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Ones to Watch – building the network

I received a call from a managing director at Rothschild last summer who knew I worked at Freshminds. He asked me: “are these Freshminds Ones to Watch any good?  I am interviewing one in a minute.” – My response was to say that typically they are the best of the best and left the rest to him, rather hoping they would deliver at the interview and prove we knew what we were doing.

Ones to Watch has been one of the key tenets of our business over the last 17 years and for good reason.

Looking back to 2000 – The first Ones to Watch survey

In 2000 Tony Blair and George Bush were still in the political driving seats, the Olympic Games were held in Sydney in September, and the dot-com bubble burst causing markets to crash. The FTSE index sat at around 6,223 (today 7,306 – although has moved around a lot in the intervening years), oil was at $25 a barrel (today just below $50), Google’s ad sales were around $70m (today more than $79bn!) and Freshminds had 4 members of staff.

It was also Freshminds’ first year of trading and the year we launched our first Freshminds Ones to Watch programme. We went out on campuses of the top universities in the UK and asked 100s of students in their penultimate year to nominate their peers who they felt would be ‘worth watching’ and would be successful in their future careers.

The initial reason was to grow the foundations of the business and develop the network of top talent for leading companies. But we also understood the importance of the social network; peers are often the best judge of character for individuals within their friendship circles, and appreciate being given the opportunity to put someone forward to be recognised as a future leader.      

We have continued to run the programme as the UK’s only peer-nominated talent spotting scheme, but over the past 16 years this network and the foundations to why it was established have evolved and gained greater importance than we initially expected.   

There have been huge changes to the jobs market, a financial crisis and a huge second tech boom, but there we’ve noticed a few constants of this versatile talent pool that we wanted to share.

What we have learnt:

We recently reviewed the performance of the circa 1,900 Ones to Watch on our database – and drew out a few trends and learnings:

1)  Career velocity – typically these high achievers tend to get promoted quickly – less so in the first 3 years but after the key skills are ‘learnt’ they move faster

2)  The 7 year rule - we have observed that at around the 7 year mark (after graduation) these members start to see considerable acceleration in career development (moving to become directors, partners, setting up their own business, leaving to take a bigger corporate role)

3)  Agility – a confidence and belief in reskilling (e.g. ex-bankers learning to code) – and people moving sectors (i.e. transferable analytical and people skills).

4)  Mind-set – we have seen a highly proactive mind-set that has helped people to propel themselves forward, seek the initiative and get moving.

Worth watching?

The answer is yes. These Ones to Watch have proven more than worthy of the label. The network now consists of truly outstanding people in their own right. In public service there are leaders of charities, senior civil servants across the Foreign Office, Treasury, Cabinet Office and 10 Downing Street, Brexit department, a (surprisingly high) number of television and news presenters and in the field in both Iraq and Afghanistan we have soldiers as well as civilian advisors to senior US and UK generals. In business there are partners of consulting and private equity firms, managing directors at investment banks, GMs of leading high-growth tech business (around the world), entrepreneurs in Fintech, shaving businesses, popcorn businesses. In more traditional businesses there are senior leaders in brands and product businesses.

At the more junior end of the programme there are fantastic new future leaders embarking on their early career. Our research also shows that there has been a big shift away from the more traditional routes of law/banking/consulting – into technology, start-ups, SMEs – injecting talent into a wider selection of industries and companies.

It has been fascinating to see how people have developed and performed and we look forward to seeing how people continue to respond to the changing world of work.

Ones to Watch 2017

We have two key priorities:

1)  To continue to grow and develop the annual programme, using the best methods to connect with aspiring leaders, both face to face and with our new nomination site.

2)  To stay connected and on the pulse with past alumni and help grow and develop the network for the future.

We have also launched the new face of the scheme and developed the proposition a little more. Rather than the peer-nominations being the solely contingent on the ambassador members already in the scheme, we are expanding the way people can apply. Now, any university student within our top partner Universities can nominate a peer who they consider will be a future One to Watch and nominate them into the scheme. This way, although ambassador recommendations are still vital, we develop the founding principle that people know people and are often the best judges of character. 

OTW Alumni                                                                                                              

Our network has grown and developed over the last 16 years, and we are keen to reconnect with the alumni in the network. The original ‘idea’ of the Ones to Watch was to purely focus on the ‘graduating class’ each summer, but over the recent years we have been increasingly re-engaging with the network to help connect people to other Ones to Watch alumni – many of whom we’re pleased to be back in touch with. Some have become business partners, some have agreed to mentor newer Ones to Watch and others have made good connections for business investments, or partnerships etc.  We are building on this in 2017 and beyond.

Keen to reconnect?

In a world of increasing competition for skills, investment and ever changing technology we are delighted to be bolstering our investment in Ones to Watch alumni to make it much more of a network that our members can benefit from – to learn from others, to help support others or just to meet and connect through our breakfasts, dinners and our annual lecture.

If you (or we) have not been in touch for a while but would like to reconnect then please do – we are excited about the next stage of its development. Please get in touch directly, or apply on our LinkedIn Group. No matter what you do, networks are the backbone for business and careers – we hope you will reconnect with Freshminds.

(And delighted to report that the candidate got the job at Rothschild!)


Visit the Ones to Watch site

If you are interested and would like to find out more about the scheme then get in touch via onestowatch@freshminds.co.uk