'How I made it' featuring Hamzah Sarwar, Global Insight Lead, RB
For our latest inspiring stories series, 'How I made it', we're interviewing the cream of the crop across all facets of communications and marketing. This is where you'll learn about how the best in the industry got to where they are today and hopefully pick up some tips along the way to help your own career progress.
As a global insight leader at RB Health and One Young World ambassador, Hamzah is a passionate social intrapreneur using business as a force for good. With 9 years of strategic insight and brand experience gained with agencies and blue-chip FMCG manufacturers such as RB and Mondelez, Hamzah has unearthed opportunities and driven growth in global and regional roles on diverse categories from air pollution to infant nutrition.
He talks to us about the importance of finding your ikigai, how millennials have a great responsibility to drive change in the industry and why it’s crucial to find your escape.
How did you get into marketing?
I worked at Giro Food Ltd for several years during school holidays and particularly enjoyed working with marketing teams. I studied marketing at Aston University and am passionate about behaviour change and consumer psychology so took a placement at Kantar Worldpanel. It was a rigorous year of learning on the job and living away from home. After university, I joined the newly created global graduate scheme at Nielsen on the Unilever brand development team. I worked with some brilliant minds on challenging global briefs on brands such as Dove and Lifebuoy. I realised I’d enjoy shifting perspectives and that’s when I joined Mondelez in the global consumer insights team. That transition was challenging; I had to get into a different mind-set, but it freed me to think more broadly about the business world and my career. I then joined RB in a managerial insight role and have continued progressing through various roles since. I’m now active in driving social impact with RB and excited what the future might bring.
My big break was getting my industrial placement year under my belt during university as it paved the way for my entry into a graduate programme. That initial period working agency side was critical too, helping me to think analytically and solving problems from the ground up.
How do you stay sane on those crazy days?
It’s my greatest challenge! I’ve got a young family – a 6-month-old son and daughter who’s almost three – and a tremendously supportive wife. They are my lifeblood, keeping me grounded and reminding me of what is important. My brother and sister also help to make me see the woods from the trees.
I walk the three miles to and from work to get headspace and keep active, play sports such as football and cricket which helps takes my mind off things. I write a film blog, immerse myself in cinema when time permits, read a lot of books and try to involve myself in charity work.
Do you, or did you, have a mentor?
My mum was a key figure for me growing up. She taught me about the right work ethic, instilled lifelong values and is my role model.
Within the workplace I’ve had people who’ve believed in me and helped guide my career; And in the last year or so I’ve found a mentor who’s working in different field to my own but who has invested great time in helping to shape my thinking and desire to do good. It’s been of tremendous value. Every interaction is an education.
What three words best describe you?
Passionate. Reflective. Purposeful. And, if I can have a fourth, persevering.
Knowing what you know now, what career advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
Take the time to find out where your passion meets your skills; finding that zone where work can become your play is critical. Find your Ikigai. Take risks.
Remember that relationships and people are crucial. Find really supportive people and build your network. Things can feel lonely after you have finished university, so it is important to surround yourself with people who can support you, give you pointers and help you reflect on your way of doing things.
Lastly, identify a way to zone out and find your escape. That constant grind of achievement and moving on to bigger and better things can be intense. It is important to stay fresh, healthy and grounded in a world in which we are always connected. That release is essential to success.
What would you do to improve diversity in the industry?
We need to strive for inclusion. And celebrate diversity of thought from different backgrounds, genders, creeds and social classes. We need to feel empowered and take individual responsibility for ensuring our immediate tribes are a reflection of the change we seek. I think my generation, millennials, are now helping to drive and filter the right social values through organisations. It’s time to call it out.
Another thing is being more open to parents. We need to ensure flexibility in the workplace as a pre-requisite. Parents need this to progress and have work-life balance. We need to remove the road blocks and make it as easy as possible for mothers to return to work and thrive.
Name one piece of technology you can’t live without?
Audible. It’s my release and allows me to zone out on the walk to and from work and weekends. I read a combination of fiction and non-fiction; I always have one of each on the go. I’ve increased my reading five-fold in a year and enjoy listening to self-improvement books, understanding social issues or just getting to grips with the latest Stephen King.