Connecting the future leaders of a better working world

Cora Ng, UK

The EY Vantage Program connects future EY leaders with market leaders of tomorrow to accelerate inclusive growth and create jobs. Over the course of six weeks, our top-performing managers and senior managers work alongside select high-impact entrepreneurs to address their businesses’ biggest obstacles to growth, at no fee. We spoke to Talent Analytics Lead Cora Ng to hear more about her recent placement in South Africa.

Tell us a bit about yourself. 

I head up the Talent Analytics team within the EMEIA Financial Services sector at EY. What I do, in a nutshell, is tell stories with data. I advise the business by harnessing the power of people data and identifying critical Talent issues. It sounds cheesy, but I love what I do, particularly when I am able to unveil a story behind a mountain of raw data. It’s like a detective game for me.

Can you tell us a bit more about the Vantage Program? Why did it appeal to you and how do you become a Vantage Advisor?

Growing up with a successful businesswoman in the family, I saw first-hand the challenges entrepreneurs face. They experience the same organisational issues as global firms, e.g. finance, marketing, HR, but lack the infrastructure of a corporation. Juggling these whilst trying to turn a profit is challenging, and this is where the Vantage Program comes in.

Over the course of six weeks, Vantage Advisors work alongside high-impact entrepreneurs to address their businesses’ biggest obstacles to growth, at no fee. You can apply to be a Vantage Advisor if you have been with the organization for at least two years, and if you are a top performing Manager or Senior Manager.

What were you hoping to get out of the program?

I love a good challenge. I thought working in a foreign country with a different culture, alongside people whom I’ve never met, doing work that requires similar skills but is completely different from my day job, would be an adventure, and more importantly, give me a good kick out of my comfort zone.

I found the idea of being on placement on your own a bit unnerving when I first looked into the program. Later I realized that even though you are the only person on site, you have a whole network of EY advisors and their wealth of knowledge to tap into if you need help.

Tell us more about the placement you took part in. Who were you working for and what types of projects did you lead on?

I worked with a local interior design company located in Johannesburg, South Africa. They specialize in architecture and interior design, project management and construction.

One of the first things I did with the entrepreneur was clearly outline the priority actions for the business, as they could become barriers to growth if not resolved. From that, we identified the need to establish an account management process, revisit their branding and marketing strategy, formalize HR support for the team etc. Even though these are a world away from what I do in my day job, I applied the same analytical and methodical approach to support the entrepreneur in tackling the business’s obstacles to growth.

What did you get out of the placement, both personally and professionally?

It wasn’t until my placement ended and I was back in London, that it struck me. My entrepreneur never asked me what I did as my usual role at EY. She must have assumed that defining business objectives and strategy, refreshing branding and marketing strategies, implementing cultural change was my usual role. She never saw me as a Talent Analytics Manager and that in turn encouraged me to not put my skills and knowledge in a box. It was as if my blinkers were removed and I was able to see broader possibilities and be more ‘me’ when I was on placement. The professional benefits of the placement were obvious, after all this is a leadership development program. What surprised me the most is the impact it had on me personally. I got to see more of me; I’m usually made up of x% sister, x% friend, x% colleague and x% me, but when you are out there on your own, you get to experience the 100% you.

Was there anything that surprised you whilst on placement? What were some of the highlights or lessons learnt?

Since I was in a new location with virtually no connections, I made a very conscious effort to build relationships with as many people as I could, from meeting my local talent colleagues in Johannesburg to getting to know a local family I met on the hop-on-hop-off bus tour. I later found out that one of them worked in asset management and could be a valuable business contact for my entrepreneur so I connected them. I met an Italian couple in Namibia before my placement, and found out that I would be living ten minutes away from them in Johannesburg.

People are the highlight of my placement. I feel so grateful to have met so many wonderful people along the way. In terms of lessons learned: never underestimate the power of your network, especially in a big organization like EY. Somebody, somewhere will be able to help or guide you on something you’re stuck on. Since coming back from my placement, I’ve been utilizing Yammer (our internal social networking platform) like never before, and it has already helped me on several projects.

If somebody else at EY was considering applying to the programme, what would be your advice?

Sign up at once! I spoke to a few Vantage Alumni when I thought about applying. Every single person said it was a life-changing experience – and it really was. It is a very competitive program, and my advice would be to research everything – the program itself, the entrepreneur world: ecosystem, common challenges they face etc. Be prepared and good luck.