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Leaders with Ambition

Leaders with Ambition

By Ambition UK
Welcome to Leaders with Ambition, the podcast that dives deep into the careers of some of the UK’s most successful leaders working in professional services firms.

We aim to discover the secrets behind their success, the challenges they face and to find out what traits make a successful leader.

About the host:

Nicky Acuna Ocana is the UK Managing Director of Ambition, an international recruitment agency specialising in business services recruitment (Finance, Accounting, BD, Marketing, Insolvency, Restructuring and Corporate Finance) in professional services firms.
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Ep. 22 - Moira Slape - "Effective decision-making, I believe, is driven by a diverse group of people."
In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky’s guest, Moira Slape, Chief People Officer at Travers Smith, shares lessons learned over a highly successful career. From legal secretary to the highest ranks of decision-makers, Moira has carved her own path by leveraging several key traits - most notably an incredibly strong work ethic. It has been a journey full of constant learning and development, which Moira unpacks over the course of this fascinating discussion. Moira explains why trusting one’s instincts is critically important and why hiring people from diverse backgrounds is a corporate super-power - something she understands intuitively because of her own working-class roots. In this episode, you will appreciate Moira’s practical tips for navigating career transitions as well as her thoughts on the importance networking and mentorship (both giving and receiving). Above all, it’s clear that Moira loves what she does and has thrived in the management of people because she brings to her work both a great capacity for empathy and an unwavering authenticity.
June 13, 2022
Ep. 21 - Caroline Allen-Monaghan - "You have to be happy in what you're doing."
​If you’re someone for whom the traditional university path hasn’t been the right fit, then this episode of Leaders with Ambition will speak directly to you. Nicky’s guest, Caroline Allen-Monaghan, shares the unique route she took to managing a global team as Director of International Accounting at a premier law firm. It’s a success story that Caroline could not have anticipated when she dropped out of University with no career plan or preparation in place. You’ll enjoy sharing the inspiring journey that this mother of four has navigated on her way to Arnold & Porter. Caroline built her credibility incrementally, one step at a time, from one firm to the next. At every juncture, however, two things remained consistent: An abiding belief in herself and willingness to knock down barriers. Caroline shares some brilliant words of wisdom about the power of bolstering ourselves in those moments of self-doubt and, she says, make no mistake, we all experience wobbly confidence from time to time. Today, one of the things Caroline enjoys most is paying forward the kind of mentoring she received early – support without which she might never have stuck with her dreams and completed the 14 exams necessary to secure her coveted ACCA qualification. It was a moment in which – after all the tireless work – Caroline felt the gratifying power of having achieved something that no one could ever take away. In addition to talking us through her career highlights, Caroline also shares thoughts about work-life balance and lessons learned during pandemic. She offers practical advice about defining one’s roadmap to success, even if it’s not based on a traditional trajectory, and committing to doing the hard work, even when it requires sacrifice. Caroline's story offers us permission to break from narrow, traditional paths in order to claim our best and most authentic selves. Or, to quote Caroline: “Don’t face barriers. Run through them!”
May 30, 2022
Ep. 20 - Roy Sexton - "If you're in the moment and of service to people, it's going to work out."
​Have you ever felt self-conscious at a networking event? For Roy Sexton, it has been a journey from standing awkwardly at his first Legal Marketing Association conference some years back to now being the organisation’s President-elect. In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky elicits fascinating insights from this dynamic marketing professional whose unique path to leadership within the legal services sector was paved by hard-won wisdom and empathy. As Director of Marketing at Clark Hill Law, Roy always operates with authenticity in mind. Whether as boss, mentor or colleague, he makes a point of always bringing his authentic self – which includes a sense of humour, self-deprecation and willingness to speak his mind. While some of these skills came organically – through Roy’s theatre background and upbringing – he also notes the influence that early leadership training has had on him, as well as the networking abilities he cultivated while studying for his MBA and during his career. In this episode, Roy shares his career highs as well as challenges both past and heading into his term presiding over the Legal Marketing Association. We get a glimpse into his professional experience as well as thought-provoking views on the nuances of diversity, equality and inclusion. From how to overcome Imposter Syndrome to how the pandemic has affected law firm culture to the fine line between confidence and arrogance, this jam-packed hour of conversation will leave you with interesting insights and helpful advice.
May 17, 2022
Ep. 19 - Rosie Le Gros - "Take a chance on things. Hunt down opportunities and create them yourself."
