them.'

  • 'Try not to make those mistakes big ones!'

  • 'Bring your authentic self to work'

  • 'Look for small changes with big impact – both at home and in the workplace.'

  • 'As you grow in your responsibility, understand whether you’re there to serve or to lead. And if you’re there to lead, being bold will serve you well.'

Key Quotes

  • “For me it’s always looking for what else you can learn or how you can use the skills you’ve got. The more variety and challenge, the more fun the role is!”

  • “I feel very lucky that everyplace that I have worked has had outstanding people. And I also think it’s really important to be comfortable in your skills and the value you have as a person.”

  • “From a marketing perspective, there’s a real balance to be had between the creative drive … alongside the commercial value you get from it.”

  • “The sooner you’re able to link the commercial balance between things you desperately want to see your firm do and the things you are being asked to do, the sooner you will be brought to the table to join in those conversations about decisions being taken now and in the future.”

  • “It’s Imposter Syndrome, I suppose … You’re constantly looking for what else you can do, because there’s always room for improvement, whether it’s in you or the way you lead or what you’re asking of your people or the opportunities you’re giving them.”

  •  “It’s not always live by the sword, die by the sword. But you have to be incredibly confident in your opinions and the reasons why.”

  •  “I don’t spend a lot of time basking in any sort of success. I spend my time looking at things that could go better.”

  •  “Those continuous touchpoints are really, really important. It’s why I value staying in touch with old team members. Seeing where they go and end up can help your networking.”

  •  “Brands are intangible things – a group of words and language and stories and visuals … so to come up with a rebrand that 95% of the firm supported was amazing.”

  •  “I love data, information that backs up the business case you’re making or the approaches you’re considering.”

  • “Data helps shape the story of what you’re trying to achieve and the likely outcome. And it is far more successful than using purely technical marketing information.”

  • “I don’t like being wrong, but when I make mistakes I want to learn from them. I think making mistakes is more valuable than not making them and that challenges me to be bold in ways that I might not naturally be.”

  • “Being bold doesn’t mean challenging the people around you. It means sharing a different way of looking at opportunities to get the most back.”

About Jess

Jess Gowar is a motivated and accomplished cross-selling senior marketing professional, she has exceptional relationship building, strategy creation and delivery skills. She is highly experienced in understanding and meeting the marketing and business development needs of Professional Services firms. Extensive UK and international marketing experience, combined with excellent communication skills and commercial awareness, are behind Jess’s proven track record of building and delivering an inclusive approach to markets and sectors resulting in client development and revenue growth. An impactful team leader and player, she has the ability to influence and motivate at all levels.

About Nicky

Nicky Acuna Ocana has led high performing recruitment teams for over 20 years. As the Regional Managing Director of Ambition UK, Europe and US, she leads a team of highly-skilled recruitment consultants who are experts in their niche specialist areas. 

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