This article was published by NI Jobfinder in 2018.

The Post: Strategic Development Director, Macklin Care Homes and Malone Lodge Hotel

The Post Holder: Cara Macklin

HOW I BECAME A STRATEGIC DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR

Gaining on the job experience has been fundamental to Cara Macklin’s career path.

Give a brief outline of your career to date.

I spent a year in Marks and Spencers’ Head Office London at their Food Trend Studio working with their product developers and some of the best chefs in the world. I returned to the Macklin Group, in an operational role and then I went on to set up the first central procurement function as well as our HR department, which has bedded in the core values and ethos the Macklin group has today. In the last few years my role has been more strategic development, opening a number of new businesses. This year we have opened the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, a lifestyle care home, Milesian Manor.

What was your favourite subject at school?

I loved a number of different subjects at school, that didn’t fit neatly into one box. I loved foreign languages, Maths and Home Economics.

Did you go on to further/higher education, if so what did you study and where?

I studied Consumer Studies at the University of Ulster, which is a business degree specialising in the food industry. In 2015 I was really lucky to get a scholarship to attend one of the top MBAs in the world at Cass Business School London. During this year I got to work with people from over 40 different countries, carried out projects in Iceland, South Africa and China and worked with world class companies such as the Doyle Hotel Group.

How did you get into your area of work?

At 14 I started my first business with my brother, running coaches to local nightclubs. Studying my degree and Masters both in business gave me a great foundation but nothing beats the university of life, and I took every opportunity to get experiences both locally and internationally. My Granda always said education is easily carried, which I agree with, but nothing teaches you like the real world.

Is this what you always wanted to do?

Unlike my school friends who knew exactly what job they would do, I knew from an early age I wasn’t going to fit the mould of a traditional profession. I always wanted to be in business, innovating and creating concepts that were totally unique and would make a real difference to people.

Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?

There are no essential qualifications or experiences for running a business or being a leader. Some of the best business leaders in the world don’t have any formal education at all. Although there are no essential qualifications, I believe there are particular traits which are necessary including passion, integrity, ambition, courage, tenacity and most of all generosity to others.

Are there alternative routes into the job?

There are so many different routes into this job, following formal education or getting experience from an early age – with the speed of business now I don’t believe it is just one or the other. People need to be continuously updating themselves through learning and courses combined with getting real life experience in different environments.

What are the main personal skills your job requires?

Great people skills and the ability to connect quickly and easily with all different types of people. One minute I could be meeting a resident and their family, and an hour later meeting our accountant and bank team. It’s all about people, and the ability to communicate easily to build long term relationships. On a practical level, being five steps ahead to think of the next idea and where we are going, and the ability to really engage and bring the team along with me.

What does a typical day entail?

My role is so varied. In one day I could start with an interior design meeting picking concepts for our new lifestyle home, then in a board meeting updating our strategy and finishing with an innovation session with our staff. On a more practical level I would be chatting to residents, interviewing staff, finalising marketing plans or training initiatives and reviewing monthly accounts.

What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?

The best part of my job is the huge impact I can have on the lives of others including our staff and customers. I love being able to develop concepts that are so unique people never imagined possible, and seeing the reaction on their face when they experience it. I get so much satisfaction from developing people to achieve things they never believed, and seeing their confidence and enthusiasm grow when this happens.

The most challenging aspects of the job are regulations and bureaucracy. I know it can be important to protect us but it’s a huge challenge for me when it slows down our development.

Why is what you do important?

It is so important I continue to look to the future and develop and improve our business and our people. In society people continue to expect more, and it’s important we can deliver on this and have a real impact on the lives of others.

What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?

Go out and create opportunities and grab them with both hands. Play football with Pele. I always tell people if I wanted to learn to play football I would play with Pele. Even though I might never be as good, just being around him would improve my performance tenfold. I apply this same principle in my career.

If you weren’t doing this what would you like to do?

I love being in business, and would also love to run my own company that could become international. I am really passionate about supporting others and this year I have finished a course in leadership coaching. Now I would love the opportunity to work with other organisations who have a real appetite for innovation and development and making a difference to others.

On a personal level I have started acting classes and really love ballroom dancing. I would have loved a part in The Greatest Showman and my close friends know my ultimate dream would be to take part in Strictly Come Dancing.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?

Have patience and be easier on yourself.

Describe your ideal day off.

I love getting out in the fresh air in Donegal, or climbing Slieve Donard or Cave Hill. Then finishing off the day having dinner or quiet drink with close friends.

And finally, what’s the key to any successful job search?

Be focused, and only go after the jobs you really want. Don’t do the blanket CV and covering letter to lots of employers. Pick a few jobs, do your research and be really well prepared. Employers really appreciate passion, and a genuine interest in their role and you will be much more successful.