Claire Darley Q&A with Ritchie Mehta

A talk with Ritchie Mehta, CEO of the School of Marketing and his plans to help the COVID-19 cohort, the generation hardest hit by the economic cand competitive pressures of the pandemic.

By Claire Darley

Posted on 03-26-2021

As I finished the last interview of this series, I was both sad to see this time come to an end and hopeful about the insights, ideas and action steps I have gleaned from the fabulous minds we have profiled here. My interview with Ritchie Mehta, CEO of the School of Marketing, was no different. As someone who works with young people day in and day out, Ritchie hears their hopes and fears. He is especially keen to help the COVID-19 cohort, the generation of young people hardest hit by the economic consequences and competitive pressures of the pandemic, make 2021 ‘the year we fight back.’

In our conversation, Ritchie talks about numerous ways to win the fight. We start with something near and dear to my heart — mentorship. As a new mentor at Ritchie’s School of Marketing, I was keen to hear his insights about why mentoring makes such a difference. But we did not stop there. Ritchie had tips for employers and those seeking work and promised me a ‘silver bullet’ that can help both succeed. Now if that is not a cliff hanger, I don’t know what is!

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You’ve achieved so much. How did you get to where you are now?

The steps of my journey really informed my ultimate destination. Firstly, while I was born and spent my formative years in Mumbai, I moved to a border town in Scotland — and as I made decisions about my studies, I recall two things: 1. a move to London seemed out of the question — and 2. marketing was never mentioned among the ‘usual suspects’ of areas to study.

As time went by and I embarked on my education, I ended up with four degrees! I learned in every format, from full time to part time and from distanced learning to correspondence. While this was not an intentional social experiment, it did teach me that learning happens in many ways — and that what might work for one, doesn’t necessarily work for all.

When I started my career, I loved marketing — and soon realised that what’s taught about it in business schools is too theoretical. I had an embryonic insight that if I could help people get a glimpse into what a fascinating and inspiring industry it can be, I would have lived some of my purpose. I had a lofty ambition to start my own school.

Our journeys are similar — I grew up in the North of England, and no one expected me to succeed academically and leave Scunthorpe. My story is about aspiration but also persistence. I think tenacity is underrated.

Exactly — and young people don’t always understand the value of persistence with the immediacy of the world we live in. I worked in finance — I became a lecturer, then a course creator. It took 7.5 years to get to learn the sector and the trade before I was happy enough to launch my own school.

What is it about the School of Marketing that is fundamentally different?

We offer a blend of omnichannel, always-on experiences — there are earn and learn opportunities — we give incentives and work with business leaders to solve real-world problems. We also structure learning interventions with a sign-posted pathway through the content and keep our eye on long-term development. There is such a rich blend of experiences on offer.

We know there are bottlenecks on both the supply and demand sides. A Marketing Week survey found that only in 3 percent of cases did young people want to pursue careers in marketing, so that speaks to a need to inspire and inform them. At the same time, there is a need to upskill and reskill people already employed as marketing is evolving so quickly in a digital world. We operate like a social enterprise to close this circle.

You talk about informing and inspiring — and it makes me so excited to come on board as a mentor.

We have a massive aspiration to be the biggest mentoring programme in the UK, especially after the diabolical year we had last year. 2021 must be the year we fight back. We can do that by helping young people build confidence and connection, giving them access to industry experts like you who who will lend a helping hand to make tomorrow a better day.

This is true of my own experience. I started my career with a placement at IBM, largely as I knew someone who went through the process successfully, who reminded me of myself. It makes me think of the expression: ‘if you can see it, you can be it’. We need an ample pool of diverse mentors so people can see themselves reflected in them.

Claire, I love that you escaped the ‘Northern bias’ because diversity is key, but our world is riddled with biased processes. Even in the pandemic, a video interview will be more successful with better tech and a better backdrop! It really does become as much about who you know as what you know.

Further, we did a huge study that identified 4 major barriers to entering marketing careers:

Mentoring really addresses Access and Altitude, so it is a core part of our offer at the School of Marketing. We want role models of all shapes and sizes to open doors. We also want them to appreciate the influence they have on recruitment practices — one of the biggest barriers we are trying to smash. Mentors develop empathy with mentees (it’s really reverse mentorship) — and that helps them change the system.

That’s why mentoring is such a huge part of my life in and outside Adobe. Who have you recruited and from what industries?

So many marketers are represented from so many verticals: Boots, Direct Line, Google, Karmarama, Sainsbury’s and Unilever — just to name a few!

Registering for a 1:1 with a mentor is a 10-second registration process and we make sessions available weekly on a first-come, first serve basis (people have to act fast as we are usually subscribed in 90 minutes after we release slots). Other than that, it couldn’t be easier. It’s free and there are no strings attached.

This representation proves ‘it takes a village.’ What other asks do you have of employers like us?

Help inform people about what they are entitled to receive and let them know that training is available for them.

The support around the apprenticeship levy is the world’s best kept secret. If you are a levy-paying organisation like Adobe, you can deploy funding to hire young people and upskill high potential, high talent people in your company. And SMEs can avail themselves of up to 100 percent of the funding even if they are not a levy-paying organisation. You might even have a freelancer in your enterprise who can put themselves on a training programme! Everyone should be taking advantage of this!

So, this is the silver bullet you mentioned?

Absolutely. There is a dominance and growth trajectory around the ‘earn and learn’ model and apprenticeships are the key.

This is money that is not being spent — it is ludicrous that people don’t have awareness about something so beneficial to employers and employees.

I’m happy we can shine a light on it. You talk about the COVID-19 cohort, and for them, career development isn’t just about a difficult 2020. It’s about their lives.

Young people have to grab their career with their two hands — but they can’t be so rigid as to not recognise a good opportunity. It’s not all about money or that grad role at Google. I was once offered a role that paid me 10 times less than the one I had, but I took it as I saw its brand value. Sometimes, you have to be flexible in the short term and strategic in the long term.

And what can Adobe advise for its creative community?

Become a creator. This is the single most valuable thing anyone can do.

Be a creator in whatever guise you choose, activate all social channels, start a podcast, get yourself on Fiver. Start earning today. Develop your personal brand.

Of course I love hearing you say ‘Become a creator’ as creativity is the number one mandate at Adobe as we challenge the status quo. But it’s also the way the world is working today. People want ‘portfolio careers’, to be digital nomads, to have a mix of roles and choices. Your advice and the School of Marketing enables that — as well as those looking for more traditional careers.

All interviews in this series and more content can be found here.

Topics: Creativity, Insights & Inspiration, Leadership, Education, Creative Cloud,

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