- Programme studied: BSc Management
- Year of Graduation: 2011
Charity Ibhadon finished her BSc in Management in 2011 and will join Kobalt Music next week as their Senior Director of Product responsible for Product, Design and Delivery teams. She started her career at Citi as a Programme Manager. After spending three years in Finance, she made a career move into eCommerce and Product Management. She is now pursuing an Executive MBA at Bayes Business School (formerly Cass) and exploring ways how she can support people, especially women of colour, to enter leadership positions. Charity shares what it is like to be a Product Leader and gives advice for anyone considering moving into a new industry and role.
Can you please describe what your key responsibilities and objectives were when you worked at Student Beans?
In my previous role as the Head of Product and a Tribe Lead at Student Beans. I was responsible for our customer experiences on both our web and app platforms as well as our advertising and media product development. The objectives were multi-fold; first, it was to ensure our products were part of every student's shopping experience whilst driving revenue for our brands by delivering new and exciting experiences that drove engagement, retention, and loyalty. Of course, in doing this, I was also responsible for ensuring all this hard work created revenue for us as a business.
As a Head of Product, I worked as a coach to our Product Managers - encouraging them to master the ‘craft’ of Product Management, soak up all the knowledge they could and quickly turn this into practical results. A big part of my role was setting up strategy but without execution, strategy is next to pointless. I made sure we spent time on the strategy of course, but I was constantly challenging the team to explore quick (and sometimes risky) solutions.
As a Tribe Lead, I was focused on the health of the squads in the tribe – we were a pretty autonomous and empowered bunch so sometimes this meant constantly aligning the functions on our objectives, ensuring work delivered value and questioning if we were being bold enough. Alongside this, my tribe had ambitious revenue targets that I needed to keep on track of, ensure the team was focused on delivering against them and produced mitigation plans if we were projecting a missed target.
It was a lot of work, but the experience was amazing.
In your first role at Citi Bank, you were based in Budapest for six months. What challenges did you face during this period?
At the point I travelled to Budapest, I was only one year into my career, originally on a three year graduate scheme that was essentially cut short when my manager left three months in and I moved into her role!
My job was to implement a new Target Operating Model (TOM) but first, I spent time identifying and assessing the teams performance; being physically in Budapest was much easier - when you consider some of the sensitivities implementing a new TOM can bring, having these discussions in person was crucial.
As such, the biggest challenge was more to do with the specifics of why I was there, rather than living/working in Budapest (that was the highlight of my time at Citi). The project involved potentially changing/removing roles or transitioning roles to a Centre of Excellence in another country, so emotions were high - but it was a great time, on the weekends I’d hop on trains and explore more of Europe. An unforgettable experience.
What inspired you to transition from Finance and Investment Banking to eCommerce?
I’ve always been massively into tech; mostly gaming and gadgets but as I saw how much product and services were transitioning to online experiences, I knew this was an area I wanted to work in. I started my career in Finance/IB, then moved into FinTech roles and eventually dropped the “Fin” when a recruiter from ASOS called asking if I was interested in a role. My first thought was “oh! ASOS! Well, I know what that is!” and loved my time there.
When I worked in Finance, I felt very removed from the end product - stocks and shares and markets and currencies; the banking industry was still very formal (the likes of Revolut, Monzo and Starling did not exist then) and after five years or so, I felt my creative side diminishing. eCommerce, as an industry, proved to be a balance of something I engage with as a consumer and an area that I knew would both keep me excited and developing since the world of technology is constantly changing.
Making a career change in any shape or form is difficult, what advice would you give to people who are contemplating a career change to a different industry?
Do it. Though it never is that simple, is it? I talk to Product Managers in my team about building their personal and professional brand. This wasn’t something I considered when I moved into Technology. My thought was simple: I like the idea of working in a different industry more than I like what I’m currently doing. Sometimes that is enough - the passion for something different.
Beyond passion, one needs three things in my opinion, when contemplating a career change. Firstly, start the journey of mastery before you move. Before I moved into Tech, I was very aware of the various eCommerce platforms, their offerings, their customer journeys, and so on. I understood technology companies objectives and, more than that, I had so many ideas of what they could do to take their digital products to the next level.
Secondly, build your network. I know everyone says this, and as an introvert, I used to hate hearing it. But the world of networking is so different now. LinkedIn has become much more of a social tool. There are so many virtual and in person events across hundreds of industries. Universities hold free networking socials. Companies have opened their doors wider for a better look into their practices. You just need to think about networking as less than awkwardly standing in a room full of people and more about how you build your personal brand and get to know people in the industry.
Thirdly, I’d ask anyone considering a move to consider the opportunity cost. Oftentimes, the move may be spurred on by ‘push’ factors. Lack of enjoyment in their current role does not mean one should turn their back on the entire industry. So, what is the opportunity cost of the move? Is there another alternative? Is there a smaller/larger company in the industry you’d prefer? Is the role you have the right role? Rather than jumping, take a look around before taking that leap.
And finally - my advice, after all of that, is still: “Do it”
How has studying at LSE’s Department of Management allowed you to make an impact in society?
LSE in general gives you a massive appreciation of just how big the world is - before I attended university, I’d only travelled to a few places but within my first day, I met people who had come to study from LA to Sydney. This really opened my eyes to so much; the healthy and cross-cultural debates in lectures about politics, economics, and society impacted how I developed my views and became a lot more open-minded. From coaching people who want to get into Product and Technology to setting up a mentorship programme to volunteering in some of the poorest places in the world. Eyes wide open.
Now that I’m halfway through an Executive MBA, I’m challenged all over again - from LSE to now - I’m really focusing on how I empower women, especially those of colour, to become leaders in their field too.
You sit on the board of a national charity, and also volunteered in Cambodia after graduating from LSE. Tell us more about your experience of volunteering:
Volunteering is something I just found myself doing. With the national charity, I had attended events from when I was a newborn to a young adult and as I got more involved and took on more responsibility, I was elected to be a trustee in 2017.
Cambodia was the very best experience of my life. I did my internship at Citi in my third year, so I was offered a role for the next year’s intake; meaning a gap year was sort of forced on me. I wanted to travel as far as possible, for as long as possible but my key goal was to really integrate with the culture. I remember arriving at the airport and feeling joy being truly unknown in this amazing country and I loved Phnom Penh from the first tuk-tuk ride to my hostel. This was my first flight anywhere since I was 14 as I’d been terrified of flying, but I’ve travelled to over 30 countries since Cambodia so it definitely forced the fear out!
I love teaching - when I was a young child, I used to pretend I had a class full of students and would take a register and read to them! This was reflected in my time in Cambodia, teaching English to two classes of 11-14 year olds in extremely poor areas. Some of my kids parents’ earned $1 a day, picking rubbish from a heap. Some were very ill. Some worked in the market. It was a humbling experience, but so fulfilling to see the development in the children and their joy at receiving their marked tests on a Monday morning. It was heartbreaking to leave, but I have remained in contact with some of them as they got older so I’m delighted to see them furthering their education and growing into mature young men and women.