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Jo Wakeham | 40 Outstanding Global Women 2023

Sharmla Chetty

Making a difference with a focus on people

Jo Wakeham, Group Managing Director at relocation management company K2 Corporate Mobility, has crafted her career around helping international businesses thrive. Jo’s story highlights the global mobility sector’s vital role in supporting talent.

Jo Wakeham has always worked in mobility. Over the course of her three-decades-long career, Jo has seen the sector grow and align ever more closely with clients’ goals as both international trade and talent resourcing become increasingly nuanced and challenging. From her first role in the 1990s, to international business development at CartusBGRS and Airinc, and now in the UK-headquartered international corporate relocation company K2, Jo has always been driven by a passion for both meeting clients’ needs through operational excellence, as well as helping develop new and experienced talent within the industry – with people at the heart of both.

“Any company worth its salt must continue to be more flexible about working practices. There is a lot more we can all learn from each other about how to retain and attract people with all kinds of different needs and backgrounds.”

Jo wakeham, Group managing Derector at K2

Attracting, retaining and developing the best talent

K2’s Great Place To Work® certification reflects how Jo and all the senior leadership team at K2 – an owner-managed company headed by Nick Plummer – approach their own talent strategies – by attracting, retaining and developing the best talent, not only making K2 a great place to work, but also remaining agile in their help and support of clients.

Jo’s inspiring story is also one that will surely resonate with other leaders in global mobility working out how to win the war for talent in this fast-evolving sector, as well as people in their early careers working out what global mobility can offer them and people outside of the sector assessing their options.

Being present and prepared

Being present, setting goals and responding to challenges are clear hallmarks of Jo’s time in global mobility and relocation.

“I always loved the fast pace,” says Jo of her first role in the sector as a relocation administrator at Black Horse. “I’ve always been driven by the speed of change and making a difference wherever I can.” As well as an energising place to be, Jo found the industry could offer her a route to achieving her ambitions.

“At that time, in the early ‘90s, relocation companies were really starting to focus on expanding their service offerings internationally,” says Jo. “That seemed like such an aspiration for me, to be able to work for a global company.  It could offer me new experiences and new learnings and teach me things I hadn’t seen before.”

The progression to international exposure came a few years later, but Jo used this early part of her career to learn as much as she could about what she and those around her were doing.

Jo looked for openings, for every bit of experience, and was not fazed by the fast pace

“I have always had a passion to learn and achieve as much as I could,” says Jo. “So, it was around doing the very best I could at everything and volunteering myself for other projects. Working with a lot of people all doing the same role, it was always great to find ways in which I could do something a bit different or take on projects, or something that would help me learn something new.’’

In the early 2000s, Jo achieved her first ambition of working on the international side of mobility, joining Cartus as director for international services. When she left in 2012, 22 years after starting her career at the company, Jo had risen to the role of managing Cartus’ large global financial clients and global operational teams.

“I just found it so interesting,” says Jo. “The biggest thing for me was recognising that you will never know it all in international mobility as it is so fast-paced and ever-changing. Being comfortable with this, especially as my career has progressed, has been a big part of my own development – I have learnt that bringing great people together with varying skillsets, all having expertise in different areas, is so much more valuable to both our people and our clients.’

People first in everything we do

As well as international exposure, Jo’s career has always been a combination of client engagements and people management/development. “One of the areas that probably drives me most is seeing people develop, especially their management and leadership skills. My style in this area has changed and matured a lot over my career and I try and share those learnings with others coming up through their careers. We all have areas to develop and work on and being able to communicate and coach that in a positive, encouraging and also effective way, is so important, especially as one starts to manage people and their careers. With talent being so critical to the success of organisations, getting those conversations right, first time, is essential.”

After two decades at Cartus and now highly experienced in both client services and operations domestically and internationally, Jo next sought out opportunities in general management. This took her to BGRS, where, over the next eight years, she moved to a general management role, starting with responsibility for Europe, then Asia, and finally to leading the global client services function.

While Jo relished this time, and the experience in general management was fulfilling, “I realised, over time, that I was becoming further removed from people,” says Jo. “I wanted to work more closely with our teams and clients. “Fortunately, I have always been very clear in my head about what I want to do and I felt my final career move would be to work for a company where I felt I could really make a difference – where I had the autonomy to help people and help clients, and visibly make a difference in a relatively short period of time.”

It was K2 that was to provide this home for Jo’s expansive skillset and strong leadership attributes. Today, Jo runs the European business, manages global projects and has a seat on the board. “It’s so great to work so closely with our board and senior leadership team – we make decisions together because we believe in collaboration. No one is on their own.

“It is just such an amazing company. You’re involved in everything, so I’m very close to our clients and our people. We also have a unique culture, which is based around ‘because it’s personal”: treat people like they are your family; do what you say you will, excel in everything you do and do everything to your best possible ability.

”With people and culture – including wellbeing and DE&I strands – being one of the six pillars of K2’s five-year business plan, KINETIC, “the focus on talent is intrinsically woven into everything we do”. The pillar is one that Jo co-leads with another board member and front of mind in business decisions. “It is why the Great Place to Work survey results were so valuable – and even though we were overwhelmed with the positive results, we can never rest on our laurels, which is why the focus on talent and our people will never end and will always be front and centre at K2,’’ added Jo.

The importance of flexibility

“We’ve created a fabulous environment where people feel they are accountable, get rewarded for the work they do and feel like they are totally supported,” says Jo. “It’s an environment that people want to be part of.”

“Maintaining this dynamic means investing in training, being approachable and keeping an open mind on best practices,” says Jo, including how they relate to very important areas like race and gender at work. “We are a global company with global and diverse people and clients, and that means being mindful of diversity, equity and inclusion as a concept and how it relates to everything we do.“

“We look at people as individuals, and this includes women who have parental and caring responsibilities, and being aware of the impact that parenting-related career breaks can have on many people, particularly women,” says Jo on this timely issue ahead of International Women’s Day.

“Any company worth its salt must continue to be more flexible about working practices. Companies will not only lose great talent if they don’t, but they will miss out on attracting the talent that is out there – it just isn’t always in the obvious places. There is a lot more we can all learn from each other about how to retain and attract people with all kinds of different needs and backgrounds.”

Back to Think Women’s 40 Outstanding Global Women 2023

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