Belinda Hitchins: Let people learn from their mistakes; don’t label them a failure.

Time Out with… is the interview series for inspiring leaders throughout Dentsu Aegis Network. In this edition, we spoke with Belinda Hitchins, Internal Audit Manager at Dentsu Aegis Network, who was interviewed by Megan Madaris, Associate Director, Corporate Communications, Dentsu Aegis Network.

Thank you so much for sitting down with us today! Can you give us the reader’s digest of your career, your background, where you’re from and how you got here?

I’m originally from Wimbledon in the UK (where the tennis tournament is) and studied Chemistry at Oxford University. This can be a bit of a surprise for some, given that I now work in Finance, but in the UK you study what you enjoy, as opposed to specializing early. I did however break a lot of things in the labs, so my professor and I came to an agreement that the life of a Chemist was not the best bet for me… I’ve always had a relatively analytical mind, therefore after doing an internship at Deloitte, I ended up working within their Enterprise Risk Services team. One of my clients was Dentsu Aegis Network, who offered me a position in London a few years ago and I never looked back!

And so from there you moved into Risk & Audit. What does that mean exactly?

From a financial perspective, like all businesses our key objective is to make a profit. However, there are a lot factors that go into safeguarding a business of our size and ensuring we’re maximizing our efficiencies. We therefore need good risk management in place to meet both our financial and operational objectives. My team is part of this risk management structure — We’re here to give an independent perspective of how key financial processes are operating and, if they’re not operating well or efficiently, we work with management to figure out why and agree solutions to resolve this.

And then you transferred to the New York office…

Yes, a year and a half ago.

How did that actually work? What was that process like?

Part of the reason I accepted the job at Dentsu Aegis was because they had hubs in New York and Singapore and it was very likely that they’d be able to transfer me over to one of them. I was pretty vocal about doing a stint abroad and had some good relationships with people in the regional teams therefore when an opportunity came up I was put forward for the role. I have to admit my Director at the time was a very good sponsor and helped me a lot with the transfer process.

Why New York?

Why not? It’s one of the greatest cities on the planet! It’s always been a long-term goal for me to live abroad at some point. I had some friends living here and fell in love with the place after visiting them in 2011/2012, so quite a long time ago. I had originally tried to move with Deloitte, however it didn’t work out, so I tried with Dentsu Aegis and here I am!

What would Americans be surprised to learn about working in the UK? How is it different?

This is a funny one… say you get up to make yourself a cup of tea or cup of coffee in the UK, if you don’t ask each person at your table whether they would like one, then you will probably get the cold shoulder for the rest of the week. There’s a lot of strange tea etiquette you need to learn if you want to work in the UK.

Ha! So what about vice versa?

Here in New York the culture is a lot more direct, which can be good as people are more straight-forward — if you have a problem you can go over and talk to them face-to-face to sort it out there and then. However, if you’re coming from a culture that’s relatively reserved, it can be tricky, especially when you’re dealing with people who can be quite ‘in your face.’ It can be seen as confrontational, but it’s not. It’s actually just trying to get things done in a quicker time period.

You were at a consultancy with clients and then you took an in-house role. What’s been different about that? Anything major or is it just better happy hours?

Happy hours are definitely better — The fact that we have beer taps and snacks is amazing. When you work for a consultancy, you manage a portfolio of clients. It’s good because you get broader experience across different industries and business models, but you don’t have that consistency or continuity. That’s why I much prefer working in-house as you get to see how projects and initiatives make real changes to the business. Also, in my role, as I gain more knowledge of how our business operates, I can be a better advisor. You get to know the nuances and therefore, you’re actually able to drive change.

What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about Risk & Audit?

That we’re the police and that people should be scared of us. Our role is really to provide an independent assessment on whether things are working or not and to give the senior leaders insight into how their business is being run. As such, we’re all working to the same objectives. If something’s not working, we can help work out how to resolve it or escalate to get the right resources to help fix it. It’s very much that we’re there to help and add value, as opposed to patrolling and policing.

What do you think makes a good leader?

There’s the obvious ones of having a clear vision and ambition, but I think the thing that makes you stand out as a good leader is compassion. In order to develop, people learn from making mistakes. Let people learn from their mistakes; don’t label them a failure. If you’re able to support people, they’re more likely to support you in your vision, and then it goes full circle. I think that’s one of things that I’d say distinguishes a good leader.

Are there any things that you might do differently within your career?

Of course. As I said, not everyone’s perfect. But I think the one thing that I would do more of is actually ask for advice. I worked with lots of really good leaders in the past and I never really used the opportunity to ask them questions that weren’t necessarily to do with my day-to-day. I should have made the time to ask, “how did you get to where you are? What tips do you have?” I wish I’d started doing this much earlier because it’s so valuable understanding how people have progressed in their own careers.

What’s one thing your co-workers would be surprised to learn about you?

Oh gosh. My family is a huge scuba diving family. We’re going cage diving with great white sharks in a couple of months. So I think the fact that I’m actually a secret thrill seeker on the side. Also people probably don’t know that I love horror films.

So, pivoting a little bit from work to life, you are definitely the most well-traveled person I have ever met. Have you kept a count of how many countries you’ve been to?

I have an app on my phone to keep track — it’s called BEEN. I counted up the other day and I have been to 64 countries out of 196 in the world. It’s still not enough though!

What have been some of your favorites?

Ecuador including a visit to the Galapagos! It was such a good vacation for me because I love scuba diving, as I said. It was the first time that I was out in the blue and a whale shark came towards me. The whale shark was probably bigger than this terrace. We also tagged on a few days in the Amazon rainforest. It was amazing to go and see all the monkeys in their natural habitat.

If your life had a motto, what would it be?

I think it would be, “You never know where you’re gonna have a good time.”

What would be your biggest piece of advice for young women as they’re coming up in their career?

Ask people who you respect for advice from early on and then don’t underestimate how those relationships can help you in the future. You don’t have to manufacture relationships with people for work purposes. You can just get to know them. Networking doesn’t need to be enforced.

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