Heidi Yli-Ojanpera is a 37-year old principal consultant at Market Gravity, a proposition design consultancy based in London, Edinburgh and New York. She has had a fascinating career path to achieve this position and has worked on some exciting, innovative projects for well-known British and international brands and organisations.
Heidi completed a degree in international marketing and German in 2003 from the University of Greenwich and went on to complete a second degree in information management and economics. She is naturally creative and while marketing allowed her to maximise this quality, it was the combination of technology, analysing information and creativity that really attracted her to a career in innovation.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No, not really. I often felt I should have had more of a plan and I tried to ‘think’ where I was headed and what I enjoyed about work. I did once write it down, but I wouldn’t call it a plan that guided my actions and decisions. For me, my career has been a journey of discovery, rather than planning things I have seeked out opportunities that seem interesting and taken on challenges. In some cases, I have been nervous of taking on new projects but they have definitely helped me to continue developing and learning.
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
Every career has its ups and downs and I have had a few difficult times.
One challenging time for me was when I had taken advice from someone to take on a project, which in hindsight I should not have committed to. I listened to the other person’s advice more than my own instinct, and prioritised what I thought I ‘should do’ to please others over what I felt was right for me. This led to a lot of frustration, broken promises from others to get me off the project and it was a very demotivating time for me. But in hindsight I learned a lot about myself and what motivates me. Looking back it led to other great choices and was therefore a positive experience. I would encourage everyone to take learnings from the challenging times and then move on.
What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?
Learn about the natural social styles of the people you lead and work with. There are some great tests out there for free e.g. 16personalities.com/ that you can ask people to do. Leadership is about inspiring, motivating and looking after people so understanding their natural styles and how they can best fulfil their potential will help you become a better leader.
When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?
Qualifications are just one part of what will make someone successful in a job. Even more important is attitude. I would always hire someone who visibly wants the opportunity, wants to learn, wants to do the best they can over someone who is very qualified but doesn’t seem to care as much. You can always work on qualifications and capabilities, attitude is harder to change.
How do you manage your own boss?
It comes back to understanding how they are as a person and what makes them tick, how they want to be updated, supported, involved. It’s important to establish trust and an agreed way of working together early on in the relationship, and be prepared to give regular feedback both ways on what works and what doesn’t. Approached in the right way, this will set the foundation for a solid good working relationship.
On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?
No day is the same! I guess Mondays do tend to have a rhythm to them, I get up early (5am) as I live in the countryside, to make it to the office for our weekly 8am sales meeting. We review our sales pipeline and discuss upcoming meetings. We then kick off the week at 9am with the rest of the team, and the day is usually then filled with client meetings and project workshops. I usually finish around 6pm, and will sometimes try get an exercise class in near Liverpool St (loving 1Rebel at the moment) before taking the train home. Light dinner around 8-9pm and to bed early! I try to work from home one day a week and some days I may travel to clients in the UK or in Europe.
What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations?
I find many women feel uncomfortable ‘marketing’ themselves internally or externally, saying they would rather their work and achievements speak for themselves. But we live in a world where people are bombarded with information coming from every angle and so if you don’t actively promote yourself and make your profile, views and achievements visible to others, chances are they won’t know about you. Which means they won’t think of you when good opportunities come along, or promote you when you are ready to step up.
One way of raising your profile that may feel more ‘comfortable’ is to get involved in things outside of your direct remit. Think about areas you are interested in or feel passionate about, e.g. women’s networks, thought leadership topics, social events or whatever it may be, and get involved to make a difference. Or listen and learn what is going on in the business outside your area and ask to get involved to support projects or initiatives, which will get you into contact with new colleagues and help you learn about other areas of business.
How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?
I have been lucky to have some good mentors throughout my career. One senior woman in particular has mentored and sponsored me in my career over the course of 10 years and I am fortunate to have had her support and advice. Sometimes she has given me some ‘tough love’ and learnings but all of that has helped me grow and make more of my potential. I have also had some private coaching sessions, which I find very useful, as they are designed to pull out the thoughts and feelings you already have but can’t quite reach or get clarity on yourself.
Do you think networking is important and if so, what three tips would you give to a newbie networker?
It definitely is important, but I think the word has a slightly ‘scary’ and alien sound to many people. A lot of people I speak to don’t like to idea of networking, as they feel like it’s imposing yourself onto others and making small talk and that can feel uncomfortable to people who may not be naturally extroverted or enjoy those situations. But the further you go in business the more you benefit from the connections and relationships you have developed over the years – be that for commercial relationships, finding a new job, hiring people to work for you, or helping connect people within your network for whatever reason. Some of the most successful people I know are successful because of the people they know, and the value they provide to and derive from their networks.
What does the future hold for you?
Who knows!!? But hopefully continued success, which for me means balancing interesting work with inspiring people, helping others grow in their careers and lives and having a happy and healthy life outside work. On the notion of success, and defining what that means for each of us individually, I would encourage people to read Clinton Christensen’s How Will you measure your life – the lessons from that book continue to guide my thinking on the meaning of success.
For further information on Market Gravity please visit the website http://marketgravity.com/