Paula Murphy is Global Head of Marketing and Communications for ARCADIS. With an MA from the University of Glasgow, she was also involved in an outreach programme for the University’s educational services and briefly considered pursuing this as a career, before deciding to enter the business world instead.
Discovering an aptitude for marketing at an early age through her first role after university at a small, fledgling management consultancy firm, and with the support of several mentors, Paula has rapidly progressed up the career ladder – achieving her first ‘head-of’ role at 26, when she was asked to set up her own team in London for Dearle & Henderson, a property consultancy. She then worked her way up to Director level over the next ten years, before moving to EC Harris LLP, which was later merged with ARCADIS.
Always looking to strengthen her skills and challenge her perspective, Paula studied for her Diploma in Global Business at Oxford Saïd and graduated this month with distinction. She is now continuing on to pursue her Oxford Executive MBA as part of the September 2016 class.
What do you think is your biggest challenge?
Up until the 1980s, marketing was very well established in the B2C arena, but less so in B2B and certainly not in professional services. We’re still battling that a little bit today. It’s not a function that automatically gets a seat at the boardroom table. HR is coming in more and more. If it’s sales and marketing maybe more so, but with marketing and communications it’s more difficult and yet we influence pretty much every aspect of the business – internal and external communications, brand positioning, overall market positioning in terms of price, market entry and so on.
The biggest challenge for me is building understanding of what good marketing communications can do for a business in a professional service environment and being a service department but getting the right position between providing professional consultative expertise and delivering that service.
Are there any particular challenges you have faced as a woman specifically?
There are fewer women at board level in many professional services organisations, particularly in construction and engineering –with so few women at the table, we have to work that relationship quite hard to make sure we are representing and supporting each other. It is a challenge for the industry to be underrepresented as a woman; but I wouldn’t change my behaviour specifically, you have to be quite true to who you are, diversity is important in all aspects, not just gender. We need people who can think and act differently to add richness to decision making.
Did you ever actually sit down and plan your career at any point?
Good question. I didn’t plan it, I had a few lucky breaks (I believe luck is exceptionally important in success), but I am very ambitious and I have been very clear of what I have to do to get to the next level – whether that be external learning, delivering results or building great relationships. I have been quite deliberate in that respect – in looking at what I need to achieve and the steps I need to achieve them. So, whilst I haven’t said by the age of xx I want to be in this position, I’ve always known that if you want to get to a senior management or director level, that you have to prove value – monetary value to the business and brand, as well as an ability to build the careers of others. It’s a team effort
Have you ever had a mentor? If so, what was the most valuable part for you?
I have been quite fortunate – I have had 3 CEOs who have supported me throughout my career. In the companies I have worked for, we have normally had a very structured personal development plan and like most people who are ambitious, I always tended to focus on whatever was working.
My last mentor, the CEO of EC Harris, provided quite a lot of structure around my development from an academic level; but also a lot around the personal aspects of leadership. I did a lot of personality profiling – psychometric, general intelligence and aptitude testing and also strength-finder profiling. There are a number of tools that we used where I would assess not only my performance in my role but my behaviour and how I was thinking about myself. That was hugely valuable because up until that point, all of my development had been academic or professional but I hadn’t thought about my personal impact and how I was behaving as an individual and really looking inside. I do a lot of this with my team now, and some of the tools I utilise in helping me make decisions on recruitment.
What do you think is your greatest achievement and why?
It would have to be the brand programme at Arcadis, which started in 2014 and we are still working on today. Until last year, we had more than 12 different companies operating in our portfolio, with different brands, clients, internal cultures etc. – fairly different organisations under this one umbrella. So we went out and spoke to our clients, to the market and influencers, we spoke to people at all levels in the organisation… we said ok, this isn’t about deciding if we are all going to be called one thing or not, we need to understand the latent value that is in all of these entities and we need to make a decision if we can transfer that brand value into one or two or three – or whether we keep the umbrella brand strategy. Is it L’Oréal vs Pantene or is it Johnson & Johnson or Procter and Gamble? We had about a year to do the whole thing and come out with a solution and implement it.
