From the United Kingdom, we had a chat with Helen Christopher who is the Global Marketing Director at Verisk Analytics. Coming from an entrepreneurial family, Helen’s commercial acumen has contributed towards carving a successful career for herself. A powerhouse indeed! Let’s learn more about her on this segment of Women In Marketing
LET’S GET PERSONAL
THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO PARTICIPATE IN OUR WOMEN IN MARKETING SERIES, HELEN. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR MEMORIES GROWING UP?
I was born in Worcester, UK. I grew up in the Vale of Pershore. My first memory was when I couldn’t even talk, but I could unlock the door and run outside into the orchards of my parents’ house. My parents had to keep hiding the key! My parents also grew their tomatoes on a commercial scale; I would travel with my parents in the lorries making customer deliveries.
WHAT WERE YOU LIKE IN YOUR HIGH SCHOOL/COLLEGE YEARS?
I went to a comprehensive school and enjoyed my school years mainly due to the diversity of the people there. The more creative subjects were my favourites, such as art, design and English literature. My proudest moment was being awarded a ‘Mr Happy’ book at the end of my final year for being a ray of sunshine. That optimism and element of fun have stayed with me.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE MEAL? THAT ONE MEAL YOU WOULD FEEL NO SHAME FOR NOT SHARING!
Doner kebab. Extra mayo and chilli sauce. Hold the salad.
IMAGINE WAKING UP $10 MILLION RICHER TOMORROW, WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH YOUR FORTUNE?
I have been financially astute from a young age. The fun is always there, but firstly, I would find a good financial advisor before doing anything radical. Investing and not squandering sounds a little dull maybe.
I do have fun doing what I love, a party is rarely far away, but I feel uncomfortable wasting money. I would continue to mentor marketing professionals, as that is immensely rewarding. My love of animals would probably lead me to open something like a donkey sanctuary.
WHAT IS THE ONE INTERESTING THING ABOUT YOU THAT WE WOULDN’T FIND ON YOUR LINKEDIN PROFILE? ANY HIDDEN TALENTS PERHAPS? PREVIOUS WOMEN IN MARKETING CANDIDATE, ANASTASIA HAMEL SAYS THAT SHE CAN BREATHE FIRE!
I’m a trained burlesque dancer and I can spin records (my husband owns a vinyl record store). I’m not very good at either. I even have a stage name; Helene von Sauvignon – which derives from the fact I quite like myself, a fraudster who took my identity and slightly amended my first name and my love of sauvignon blanc.
CAREER AND WORKPLACE
WHAT ENCOURAGED YOU TO PURSUE A CAREER IN MARKETING? AFTER ALL, MOST OF US GREW UP WANTING TO BE DOCTORS, RIGHT?
Both of my parents were entrepreneurs. I subsequently was exposed to business life from a young age. The development of ideas from scratch and seeing them becoming an income for my parents was fascinating. I was planning on being a social worker when I left school, within child protection, but made a deliberate conscious decision to get into marketing.
I felt I had the right skills for marketing and that career drew me in. There are so many transferable skills such as; listening, understanding, a desire to ‘do the right thing’. I LOVE marketing. It is a dynamic field.
GIVE US A SNEAK PEEK OF HOW YOU TYPICALLY START YOUR DAY. ARE YOU #TEAMCOFFEE OR #TEAMTEA? OR BOTH? YOU BEAUTIFUL REBEL!
I’m part of the 5 am club and start the day with a cup of tea and a quick sweep of emails and then head out to the gym for an early workout/spin class. I am back for breakfast and at my desk by 8:30 am to start my day. An early start is important to me. It gives me a head start before the world wakes up.
THE PANDEMIC DISRUPTED OUR ROUTINES AND DAILY COMFORTS. HOW BEST DO YOU MAINTAIN A WORK-LIFE BALANCE?
I challenge myself to do 10,000 steps a day. Doing this forces me out of the house as well to go to the gym. We also schedule a date night once a week and something to look forward to; even if it is a simple coffee with a friend. The pandemic has made me appreciate the little things in life – being frivolous doesn’t bring you genuine happiness.
