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How Baillie Gifford embraces coaching to enable colleagues to make their mark

Updated: 3 days ago

By end October 2023, over 400 people at investment management firm Baillie Gifford had attended my 12-hour Make Your Mark with Susan Room® group-coaching programme. Piloted in 2019, and run for self-selecting cohorts of 12, the programme's popularity means places are booked as soon as they are released and waiting lists are not uncommon. We kicked off cohorts 36, 37, 38 and 39 in January 2024.

In this article four Baillie Gifford Make Your Mark alumni reflect on how they’ve put their learnings into practice to achieve something new and make their own mark.

With thanks to and in conversation with:

Celeste Beresford, Neil Irving Colquhoun, Louise Murphy and Gill Pearce.

Celeste Beresford has been working with the firm for over 13 years, first as Assistant Manager Business Improvement, then as a Global Service Support Manager. She participated in the Make Your Mark programme because she was looking to take that next step up in her career. Having completed the programme, she was promoted to Head of Global Service Support. The team has flourished under her leadership and allows her to use her strategic management, team building, people development, business analysis, business process improvement and project coordination skills to the full.

Neil Irving Colquhoun has been with the firm for 16 years. He's an experienced programme owner with a demonstrated history of working in the investment management industry. Prior to doing Make Your Mark, he worked with the Investment Projects and Improvements team ensuring investors have the focus they need to invest. When Neil’s immediate boss stepped away from his role as a programme owner in early 2019, Neil was asked to step in. He admits that for the first six months he struggled to be seen at that more elevated level. He participated in the Make Your Mark programme that same year and credits the programme with helping him achieve that. He's since been promoted to Head of MAFI Investment Services.

Louise Murphy worked predominately in the firm's IT systems department for 13 years before becoming a programme manager for one of it's major applications in 2019. She signed up for the Make Your Mark programme having seen an article on an internal communication platform from Baillie Gifford’s Director of Ops Transformation and Private Companies Chief of Staff, Angela Geddes, talking openly about her experiences of the programme and how it had benefited her. As someone doing a similar role, that article convinced Louise the programme would be pitched at the right level and could help her own development. Since then, she's been promoted to manage the building and move to the firm's new Edinburgh office.

Gill Pearce started her career in the firm’s finance department in operational roles 15 years ago. Seven years in, she transferred into the investment department as a Project Manager. She continues to work there today, managing a variety of projects that develop the best systems solutions for investors. Gill participated in one of the early Make Your Mark programmes, not long after her transfer into the investment team. That was part of her reason for wanting to do the programme, to learn new things that would help her make a success of her new role.


What most surprised you about Make Your Mark?

Neil begins that it was the amount he benefited. “I love the programme’s ability to make its learning stick. It’s designed so you take away practical learning. I was able to reinforce and put that into practice quickly and it didn’t take long before people started noticing the changes I implemented.”

It’s a surprise Louise shares.

“It’s the first course I’ve ever really done that I’ve continually benefited from. I’ve been able to confidently use some of the tools and learnings in my day-to-day work. This programme’s left a lasting mark on me, as well as allowing me to make my mark.”

What did you discover that’s proved particularly helpful?

“For me everything I do is about the quality of my relationships,” says Celeste. “There’s a lot in this programme about how the relationships you build with people form. How you trust, how you allow people to treat you, how you empower others to evolve their role into something that’s not only good for them but good for their team.”

Celeste Beresford
Celeste Beresford

That learning’s been invaluable to Celeste, not only for putting a framework in place to build and lead a large team, but for managing it, and giving others the freedom to thrive within it. Her team’s growth and size today are testament to success.

It’s ability to shift your perceptions is also something Celeste believes this programme excels at. “There’s a quote that always resonates with me and I feel Make Your Mark really addresses it. It’s that:

‘We don’t see things the way they are, we see things the way we are.’

“That’s a powerful thing to think about,” continues Celeste. “Our perception of how we see ourselves and what we think other people see, could be very different and vice versa. Knowing that impacts how you develop yourself, interact with others, and build relationships. I think about it a lot, especially when I listen to others, and I strive to see the world through their eyes.”

Discovering how deceptive perception can be is a learning also shared by Gill. “I’m much more aware of people’s situations and that how they come across might not be the reality,” she says.

“I’ve found this insight particularly useful in the last year when everything’s been virtual, with things like body language much harder to read. I try and use that insight in my teams. I work hard not to make assumptions, to ensure that individuals are looked after and that they really have what they need to succeed.”

What one thing are you now doing differently?

For Gill it’s about being kinder to herself, having had a powerful and practical demonstration of the ‘inner critic’ at work. “It was quite an eye opener. I remember thinking I’d never allow anyone else to speak to me like this so why do I allow myself to do it to me with these inner thoughts.”

For Celeste it’s helping dispel that outdated myth that you need to be the loudest, most flamboyant person in the room to have real presence. “The programme helps you step back and think about what presence you need to have and how to build it. It’s important to come across confidently, but that isn’t about talking all the time and having all the answers. It’s more about whether you are approachable and how you work to instil confidence in others even when you don’t know the answer.”

