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Find your special 1%

HSBC’s Naomi Bowman, guest speaker at the ICAEW’s prizegiving event, explains the importance of finding your ‘uniqueness’. You need to find out what you are passionate about and stop competing

June 2015

"Getting my ICAEW qualification was the hardest thing I ever did,” admitted Naomi Bowman at the recent International ACA prizegiving ceremony.
Bowman is now the Head of Governance & Operations at HSBC and in 2014 was the recipient of the ‘Women in the City – Future Leaders’ award.
She may be winning awards now, but Bowman readily admits she didn’t study mathematics beyond 16 and had to relearn how to use a calculator for her ICAEW exams! She did it though, and completed her training contract at PwC.
She told a packed Chartered Accountants’ Hall that although winning prizes is important, it shouldn’t define you. If in five years’ time you are still talking about winning the tax prize in 2015, then you have missed the opportunity it gives you to build a successful career. It is the same when you qualify – you must use it as a stepping stone to get you where you want to be.
We live in an increasing commoditised world, she explained, so you will have to make your qualification work harder. Today’s iPhone has more capacity than the laptop she was using only two years ago and computers are now taking the jobs people did 10 years ago.
She explained that we share 60% of our genetic make-up with a banana, 98% with chimps and 99% with other people. That means it is less than 1% that makes us unique. You have to discover what that 1% means for you.
Bowman started her career as a tax accountant. Her day job was interesting, very analytical an even a bit creative – and she worked with someone who had won a tax prize. But she just felt the job wasn’t showing off her best side. Competing with her colleagues was tiring; it can make you emotional, stressed and even a little bit aggressive, she said. So you may need to ask yourself if you are trying to be something you are not, which can feel like you are walking through quicksand, she said.
Suddenly for Bowman simply meeting expectations wasn’t good enough, and she made the decision to move into consultancy. She had a difficult time convincing people a tax accountant could take on this role but eventually got someone to give her a try.
Her first engagement was with Lehman Brothers, where she worked for a year sorting out the mess, and as terrible as it was it helped her to build a career in an environment she loves.
You see Bowman discovered her 1%. She loves tough, difficult situations. If a situation is stressful she wants to fix it. Oh, the delight of working out processes and systems!
So you need to think about unlocking your 1%. You can’t assume that people know what you are all about from your CV. So many look the same – good A levels, degree from a Russell Group university and membership of some sports clubs. What’s on Facebook and the fact that you are ICAEW qualified aren’t the only things that make you special.
She urged everyone to work on finding what that 1% means to them, reminding them she spent two, three, four years working in an industry that didn’t work for her. But to be successful you need to bring your whole self to work and she wasn’t doing that.
Diversity is important to Bowman. She now makes sure she listens not only to the extraverts but also the quiet people in the room. For her, diversity isn’t just about putting women into positions of power: it is about giving everyone a voice.

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