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Leaders with Ambition

Welcome to Leaders with Ambition, the podcast that dives deep into the careers of some of the UK’s most successful leaders working in professional services firms. We aim to discover the secrets behind their success, the challenges they face and to find out what traits make a successful leader.About the host:Nicky Acuna Ocana is the UK Managing Director of Ambition, an international recruitment agency specialising in business services recruitment (Finance, Accounting, BD, Marketing, Insolvency, Restructuring and Corporate Finance) in professional services firms.

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Ep. 23 - Francis Mainoo - “Don’t try to be the smartest person in the room. You should never want to be the smartest. You should want to be in a room where you can learn and grow.”

The career of Francis Mainoo, Head of Sales at Moore Kingston Smith, illustrates the power of possessing a growth mindset. Whether out on the field as an Army Cadet or as a candidate at Harvard’s Executive Programme, Francis embraces every challenge as an opportunity to grow. Francis has also been willing to fail, knowing that his support network will always be there to lift him up - as he too lifts up others coming through the ranks. On this episode of Leaders With Ambition, we learn about Francis’ focus, determination, positivity and vision for what might be achieved, not just on the job, but across society. It has all been part of a learning journey that has taken him through a series of demanding roles at firms such as EY and Merrill Lynch. Francis’ many successes have been achieved by challenging existing sales channels and strategies and identifying ways that businesses can enhance their marketable activities. One of the superpowers that Francis shares is his openness to vulnerability, whether in playing the role of trusted advisor to clients or himself relying on advice from others. “Don’t try to be the smartest person in the room,” says Francis, who was raised by strong, wise women who guided and empowered him. “You should want to be in a room where you can learn and grow.” Francis has reached one career peak after another by working hard and – as importantly – bringing his most authentic self to every interaction. You’ll enjoy hearing about his passion for serving as a mentor to others, fostering equity, diversity, inclusion and a rich web of colleagues who, like Francis, will go on to pay it all forward again and again.


7 Jul 2022

Rank #1

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Ep. 22 - Moira Slape - "Effective decision-making, I believe, is driven by a diverse group of people."

In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky’s guest, Moira Slape, Chief People Officer at Travers Smith, shares lessons learned over a highly successful career. From legal secretary to the highest ranks of decision-makers, Moira has carved her own path by leveraging several key traits - most notably an incredibly strong work ethic. It has been a journey full of constant learning and development, which Moira unpacks over the course of this fascinating discussion. Moira explains why trusting one’s instincts is critically important and why hiring people from diverse backgrounds is a corporate super-power - something she understands intuitively because of her own working-class roots. In this episode, you will appreciate Moira’s practical tips for navigating career transitions as well as her thoughts on the importance networking and mentorship (both giving and receiving). Above all, it’s clear that Moira loves what she does and has thrived in the management of people because she brings to her work both a great capacity for empathy and an unwavering authenticity.


13 Jun 2022

Rank #2

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Ep. 21 - Caroline Allen-Monaghan - "You have to be happy in what you're doing."

​If you’re someone for whom the traditional university path hasn’t been the right fit, then this episode of Leaders with Ambition will speak directly to you. Nicky’s guest, Caroline Allen-Monaghan, shares the unique route she took to managing a global team as Director of International Accounting at a premier law firm. It’s a success story that Caroline could not have anticipated when she dropped out of University with no career plan or preparation in place. You’ll enjoy sharing the inspiring journey that this mother of four has navigated on her way to Arnold & Porter. Caroline built her credibility incrementally, one step at a time, from one firm to the next. At every juncture, however, two things remained consistent: An abiding belief in herself and willingness to knock down barriers. Caroline shares some brilliant words of wisdom about the power of bolstering ourselves in those moments of self-doubt and, she says, make no mistake, we all experience wobbly confidence from time to time. Today, one of the things Caroline enjoys most is paying forward the kind of mentoring she received early – support without which she might never have stuck with her dreams and completed the 14 exams necessary to secure her coveted ACCA qualification. It was a moment in which – after all the tireless work – Caroline felt the gratifying power of having achieved something that no one could ever take away. In addition to talking us through her career highlights, Caroline also shares thoughts about work-life balance and lessons learned during pandemic. She offers practical advice about defining one’s roadmap to success, even if it’s not based on a traditional trajectory, and committing to doing the hard work, even when it requires sacrifice. Caroline's story offers us permission to break from narrow, traditional paths in order to claim our best and most authentic selves. Or, to quote Caroline: “Don’t face barriers. Run through them!”


30 May 2022

Rank #3

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Ep. 20 - Roy Sexton - "If you're in the moment and of service to people, it's going to work out."

