Gayle Rodrigues

Executive Director

Head, Marketing & Communications, EMEA
Mizuho International, London

Europe, Middle East, and Africa

Years in the industry: 23 years

Areas of focus: Marketing, brand, internal and external communications

During an insightful interview with 'The Works', our Head of Marketing & Communications Gayle shared details of her career journey, her expertise in building a communications team, and the importance of establishing a strong relationship with executive management. We are pleased to share details of that interview here.

Can you give us a brief overview of your background and experience?

Born in Zambia and raised in South Africa, I moved to London nearly eight years ago. I studied Economics and started my career as a graduate at Standard Bank, where I progressed to a junior equity analyst in asset management. I then went on to do a year of investor relations with a financial communications consultancy before being hired by Nedbank in the role of Media Relations Manager. I spent 13 years at Nedbank. My time there consisted of working in media relations across the retail, corporate and investment banking businesses, moving for a short time to mining project finance as a transactor, and then back to my ultimate passion of communications, where I was appointed Head of PR & Communications for the investment bank. Since moving to London, I have worked for the Japanese financial institution, Mizuho. I am responsible for internal and external communications, and brand, for both the corporate and investment bank in EMEA.

You have successfully set up communications functions for two banks; the investment banking business of Nedbank in South Africa and Mizuho in the UK. What is your secret to success when creating a new comms team in such a highly regulated and conservative industry?

The support of and buy-in of your communications strategy from your executive or senior management team is critical. Their understanding of the value that a communications function can bring to the business and its brand is hugely important when investing in and growing a team. Make sure you build a team of true team players who are resilient and extremely competent. Having prior knowledge or experience of the sector or industry is always an added benefit particularly when it comes to communicating the more technical aspects of the business and translating this into understandable and engaging communications for your audiences. The world of banking is complex and regulated and being aware of its nuances and sensitivities is also very helpful. One last aspect I would add is that with smaller teams, it helps to not only have team players with certain specialisms but who also have the generalist knowledge so they can pick up any kind of work at the spur of the moment. Integrating skills can be the key to success and help achieve your communications goals faster.

You relocated from South Africa to the UK seven years ago. In your career as a comms practitioner, what differences between the two countries particularly stand out to you?

Having worked in the UK market now for seven years, I can definitely say that it is a lot more complex and so too is the communications landscape. In my current role, not only am I navigating working in a Japanese organisation but I also work across multiple cultures and time zones. Mizuho is a global financial institution, so my role requires me to work with colleagues in Tokyo, the US, Europe and the Middle East. The ability to navigate complex environments in a very regulated sector has been essential to performing in my role.

Due to the UK market being so much larger and well established, the communications profession is considerably more sizeable yet still very well connected. As a result, there are many more communications specialists and significant opportunity to grow and develop your career.

Lastly, I can also say that the media in the UK market is also a lot tougher to deal with!

As Head of Communications at Mizuho you have established a strong working relationship with the executive management. Why has this been so important and how did you achieve it?

Without a strong relationship with executive management, it’s very hard to execute and deliver on any strategy and plan; key to building this relationship is establishing their support and buy-in. Throughout my time at Mizuho, I have always had the utmost respect for management, kept the executives in the loop by setting realistic expectations and managing these accordingly, have made sure that I communicate often by keeping them in the loop, and always delivering quality work and within deadline. I’ve also enjoyed coming up with creative and dynamic ideas and having gained their encouragement to implement these.

What is your top tip for influencing C-suite execs?

Build trust by being credible in demonstrating the value you can bring to the table.

What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve been given along the way and by whom?

The best professional advice was given to me by my ex-boss at Nedbank. She has since moved to Sydney, Australia and we keep in touch on a regular basis. There are a few things she taught me such as: always search for value in feedback and criticism, strive for constant improvement, build your network and surround yourself with talented people. But the one piece of advice that stands out is that she always used to say “we are in the yes business”. In other words, you should say ‘yes’ to everything. Saying ‘yes’ all the time leads to opportunities you might never have imagined possible. Of course, it also may lead to challenges, but always try to say ‘yes’ on your terms and navigate the little challenges as best as possible as its often these that push you beyond your boundaries and out of your comfort zone!

What is the most important lesson you have learned in life so far?

To be able to learn to walk your own path. Don’t mind other people’s dreams, hopes and aspirations - try not to let theirs influence yours. We all have our own path to walk, focus on your path.

Do you have any hidden talents?

Not sure if you can call these hidden talents - I can sing German nursery rhymes and do the New Zealand haka! On a more serious note, I have the unnerving ability to stay calm in a crisis.

What is the biggest lesson you've learnt in your career?

I think the most important lesson I’ve learnt is that we all succeed more when we do what we love. Staying in a job that doesn’t challenge and inspire you just because you get paid or are associated with a particular brand is just soul destroying. Discovering what gives you that fire in the belly, what makes you want to come to work every morning, what makes it feel almost like it’s a hobby that you get paid for – that is the ultimate key to success.

What's the biggest risk you've ever taken?

Following my gut and moving away from home back in 2001. I took a huge leap of faith and left a very comfortable life in Moscow to move to Amsterdam and take on a challenging new role in a completely new business, working in a culture that I didn’t know much about. I was absolutely terrified but it has turned into such an incredible adventure and opened so many wonderful opportunities that I didn’t even know existed for me.

What do you think makes a good leader?

I think a good leader is someone who has conviction, courage, a strong set of values, and is also someone who can adapt, embrace change but always stay genuine. I won’t name any names, but I am very lucky to know and to have worked with a number of great leaders and what runs as a common thread is that they are all role models, rather than just “managers”.

How do you relax and unwind?

A change of scenery always helps me so it used to be travel… I do lots of sports (running is an easy choice as you can run anywhere – I even trained for my first half marathon during summer….in Houston!) and partially thanks to running, I (used to) love cooking for friends. I miss my dinner parties.

What aspect of your role do you enjoy the most?

Making a difference and working with people from diverse backgrounds and different parts of the world are certainly at the top of my list. Being able to make an impact, improve something, solve a  complex problem is what gives me immense satisfaction. Working with interesting people, learning from them, co-creating together with them is where I get most of my energy.

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