For Louise it’s actively listening to drive greater understanding and secure positive outcomes from meetings. She explains:

“It’s not just about what is said, it’s about what you think you’ve heard and challenging accordingly.”

And for Neil it’s having the personal confidence to lead and be seen at a more senior level. “I went from a role, where I basically gave people what they needed, to stepping into a more strategic position. I tended to make jokes when nervous, and a senior colleague called me out on it. This role was a step-change, but over the course of my Make Your Mark year my personal confidence grew, improving my ability to speak and even have difficult conversations with the most senior people in the firm.”

How is this programme helping you Make your Mark?

Gill shares that she might have been guilty in the past of turning down things because she’d never done them before or didn’t know anything about it. “What the programme helped me realise was that’s the reason to do it! It’s helped me be less hard on myself. That if I don’t know something about a topic, to openly admit that but then be more willing to take it on and learn about it. Since Make Your Mark I’m just more willing to say okay I’ll give it a go.”

That’s something Neil can absolutely relate to. A couple of months ago, Neil was a webinar panellist. The topic was something he describes himself as interested in, but not an expert in. That perhaps doesn’t sound remarkable but it’s exactly the sort of thing Neil says he would have passed on before participating in Make Your Mark.

“I wouldn’t have had the confidence or the skills. I’ve been working through a lot of what I learned on Make Your Mark - about how to present yourself, how to talk, how to sit, all these little things that go way beyond your content.”

Reflecting on this first panel experience, Neil says, “I wouldn’t say I felt comfortable doing it, but I had the confidence to be able to do it. My contribution was well received, and I’ve had a couple of offers since to be on other panels. I’m cognisant that I don’t want people to see me as a talking head, but I really feel now that if it is useful for Baillie Gifford or to our industry then I’d be happy to do it again.”

Louise Murphy
Louise Murphy

And Neil’s experience is one Louise relates to.

“I’ve had to increase the number of presentations I do and that’s not in my comfort zone at all.”

Louise explains it’s not that she’s bad at doing presentations, she knows her subject and is always prepared, it’s just her nerves would get the better of her. “Having done Make Your Mark, which looks not only at what you say but how you say it, a fellow colleague commented on my presentation improvement. I wasn’t doing that nervous coughing.

The ums and ahs had gone. I was projecting far more confidence. The fact someone noticed those unhelpful speech habits were gone was great. Everyone here wants to do their best and the fact this programme presented these tools to me, is going to help me do a better job for Baillie Gifford in the future.”

And Baillie Gifford’s future is something that is at the forefront of Celeste’s mind. “I mentor people here and I’ve taken a lot of the concepts from this programme and fed them into my mentoring relationships. This learning is so transferable, it’s not something I’ve just used for my own personal benefit – I’ve definitely tried to share it with others as well.”

What was the programme’s highlight for you?

There’s general agreement among these Make Your Mark alumni that beyond the content, the cohort and resulting internal network it helps you build are real highlights.

Gill was one of the early participants onto the programme three years ago. “A few people asked why I didn’t go on the women-only cohort. While I can see why that may be helpful for some, my thinking was that our working environment is mixed, so I was keen to do this learning in a group reflecting that. There was a wide range of people involved on my cohort and that was good for relationships and building my network.”

It’s a benefit echoed by Celeste,

“This programme puts everyone on a level playing field. It shows you we're all here, facing the same problems and we should be leaning on each other a little more to support ourselves in our roles. I built some strong relationships that have subsequently helped me in this role. Through Make Your Mark we share a common journey, it’s one we can all relate to and being able to continue to speak to those people has been helpful.”

What’s your advice for a colleague looking to join the programme?

“Open your mind to everything that’s put in front of you", is Louise’s advice. “There will be things you’ll be unsure about or don’t want to say or try. But just open your mind and go with it.”

“Embrace everything that’s within it,” says Celeste. “Don’t only think about the content, also take the opportunity to work with different colleagues and find those relationships you can build while there.”

“Commit to it,” is Neil’s advice. “You can’t turn up half-heartedly and then walk away – it’ll be a waste of your time. Be honest with yourself about why you want to do the programme in the first place. Ask yourself what it is about your career right now that makes you think Make Your Mark will be useful to you.”

“Make Your Mark is useful for everyone, from new starters to the most experienced professionals,” concludes Gill. “But to get the most out of it you must be willing to be open. If you are ready to try new things and can be open to feedback, it’s a fantastic opportunity to expand your self-awareness and see yourself as others see you. I came away with a toolkit that I’ve been able to draw on, even in the most challenging situations. I’ve used the programme’s learnings to spot opportunities and can now adapt my communication techniques to help me change a situation to secure a better outcome. As long as you are ready to be open - I’d encourage every colleague to participate in Make Your Mark.”

Celeste, Neil, Louise and Gill are four of near-on 400 amazing Baillie Gifford colleagues who have participated in Make Your Mark with Susan Room®.

If you’d like to chat about how this programme can help your organisation,


Make Your Mark with Susan Room® explores how you think, how you look, what you say and how you say it and is valuable to those at every career stage. Why not book me to run a Make Your Mark event, Vocal & Executive Presence Workshop or Business Voice Masterclass for your organisation or team?

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