This episode of Leaders with Ambition features Rosie Le Gros, Global Business Development Director at Kennedys, who shares insights from her professional journey. Her focus and impressive track record are built on a fundamental desire to make a positive impact, even at the risk of disrupting the status quo. Rosie walks us through her earliest career moves. Back then, she had no idea that a random junior-level marketing role would catapult her into Ernst & Young’s massive global organisation or how a decision to move into legal services would result in an acquisition that has helped to open doors for her ever since. Rosie has held a series of transformational roles at Kennedys, prepared at every juncture by the flexibility and adaptability she learned through her early career experiences. “Every role I’ve worked in has taught me something or set me up in a better way for the next opportunity,” says Rosie. Rosie understood early on that it was okay — even desirable — to stretch outside her comfort zone and raise her hand eagerly for every opportunity. She advises aspiring leaders constantly to be scanning the horizon for gaps to be filled, projects to be undertaken. If you don’t see an initiative? Create one on your own! Progression up the corporate ladder doesn’t always require a change of employers. To the contrary, Rosie believes institutional knowledge can lead to fantastic niche positions based on credibility and trust among key executive stakeholders. And being a working parent? Rosie reflects on how the experience has made her a stronger leader, and not just because the juggling requires prioritising and great time management. What she found equally clarifying was the chance to step back, look at the bigger picture of where she was in her career and what she was bringing as a leader. She is laser-focused on setting expectations and encouraging open communications among team members. As Rosie says, “You can be inspired by people all around, sideways, above and below.” Among the tips Rosie offers for young professionals looking to move through the ranks: Don’t chase titles. Chase opportunities. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Find your voice and speak up. Appreciate differences of opinions. Ensure your visibility. Promote your profile and share your story. No one is going to do your PR for you. Be authentic. People will otherwise see straight through you
April 25, 2022
Ep. 18 - Dominic Ayres - "Having a broad skill set but then being the expert on something really helps you in your career."
In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky’s guest demonstrates the power of passion, self-awareness and continuous growth. Senior Client Development Manager at Eversheds Sutherland, Dominic Ayres, shares both big-picture advice and foundational tactics for building and sustaining a career fuelled by genuine passion. Among other things, you’ll learn tips and insights from his new book, "How to Advance Your Career in Professional Services Marketing: Be More Purposeful and Strategic with Your Career Direction." It’s the book he wished he could have referenced when he was just starting out as an aspiring marketer fresh out of university. Dominic also offers up thoughts on work-life balance, the importance of intentional self-development and following your passion. His digital marketing expertise has been a differentiator, but it’s also a discipline that's constantly changing. You’ve got to constantly be seeking knowledge, advises Dominic, whether through podcasts like Leaders With Ambition, books, white papers or mentors. Enjoy this lively conversation and if marketing is your passion – as it certainly is Dominic’s – then check out his playbook, which contains everything you’ll need to know on your way to becoming a CMO.
March 30, 2022
Ep. 17 - Verity Jackson-Grant - "If something needs doing and there’s no one else to do it, then often I’ll step in and pick that up.”
This episode of Leaders with Ambition illustrates the power of being open to and taking advantage of opportunities. Verity Jackson-Grant, Head of Marketing and Business Development - Pricing at Simmons & Simmons, has enjoyed the chance to create and successfully pitch a job spec and business case tailored to her specific strengths and interests. How did she secure that opportunity? Through a mix of a positive attitude that has opened doors throughout her career and by constantly adding value and looking at what needs to be done in a firm, being busy – but never too busy to take on whatever task that requires attention. Verity started her career very much at random, falling into the burgeoning field of After-the-Event (ATE) insurance. She then went on to work in business development in law firms, where her teams have worked in a variety of client-facing capacities. Her willingness to take on any task and turn challenges into opportunities has played a big part in her success. Her approach frames business development and marketing functions not just as administrative add-ons but as value-add profit centres. When it comes to making inroads or, as Verity did, building a business case for the niche you would ideally like to fill, there is no underestimating the power of internal champions. Over the course of her career Verity has worked to bring on board sponsors who understood her mission and ROI. She shares with Nicky details of her philosophy on “the juggle” (i.e. co-equal commitments to career and family) as well as the pleasure she takes in mentoring younger colleagues while coaching more senior Partners on the constantly evolving landscape for legal business development and marketing. Verity loves her work and has great advice to share, which will apply no matter what sector you work in!
March 09, 2022
Ep. 16 - Bridget Uebel - “I like a challenge. I’ve always enjoyed challenges in my life and my work.”
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 publishing, which was ultimately a gateway to Hong Kong – where she spent the next 16 years studying various cultures (professional and personal), refining her ideas about effective 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 customer-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. Seizing opportunities. 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.
February 21, 2022
Ep. 15 - Rippan Vig - "Being open to possibilities is certainly going to bring more opportunities."
​In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky’s guest, Rippan Vig, Director of Client & Strategic Development at Watson, Farley & Williams, shares her fascinating career journey that demonstrates the fluid way in which careers can evolve. Rippan has taken her law degree and related skills in unanticipated directions. How has she done it? By staying open, being authentic and bringing her best self to every professional scenario. She has successfully navigated two careers in different sectors (legal and finance), all the while acquiring skill sets that were complementary to both. By tuning in to her affinity for business development, marketing and client relationships, Rippan was able to forge her own career path and today enjoys a workplace culture that fosters openness and supports her leadership style. Tune in to learn more about the key elements that have shaped Rippan’s career trajectory and that could positively impact your own.
