This week, we talk to incredible Melanie Eusebe, entrepreneur, award-winning business strategist and founder of the Black British Business Awards which she launched in 2014 and is endorsed by Theresa May and Sadiq Khan, among many others.
Melanie started her career working at Canada's largest financial service institution where she was Manager of their Internet Channels before moving to London to become a Management Consultant at Ernst & Young, She then took the leap and set up her own business advising businesses on strategic initiatives as well as runs an online school for aspiring leaders. Here's her story:
Newnham: What were you like growing up and how would your friends and family have described you?
Eusebe: I think I was quite an obedient child. My mum always says that I was an obedient child – I was always seeking her approval.
I loved people which is kind of strange because in the beginning of my school life, I was bullied for having an English accent in Canada and so I was quite quiet in my kindergarten years but then once I found my steam and once I really started to read a lot then I also started to communicate a lot. And some of my teachers are still friends with me now on Facebook and they say that they always knew that I was going to be a leader which is quite amazing so I am grateful for that.
My friends and family have been really supportive throughout my whole career. I started in Student Counsel because I always wanted to fight for the rights of others and speak up on behalf of others and make sure people’s voices were heard - this was always a theme for me.
Newnham: What has been your career to date?
Eusebe: I wanted to be a management consultant. I toyed with being a doctor. I toyed with being a lawyer but I loved solving problems. I love solving business problems as well. I love the money aspects of it. So my strategy consultancy is just that.
I started off at IBM then I went to EY (Ernst & Young). I was helping large businesses with their business problems and then I started my own consultancy because, on the side, I had been helping small businesses. And helping creatives because they, particularly, didn’t have the business education that I had so that’s why after I left EY and started doing my own independent consultancy where I got to pick the clients I loved working with – both big and small, financial businesses, creative businesses, and that’s what I am doing right now to this day.
Newnham: What are some highs / lows of your career thus far?
Eusebe: Some of my career highs and lows include joining a Big 4 consultancy firm was definitely a high (EY) as was joining IBM. My career in banking – in financial services - internet banking – was definitely a high too.
I would say some of the lows in regards to my career was when I realised that I was being underpaid and I didn’t know how to negotiate my salary so I felt really undervalued for a while. And, initially, one of the lows which was also one of the highs which was when I left to start my own business because I think I always identified myself as, “I’m a Management Consultant. I work for this business.” And then when you leave and you become independent, then you have to learn a new way of defining yourself that’s not in relation to a company… That’s not in relation to a role you have in a company. And so that took a bit of effort – emotionally and spiritually – I just had to re-frame myself. So it wasn’t necessarily a low but it was definitely a changing point where I wasn’t quite as sure-footed as I usually am with my career.
Newnham: What were the first few critical steps you took after starting your business?
Eusebe: And when I decided to set up on my own, the first few steps which I always say to people and which I did myself was to start while I was already in a job.
I had started thinking about being independent and starting my own business and I actually registered the name at Companies House whilst I was still at EY. I was doing it on the weekends and the evenings, and most importantly for me, it was deciding what I was going to sell. So exactly what the widget would be – exactly what the product and services I was selling. I think a lot of us – we kind of go into these service businesses and we don’t quite define how much we are going to sell, what we are going to sell and even how we are going to cover our costs. I also sought out a mentoring, a lot of sponsorship with people who had done it before. So I spoke to them about how they started their businesses, and how they made the leap. And that really helped give me courage.
So those were the critical steps I would say – definitely sit down with a piece of paper and decide what you’re selling and how much it is going to be for. And then on top of that, talk to people who have gone that way before you and start surrounding yourself with people who are doing the same thing.
Newnham: What conversation led to you starting the Black British Business Awards and how has it evolved?
Eusebe: They started four years ago and what led to me starting the programme was the fact that the amazing black people that I knew who were doing great things and making a real contribution to the UK economy were not in the media. The media portrayals and television shows and our news programmes did not show all of the excellence in the breadth and width of the black experience here in the UK – in regards to doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs and media mavens – I wasn’t seeing that. And so I wanted to make sure that kids coming after me – they saw that. And I also wanted to make sure that the wider UK population also saw that. That there was much more to being black than what we were seeing on our screens.
And so from having an awards programme that just awarded the best of British talent, across all the industries, it has now evolved into a series of programmes where it’s not just about an awards ceremony, it’s actually about programmes that help organisations really foster, develop and grow their BAME talent. And that’s across the BAME spectrum so it has evolved from just being a few companies sponsoring to more than forty five and it’s evolved to 200 finalists, media appearances for days, Twitter impressions so it’s really grown exponentially since the first idea.
Newnham: Diversity is something we often talk about– why are diverse teams so critical to the success of a business and how can we ensure more industries are focused on inclusiveness as a priority?
Eusebe: I think that when we talk about diversity, I think there is a lot of goodwill and a lot of good intention but what we are seeing right now is a lot of regurgitation of the same ideas – you know, the same experiences - like remakes of old classics in films. But with diverse teams, they bring a whole new experience because everyone has their own unique experience, their valued experience that they are bringing to the table. And with the economic marketplace changing so much from how we buy things to what we buy as well and the disposable income that is available to BAME people is changing so much that a company would certainly be on the back foot if they do not have diverse teams.
And there is a global shortage in regards to service talent and human resources so I think diverse teams allow you to number one, tap into a whole market, not just as a consumer but actually being producers and creators of new ideas.
Newnham: You have received many accolades in your career – what are you most proud of, career-wise, and why?
Eusebe: Career-wise, I am definitely most proud of the awards. Starting something from nothing is an amazing experience and I think something everyone should go through –like gardening, it’s starting with a seed and growing it into something that is fruitful and producing something for so many others – and that’s what the awards are to me.
Additionally, just starting my own business and being independent for five years. And knowing now that with businesses, at the two-three year mark, a lot of them fail and knowing now that I am over that five year mark is really important to me – that longevity.
Newnham: If you could go back in time, what advice – if any – would you offer a younger Melanie?
Eusebe: I would say, “Mel, you know what. Have faith and confidence that, even if you mess up, you can fix it. It’s not a big deal." I think I have – I still struggle with this idea that it has to be perfect first time and as adults, we lose that little kid thing where we just want to have our go. We just want to try something new – even if it’s not perfect, we want to learn new things. And so I’m always encouraging myself and I would encourage the younger version of myself to, “Just have your go Mel – it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. It’s all about progress, not perfection."