Having spent his entire professional career working in Purchasing, Ashley Wright’s latest move to British Gypsum’s Marketing department is a sharp change of course, but one that he’d been thinking about for some time.
We caught up with him to find out how he turned the dream into reality – and what it really means to have a career without boundaries.
Tell us a bit about your journey so far
I’d been in Purchasing for 10 years but, like many people, I sort of fell into my first role and it’s not something that I saw myself doing forever. After joining British Gypsum in 2014, I started to think more seriously about my long-term aspirations and where I want to end up.
Through career development conversations with my manager and others, I decided that my ultimate aim is to reach director level but increasingly I began to feel that I was in danger of being pigeon holed in one discipline. I knew that I wanted to get more exposure to other areas of the business but I didn’t really know how to go about it.
The turning point came when I got the opportunity to have a one-to-one chat with our managing director, Alastair Bell, and he challenged me to do more than just thinking.
What happened next?
That initial conversation was the trigger that set a cascade of other meetings in motion, including with Saint-Gobain’s Human Resources Director, Richard Batley. He was keen to know what my long-term goals were and after our chat I formulated a plan to start putting things in action. From that point things progressed really quickly and I went on to do some work shadowing to get a feel for some of the other departments.
What really struck me was how open everyone was to giving me their time and support once I’d got clear about my aspirations – right from the very top of the company everybody was more than willing to help me develop.
After a bit of research, I decided that Marketing was the function I wanted to pursue and after meeting with the Marketing Director, I discovered there was a Product Manager position coming up in the fixings and accessories category, which is the same portfolio I worked on in Purchasing. It seemed like the perfect fit, so I applied for the role and was successful!
Why did you decide on marketing?
In Marketing I felt that there is more opportunity to steer the ship – that is, to develop business strategies rather than simply delivering them within the parameters set out by other departments. You can almost view it as being a ‘mini CEO’ for that product category, so it provides lots of opportunities to gain experience within the wider business and give me the schooling I need to achieve my longer-term goals.
It’s still very early days but already I’ve been involved in lots of problem solving and getting to grips with the bigger picture strategically.
What are your plans for the future?
As I mentioned before, my eventual goal is to become a director so I plan to carry on working towards this, getting more experience in all aspects of the business. The company has also committed to support me in studying for my CIM Marketing qualification. However, for me one of the most exciting things about working for a global company is that there are potential opportunities to work around the world and as part of my appraisal process I’ve made it clear that I’d be happy to relocate if a suitable position came up. I guess the ultimate dream would be having the chance to lead an organisation in the Far East.
Have you got any advice for anyone in a similar position?
I would just say go for it! I spent a long time thinking about my next career move without making any concrete plans and if it hadn’t been for Alastair Bell challenging me, I don’t know when I would have plucked up the courage.
He really inspired and encouraged me to start being more proactive in taking the next steps. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that there is an absolute wealth of support available but ultimately, it is down to you to make the change.