February 07, 2022
Ep. 14 - Nick Wallis - “I love the feeling of helping people achieve their life goals.”
​There’s no guaranteed path to career success, but Nicky’s guest on this episode of Leaders with Ambition illustrates a few key ingredients. Nick Wallis, a Partner and Head of Deal Advisory at Gerald Edelman, deployed a powerful combination of priorities in making his quick ascent: A strong work ethic, effective networking and eyes on the horizon. While it’s easy to get caught up in the next salary increase, Nick understood early on that short-term sacrifice often equals long-term gain. Thus, he leaned into long working hours and understood that increased managerial responsibility or exposure to new skill sets were worth the trade-off. This episode highlights the tools that have enabled Nick to achieve his goals, the need always to be gauging your value-add within any given team and why it’s so important to keep your eyes fixed on a five- or ten-year horizon. “The experiences I’ve had along the way have really helped to get me to where I am today and have given me the confidence to achieve,” says Nick. He also offers thoughts on the impact of Covid19 relating to corporate deal-making and shares both highlights and lowlights from the course of his stellar career.
January 24, 2022
Ep. 13 - Lucy Rao - "One of my biggest values is integrity and you can't be perfect all the time."
​In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky speaks with Lucy Rao, who runs business development and marketing at Boodle Hatfield LLP. Lucy has established a practice within the practice, counselling fee earners at every level of the law firm in how to sharpen communications (listen, ask questions) and pitch business (words matter, nuance is essential.). This informative conversation covers everything from the burgeoning field of professional services marketing to the lessons learnt during the pandemic about managing mental health, remote work scenarios and the powerful role work-life balance has to play in creativity and productivity. Lucy shares her wealth of experience within business development and the compelling case for teaching executives, like the Partners at the law firms for which she has worked, how to leverage data/metrics and communications techniques. Her marketing vision, sales training and business development support consistently engages new prospects while exciting long-standing clients at the same time. Overarching this lively discussion is Lucy’s baseline advice: Be yourself, whether in marketing, communications, BD or any other facet of life.
December 13, 2021
Ep. 12 - Dave Gibson - "There’s always a way.”
In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky’s guest is Dave Gibson, Co-Founder & CEO of Blu Sky Chartered Accountants. A key theme in this episode is how Dave owes his dynamic management style, not to a single source of inspiration, but to lessons learned at every juncture along his path – from observing the power in his father’s quiet authority to pioneering in the IT space, to navigating a series of positions at a wide range of companies across multiple sectors and geographies. ​ During his career, Dave has explored the world of contract consulting, all the while observing Managers whose styles ranged from bullying to empowering. All of the tools he acquired over the early years of his career lent themselves directly to the entrepreneurial chance Dave and his partner took in 2005, when they decided to establish Blu Sky. In this episode, you will learn that the most powerful Managers depend foremost on clear communication, respect for people and an intuitive curiosity about whatever task is at hand. Dave will inspire you to speak up, raise your hand and look for the golden nuggets in whatever work experience you take on because, regardless of where we go, careers are built on the openness we bring and the knowledge we seek.
November 24, 2021
Ep. 11 - Penny Newman - "The more senior you get, the more important it is to have a network outside of your organisation."
In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky sits down with Penny Newman, HR Consultant and previously Chief People Officer, at Lewis Silkin. Penny was one of the first females to attend Keble College, Oxford and she become an ACA Qualified Accountant at Deloitte during a time when there were very few female chartered accountants. In this episode, they discuss Penny’s early life, her greatest role models and her early decision to prioritise her career.. This episode covers; supporting women’s rights in the workplace, creating a work life balance and the importance of networking and building relationships.
November 01, 2021
Ep. 10 - Leor Franks - "Work with a focus on learning"
​In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky sits down with Leor Franks, Business Development & Marketing Director at Kingsley Napley. Leor takes us on the journey of his illustrious 20-year career that combines his love for journalism and building high-performing teams. Despite building a distinguished career, Leor openly shares his wins and struggles with imposter syndrome.  Leor is a sought-after speaker and thought leader within professional services Business Development and Marketing.
October 25, 2021
Ep. 9 - Lorraine Gibson - "Set your sights on what it is you ultimately want to achieve"
In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky sits down with Lorraine Gibson, the current Business Development Director, UK, US & EMEA at Herbert Smith Freehills. They discuss the importance of bringing your authentic self to the office and working hard to achieve your career goals. Lorraine shares her experiences within the various roles she has had and talks about the importance of knowing what it is you’re striving towards. From working for large corporate organisations to spending a few years working for herself, Lorraine gives an insight into her involvement within the Professional Services Industry. This episode is about having the opportunity to find your voice, the impact of visionary leadership and ultimately the significance of personal development.
