Inspirational Woman: Emma Cleveland | Managing Director of Cleveland & Co

WeAreTheCity sat down with Emma Cleveland, Managing Director of Cleveland & Co to discuss her career.


Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, I’ve always been very focused and objectives driven. Having five and 10 year plans is important to ensuring you are going in the direction you want to be going.

In this way you can measure what you have achieved and speed things up where you need to. For instance, I did extra subjects at university to reduce the length of my degrees, and started my practical training before I finished university, so that I could qualify earlier. I will say however that when I qualified I never planned to end up running my own law firm.

You have to make sure you adapt your plan as you go, otherwise when you get there you can be at a bit of a loss as to what to do next, and that can lead to floundering and complacency. I believe you should always be pushing yourself to learn and be the best you can be.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

I was once told by a great manager that being half as technically brilliant and focusing 50 per cent of my time on building relationships, would make me a more effective lawyer.

I think one common tendency amongst lawyers is to get bogged down in the detail of what we think is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ – leading, in some cases, to quite passionate discussions about a single point. This can detract from the main objective which is, of course, to come up with a commercially viable solutions to whatever problem our clients are facing.

At the end of the day, we need to remember that our job is to work with people and to help businesses move forward in the best way possible.

Cases where there is a black and white solution to an issue are few and far between. Most solutions are ‘grey’ – the good news is this means there is almost always a way out of any situation.

As lawyers we have to lift our eyes off the page and work with our clients collaboratively to achieve commercial objectives, not raise hypothetical risks that may or may not have any bearing on the client.

After I received this advice I started spending time every day getting to know my clients more and learning about what they did on a day to day basis. Not only did this improve my relationships, but it improved my knowledge of the firms and enhanced my ability to add value.

What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?

Assuming the technical ability is there, you have to be able to demonstrate you can already do the role. A way you can achieve this is by managing all your own relationships – whether with colleagues, clients, your managers or senior business leaders. Being able to manage, or shall we say influence, upwards, downwards and laterally is a very important skill for a leader. You should also focus on your soft skills like communication and personal presentation.

 When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?

My decision would be based on how they present themselves, how well they communicate, how well they will fit into the team, how commercially savvy they are, whether they are humble and honest, and whether I think they would present well in front of clients.

How do you manage your own boss?

I’m in the fortunate position of being my own boss, but if I did have a boss, for me its all about open communication. You need to ensure your boss knows what you are working on, who you are working with, any escalation and tension points and what corporate objectives you should be supporting.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

My day starts and ends with planning. At these times of the day I’m organising what I and the others in my team will be working on for the rest of the day/tomorrow. You need to be able to adapt as the day goes on, but having a rough plan with your daily objectives is important. I’m also clearing email!

What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations

Don’t sit back and wait for things to happen. It’s not an exaggeration to say that you need to make your own destiny and grab any opportunities that come up.

It’s important to always put yourself forwards for all and any opportunities that come your way. Even the most routine tasks can unexpectedly lead to something exciting.

Start building relationships and cultivate a collaborative culture within your team and in the broader context of who you work with. If people see you are a team player who is commercially savvy and who is helping the firm/client achieve their corporate objectives, they will want you on their team.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

Mentoring is very important. I’ve been mentored all through my career and I’ve always tried to take the feedback on board, whether it be about making certain career steps, focusing on soft skills or specialising in certain fields.

I currently have people that I speak to who are further down the line then me in terms of running their own businesses. There are a lot of common issues that we all face, so their advice on how they have dealt with these when they crop up is invaluable.

That said, I think everyone you work with is an unofficial coach/mentor – whether you report to them, they report to you, or they are simply your colleagues.  I always listen to their constructive feedback, make changes, and learn from other people’s mistakes to try and avoid making them myself!

Do you think networking is important and if so, what three tips would you give to a newbee networker

You have to make time for networking. My suggestions are:

  1. Just be natural. It’s much better to make one new meaningful contact than speed date lots of people in an effort to hand out as many business cards as possible.
  2. Choose the right events for your industry and level. Networking with people at your stage of your career will be most helpful over the longer term.
  3. Be selective. Not all events are going to be helpful for your career. You need to balance building relationships with focusing on your technical abilities and delivering quality work.
What does the future hold for you?

Our corporate objective is to be a highly admired global boutique firm of specialists in the investment management space. We are working towards this objective every day, and we hope to open offices in Asia and the US at some point in the future so that we can support our clients around the clock. But I want us to be able to do this in a balanced way. So this means working hard, delivering great work, and still having time to enjoy our families and life!


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