Working her way up through the ranks of Mearns & Company to her current position of MD, Catherine Bell shares with BQ her thoughts on leadership and the need to not just listen, but pay attention, trust your instincts and be resilient.
What is it the company does?
Founded in 1994, Mearns & Company is a multi-award winning family firm of chartered financial planners and employee benefits consultants. Edinburgh based, we provide independent financial advice to individuals, employers, trustees and professional partners.
A team of 32 people, we develop strategies to help clients achieve their goals, maintain financial wellness and enjoy peace of mind.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
As Managing Director, I am the custodian of our company culture and values, and I work hard to protect these. I am responsible for developing the company to meet its strategic aims, in ways which enhance our company reputation, ethos and values.
Our client focus is at the heart of everything we do, and I work hard to support my colleagues to help them deliver an excellent service to both internal and external clients.
As well as working inside the company, I collaborate with others to build connections with other professionals and organisations, to help share ideas, and to build our profile in the business community.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I started working in several different sectors as a temporary worker, which was a great foundation to start my business career. I learned so much from seeing how different companies operate and experiencing a variety of organisational cultures.
I have been with Mearns & Company since September 2000, initially in a support role, and progressing over the last 18 years to my current directorship, where I am involved strategically at board level.
I have worked in all areas of the business through the years, ultimately specialising in HR and managing our business support team and related functions. While working with Mearns & Company, I have completed financial services professional qualifications, and the CIPD Advanced Diploma in HR Management. Learning and continually developing has always been important to me, and so I have always pushed myself forward to build on my skills and experience.
I am currently a member of a CEO private advisory group through Vistage UK, and a big part of my Vistage membership involves learning and personal development.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I think the ability to listen and pay attention to others is a big part of being a good leader. Sometimes listening isn’t always the answer, as people may say one thing, but mean something else. That’s why paying attention is important. Sometimes you have to ask the same thing two or three times in different ways before you get the answer.
Caring is important, and not taking yourself too seriously. Realising that you don’t know all the answers, and being open to learning from others is crucial – so having a growth mindset is vital. I think that a great leader understands that their behaviour has an impact on others. People may not always remember what you said, but they will always remember how they felt when they were around you, so you need to get this right.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
I started my current role as managing director in January 2018. The biggest challenge since then has been transitioning from my previous role, an internal position where I was responsible for managing business support within our company, to managing director, where I am much more visible, both within the company and externally.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I like to spend time with my family and friends. I enjoy spending time at home, and enjoy creative activities such as cooking, baking, painting animal portraits and planning changes to our house – which is a renovation project. I also love travel – but don’t get enough opportunity to do it. I also like to look after myself by booking in for a monthly massage to help minimise the tension in my shoulders!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be an artist. I love creating things, and I love coming up with new ideas. When I was about eight years old, I wanted to be a graphic designer after visiting a design studio with my dad. When I left school, I did a one-year portfolio preparation course and then attended Art College in Belfast, where I studied fine craft design, specialising in jewellery and silversmithing.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
I find negativity challenging, whether in or out of the workplace. I try to avoid negativity and I have developed a coping strategy that helps me deal with negative situations or people, rather than letting it affect me.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
In five years’ time, I would like our company to be the go-to for high quality independent financial advice, and the number one employee benefits consultancy in Scotland. We have always been a well-kept secret, and I would like to raise our profile so that more people know about us. We do such a fantastic job for our clients, and I would like more individuals and employers to benefit from this.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Be resilient. Don’t give up. Stay strong.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
To always trust my instinct. I do now, but I have doubted my instinct in the past to my own detriment. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but one lesson I have learned through my own life experience is to always trust myself.
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