To do that, we needed to go back and look at the business strategy – what type of company do we want to be? How are we going to be positioned in the market, what is the space we are going to occupy? From that came our vision and brand positioning around design and consultancy for natural and built assets.
We then set about organising our company into two brands ARCADIS and for our global architectural design business; CalisonRTKL.
It was a highly involved process that went so far beyond a change of name and signage, not all parts of the business were clear about the impact of such a change, I remember travelling a lot that year and I would go to each country’s regional HQ and say ok I need a meeting room and I need your head of finance, your head of HR, your head of legal, head of IT, head of clients and markets etc. The implications were on every level of operation.
We did this in seven regional markets and across 42 countries, at the same time as I was doing the Post Graduate Diploma in Global Business at Oxford’s Said Business School. The cultural content of the diploma certainly helped in some instances.
Did you say you completed all of this within a year?
Yes it was actually less than a year – by the time we had all the new logo and the new brand approved by the Board, new website and intranets, signage etc. We had client receptions, we wrote to our clients and we had speaking engagements where we spoke about what we were doing with the brand and how that was working – we launched at seminars, events etc.
What three tips would you give people who are new to business and new to networking?
Don’t limit yourself. For example, when I started on the Oxford Executive MBA, because everyone was new, I sat next to some people I liked very much and chatted to. It would have been easy to stay with them, someone said to me ‘come and sit next to me at dinner’ and I said no because there were quite a lot of people I hadn’t met yet and I wanted to make sure I got round a different person each night. I had a chance to meet everyone, not only to introduce myself and meet them but at least to have a 5 minute conversation, and a chance to get to know something about them.
A second tip would be, just be confident – everyone is in the same situation at these things.
What advice would you give to someone who wishes to move into a leadership position for the first time?
Have a clear personal development plan and structure it around not only what you want, but what the business needs. It’s like any successful enterprise, fill or create a ‘needs gap’ and you are half way there. I would look at the environment that you are in and identify what is rewarded in this business? Is it generating financial return? Is it good leadership skills? Is it new client attraction, or perhaps good customer management?
Look at what is valued and assess how you are performing against that criteria and decide where you need to put extra effort. It may mean doing a little bit less of something else, but that’s ok.
Then identify who are the people that you need to work with and build good relationships with them, gain feedback and ask them to invest in your
Also, ask the question of your manager and other people you work with – how do I get to the next level, where are the gaps?
On a typical work day, how do you start the day and how does it end?
My role is global, so my day is very flexible. It can start pretty early, at least once a week I speak to our Australian Marketing Director at 6am and finish with a 6pm call with my colleagues in the US. I travel often to Amsterdam, which is where our HQ is, or to the offices where our 7 regional marketing directors are based, it is mostly, the US, Asia, Mainland Europe and the Middle East. I haven’t gotten out to Latin America or Australia as yet, our businesses there are smaller. I have a lot of Skype calls and meetings, and there is a lot of time spent with the various members of my department including PR, internal communications, marketing, design, sales support, but also with the various stakeholders across the business – our global business leaders and our regional CEOs.
What does the future hold for you?
I have been involved in a lot of mergers and acquisitions in my time – it seems like an odd thing for a head of marketing to be involved in, but actually communication is really important in these circumstances and I am often brought in very early in the process. It helps to explain how you plan to manage leadership, client, employee and market communications, it can often put the seller’s mind at rest, knowing what will be said, and how, how we will engage people in the change.
I don’t think that that is something in our industry, professional services are good at. When I did the Diploma in Global Business at Oxford Saїd last year, my paper was on M&A and why they fail. I think it’s because we measuring the wrong things – we measure the financial success and we measure the costs – we look at return we can generate and what we can save. This is very important, but should be coupled with measures around maintaining key people, and key clients in the process.
This might sound a bit lofty, it is perhaps not possible to take everyone on that same journey, but if you start from the mind-set, of trying, making it fundamentally about people, and how they will react, I think you’re going to get a different outcome.
I would like my future to be partly about exploring this further, in my Executive MBA and beyond.