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Interview: Christina Meikle

Christina Meikle, winner of 'The One to Watch' at the CGIUKI Awards 2019, discusses some of her role’s biggest challenges, learning as much as possible in her governance career and what the next year holds

How did it feel to win the One to Watch at the CGIUKI Awards 2019?

I know it sounds very cliché but honestly I was so surprised! I never ever expected to win, I thought it was an achievement to just be shortlisted and I was really happy with that. When they called out my name I wondered if they’d announced my name as a runner-up so had to double check with someone on my table before I walked up! But I was incredibly grateful and very excited - it’s such an achievement, especially given the really strong nominees and it was a fantastic moment to celebrate the past five years and all the experiences I’ve had.

Why did you choose to pursue a career in governance? What brought you to this arena?

In my final year at university I wrote a dissertation about the final years of the Bank of Scotland, and the driving forces behind its eventual takeover by Lloyds. From conducting various interviews, among my findings was the topic of corporate governance, or perhaps the lack of it was a key theme in my view.  I absolutely loved researching and writing my dissertation (something that I think I might be alone in admitting!) and it ultimately led me to look into how to pursue a career in Corporate Governance.  I liked that Corporate Governance brought together different areas of business studies (which I had done, along with Spanish, as my degree) and law, which I also considered pursuing. I also liked the exposure to the central workings of a company and the ability to fundamentally impact the direction and operations of a company, that it seemed to give you. There are so many ways you can go in a career in governance which really appealed to me.

How long have you been in your current role and can you talk us through your route into EY?

I’ve been at EY nearly 2 years now. I think I took a less-travelled route in that I worked in-house for over 3 years before going into professional services. I worked at Santander for nearly 3 years and loved it, but the time comes especially when you’re studying and learning everything for the first time, to try something different. I always knew my next step would either be to go into professional services or move to a listed financial services firm, so I explored both options and ended up at EY, which has turned out to be a great decision! EY and the people I have worked with have been instrumental in allowing me to take on more and more responsibility. I think I bring a different perspective to projects and clients and my previous in-house background has been of assistance in that regard, which I didn’t realise I could offer before joining EY. So for anyone considering it - I’m a big advocate of trying out professional services wherever you are in your career.

What are some of the biggest challenges in your role? How do you overcome them?

I have been lucky enough to work with various companies during my time with EY. This is brilliant for broadening my experience and knowledge but can be challenging. I think balancing multiple stakeholders is a key challenge; whether it is executive and non-executive directors when working in-house, or various clients in my current role. Everyone has a different agenda, diverse priorities and at times an interesting way of doing things. I think the sweet spot is finding a way to make that work for all - that does not mean just compromising for the sake of it, but guiding people to making the right decision for the right reasons which might be flexing your way of doing things to make way for a positive change, or it might be exercising your negotiation skills to get to the right end result! I’m learning that you can’t always please everyone, and that’s been an important lesson for me over the past few years.

What has been your biggest achievement in your career so far?

Being nominated and winning this award has got to be the biggest achievement! I suppose I’m not allowed to say that so I’d have to say achieving my promotion to manager with EY this year. It wasn’t easy going through a promotion round whilst balancing work and studying for my final exam. So I was very relieved when that finally all paid off!

What advice would you give to those at the start of their governance career?

I’d say keep your mind as open as possible, talk to everyone you can, ask people for a conversation even if you think they’re too senior! You won’t ever regret asking to talk to someone about your career and their experiences - you’ll learn a lot and the likelihood is that the person will be more than happy to talk to someone being so proactive. There are so many different avenues you can pursue in our field of work, so keep your mind open to them all and soak up everything you possibly can in your first few years - never stop putting your hand up and asking to get involved in different pieces of work.

Looking forward to 2020, what does the next year hold for you? Are there any goals you are hoping to achieve?

Having recently been promoted I think the goal for 2020 is to firstly consolidate everything that I have learnt in this new role, and continue securing as many different work experiences as I can. I’d also like to start building the foundations for the next stage in my career so I’ll be focusing on training and professional development this year, as well as hopefully continuing to deliver excellence in corporate governance and compliance services to our clients, wherever I am. More longer term and outside of my career aspirations, I have always wanted to help people and do something important that makes a real impact. I decided quite early on that I wanted to put my qualification and experience to use in helping people in any way I can, so this year I’d like to start to explore becoming involved with a charity with a view to joining their Board.