Gillian Chamberlain BT Ireland
Gillian Chamberlain, general manager of commercial and marketing, BT Ireland. Image: Iain White/Fennell Photography

Thinking about a career in marketing? An analytical mind is helpful

1 Nov 2016

If you want to work in the ever-expanding world of tech, but you still want that perfect blend of customer service, marketing for a leading tech company is one way to do it.

Not everyone knows what they want to do straight away. The economic climate in the last number of years hasn’t always left candidates with a huge amount of choice either, though it is improving.

Gillian Chamberlain’s first job wasn’t intended to be a springboard for the future, as her career options were limited at the time. But now, as the general manager of commercial and marketing for BT Ireland, she’s found out what an exciting career it can be.

What first stirred your interest in a career in this area?

I graduated with a marketing degree in the early 90s when career options were limited for new graduates and a great number of my class had to emigrate. My first full-time position was as a marketing manager in IBM Ireland. It was not a carefully considered move, or part of any grand plan. I merely wanted my first job.

However, that first step would ultimately lead me on an exciting career path, working for highly innovative companies and with amazing people building the technology of the future. My career path in the ICT industry has been a series of crossroads, always challenging and certainly never boring.

What steps led you to the role you now have?

I undertook a four-year BSc degree in management from the College of Marketing and Design, and did a further year of study to complete an advanced diploma in marketing practices [at] the Smurfit School of Business in University College Dublin. My first role in IBM Ireland was a direct marketing role, followed by some time in a UK-based advertising agency, where I gained experience in marketing strategy and a solid grounding in some of the technical disciplines of marketing.

Returning to the client side, I joined a global team in Hewlett Packard’s storage division, where I led teams in product management and marketing communications. A global role gives you great perspective on the cultural differences of marketing and selling to a diverse customer base.

As part of my ongoing career development, I then made a lateral move into business development to get closer to customers and their decision-making process, and to understand the downstream process of sales. Currently, I hold a general management position with responsibility for the full marketing mix for BT in Ireland.

What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path?

In my 20s, I had no competing demands on my time and could put all my energy into my career, with the freedom to take on challenges that brought valuable learning opportunities.

In my 30s, when I started a family, the desire to maintain a fulfilling career while juggling the demands of family and work was certainly the biggest challenge I have faced in my career so far. In the end, you accept that sacrifices have to be made, both on the career and home fronts. If you can find an equilibrium that works for you, your family and your employer, you can still have career satisfaction as well as a happy home life.

I am lucky to work for BT Ireland in that regard, as it is hugely supportive of work-life balance, and provides the tools and flexible work practices that help support modern family living.

Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?

In my early career at Hewlett Packard, I worked for a female manager who had a big influence on my career outlook. By generously nurturing the talent that she spotted in me, coaching, and advocating for my advancement within the company, she helped me to take my first step on the career ladder.

In large organisations, where talent is plentiful and it can be hard to stand out from the crowd, we often depend on the support of others to get the lucky breaks. Now, I’m acutely aware of our obligation to help younger team members within our organisation grow and develop in their chosen field.

What do you enjoy about your job?

My job is hugely rewarding. I lead the product, commercial and marketing function for BT Ireland, and work alongside a wonderful team with great depth of experience in the telecommunications industry. Our day-to-day work is extremely varied, with a customer base made up of multinational corporations, indigenous exporters and public sector organisations in every sector of the Irish economy, as well as other major communications providers through our wholesale offering.

We manage an extensive and exciting portfolio of products, including cloud services, global networking, security and contact centre solutions. We are constantly investing in our portfolio to enable our customers to communicate, collaborate and connect easily and securely, no matter where in the world they’re located. As a business in growth, we are afforded the opportunity to invest for the future – in our portfolio, our processes and in our people – and that’s a wonderful position to be in.

What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?

An analytical mind is helpful in this job. You have to be keen to understand what’s behind the numbers. By being able to get actionable insight from sales and marketing data, you’re better able to steer your business to success.

Things are constantly changing in the competitive market and technology landscape, and you need to be highly inquisitive about shifting trends to be able to predict the impact for your business.

In BT, we work in large cross-functional virtual teams, which are often physically remote, and you need to be able to build relationships across the organisation and be highly collaborative if you want to achieve your goals.

How did BT Ireland support you on your career path?

I was promoted to my current position in 2015. BT is a company that supports the development of its employees by providing opportunities for career advancement, favouring the promotion of its people over external recruitment, where talent is available. The BT culture supports people in their personal development, investing in further education, professional training and ongoing skills development. For those who are motivated to develop their career, our employees are constantly presented with new experiences to test their abilities and stretch them outside their comfort zones.

What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area, or just starting out in one?

From the outside, the information and technology sector can be perceived to be a little nerdy [and] slightly grey in comparison to the shiny fast-moving consumer goods sector. However, this industry is marked by complex business models, where customers can invariably be your competitors and your suppliers, employing highly creative and innovative people, working on disruptive technologies with ever-shortening product life cycles.

Every day is a learning day. The tech industry is an early adopter in the application of new technology to business processes, and for my own area, we’re at an exciting stage in the digital transformation of the marketing function. All in all, it makes for a rich and rewarding career path.

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