Joe Gordon (Business Management, 2004, Lonsdale) is the Head of First Direct, the UK based telephone and online bank owned by HSBC, 24 months after getting his first role in banking.
His appointment to this role in 2017, at the age of 33, made him one of the youngest people ever to reach the top of the UK banking industry.
Joe shares here some thoughts about his time at Lancaster and subsequent career success.
What made you choose Lancaster University for your degree?
I knew Lancaster had a good business school and was planning to invest in this before I arrived. Once I arrived to check it out I also loved the feel of a campus uni and how close it was to the Lakes.
What is your fondest memory of your time at Lancaster?
Aside from the course? I’ve made some friends for life, but how can I not mention student nights out down the Sugarhouse singing Chesney Hawkes at the top of my lungs… that or visiting the bars that were on campus at the time.
What was the most valuable part of your student experience?
Throughout school, I never felt that pushed or challenged to think for myself as much as learn and consume knowledge. At Lancaster for the first time in my life, I honestly felt challenged to make that jump into thinking for myself and thought leadership. It opened my eyes to playing in the grey areas of thought versus the black and white.
Who or what particularly inspired you when you were here and why?
I did a course called Behaviour in Organisations delivered by a couple of lecturers. One was called Bogdan and I’m afraid I can’t remember the other man’s name. They were both awesome though and really made me think – I cannot give higher praise than that.
Do you keep in touch with other alumni since you graduated?
Yes, I keep in touch with some of my housemates and there are several people I met on my course – like-minded people who continue to be friends to this day.
Is there anything you particularly miss about student life?
Aside from the freedom, the friends, and the lie-ins? Probably the fact that my hangovers didn’t last for three days.
How did your career progress?
After Uni I spent 10 years in the UK retail customer service industry. I started at Sainsbury's as a Management Trainee, working closely with the Head of Sainsbury’s convenience stores, before moving to BT to work on fast-track scheme and gaining invaluable experience across most of the business. I’m so pleased to have had these two roles as they were both really wide-ranging in scope and really helped confirm to me the roles I enjoy most are the customer service ones. Prior to joining First Direct, I was the UK Head of Contact Centres for Retail Banking and Wealth Management in HSBC UK. Now I’m Head of First Direct, while it’s a bank I still see it primarily as a customer service job – banking isn’t always but should be all about serving customers.
What do you enjoy the most in your work?
The first thing is the people. I genuinely believe my role should be about helping our people to do the best for our customers. They’re the ones speaking to the customers and seeing how they use our tech to carry out their banking so it stands to reason their views on what will work for customers should be centre stage. I take great satisfaction in giving people the authority to do the right thing and make a positive difference to our customers and the bank. Plus I like having fun, and we are pretty good at that at First Direct!
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
I think my biggest success within work is I have been able to remain true to myself and stay authentic throughout my career. I’ve quite a fixed set of personal principles, morals and behaviours and I have been able to resist compromising them while also delivering as a corporate citizen. Actually, the more I learned about how to achieve things the more I could draw the line of doing the right thing by people will deliver for the business – I am incredibly proud of that. I have also just become a dad, and in my mind there’s nothing greater. For me it was and still is the pinnacle of emotion, nothing in my whole life has compared to the euphoria I felt when my son was born.
What advice would you give to today’s students?
I’m a fundamental believer in the fact you need to keep the focus on your customers if you want to succeed. My industry is the same as many other industries – the tech, the products; they’re only any good if they’re what people want. If you’re passionate about the end customer, then business could be for you. I’d say trust what the people who deal with customers everyday are telling you. Finally, don’t take yourself or life too seriously, remember to have fun at work and work with people you like and admire, life’s too short.
Joe returned to campus in July 2018 to receive a Lancaster University Alumni Award.
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