(In the final blog of our GSM Business Management week we welcome Ajaz Hussain, who is The Careers Education Manager here at GSM. Ajaz has worked both in industry and in higher education, here is an insight into his early experiences as an employee of the world of management.)
It was day one of my work placement. I was excited. A was going to be earning a good salary with the potential of earning commission, plus staying at home and saving even more!. Nearby was the famous, Elstree Film Studios. This meant I may even glimpse Dot Cotton, Rickaay or even Roly, from Eastenders.
A new large, electric retailer was opening a store near to home and I had sent a speculative application to undertake a one-year, full-time job within the new, computer sales department. This meant selling, building, testing and providing technical support to customers, mostly first time buyers. A typical entry-level PC was selling for around £1,200.
My manager smiled. After a strong motivational talk about sales targets, performance and the importance of beating our nearest competitor – (the flagship branch in North West London) we opened. It was an extremely busy day and all hands were on deck. Daily, weekly and monthly meetings focused on targets, performance and…you guessed it – beating the competition.
Throughout the 10 month training period, I saw six managers either being rotated around the branches or being released from the company, if targets were not being met. I was expected to sell any electrical item in the store and soon became the go-to expert for brown and white goods, as well as everything IT. Although it was an uncomfortable and challenging first few months, I soon settled into a routine and by the summer, became the top salesperson for three consecutive months, embracing the culture. If sales were down, individuals were called in for a one-to-one discussion or rather a stern reminder of the need to perform, and where necessary support colleagues to achieve team goals.
After completing a regular 50-55 hour shift, I was successfully released two months early. It took only one week for me to stay at home, when I decided to seek a voluntary role to fill the time before returning to University. I love to help people and that is where I came across an advert in the local newspaper that the ASPIRE leisure centre (national charity supporting people with spinal injuries through rehabilitation and reintegration) was seeking volunteers.
Moving into the public sector, my new manager seemed so pleased that I had responded to the advert (and that I was confident with technology), that he welcomed me to get involved in any area of the administration. I love helping people so this was not difficult. I could see the need to streamline the membership system and based my final year dissertation on implementing a new membership database for the centre.
Receiving little direction from management and not being able to secure meetings due to availability, introduced me to the laissez-faire management style. Although the laissez-faire management style gave me the freedom to develop the system, it restricted my progress when requesting important meetings to sign-off key deliverables and achieving milestones.
I was searching for balance. And I found it in my first graduate job. I joined the worlds largest IT services company in 1996, alongside 24 other graduates from subjects such as Management, Geography, Economics and Marketing – this was my first surprise. The culture was very much work-hard, play-hard and around high performance. Having been shaped by the intensive training in retail, I thrived in this environment. My Professional Development Manager was supportive, encouraging and through an individual development plan, we agreed some personal and professional objectives, aligned with the programme’s goals and corporate values.
Reaching the end of my second project and having enjoyed a successful first two years, I was faced with a career choice – either staying on-site and joining a new team or working on a remote, client site being the sole representative on a large scale government programme. I approached a senior manager to present my dilemma who advised me to conduct a pros and cons exercise. I presented my grid back to the senior manager who responded – ‘I know what I would do’. Although hoping to be given the answer, upon reflection moving out of my comfort zone was one of the best career decisions I made.
The democratic style (although autocratic at times), encouragement and supportive approach adopted by several managers within this company allowed me to receive several awards, stock options and contribute to large-scale outsourcing programmes across government, finance and travel sectors before moving into the local government sector and changing career direction.
Management styles have the potential to inspire, motivate and grow potential, while also influencing students to make irrational uninformed decisions about their career choice. By reflecting on the above, I would encourage you to revisit your past experiences and start to think more strategically about the places and people that have managed you (or perhaps that you have managed) and achieve a more richer learning experience. I never did meet Roly – but did manage to sell a computer to Nigel who ran a video shop and was good friends with Phil and Grant Mitchell!
By Ajaz Hussain
Careers Education Manager