​Have you ever felt self-conscious at a networking event? For Roy Sexton, it has been a journey from standing awkwardly at his first Legal Marketing Association conference some years back to now being the organisation’s President-elect. In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky elicits fascinating insights from this dynamic marketing professional whose unique path to leadership within the legal services sector was paved by hard-won wisdom and empathy. As Director of Marketing at Clark Hill Law, Roy always operates with authenticity in mind. Whether as boss, mentor or colleague, he makes a point of always bringing his authentic self – which includes a sense of humour, self-deprecation and willingness to speak his mind. While some of these skills came organically – through Roy’s theatre background and upbringing – he also notes the influence that early leadership training has had on him, as well as the networking abilities he cultivated while studying for his MBA and during his career. In this episode, Roy shares his career highs as well as challenges both past and heading into his term presiding over the Legal Marketing Association. We get a glimpse into his professional experience as well as thought-provoking views on the nuances of diversity, equality and inclusion. From how to overcome Imposter Syndrome to how the pandemic has affected law firm culture to the fine line between confidence and arrogance, this jam-packed hour of conversation will leave you with interesting insights and helpful advice.

1hr 1min

17 May 2022

Rank #4

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Ep. 19 - Rosie Le Gros - "Take a chance on things. Hunt down opportunities and create them yourself."

This episode of Leaders with Ambition features Rosie Le Gros, Global Business Development Director at Kennedys, who shares insights from her professional journey. Her focus and impressive track record are built on a fundamental desire to make a positive impact, even at the risk of disrupting the status quo. Rosie walks us through her earliest career moves. Back then, she had no idea that a random junior-level marketing role would catapult her into Ernst & Young’s massive global organisation or how a decision to move into legal services would result in an acquisition that has helped to open doors for her ever since. Rosie has held a series of transformational roles at Kennedys, prepared at every juncture by the flexibility and adaptability she learned through her early career experiences. “Every role I’ve worked in has taught me something or set me up in a better way for the next opportunity,” says Rosie. Rosie understood early on that it was okay — even desirable — to stretch outside her comfort zone and raise her hand eagerly for every opportunity. She advises aspiring leaders constantly to be scanning the horizon for gaps to be filled, projects to be undertaken. If you don’t see an initiative? Create one on your own! Progression up the corporate ladder doesn’t always require a change of employers. To the contrary, Rosie believes institutional knowledge can lead to fantastic niche positions based on credibility and trust among key executive stakeholders. And being a working parent? Rosie reflects on how the experience has made her a stronger leader, and not just because the juggling requires prioritising and great time management. What she found equally clarifying was the chance to step back, look at the bigger picture of where she was in her career and what she was bringing as a leader. She is laser-focused on setting expectations and encouraging open communications among team members. As Rosie says, “You can be inspired by people all around, sideways, above and below.” Among the tips Rosie offers for young professionals looking to move through the ranks: Don’t chase titles. Chase opportunities. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Find your voice and speak up. Appreciate differences of opinions. Ensure your visibility. Promote your profile and share your story. No one is going to do your PR for you. Be authentic. People will otherwise see straight through you


25 Apr 2022

Rank #5

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Ep. 18 - Dominic Ayres - "Having a broad skill set but then being the expert on something really helps you in your career."

In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky’s guest demonstrates the power of passion, self-awareness and continuous growth. Senior Client Development Manager at Eversheds Sutherland, Dominic Ayres, shares both big-picture advice and foundational tactics for building and sustaining a career fuelled by genuine passion. Among other things, you’ll learn tips and insights from his new book, "How to Advance Your Career in Professional Services Marketing: Be More Purposeful and Strategic with Your Career Direction." It’s the book he wished he could have referenced when he was just starting out as an aspiring marketer fresh out of university. Dominic also offers up thoughts on work-life balance, the importance of intentional self-development and following your passion. His digital marketing expertise has been a differentiator, but it’s also a discipline that's constantly changing. You’ve got to constantly be seeking knowledge, advises Dominic, whether through podcasts like Leaders With Ambition, books, white papers or mentors. Enjoy this lively conversation and if marketing is your passion – as it certainly is Dominic’s – then check out his playbook, which contains everything you’ll need to know on your way to becoming a CMO.


30 Mar 2022

Rank #6

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Ep. 17 - Verity Jackson-Grant - "If something needs doing and there’s no one else to do it, then often I’ll step in and pick that up.”

