Continuing our Women in Leadership series, Morgan McKinley recently met with Helen Mallett, Head of Accounting with RWE Npower, to discuss her experiences as a successful woman in executive finance.
Overview – Short Bio of your career path to date?
I started my finance career in manufacturing through a graduate training program. After I completed my CIMA qualification I dotted around - probably a bit too much, then worked for an Automotive company, then Airbus/GKN both for five years each. For the past five years I have been working within RWE Group in multiple senior positions split across the Npower and Renewables businesses.
What is your definition of success?
Being able to make a real difference. To be able to look back and see a positive change I have made. Most importantly enjoying what you are doing.
As a leader, who is your role model and why?
I wouldn’t pick anyone in the press as I don’t know them. Who I would aspire to be as a leader would be either my boss at TI or current boss at RWE. They are both able to always stay calm, never lose it, expect a lot, but also give a lot back.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Workwise probably at GKN when they were buying part of Airbus. I was responsible for ensuring a successful transition, including presenting to buyers in the early stages. I then had to financially turn what was more or less a cost centre into a fully-fledged business.
Personally I would say climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (almost 6000m above sea level).
What has been the greatest challenge(s) in your career and how did you overcome it (them)?
1. As above during that period at GKN. It was huge hours and very involved. Also at that time my husband was undergoing chemotherapy and my dad passed away. It was a tough period but we had a close knit team and just had to focus and get on with it.
2. At TI (25-30 years old) I had a very individual role, with the responsibility to develop it. It also involved lots of travel across all of Europe, Australia and the USA. I was quite inexperienced and had to overcome a level of shyness in order to work effectively. I learnt so much in that time, with so many different interactions and cultures.
If you had advice for your eighteen year old self, what would it be?
1. Don’t choose silly topics and mess up your degree. I have a horrible habit of getting bored of what I am good at and making changes. I ended up with a 2:1 in Geography however I believe I could have had a first class degree. Up until this point I had an awesome academic record, also subsequently achieving 2nd place overall in my CIMA exams gaining me a prize.
2. Do something you will enjoy. It doesn’t matter what you do at university as long as you do it well – then you can decide later.
What is the most valuable advice that you have been given?
Probably in terms of managing people. My old boss at TI said to imagine how you would react if someone treated you in that way. Also remember not everyone is the same. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, don’t expect them to be the same as you are.
In your opinion, what are the key challenges for a female leader and how are these overcome?
Tricky one as I have not really had any issue being a female, and have predominantly worked in very male dominated areas. I feel some women try to be someone they are not. If you are yourself, people respect that.
There are more challenges if you have kids, just logistically as its more difficult and you have to decide what comes first. Also remember give and take goes both ways – my employers have always been super flexible with me, however I am with them in return.
What else would you like to achieve in your career?
I think I could go further; not sure what my options are at the moment from a logistical perspective. In an ideal world I would love a CFO position just down the road.
Do you have any final pieces of advice for women looking to progress in their career?
Probably similar to what I said earlier. Just to be true to yourself and do what you’re good at and you will succeed. Don’t narrow yourself to what you think you should or should not be, just seize the opportunity – you can always move if it’s not right.