Quality of life shouldn’t be confused with lifestyle. One positive from recent lockdowns was reigniting my love of nature, exploring the outside and fresh air instead of being shackled to a desk for hours a day.
YOU HAVE A PROFESSIONAL DIPLOMA IN MARKETING FROM THE CHARTERED INSTITUTE OF MARKETING. TERTIARY EDUCATION, AS WE KNOW IT, TOOK A DRAMATIC TURN DUE TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC. HOW DO YOU FORESEE THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION CONSIDERING THE INCREASING POPULARITY OF ONLINE EDUCATIONAL SITES SUCH AS COURSERA AND GOOGLE SKILLSHOP THAT HAVE DISRUPTED THE TRADITIONAL MODEL OF LEARNING?
At the time I studied, the timing couldn’t have been worse! I was working full time, so I studied in my own time, fully funded by myself whilst my daughter was small and my Dad was going through cancer treatment. I had no social life and made financial sacrifices. So I think it’s good that flexible options exist now, but it’s a personal choice as to how and when people best study. I prefer a classroom environment, but virtual may be preferable to others if remote -learning costs less.
The real cost is the commitment of time and effort. As long as the outcome gets you a qualification, it doesn’t matter how you went about it.
WORKING FROM HOME/HYBRID MODEL OF WORKING MAY SOON BECOME A REALITY FOR MOST ORGANISATIONS GLOBALLY. WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON REMOTE WORK AND WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF YOUR CHALLENGES AS WELL AS WAYS YOU’VE MITIGATED THESE?
No point in having arbitrary days in the office. It should be based on effort, not a timesheet. The genie is out of the bottle now; it’s going to be very hard to stuff it back in! You are seeing a revolt from people who have had time to reassess their lives. I feel many employers need to be mindful of that. A job for life (with no life) is not a life to aspire to.
This is an important lesson many of us have learned, as I used to be a workaholic but have calmed down a lot and can still be productive between rest and play.
ACCORDING TO A REPORT COMPILED BY MCKINSEY, THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC HAS HAD A NEGATIVE EFFECT ON WOMEN IN THE WORKPLACE. THE REPORT FURTHER ILLUSTRATES THAT WOMEN HAVE INCREASINGLY BECOME MORE EXHAUSTED AND SUFFER FROM BURNOUT AS COMPARED TO THEIR MALE COUNTERPARTS. IN YOUR OPINION, HOW CAN ORGANISATIONS PROVIDE THE NECESSARY SUPPORT FOR WOMEN AS WELL AS MOTHERS?
Organisations can and should be doing more. For example, Verisk encouraged flexible working whilst parents were having to home school their children along with other commitments. Also providing well-being days and virtual activities such as yoga.
Several initiatives are going on as part of Inclusion, Diversity and Belonging, set up to support women.
Verisk Parents Network provides a space for parents and soon-to-be parents to share relatable experiences and helpful information about balancing work and parenting.
Verisk Women Network is dedicated to supporting each other at every stage of our career while building a community where women are empowered to be proactive in their careers and learn how to lead.
For the fifth consecutive year, Verisk received U.S certification from Great Place to Work® for its outstanding workplace culture, as well as first-time certification in the UK, Spain, and India. To achieve our certification, we surveyed our employees on their workplace experience and met ‘Great Place to Work’s research-backed benchmark.
As a manager, we have to check in regularly on our team and make sure their workload is sustainable and that people’s well-being is being taken care of. They should be able to speak to you in a safe space, be honest and take reasonable time to manage tasks.
On a personal level, as women, we need to give ourselves a break, celebrate the successes, support one another and remind ourselves what we are doing well, rather than what hasn’t been done. It’s a lot to juggle. I’m glad attitudes are changing from when I was a single parent 20 years ago. However, there is still a long way to go.
Additional information links:
Moving Women in Tech Forward | Explore Opportunities | Verisk Analytics
Culture | Careers | Verisk Analytics
2021 AND BEYOND
ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, HOW HAVE YOU BEEN SINCE THE START OF THE PANDEMIC? ANY PIVOTAL MOMENTS IN YOUR PERSONAL OR PROFESSIONAL LIFE YOU CAN SHARE WITH US?
