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Oliver Stevenson

Last week some of my fellow Future Leaders and I organised a talk with Barclaycard’s CEO, Valerie Soranno Keating.

As it was my first time organising a large-scale event with such a high-profile speaker, I thought I’d share some of my experiences, as well giving a brief overview of some of the pearls of wisdom that Val imparted on the day.

Contrary to popular belief, event management is (alas) not just about booking a DJ, handing out a few fliers and then swigging champagne in the VIP section. The devil is in the detail, and when you’re planning something on that scale it’s incredibly easy to drop the ball. Everything from the little bottles of water at the back of the stage to the venue itself has to be booked in advance, so it’s incredibly important to have a comprehensive checklist of actions that need to be taken care of. 

Here’s just a small sample of the tasks that we shared between ourselves:

  • Securing the time in Val’s diary
  • Making sure that that one of the two hot-cake-selling 100-seater venues is also available
  • Booking video conference rooms in all international locations (taking care to account for the time difference!)
  • Booking the ‘Media Services’ team, who record the session and then host the video online
  • Booking the microphones for Val, for Shearin (the Future Leader who introduced her) and for the two of us who scrambled around the room while hosting the Q&A session

Fortunately, everyone on the team was incredibly focused, and apart from one of the microphones taking an age to turn on, which left me standing awkwardly in the middle of the room while I nervously tapped the end of it, repeatedly saying “hello…?”, the event was a huge success. 

However, while great organisation was essential, the success was almost entirely down to Val herself.

Her talk was the perfect blend of business insight, personal journey and leadership advice, and everyone took something valuable away from the session, whether that was a greater understanding of how Barclaycard operates and where it’s heading, a couple of points to work on as we each continue on our own career journey, or just the feeling that we had gotten to know Val a little better.

As promised, here are the three main pieces of advice that I took away:

  • Don’t conform to a mould. Val is certainly not your archetypal CEO; she’s a petite American mother of two, and it was great to see someone so senior saying that it was okay not to always conform to stereotypical moulds. Leadership is not ‘one-size-fits-all’.
  • Pass on promotions. I think this piece of advice came as a shock to everyone in the room, because we’d all been conditioned to think that upwards is always better. However, Val convinced us that often it’s better to pass on promotions, so that you can continue to add value in your current role, as a track record for success will stand you in better stead when you eventually decide that the time is right to take a step up the ladder.
  • ‘Work to live’ rather than ‘live to work’. Val tries to be home every day at 6:30 so that she can spend time with her children before they go to bed. Once she’s tucked them in she can then do a bit more work with her American colleagues before calling it a day, but she made it clear that her family is her number one priority. I’m a firm believer in maintaining a good work-life balance, so hearing Val say that was a real relief!

Overall, it’s fantastic that the Barclays Senior Leaders take such as active interest in helping to shape the development of the Barclays graduates, and I hope to be involved in many similar events over the course of my next two rotations.

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