In conversation with…Adam Mills

Have you met Adam?

The first thing that strikes you about him isn’t actually his impressive CV and his row of trailblazing awards. He is a Marketing Strategy & Central Planning Manager at BT and a winner of both the Drum Future 50 Awards and the Social Intelligence Lab’s Social Intelligence Insider Awards.

Instead, the first thing you notice about him is his ability to everyone around him feel relaxed and at ease. We were lucky enough to sit down with him recently for a chat. Here are his words on everything from career do’s and don’ts, to the best sourdough bread recipes.

What was your first-ever job?

I got a job in an independent computer shop when I was around 16 or 17 years old. In reality, I spent almost all my time there gaming, only occasionally doing a bit of sales here and there. The experts did the actual work – I had a great time. The relaxed tempo also allowed me to do a marketing internship around the same time, just before starting university, so I remember it fondly.

Who would you most love to share a coffee with / go for a drink with?

Depends – are we talking about people dead or alive?

Among the illustrious dead, I’d love to meet Prince. What more can I say – no explanation needed! My Prince passion started when I was at university. I was obsessed with his music, but everything else that he did was really cool too. The guy basically propped up all of Minnesota, his home state, with his charity work and foundations. He also backed the coolest artists. Few musicians are that well-rounded and talented at the same time.

Out of the people alive today, I’d love to meet Andy Murray. I’m a huge tennis fan so he’s obviously iconic. But what he stands for is also interesting. He always has lots of great stories – even when he tells people off! Alternatively, I’d love to meet David Knicks, the great author. I love his books – and he would definitely have some fun anecdotes to tell me over a coffee break!

Highlight of your career (so far?)

I can think of two. The first was when I was twenty-one and worked in a company that was A-listed. My job was to rebrand it. It was a lot of fun, and a lot of hard work – and I came out being the youngest head of a country market of a company listed in the UK.

The second highlight was when I was nominated for an AURA award. I had recently joined BT then and they had really me helped rebuild myself after suffering under a bad boss at my previous work. They helped me a lot with mentoring, coaching and professional counselling – everything I needed to flourish. I’m incredibly grateful. So the AURA award became a sort of culmination of my efforts to come back from my bad work experience. It came to represent that I was finally recognised as an expert in my field – and above all, that I had my confidence back!

Nature or nurture?

Nurture. Growing up, I wanted to be a journalist. I made it my goal to go to study journalism and I eventually did. But I quickly realised that I wanted to be in a different, less cut-throat environment, and enjoy a decent salary. So I started doing some marketing work here and there and happened to fall into market research. That’s how I found my way to insight – I just love the blend of storytelling and marketing data. That’s simply to say that where I am today is solely based on lived experiences. A lot of of people have given me a lot of chances along the way – and loads of opportunities to learn from failure.

Best advice you ever heard or received?

I’ve had some truly amazing career advice throughout my life.

First of all, trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Padding out or making your CV look good is not a good enough reason to take a job.

Secondly, strive to be as honest and transparent as you can. I believe this works both ways – if you can be yourself at work you will more readily get the support you need. You have nothing to gain from not openly expressing your needs. I think the pandemic has helped many do this – it has become so much more acceptable and common to express vulnerability and humanity at work. I hope that honesty and transparency will continue along with more remote working. It means you can really be yourself at work, with kids shouting in the background during Zoom calls and colleagues clumsily unmuting and muting themselves at the wrong times. It just makes everything so relaxed and forgiving – let’s never go back to the rigid times before the pandemic!

What talent do you yearn for?

I want to be more comfortable being a subject matter expert. I am just astounded by leaders who can combine being experts in their field with team leadership.

Outside of work, I am obsessed with bread in all its forms. I got into breadmaking before the pandemic hit and everyone got into it. I found making bread really therapeutic. My sourdough dough has become my pseud-child. I worry about it when I go away and I even have people come by to check in on it!

What is your favourite brand and why?

Obviously BT! But a few others come to mind. BBC is truly a national treasure. We tend to forget that it’s a brand – their content sort of speaks for itself. The work they do is phenomenal all over the world.

I am also very impressed by Major League Soccer in the US. They’re a really good example of a sponsor brand that successfully rebranded themselves. Soccer is now the third-largest sport in the US as a consequence – I’d call that a win!

What book do you most recommend to others?

I highly recommend ‘The subtle art of not giving a fuck’ by Mark Manson. I bought it after my crisis of confidence. Four weeks later my coach also bought me a copy, and another six weeks later my boss gave me one too. I guess the universe gave me enough signs that I eventually sat down and read it. And it turned out to be a game-changer. It explains how the world isn’t going to burn down if you make a mistake. Your life isn’t going to break down because you did something less than ideal. We all need to be more ok with failure!

What last impressed you at work?

I was impressed with how BT handled the pandemic and specifically the work that the company did to look after our people all over the world. Some struggled with anxiety, their family situations and workloads while others dealt with national restrictions and lockdowns. Despite these many hard and very different experiences, I believe we were all very well taken care of – and that is a huge feat of leadership!

I am also very proud of our work on hate speech and discrimination. BT’s Hope United campaign was designed to tackle hate speech online. As a sponsor of the Euro Cup, we stood up for players who experienced hate crime. I believe we stood up for good, even at a risk to our business, and that makes me all the prouder.

Which lesson has been the hardest to learn? What failure did you learn the most from?

I learnt the hardest lesson from my experience with my past boss. It was a really terrible thing to go through, but I wouldn’t be in the job I am in now without it. I wouldn’t be so determined to succeed as I am now without having dealt with that and I wouldn’t be so comfortable asking for support with mentoring or coaching. Now I work to make sure other people don’t have to go through the same thing to learn that hard lesson.

What do you want to do when you retire?

I would love to be in a position where I can retire comfortably and having made a bit of a mark. I want people to remember my contribution and what I delivered.

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