Q&A with Charles Vivian

January 12, 2018

North Highland’s recent successes at the UK Business Awards are testament to the strength of the team in London. The company won silver in the B2B Business Change/Transformation category and Charles Vivian, Managing Director and London Market Lead picked up this year’s ‘Inspirational Leader’ award. These are great accolades for Charles, and for the London office, which has worked hard to transform/evolve into the successful and dynamic business it is today.

Following his win, we spoke to Charles about what leadership means for him and what has been central to the growth of the London office and its continuing success.

You’ve led the North Highland UK office to great success in recent years following an acquisition and period of change in the business. When you took on your role, could you immediately see the potential of the UK team?

Yes, when I first took on the role, I saw great potential in our client relationships and the talent of our people. The foundations to be a fantastic and high performing business were definitely in place – it just needed some direction, leadership and a compelling vision and mission to provide purpose.

What elements of the company have stayed true and strong throughout the transformation?

Our core values of client centricity, accountability, integrity, empowerment and care underpinned this transformation. We’ve also tried to create our own unique company culture which is young, dynamic and increasingly focused on progression and growth.  To make this more explicit and provide a rounded experience, the current leadership team decided they wanted their legacy to be a ‘period of truly remarkable professional and personal growth’ for everyone in the business.

What do you think the key qualities of a modern business leader are?

The necessary leadership qualities differ by industry but for a professional services firm like North Highland, I believe the priority is paving the way for high performing and ambitious individuals to flourish, so operating as a servant leader and enabling others to succeed is critical. Increasingly, you need to be nimble and agile in responding to business change and able to align different generations into a single, cohesive workforce.

As well as leadership, what role does mentorship have in creating a strong company culture?

Mentorship is crucial to create tight bonds across the various generations within a business and it’s something I value enormously, both as a mentor and a mentee. I think reverse mentorship is often undervalued. I spend a lot of time with new entrants at North Highland, encouraging them to shadow me for a day and it is a great mutual learning experience, providing me with an insight into their way of thinking too.

From a cultural point of view, what do you see as the main driving force that will propel the London office to success in the future?

I think the main driver for future growth in the London office will be our focus on becoming more global and an emphasis on deepening our expertise. Culturally, these will broaden and deepen how we think and operate as professionals.

What has been the most important thing you’ve learned through executing your vision for North Highland?

My North Highland experience has been one of self-discovery and the most important thing I’ve learned is the value of a building a good, high performing team to support, enable and complete you as a leader.  Anyone can be a leader, but a diverse team is crucial to facilitate your personal strengths and compensate for any potential weaknesses, creating a platform for you to become the most effective leader you can be. This is one of my biggest learning channels. I’ve also learned that it’s actually the people you lead who grant you the right to be their leader and determine your success or failure.

You speak a lot about the team but are there circumstances where you need to ‘put your foot down’?

There are very few! In general, I believe it’s important to rise above the debate and empower others to solve their own problems, rather than centralising authority. I prefer to lead by example and go “over the top” with my team. That said, there are times when strong and clear direction is needed and my experience is that conviction, consistency and authenticity are key to being able to provide this effectively. You also need to explain the rationale for your decision and acknowledge when you get it wrong!

Any final thoughts or plans for the future?

One thing I have learnt throughout my career is that everyone has a ‘superpower’ and it’s the job of a good leader to bring this out in each person. Mine is the ability to inspire, to create a vision and win the hearts and minds of our people to take them with me. Moving forward, I hope to continue to do this on an even larger scale.

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