As MD of a multi-million pound communications agency, Karen Bernie is a strategic leader who hates office politics and likes a round of golf. She explains more about the business.
What is it the company does?
For the last 50 years, Wyatt International has carved out a differentiating strategy in a highly competitive communications agency marketplace. This has helped the business evolve into a truly integrated multichannel business, with every single skillset that a client would need under one roof in Birmingham.
This gives us the ability to work holistically and strategically, helping our business-to-business clients continuously challenge boundaries. We have remained focused on our core specialisation in b2b communications for the last five decades, working closely with clients to deliver a consultancy-led service, helping them tell their stories to international audiences.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
My role is to shape the strategy for the business, so it is clear and communicated to everyone who plays a part in Wyatt’s success. Together with our management team, I drive company growth, which means ensuring we maintain our focus on commerciality. It is incumbent on me to ensure we are continually reaching and exceeding the highest standards of client satisfaction across the business and this involves working closely with the team to guide and mentor them, so they always perform at their best.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I studied English, French and German and always saw myself working in an international environment.
I started my career as an air stewardess and spent a year doing this before I found my way into communications.
I was working for a client of Wyatt’s at the time – GKN. I spent a period helping them with their international exhibition programme, setting up and preparing for events throughout Europe. This involved a mixture of both exhibition management and public relations.
GKN was a major client for Wyatt and an opportunity for a move to agency side occurred, and I leapt at the chance. Back then Wyatt, like a lot of agencies at that time, was an advertising agency, so I became its first ever PR account executive, moving up to managing director. My role with Wyatt has now spanned 25 years. My next venture is to move into a CEO role as my team influence the day-to-day management and direction of the agency.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Leaders have lots of different attributes, and different styles, skills, and approaches suit different types of businesses. Leaders are visionaries, they need to be able to trend-spot and identify opportunities for their businesses.
To organically evolve an agency like Wyatt over five decades and throughout several economic downturns has been demanding with a need to focus on continually driving innovation in what we do and how we operate.
At the same time though, a great leader is focused. You need to be able to pinpoint the right opportunities and maintain a focus on them. For Wyatt, our focus has always been on B2B and I do not see this changing in the near future.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
The skills shortage that exists in the Midlands at senior and middle management level is a challenge. There is a small pond in which many agencies have to fish for talent.
We are overcoming this by partnering with universities and further education establishments to work more closely with graduates, interns, and apprentices.
We are strong advocates of bringing young people into the business and providing training to help them progress in the agency environment. This is also helping us to retain top talent – more than 10% of our workforce has been with us more than 20 years.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
When you have led a successful business for 25 years the pressures of the working environment just become a normal part of your job and you learn how to handle this. I don’t let things phase me as setbacks are as common as successes for any business; you just need to keep learning from every experience.
However, I do believe a good diet and regular exercise is a great way to relieve tension, stress and pressure. I play golf, and do plenty of walking and swimming to stay healthy. I also pursue alternative holistic remedies – oh, and plenty of spa days!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an air stewardess, so I guess I did quite well! I have always loved travel and for as long as I can remember, had wanted to work internationally.
The first time I ever went on a plane I was three-years-old and the experience has stayed with me ever since. This I why I enjoy working at Wyatt so much, because I get to visit businesses situated all over the world, and present these international opportunities to the rest of the team.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
I hate office politics. I encourage my team to respect each other and value everybody’s differences. I have built a team which supports each other in moments of need, and which works together to help the business flourish.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
Wyatt International will be one of very few market leading Centres of Excellence for B2B brands across the globe and may well have multiple locations.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Be prepared for hard work! Success is born out of hard work, resilience and determination. Make sure you are prepared for set-backs because it is only through these that you learn how to succeed.
Being a business leader can be great fun; it can be challenging, exciting, and very satisfying. Make sure you celebrate your successes, learn from what goes wrong, and keep moving on.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
I wish somebody would have told me that the communications landscape will be one of the most rapidly changing of any industry.
If somebody would have told me 25 years ago that I would be leading a business through a new age of artificial intelligence and digital technologies, I could have made sure I also got myself qualifications in mathematics and science, as well as the arts!
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