Kate Markham, Managing Director for Hiscox UK Direct, on how her ultimate goal took her from Sandhurst to the Square Mile.

When I first watched the film Out of Africa I was 14. I had lived in Scotland my whole life and had never even travelled abroad on holiday. But that film had such an impact on me that I told my parents there and then that I was going to go to Africa. And sure enough, four years later, I found myself on my gap year in Zimbabwe. You could say I had set an unlikely goal as a 14-year-old (given that I’d never left Scotland), but I’ve never really thought of it as setting a goal. It was a dream I had and I knew that one day I’d fulfil that dream.

For me, goal setting is more of an emotional experience. It’s not sitting down with a blank piece of paper and methodically writing down what I hope to achieve over the next year, two years, or even five years. It’s why I really dislike that interview question: where do you want to be in three/five years? But I do believe it’s important to have an overarching ambition and then be opportunistic about how you work towards achieving that ambition.

The wrong direction
How do you find that overarching ambition or goal? In my case, I’ve got the army to thank. After leaving university I went to Sandhurst for officer cadet training but quickly realised that the army life was too regimented for me – my personality doesn’t suit blindly following orders! Leaving there was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made but the experience persuaded me that I wanted to go into business and pick up a broad range of skills rather than focus on a single area.

If you like, identifying that desire to be a generalist in business has been my overarching goal right through my career, and every job or role I’ve taken has helped me build on my range of business skills and taken me one step closer to that ambition.

Back on track
My first opportunity after the army was going into strategy consulting with Accenture, which gave me the chance to pick up a whole range of different business skills. My four years there taught me that I love coming up with ideas and setting strategy, but that I also love to execute those ideas and see something right through. The next obvious move to get that type of experience was to go client side, so I joined Vodafone.

My twelve years at Vodafone saw me take on a wide range of roles from customer insight, to brand management, pricing, team management, and even launching a new business. I wanted to know how to effectively pull all the different business levers.

Leaving Vodafone was a great wrench but I realised that the opportunity here at Hiscox was the summation of the journey I’ve been on; it delivers full general management including everything from strategy to implementation.

Reaching a T-junction
If you can find your big goal (without having to join the army) that’s half the battle. How you get there can be less structured. I don’t sit down and write out the pros and cons when it comes to making each career decision. I prefer to think of it as reaching a series of T-junctions.

When I’m on a steep learning curve I’m completely absorbed in what I do. Once that learning curve plateaus I look for the next opportunity. I think it’s important to recognise when the work you’re doing is no longer compelling. That for me is a sign that I need to change things. All I have to decide then is whether to turn left or right.

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