She has 16 years’ experience in financial services, including 13 years at ExCo level - and meerkats are perhaps Kal Atwal’s favourite animal as, after setting up and developing the comparison site brand comparethemarket.com, she helped create more than £1 billion shareholder value over five years. After that scale-up, Atwal was promoted to Group Director of Brand Led Businesses, including four other trading firms across Europe. The digital expert’s latest - Nurole appointed - role is as Chair of subscription meal kit business SimplyCook.
Your career grew alongside the digital revolution - how do you think the tech shift will change management style?
With a greater focus on delivering first-class consumer propositions, agility is more important than ever. The shift from command and control to being more flexible, collaborative, open and transparent is already happening. However, the fundamental basics of good management will, I think, remain: picking the right people for the right roles, spotting and developing talent, providing clarity of direction, timely and relevant communications and not shying away from difficult decisions.
How has scaling-up changed over the last ten years?
There’s definitely more jargon with much more emphasis on top line revenue growth. Before, market share and profitability were key indicators of success, at least in the environments I’ve operated in.
Comparethemarket is one of the UK's major FS brands now - how did you help establish and grow it here?
I was the founding MD and I led the business from a loss-making start-up to being one of the UK’s leading price-comparison sites. As a relatively late entrant to the market, my priorities were to: recruit and build a strong team, (not only with the right mix of skills but they also needed to have the right mindset); work with the team to define, develop and execute a challenger strategy, and, to select and manage brand and media agencies, whilst managing a number of key stakeholders.
On a board level, how can a NED with management expertise help from their board seat (without treading on the executives’ toes)?
Understanding the business and the market in which it operates whilst leveraging experience in different sectors will help you ask the right questions to enable relevant conversations. This helps the executive team think about different options when developing and executing strategies and managing performance. Also, be a good sounding board, share learnings and more practically leverage your network to support the business where you can.
What’s your advice to others in a similar position, keen to begin a shift from employee to a portfolio of board, investment or advisory roles?
Keep an open mind, understand where you can add value, expand your network beyond your area of expertise and create a pipeline, but know your criteria so it doesn’t become a never-ending pipeline without any definite outcomes and be patient for the right opportunities!
What do you think the best digital scale-ups example(s) out there is/are right now?
Trainline and Simply Cook!
What do you put your own success down to?
Having brilliant mentors, hard work, being able to spot an opportunity even when it’s not obvious, willing to take career risks, staying positive and bouncing back from setbacks.
How did you find the Nurole experience?
My Nurole experience end to end was very straightforward and quick, the platform gave enough insight as to whether there would be a good fit whilst making it easy to apply.
And now for some quick-fire questions…
What’s your favourite book?
Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens.
It always seems impossible until it's done.” - Nelson Mandela.
An extended trip to Delhi, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Beijing, Ubud and Singapore.
What do you do to have fun?
Travelling and shopping.
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