When it comes to professional development, you can grow just as much by moving across borders as you can by moving up the ladder in the same location. That’s certainly been the case for Visa’s managing director in the UK and Ireland, Mandy Lamb, whose career path has stretched many thousands of miles around the world.
Born and raised in Cape Town, Lamb left her job as a senior account manager at MasterCard in 2009 to join Visa as its head of business development in South Africa. After serving four years as country manager there, she relocated to Kyiv in 2015 to head up Visa’s operations in Ukraine and the wider region, including several other former Soviet nations. Then there was a four-year stint in Singapore, where Lamb was group country manager for Southeast Asia. She moved to London to take up her current position in 2021.
Here she shares just some of the insights she has gained along the way.
On working around the world
“There are always regional differences that you have to respect. I learnt that quickly when moving from South Africa to eastern Europe, where I had to be more conscious of engaging with people, listening to them and understanding their views before instituting a new strategy or way of working. Otherwise, it might not resonate with them.
“I learnt that the hard way, making mistakes and getting ‘organ rejections’ for particular decisions. These happen when you don’t take enough time to understand the cultural environment.
“A region’s working culture is shaped by societal norms. I’ve found the UK to be very multicultural and cosmopolitan in nature. That’s fantastic, because it’s enabled me to use skills here that I’ve learnt in Asia, eastern Europe and Africa. But there are always nuances. My fundamental message is that you have to respect these subtle differences and absorb yourself in them, lest you make judgement calls too quickly.”
On combining empathy with decisiveness as a leader
“At the start of my career, I felt that I had to be highly polished and corporate. I needed to have an opinion that was louder than everyone else’s to make my mark. What I’ve realised over time is that it’s OK to be empathetic and to show vulnerability.
“Now, when people ask me to describe my leadership style, I feel confident in saying that I’m an inclusive, authentic, empathetic leader who knows how to adapt to a given situation, aided by all the cultural experiences I’ve had. The big task of leadership is making trade-offs and taking decisions with limited information. I know how to make a call when I need to and be accountable for it. I can really be fierce about the business.
“I no longer feel that those characterisations of empathy or the desire to inspire others are on the soft side. I think that’s what the world requires today. I hope we don’t slide back into command-and-control styles of leadership, because we’ve made a lot of progress. The pandemic catalysed a lot of networking styles in bringing remote teams together and diminishing the distance between people. I think that’s had a positive impact and I’d hate for us to lose it.”
On hybrid working
“At Visa, we believe in the power of people coming together to solve problems and share what they’ve learnt. So we’ve very much shifted towards being in a face-to-face environment for at least half of our time. That is the expectation.
“I think that’s working better for us in some markets than others. It’s contextual; every territory is unique. A lot of folk in the early stages of their careers are saying: ‘I need to learn from people who are more experienced by seeing them in action. I need to be in a room with them, engaging clients and engaging the market.’
“That face-to-face interaction is crucial for our business, because it‘s relationship-driven. We can’t serve our end customers effectively if we’re not in touch with them and we aren’t experiencing that human interaction every day.”