This episode of Leaders with Ambition illustrates the power of being open to and taking advantage of opportunities. Verity Jackson-Grant, Head of Marketing and Business Development - Pricing at Simmons & Simmons, has enjoyed the chance to create and successfully pitch a job spec and business case tailored to her specific strengths and interests. How did she secure that opportunity? Through a mix of a positive attitude that has opened doors throughout her career and by constantly adding value and looking at what needs to be done in a firm, being busy – but never too busy to take on whatever task that requires attention. Verity started her career very much at random, falling into the burgeoning field of After-the-Event (ATE) insurance. She then went on to work in business development in law firms, where her teams have worked in a variety of client-facing capacities. Her willingness to take on any task and turn challenges into opportunities has played a big part in her success. Her approach frames business development and marketing functions not just as administrative add-ons but as value-add profit centres. When it comes to making inroads or, as Verity did, building a business case for the niche you would ideally like to fill, there is no underestimating the power of internal champions. Over the course of her career Verity has worked to bring on board sponsors who understood her mission and ROI. She shares with Nicky details of her philosophy on “the juggle” (i.e. co-equal commitments to career and family) as well as the pleasure she takes in mentoring younger colleagues while coaching more senior Partners on the constantly evolving landscape for legal business development and marketing. Verity loves her work and has great advice to share, which will apply no matter what sector you work in!


9 Mar 2022

Rank #7

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Ep. 16 - Bridget Uebel - “I like a challenge. I’ve always enjoyed challenges in my life and my work.”

This episode of Leaders With Ambition features Bridget Uebel, a Marketing and Business Development professional whose unique mix of traits and skills have flourished on a global stage. As a Global Business Development and Marketing Leader, Bridget brings a rare depth of experience to leadership within the realm of legal services. As she explains to Nicky, the road has been varied, exciting and challenging in all the best ways. Bridget began her career in publishing, which was ultimately a gateway to Hong Kong – where she spent the next 16 years studying various cultures (professional and personal), refining her ideas about effective communications and eventually taking a leap into overseeing legal marketing services for international law firms interested in upping their game in Asia.  It was an exciting transition that, over time, Bridget leveraged into an ever-bigger role as a trusted advisor and customer-facing member of the team.The work was stimulating and fulfilling, but Bridget finds that even the most compelling of careers can use a break now and again. In her case, the birth of her child presented the perfect opportunity to press pause, pursue a fine arts degree and catch her breath. When she felt ready to shift her work-life balance back towards legal services – work she had missed – her strong track record and robust network paved the way. While her trajectory has included multiple roles with a variety of firms spanning responsibilities in the U.K., U.S., Europe and Asia, the things that have driven Bridget’s success have remained consistent throughout. Those foundational building blocks include: Doing your homework. Going the extra mile. Seizing opportunities. Growing a sturdy and supportive network. Taking time to be intentional, stay refreshed. Bridget shares with Nicky some great tips about keeping projects moving forward across departments and regions, why it’s important to make time to recharge, and what motivates her to give back through mentoring younger colleagues. She also shares career highs, as well as strategies to address some of the most common workplace challenges.Enjoy a conversation packed with details about the innovations and lessons that have defined Bridget’s marketing communications and business development career.


21 Feb 2022

Rank #8

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Ep. 15 - Rippan Vig - "Being open to possibilities is certainly going to bring more opportunities."

​In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky’s guest, Rippan Vig, Director of Client & Strategic Development at Watson, Farley & Williams, shares her fascinating career journey that demonstrates the fluid way in which careers can evolve. Rippan has taken her law degree and related skills in unanticipated directions. How has she done it? By staying open, being authentic and bringing her best self to every professional scenario. She has successfully navigated two careers in different sectors (legal and finance), all the while acquiring skill sets that were complementary to both. By tuning in to her affinity for business development, marketing and client relationships, Rippan was able to forge her own career path and today enjoys a workplace culture that fosters openness and supports her leadership style. Tune in to learn more about the key elements that have shaped Rippan’s career trajectory and that could positively impact your own.


7 Feb 2022

Rank #9

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Ep. 14 - Nick Wallis - “I love the feeling of helping people achieve their life goals.”

​There’s no guaranteed path to career success, but Nicky’s guest on this episode of Leaders with Ambition illustrates a few key ingredients. Nick Wallis, a Partner and Head of Deal Advisory at Gerald Edelman, deployed a powerful combination of priorities in making his quick ascent: A strong work ethic, effective networking and eyes on the horizon. While it’s easy to get caught up in the next salary increase, Nick understood early on that short-term sacrifice often equals long-term gain. Thus, he leaned into long working hours and understood that increased managerial responsibility or exposure to new skill sets were worth the trade-off. This episode highlights the tools that have enabled Nick to achieve his goals, the need always to be gauging your value-add within any given team and why it’s so important to keep your eyes fixed on a five- or ten-year horizon. “The experiences I’ve had along the way have really helped to get me to where I am today and have given me the confidence to achieve,” says Nick. He also offers thoughts on the impact of Covid19 relating to corporate deal-making and shares both highlights and lowlights from the course of his stellar career.


24 Jan 2022

Rank #10