Being in London and then entering lockdown had an impact on my fitness level and the whole pandemic made me realise that if you don’t have your health, then you have nothing, so I decided to get fit again. My trainer is wonderful; I feel better than I have in years, both mentally and physically.
I was awarded Freeman of the City as part of the Worshipful Company of Marketors Livery. It was held as a virtual ceremony this year, where normally it takes place in the Chamberlain’s Court at the Guildhall in London. Being virtual allowed friends and family, who ordinarily would not be able to travel to London, to be part of this important event in my life. The Clerk (Murray) asked me to read the ‘Declaration of a Freeman’ which wasn’t a patch on Dame Judy Dench, who is also a Freeman.
KNOWING WHAT YOU KNOW TODAY AND IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
Don’t take criticism from anyone you would not get advice from.
I would say, “Keep going kid, you’re doing well.” More people will bring you down than boost your efforts. There are not enough supporters encouraging ambition, which is why I am passionate about mentoring young talent.
I have an instinctive knack for knowing who my supporters and detractors are. I would add, “Ignore the naysayers who want to stop you moving forward.”
ANY BUCKET LIST ITEMS?
On a professional level: Chief Marketing Officer, Liveryman of the City Of London.
Personal level: A nice home in Cheltenham, UK. It has been my dream to establish a lovely residence in this delightful spa town.
My bucket list includes small and medium things to do, for example visiting the National Gallery in London. Thailand holiday.
Goals are easier to achieve if broken down into manageable fun things along the way
WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR SHEROES?
My mum, who sadly died 20 years ago when I was very young.
She was gritty, articulate and witty and like me, not afraid of hard work. She had several degree-level qualifications, was a qualified lorry driver and would even lend her hand in their own business driving the forklift truck if needed.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?
I tend to read a mix of books, generally in paperback format. I like having bookshelves.
I have just finished, ‘The Empty Nest‘. It hit me hard when my daughter moved back to London to university after several pleasant weeks at home in lockdown. It was a wonderful read for self-soothing and practical tips.
‘Future Shaper’ by Niamh O’Keeffe. This is another book to add to my arsenal! Future Shaper; How leaders can take charge in an uncertain world wasn’t written with the pandemic in mind, however, the same rules apply. It talks about embracing change and having a purpose.
WHAT IS ON YOUR NETFLIX WATCHLIST?
Forget Netflix. It’s the cinema and theatre I’ve missed. However ‘Fast & Furious’ is my guilty pleasure.
WHAT WOULD YOU COME BACK AS IN THE NEXT LIFETIME CAREER-WISE? DO YOU THINK YOU MISSED A CALLING?
Astronaut. Donkey sanctuary owner. Vet
WE ABSOLUTELY LOVE HOW FORBES CURATES THEIR MARKETING-CENTRIC CONTENT. HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO READ THROUGH THEIR CMO NEXT 2021 FEATURE? WHILST ON THE TOPIC OF GREAT MARKETEERS, WHEN YOU RETIRE ONE DAY, HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED AS A PROFESSIONAL?
I would like to be remembered as someone who inspired others, not just got the job done but was kind, supportive and fun.
WHO HAVEN’T YOU SEEN OR TALKED TO IN A LONG TIME AND HOPE THEY ARE DOING OKAY?
My friend Amanda moved up North. We’ve yet to arrange a get-together. My friend Brian from the USA, who I miss terribly
WE ARE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR AMAZING WOMEN IN MARKETING TO PROFILE. WHO WOULD YOU LIKE US TO GET IN TOUCH WITH?
A UNIQUE MESSAGE FOR ALL YOUNG PROFESSIONALS IN THE MARKETING INDUSTRY
Get yourself a good mentor. The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) runs a scheme. The CIM also has useful assets such as; a new development platform giving members access to personal development tools and content. Like anything, it is self-driven. People will help if you ask them, but you have to energise yourself and propel your career if you are serious.