Realm Hotspot Talks to... Heather Gray

Posted on 7/11/2016 by Katherine Memery

With our Director Duane up for an award at this month’s MYTAs, hosted by JCI Manchester, we thought it would be great to catch up with a fellow nominee, so we spoke to Heather Gray, Events Team Leader at Avensure. In our interview, Heather revealed her love of Thai food, spoke about the emergence of non-traditional law firms and reacted to her ‘Rising Star’ nomination.

Where’s your favourite place to go for food and drink in Manchester?

That’s a hard question – we have such an incredible range of options in Manchester, I suppose it depends on the occasion. When I lived in the Northern Quarter, I was lucky enough to have Cottonopolis as my "local", I love how comfortable it is, it always has a great atmosphere, and I have a real soft spot for their Pork Bao. Thai Food is my absolute favourite, so if I just fancy something casual, Thai Khun in Spinningfields does an incredible Holy Basil Beef dish and pretty good cocktails. But if it’s for something special, the food and service at Manchester House is fantastic. I’ve also been really impressed with The Refuge recently, for both food and drink, it’s cosy but decadent, reasonably priced and the building is just gorgeous. I probably eat out more than I should!

Having worked in retail for high-end brands and for the UK’s leading public sector events supplier, how is it that you found your way into an HR, Employment and Health & Safety consultancy?

It does seem a pretty varied employment history, I suppose. Coming out of University with a Masters in English Literature, I didn’t have a vocational career in mind, so with each role move, I’ve always just tried to do more of the things I enjoy. I was at a lecture recently on Employee Engagement about Millenials being driven by “purpose-based employment” where they feel a sense of belonging, where they can learn and develop and where they find their daily role fulfilling. This really resonated with me.

I’ve been really lucky that every job I’ve had has come with a supportive leader at the helm and room to grow and develop. Following Uni I just took the first job that looked interesting, and really fell on my feet with Govnet. I started off in sponsorship telesales for Government conferences and did pretty well. Within a year I was managing a team and then started getting more involved with the programme development of the actual events, speaking with public sector and their suppliers and building agendas that were current, relevant, and attractive to both delegates and sponsors. It was when working on a Public Sector Talent Retention conference that I first heard of Avensure – I spoke with the MD who liked my pitch and approach, and offered me a role in building their in-house seminar team.

I immediately bought into Avensure’s whole ethos, and the opportunity to work for a company that genuinely does things differently and is growing rapidly as a result of that was too good to pass up. I’ve never looked back!

Avensure is one of a number of non-traditional legal practices that have challenged the status quo in recent years. Why is that you think Avensure has enjoyed the success that it has?

Avensure has unwaveringly held onto the values it started with, even throughout rapid growth. Our company mantra is “Different, With Good Reason”, and we’ve honestly held that principle at the heart of every decision we’ve made. It’s challenged everyone across the business to work ethically, and authentically commit to going above the call of duty to help each other out. This really hit me when I first started, and I saw people go out of their way to make me feel welcome. It’s created a real feeling of being a family internally, which I suppose is projected outwards – if we’re a better team, we deliver a better service to clients.

As a fairly young company (we’ve been operating for around 6 years now), there’s a sense of pride that we contribute personally to the company’s success and, as individuals, we grow with it. It’s nice to look at a department and think “I helped make that”. I suppose we also have to practise what we preach, as a consultancy that specialises in Employment Law, workplace Health and Safety, and HR, dealing with people, we need to demonstrate why our clients should be listening to us. Our staff, culture, and values have to be our own best example.

It sounds cheesy, but a lot of what we do is putting the ‘Human’ back into Human Resources, which the market has been crying out for. We’re dealing with people – and their people, their staff – which is why it’s important that we have a good relationship with our clients as individuals. They always speak with the same dedicated team, who really understands their business, and the indemnified advice we give them has the best interests of their business in mind.

We’ve been very realistic in what we do and how we can help our clients. We know that no two businesses are the same, and that’s why we don’t offer a “one size fits all” solution. No-one started a business because they wanted to do the admin, they have a passion for their service or their product, and it’s our role to enable that passion – that’s the bit that gets us excited - to give them the time to grow and develop their company, and know that we’re holding their hand to make sure they’re always protected and doing things in the right way.

You’ve recently been nominated for the Rising Star award at the Manchester Young Talent Awards (MYTAs). What does that mean to you?

I genuinely couldn’t believe it when I was shortlisted – as part of my role I do a lot of networking and I’m always really impressed with how innovative and successful my peers are. To even be categorised in the same league is an honour.

The MYTAs is JCI Manchester’s flagship event of the year, celebrating some of the best up and coming talent in the city. There have been some real success stories amongst past winners. Why do you think Manchester has been such a hotspot for ambition and innovation amongst young professionals?

When I first moved to Manchester, I instantly felt a sense of belonging – it felt like home. I grew up in a small village (Poulton-Le-Fylde, near Blackpool) and as lovely as it was, there’s not really a lot to do there. Manchester has this Dick Whittington feeling of possibility. It carries the history of innovation; the suffragette movement kicked off where the Radisson now stands, we invented the computer, the first submarine, the first passenger railway… I think a big part of the Mancunian identity is a sense of pride that we have taken these possibilities and created something monumental with them. We’ve done it before and can do it again, and if you’re that way inclined, that’s inspiring.

What’s your favourite thing about Manchester?

The feeling of community – for such a big city, everyone seems to know one another, or at least have a couple of friends in common! I don’t know whether it’s just because we’re friendly up North and take the time to actually explore who people are and what they’re about, but I feel like I’ve built up a great support system here. I genuinely think it’s a unique trait of Manchester.

If I had to pick a very specific thing about Manchester that I love the most though, it would have to be the Art Gallery on Mosley Street – it’s my “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” place.

And if you didn’t live in Manchester, where else in the world would you want to live?

I’m afraid you’re stuck with me. The only other place I’d ever even consider would be Munich – It’s possibly the most beautiful place in winter, and I love how efficient everything is.

Looking to make your next career move?

At Realm we recruit for legal roles at all levels in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and beyond. Check out our jobs page to see our latest vacancies or get in touch on 03300 245 606 for a confidential chat about the state of the market. 

Realm Hotspot Talks to... Heather Gray


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