October 18, 2021
Ep 8. Karen Snell - "Build a career doing something that you love."
In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky speaks with Karen Snell, Head Of Marketing and Business Development, Clients & Industries at Hogan Lovells. Karen shares her career journey within legal marketing and BD as well as the challenges and highlights along the way. Karen notes how she was able to thrive by seizing the opportunities that came her way, demonstrating passion for her work and career, all the while balancing a senior role with her family commitments. Key quotes from this episode: “Build a career doing something that you love” “Never be afraid to ask for help” "You're very talented but try to bring the Karen from the pub into the office" "When something is presented to you as an opportunity, just embrace it"
October 05, 2021
Ep 7. Brian Johnson - "Your human capital is all about your relationships."
​In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky talks with Brian Johnson, Partner at UHY Hacker Young. Brian shares his career journey within insolvency as well as the practical lessons that can be adopted to foster career growth and success. Brian also talks about his passion for the job, while noting the challenges faced by insolvency professionals, with particular emphasis on the importance of creating long-term relationships.
September 27, 2021
Ep 6. Paul Davies - "If a good opportunity comes along, you should look at it and consider it."
In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky sits down with Paul Davies, Business Restructuring and Insolvency Partner from James Cowper Kreston, who talks us through his unorthodox career path to becoming a Partner and some of his highlights. Paul shares the challenges he has faced along the way and offers actionable advice to new and potential Insolvency Practitioners. He also talks about the importance of mentorship and how this has helped him to progress his career.
September 20, 2021
Ep 5. Marie Wadeson - "Find your voice and channel it in the right ways."
In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky sits down with Marie Wadeson, Managing Director at Quantuma, to discuss her career path from BD & Marketing to Partner to Managing Director. With an emphasis on her determination and drive, Marie explains the mindset she adopted that ultimately resulted in her success, sharing key points from her challenges and career lessons that she learnt along the way.
September 13, 2021
Ep 4. Sarah Draper - "It's about making a difference and doing the best you can for other people."
​In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky talks to Sarah Draper, Partner and Head of People and Culture at Rider Levett Bucknall. They discuss Sarah’s journey within Human Resources (HR), the challenges she’s faced and what she has learned from her numerous HR experiences. Sarah explains how her hard work and determination has led to her success – she realised that making a difference in others’ lives was especially important for her and HR was a perfect sector for her to flex this attribute. Finally, the two discuss how Sarah’s role has shifted as people are still working remotely during these times in the workplace and the various systems Sarah has implemented to maintain a high sense of inclusivity within her firm.
September 06, 2021
Ep 3. Paul Davis - "If you want a career and you want to advance, it's all about hard work"
​In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky talks with Paul Davis, a Partner at the corporate recovery and restructuring firm, Buchler Phillips.  Paul describes his experience so far as a specialist Insolvency Practitioner and highlights pivotal points in his career that defined his success as well as the challenges he has overcome. Also discussed is the impact of the ongoing pandemic on UK businesses and the economy and Paul's take on what this means for the insolvency market. ​
August 23, 2021
Ep 2. Katie Cramond - "When you're presented with opportunities, it's really worth taking those with both hands."
​In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky sits down with Katie Cramond, the current Director of Business Development Europe at McDermott Will & Emery. Together they talk women in the workplace, being authentic in your leadership style, the importance of coaching and how Katie got to where she is today.  Throughout their conversation, Katie shares how a chance encounter at a festival - and some gumption on her part - initially launched her career in professional services Business Development and Marketing.  Ultimately, this episode is about the importance of making the most of opportunities and how working hard can take you places you didn’t even think possible -in Katie’s case, all the way to Singapore.
August 13, 2021
Ep 1. Nick O'Reilly - “I don’t see the pursuit of money as the most important thing to running a business.”
Leaders with Ambition is the podcast that delves deep into the careers of some of the UK’s most successful leaders working in professional services firms to discover the secrets behind their success, the challenges they’ve overcome and to find out what are the traits that make a successful leader. In this episode, Nicky talks to Nick O’Reilly, Chief Operating Officer at Manolete Partners Plc, a respected veteran in the business insolvency space with more than 40 years of experience to share.   Nick answers a broad range of questions about how he carved out a successful career in the insolvency industry and created a hybrid work model many years before Covid-19. Why? He noticed early on that most business failures occurred Monday-Thursday so he proposed a condensed four-day work week that was a win for him personally and for his employer. Nick also talks about his career highlights, the challenges and advances he has witnessed over the course of his career and gives his view on the insolvency market and the uptick likely to occur among business insolvency cases as pandemic-related government protections ease.
August 02, 2021