Need to be re-energised? Take a mid-life career review

Noel Smith, 59, Customer Experience – BTS & IAS Division, ATOS, shares his thoughts on the challenges faced but also how he feels re-energised by changing direction at a late stage in his career.  


The Career
I have had an extensive and varied career, spending 30 plus years working in the same business - National Savings & Investments (NS&I). I have experienced a number of changes during that time and I have never lost the passion to embrace change and do things differently.

When NS&I outsourced in 1999, I decided to go back to University and study a Master’s Degree. It really helped me appreciate how much I had learned in my working career, but also how much you can benefit from constantly challenging yourself. It had been 20 plus years since I left school, so going back into that environment was daunting - yet ultimately a significant milestone for later decisions in my life.  Since 2001 I have led some very significant ‘firsts’ in NS&I and Government Payment Services. I led the offshoring of the NS&I back office as well as the first NS&I GPS deal. I was very active on many bids and my ability to relate the transformational changes in the NS&I context was highly sought after by the bid teams and the client.

I was and still am highly regarded by the clients at CEO level and I am a trusted go to person because of my experience, professionalism and integrity.

The Dilemma
During the NS&I rebid phase, and when Atos was announced as the preferred supplier in 2013, I was offered a new role in GPS that was exactly what I wanted at the time in my career. The role was a Design Architect on GPS bids and I was sure that this would be the last role in my career. It played into my background and skill set and I had a strong reputation in bids and with the client. I was comfortable that I could hit the ground running.

However, much to my surprise, I was also offered the new role of Head of Customer Centric Design - taking full responsibility for the development of a CX capability in Atos. Customer Experience (CX)  was not unknown to me, but I wasn’t an expert so I had a really difficult choice. I was also aware that the Director of Retail Sales in NS&I was hugely supportive of me being offered this CX role. The key dilemma was that, on the one hand, I was operating in an Account where I was highly regarded, influential and credible. I was also at a point in my career where I had started to think about my mid-term and longer term plans of retirement.

On the other hand, did I want to continue doing what I was good at, but in a safe and stable environment? Or was I prepared for a fresh challenge away from the safety net of where I had spent the last 30 years? The risk of doing something different wasn’t a huge concern in itself, but I was moving away from an environment in which I was still hugely credible. I knew that I would be on a massive learning curve and that need to feel credible and relevant was perhaps the biggest dilemma for me.

The Outcome
I took my time to make the decision, and finally accepted the CX role. It was new, exciting and challenging, and although I was starting afresh, I had a degree of licence to stamp my own personality on the role.

To be honest I found the first few months challenging personally. But the more I grew into the role, and with exposure to other CX practitioners, my confidence in what I could do grew.

The CX proposition has now developed and grown across not only NS&I, but also BTS and wider Atos. The success of Aegon bid was significantly influenced by me and my CX team, and we have now started to transform the Aegon account with the recent opening of another CX lab in Lytham.

This is one of my proudest achievements - that I have shown I can operate in a different marketplace with a different client and different challenges, yet I can remain credible and respected. The business experience I can bring from my previous roles, along with my perspective on the challenges, has been continuously sought after. From a personal level, this is hugely satisfying.

I am also proud of the team I have created; there is a diverse mix of graduates and people from the business. The mixture of experiences and talent has been another massive bonus in my new role. Being able to guide and mentor future talent is something I would never have had access to if I had stayed where I was.

The development of the CX Academy is another landmark opportunity that I am very proud to be associated with. The CX Academy is an innovative learning experience using a blend of training, mentoring and practical learning methods – we developed this in-house. It takes all the great collateral we have built in CX to another level, and it is also great testament to Atos being prepared to consider this level of investment in its people for the future.

The Learning
Writing this has made me reflect on what influenced my decision to change direction and look for a different challenge at a relatively late stage in my career.  I’m sure there were other opportunities along the way, but I was comfortable and secure. However, when the challenge came I was brave enough to back myself and my experience and I can only reflect on how fortunate I have been.  At the same time, I am now reenergised and looking forward to a much longer career than the one I thought I was looking at when I started my mid-life planning review. I am also hugely grateful for the network of people who have supported and encouraged me as I took on this new adventure, and the support and creativity of my fantastic team.