Inspirational Woman: Hannah Lewis | UK Country Manager, American Express


Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I was first introduced to the world of payments in my first job in strategy consulting, and it was here that I saw the huge opportunity for transformation. At the time so many transactions were undertaken through inefficient or offline methods, creating a cumbersome and frustrating experience for both consumers and merchants. It felt like an industry that had enormous potential for innovation which I found really exciting.

As I learnt more this led me to American Express, a brand and culture that really resonated with me and a customer centric approach that has consistently driven innovation. In my time, I’ve worked in our consumer, merchant and commercial teams among others, and have really enjoyed that opportunity to move around the business. Not only has this meant there has never been a dull day, it has also given me a holistic view of the business which is really valuable for me in my current role.

As Country Manager, I lead our operations here in the UK and a workforce of nearly 6,000 colleagues. I’m engaged in everything from growing our Cardmember base, to further expanding our network and the number of places you can use your Amex card, as well as enhancing our B2B payments proposition and strengthening local strategic partnerships.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

As an 18 year old I planned to be a metallurgist so I never envisaged a career in finance or payments. Even at the start of my time with Amex, 14 years ago, I think I joined with the expectation of probably being with the business for a couple of years. As I got to know the organisation though I found I was able stretch myself and build a breadth of experience through different roles within the company which has been fantastic and allowed me to grow my career here.

That’s not to say, my career journey has been accidental. I have always been ambitious and from the outset I knew I wanted to have the maximum impact I could on our customers, our business and colleagues. I had specific goals, experiences and expertise I wanted to build, and I have been fortunate to have roles which have allowed me to do that and evolve those over time. I think as long as you know the broad direction you want to go there’s a lot to be said for being open minded to new opportunities at any point in your career, even if they are not what you had in mind, as the experience you gain from doing so can be invaluable.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I started my role as UK Country Manager just as we fully returned to our UK offices and rolled out our new flexible working model – Amex Flex. It’s a new way of working for all of us with colleagues working either entirely virtually, entirely in the office or the majority working a hybrid of two days a week in the office on average.

We’ve enabled flexible working for a long time at Amex, but this was a big change for us to switch from almost 2 years of being almost fully virtual. And in some ways being hybrid is much more complex than having everyone either at home or in the office. But it’s also really exciting in terms of how it supports business growth whilst also boosting our colleagues’ work-life balance – technology has been a huge enabler of creating equity wherever you are working. I’m really focused on bringing this to life to make sure we enable our colleagues to benefit from in person experiences again, such as collaboration and coaching opportunities, while also reaping the benefits of flexibility and being able to spend more time at home. So far, our hard work is paying off, with overwhelmingly positive feedback from colleagues around our approach.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I wouldn’t say I have a single answer here. 2022 has been an exciting year for me personally as I have had the privilege of taking on the Country Manager role here at Amex at a particularly exciting time as we have exited the pandemic restrictions bringing our colleagues back to our offices and supporting our customers in getting back to the in-person experiences and travel that they have really missed. The achievements I am most proud of though are always my teams’; when I see the people I have worked with go on to have a big impact and achieve their personal aspirations that’s more satisfying than anything.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?  

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by talented and inspirational people at American Express and throughout my career. It’s these colleagues and contacts who have played a key role in my career journey to date – educating, supporting, encouraging and challenging me along the way. This is one of the things I find most rewarding about my job. I get to work with great people from right across our business and absorb all of the learnings and experiences that come along with this.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee? 

Mentoring is really important and I am fortunate to have the support of some great mentors and sponsors who have been invaluable as I’ve navigated my career and have helped fuel my own aspirations and ambitions.

Knowing how I’ve benefited from it, I do feel it’s important to pass that on and to mentor others both formally and informally. It’s important to recognise that mentoring can’t just be a tick box exercise though and there is a big difference between someone mentoring you and them being prepared to sponsor and advocate for you. Too often I think people ask someone to be their mentor and expect that in and of itself to transform their careers. For mentoring relationships to really develop from being about useful advice and insight to true advocacy and sponsorship, I believe they need to be mutually beneficial and mentees need to find ways to really get their mentors buy in – whether through offering new insight or otherwise demonstrating what they can really do. When that comes together, they can be really powerful relationships and I certainly learn a huge amount from my mentees.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

For me actions speak louder than words – and results speak louder still. As an industry we need to move beyond broad commitments to more tangibly measuring progress and setting ambitious targets which we are open about to meaningfully move the needle. As part of this, I believe we need to challenge ourselves to bring more women from all levels into the industry. When we embrace hiring people with different skill sets, we’ll not only benefit from their diverse perspectives and ideas, we’ll make more progress.

I’m really proud of the journey we’re on at American Express. If I think about things like the number of women working at a senior level, it’s consistently gone up. And from a recruitment perspective, we’ve made huge progress in working to attract individuals from all backgrounds. For now, and in planning for the future, it’s so important to think about how you are encouraging people from all backgrounds and groups to see the business as a place that they want to work and grow their career.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

One of the simplest and most effective pieces of advice I was ever given was about authenticity. So, I’d tell my younger self to forget about stereotypes of what a successful leader looks like, and to never try to impersonate someone else, which is only exhausting. Instead, learn to be comfortable being yourself and do things in your own authentic way. This doesn’t mean we can’t take advice or learn, and we absolutely should, but I think we will always be much more impactful bringing advice and feedback into our own authentic style and trying to be the best version of ourselves that we can be.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

The next challenge for me is all about how we can take the American Express business to the next level in the UK, set against our rapidly changing environment which presents both challenges but also really exciting opportunities for innovation. To do that successfully I firmly believe we have to keep our customers at the heart of everything we do and I’m looking forward to partnering with our phenomenal team to do that.

I’m passionate about ensuring we have a welcoming, inclusive culture at American Express that provides the best experience for our colleagues to grow their careers. When our colleagues thrive, that’s when they are at their best delivering for our customers, and therefore our business will thrive too!

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