Sean Paul Verity, Project Manager @ Rockpool Digital How I Made It
At the tender age of 25, Sean Paul Verity is already an incredibly successful project manager. Having started his career with Regus in the serviced office industry, he has now established himself in the digital world, working for an innovative digital agency called Rockpool. Here Sean tells us about the importance of choosing the right placement, making the most of your opportunities to travel and why working at the forefront of the digital industry is the perfect match for his project management skills…
I always knew that I wanted to develop a career in business, but I didn’t really have a full understanding of what I wanted to do. That’s probably why I chose to study International Business Management at Sheffield Hallam University. I went for something that was broad on purpose; a course that, at a later stage, would allow me to go in the direction I wanted to go. My degree gave me a broad base in business and a strong foundation across many disciplines.
Choosing a placement
As part of my degree, I did a placement year at Regus, a global organisation which manages serviced office buildings. When I was looking for placements, a lot of different opportunities were being pushed towards us by our university. There were a few good ones; for instance, there was an opportunity to go and work in Whistler and there was another opportunity in the Caribbean. But, from my perspective, it very much felt like these companies were looking for cheap labour. Their focus was on getting someone in for a year that would help their business, who they wouldn’t have to pay very much.
What I really wanted to do was help myself; I wanted to push myself further. And I didn’t really feel like the placements my university was offering were going to help me do that. With that in mind, I went out and I looked for something which would really help me get my foot on the ladder. Regus was it.
If I’m completely honest, I knew someone at Regus and that helped me to get my foot in the door. However, I think it’s really important that you go and push things the way you want to push them. Don’t take second best; don’t just go for something because your university offers it to you.
Confidence is everything
My degree was great because it was so broad - I did sales, I did marketing, I did operational stuff, I did finance - but more than anything else, it gave me confidence. When you do a placement, it’s all about having the confidence to talk to people and being able to walk into meetings with total belief in yourself. Regus gave me a brilliant opportunity; they let me stand on my own two feet, they let me make mistakes and they invested a lot of time in me.
Over the course of the year, I worked in around 15 different positions: I did a lot of work on promotions, I worked in I.T. and telecoms; I did all sorts of things. A year later, I went back to university and most of my friends had just done admin work. At that point, the real benefits of my placement year were really apparent.
It’s the little things that count
It’s important to get things on your CV that make you stand out. You don’t necessarily have to do something massive; just something small.
It seems pretty insignificant now, but at the age of 17, I was a restaurant manager when I could have just been a waiter. I earned £1.50 more an hour. Sure, it wasn’t making me a millionaire, but little things like that eventually add up.
Again, at 18, I got a job at a live music venue called the Leadmill in Sheffield. I could have worked behind the bar, but, even then, I was pushing for different roles within the business. I ended up becoming a stage manager, and therefore I can now call upon experiences of looking after VIPs and celebrities, some of whom were really difficult to handle. It gave me brilliant experience of dealing with awkward situations. It’s not a huge thing, it’s something small. But that kind of thing really makes a difference.
Travelling outside of your comfort zone
I did a lot of travelling before I did my degree and after I’d finished university, and I think there’s a lot of value in that. I honestly believe that travelling is one of the most important things for anyone to do.
But when I say travelling, I don’t mean sitting around on a beach in Thailand. It should be challenging and it should put you outside your comfort zone. For me, going travelling is all about learning to deal with difficult situations. I always say: “You haven’t been travelling until you’ve been to India.” That place is crazy.
At the age of 18, I jumped in at the deep end and flew to Delhi. We did loads of challenging things, but one moment really stands out as being particularly tough. Myself and Jim (the guy I was travelling with) had to get an 18-hour train from Agra to Varanasi. It was a sleeper train with six beds in each cabin. As we got into bed, I was very aware that more and more people were coming into the cabin. When I went to sleep, there was one person in each bed. When I woke up the next time, there was actually someone climbing into bed with me. I looked at Jim, who was one bunk below me, and he already had someone in bed with him.
Five minutes later, a man came into the cabin, ringing a bell and handing out pots of curry. My newly acquired sleeping buddy then managed to tip his meal upside down on my mattress. I ended up sleeping there in the middle of this guy’s curry for 15 hours before I had to change trains. When we did eventually change trains, we ended up heading 15 miles in the wrong direction. We got off the train in the middle of nowhere, in a place that didn’t have a ticket office. Somehow, we ended up getting a police escort back to the station where we had changed trains before.
However, within about half an hour, we must have had 50 people staring at us from the local towns and villages because they’d never seen white people before. People were even breaking through the police line and touching us on our faces. It was just a really surreal, awkward situation to be put in. We just had to brush it off though and get on with it. That’s what traveling is all about: coping with situations that you’re not used to and making the most of them.
Back to Regus
After my placement, I went back to university for another year, and then I went travelling to South America. When I came back, I thought that it was about time I grew up a little bit and got a job in the real world. I called my old boss at Regus, who had been promoted into the position of Vice President of Global Operations. Fortunately, he was happy to take me on as part of his team. On the 1st of February, I started working as a project coordinator. I moved into a business analyst position quite quickly, and by October of the same year, I had progressed to become Global Operations Manager.
A lot of my success at Regus was down to being in the right place at the right time, but I also recognised that if you impress the right people, you will move up the ladder much quicker. You’ve just got to work hard. The biggest thing I’ve always done, and I don’t understand why more people don’t do it, is get things done. If I tell someone I’m going to do something, I get it done. If I’ve got a to-do list, I’ll work my way through it.
Leaving Regus was very much a personal decision. Nobody grows up wanting to manage a financial system in the serviced office industry. I wanted to do something that was exciting, and working in the digital world fits that bill. The digital industry has got a lot of legs, and I want to be a part of that.
Rockpool are very focused on innovation. They’re really keen on staying at the forefront of things, and that’s the most important thing to me. My company’s really keen on pushing themselves and that means they’re pushing me at the same time.
Aside from that, as a company, they’re just fun to work for. They’re young, all the guys at the company have the same mind-set; they want to push themselves in the same way. They’ve also got a beer fridge. You might laugh, but when you walk in and you see things like that, you think: “This business has got the right atmosphere about it; it’s got the right approach.” They care about their guys; you’re not just a number, you’re an integral part of the business.
It’s a really exciting time for me. And there’s plenty going on. I’m currently working on the Sky account and we’re also pushing for some other big deals at the minute with a range of major clients.
The next step
My focus at a young age was to have a quite a broad approach to my career, mainly due to the fact that I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But now, for the first time in my life, I’m really focused. I really feel that this is the area in which I want to gain expertise. For the next two years, I need to earn my stripes, learn about the industry and know the business back-to-front. I really want to get to grips with the digital industry, so I can walk into a meeting and feel absolutely comfortable.
How to be successful in business
To be successful in this line of work, you’ve got to get a to-do list and you’ve just got to get things done. People have got to trust you; they’ve got to recognise you for reliability and efficiency. And if you do that, you’ll build good relationships. If you build good relationships, people will take you under their wing and you will move up in the world. I don’t consider myself to be particularly clever; I didn’t get great GCSEs, I didn’t get great A-levels and I haven’t got an amazing degree. I just get things done, and I build a reputation for the right reasons.
I’m a people person. I’m good at managing people and I’m good at getting the best out of them. Business is all about having relationships where you can pull a favour here and you can pull a favour there. My career so far has been fairly organic and I think that’s largely because people are willing to help me. I’ve got people to go to. And that’s how I’ve made it this far in such a short amount of time.
By Sean Paul Verity as told to AllAboutCareers
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