Reaching your peak

Julius James explains the culture at UBS helps people to unlock their full potential

"Our business is our people. They are our assets. It's our responsibility to spend as much time and as many resources as possible developing our staff, especially those with high potential."

Julius James is explaining the ethos behind his work on professional development at UBS.

"It's about working with executives and helping them enhance their skillsets to make them more successful. I help them prepare for bigger things. So, for example, I work on helping executives do much better than the average person when giving a presentation."

But the focus on development is not just confined to executives. In fact, it permeates all levels of the organisation. In his previous role at UBS, Julius devised a two-year, award-winning programme for high-potential staff, called ASCENT. Those on the scheme work in teams for three months on a project, set by the board of directors, to fix a problem or meet a challenge within the organisation. The approach taken by the programme is unique.

"A lot of the things we do are not in office. Sometimes the best lessons are learnt from people outside the industry. For example, we joined a rehearsal and had a lesson in leadership from the conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. He takes a group of talented people and brings them together to achieve something. That's what we do too. We also went to The Economist magazine and spent time with the managing editor. We spent hours talking about world politics and the economy. All the work we do on the programme is related to the business. But we allow for a lot of creativity, flair and fun."

It's all part of creating an atmosphere at the firm which encourages both professional and personal development.

"People here want you to succeed - they want to help you. They're very smart people who love what they do. But it's also an inquisitive environment where people have lots of interests outside their work. It's a big bank but you can be an individual here. And you can really make an impact. You're given the freedom to come up with new ideas and make a difference. It's a nice feeling when you can do that."

Julius is also involved with building the firm's cultural awareness network (CAN). The idea is to provide staff with a forum to learn about and debate topical, social and political issues. For example, during Black History Month they arranged talks by Diane Abbott and Baroness Amos, the UK's first black members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords respectively. They've also had forums on the political issues in Pakistan, Somalia and North Korea.

"We try to keep it topical. It's about creating a forum where people can ask questions if they want to find out more about something. There are experts who can help them understand."

UBS is not only committed to the development of its own staff, it also sponsors a number of mentorship programmes, one of which is called London School and the Black Child. Julius explains:

"It's an awards programme that focuses on academically gifted black kids in school. I just gave a speech this morning to a group of UBS staff who are going to be mentors to these kids. We'll show them what we do. We're not trying to convince them to become investment bankers. That's not what it's about. It's about introducing them to the office environment. Some of these kids are already doing incredibly well. It's just another way of supporting them and giving them opportunities. It's a very worthwhile programme and we're very proud to be part of it."

Unsurprisingly for an expert on professional development, Julius is full of advice for aspiring graduates.

"Have lots of mentors, as many as you can find because one mentor won't be able to teach you everything. Internships are fantastic. Do as many as possible with different companies, they're a great way to explore your options. Try not to be too narrow in the careers you look at because there's so much out there. Talk to people, find out what they're doing, why they enjoy it, how they got into it. When you're young you can afford to take some calculated risks which you wouldn't or couldn't take if you were older. So take advantage of being young and take some risks. Some of them will pay off."

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