Career Stories: Mark Smith, Client Practice Lead

October 24th, 2022 Written by Infinity Works

Being able to be yourself, having a healthy work-life balance, and feeling valued are things most people want from their career. Mark Smith shares an insight into how he’s achieved this and explains how Infinity Works has made him feel comfortable, appreciated, and empowered.

An alumnus of Leeds University, Mark started his career in tech by working in IT roles in the financial services sector before relocating to London in 2010. It was here where he’d work as a contractor for the HM Treasury and subsequently companies including Prudential and Credit Suisse.

But Leeds still had a hold on Mark and his husband, Jeremy. In 2018, drawn by the prospect of returning to their “spiritual home”, they moved back to Yorkshire, and it wasn’t long afterwards that Mark began speaking with Infinity Works about entering the world of consultancy. 

“I’d never considered working for a consultancy because I didn’t think it was for me. There were lots of tales out there about what it was like to be a consultant,” he admits. “But I came into the Infinity Works office and met a couple of the leadership team who talked about work-life balance being important, being outcome-driven, giving people a sense of empowerment, and having a flat hierarchy. It all made me think, this is the sort of place where I want to work.”

The prospect of being part of a close-knit team working to solve challenges for a mix of clients was a major attraction which convinced Mark to join Infinity Works. Having initially arrived as a senior consultant, he’d go on to earn a promotion to principal consultant level before becoming a client practice lead. Mark has recently been responsible for leading a team which has built a new loyalty programme for one of the UK’s largest retailers, and he’s now moved onto a large-scale healthcare engagement.

Taking peoples’ personal development seriously

At 53 years of age, Mark is older than some of his colleagues, but he’s just as eager to learn as he was at the start of his career. And Infinity Works is an ideal place for him to do just that.

We take peoples’ personal development seriously. Since I joined, I've completed two qualifications and I've been allowed time away from client engagements to study for those. The training courses and exams were paid for as well.

Mark’s appetite for learning has impressed the leadership teams at Infinity Works, with one of the directors who originally interviewed him being the one who let him know he was being promoted to client practice lead. The personal acknowledgment made him feel even more valued. “It’s great to know that people are interested in your aspirations and want to help you achieve them,” he says.

Another aspect of Infinity Works that’s important to Mark is its commitment to its values, such as putting customer delivery first and being focused on its people. Far from paying lip service to those values, Mark feels everybody at Infinity Works lives them every day and it’s something he enjoys.

He explains: “As an example, at resourcing meetings, we consider what types of work people have told us they’re interested in, who is best suited to each client and project, whether they have the right team structure to support them, and if they’ll get opportunities to develop. All those things are important considerations, just as much as the commercial considerations. It initially surprised me that peoples’ needs and wishes are taken so seriously, but it’s evident that everybody is keen to ensure people are happy and working on interesting and rewarding engagements.”

This openness extends to every part of Infinity Works. People are judged on what they achieve, and everyone has an equal opportunity to put forward ideas or suggestions, no matter what their role is or how senior they are. “Our senior leaders are really accessible and will make time for people who want to speak with them,” says Mark.

If somebody wants to set up a cross-company network or kick off a local initiative to improve the way we work together, they're empowered to do that. Everyone is encouraged to pursue their goals and demonstrate the drive, initiative, and passion to take something forward. It’s something which has always been the case since I joined and even since becoming part of Accenture.

Showing up as yourself

Diversity and inclusion are important topics to Mark, and he says Infinity Works, part of Accenture, is a place where everyone can show up as themselves. In previous jobs, he felt obliged to wear long-sleeved shirts to cover his tattoos, whereas it’s not necessary here. He hopes that other people feel as comfortable in themselves as he does. He says: “There’s a real sense of psychological safety within Infinity Works, regardless of your background or your personal circumstances. I’ve certainly felt that.”

Mark joined the internal Pride network at Infinity Works when it was formed and helped create a frame of reference for how it might function. Today, there’s a website where members can post, offering a forum for anyone who wants to talk about sexuality or gender, and the group holds regular meetings to discuss progress against their goals. The network regularly hosts events such as queer culture evenings, where people discuss books, films, and podcasts, helping to make the culture more accessible to everyone.

Mark describes himself as a Pride champion. “The network is about creating a safe space for people to meet other gay and lesbian colleagues as well as allies,” he explains.

Mark’s curiosity and willingness to learn recently led him to take a leadership role in carving out Infinity Work’s approach to gender issues. To understand why it’s more common now for younger people to self-identify in terms of sexuality or gender, he attended a webinar about non-binary identities. He explains: “The webinar focused on how to make sure your workplace is inclusive to non-binary people, including your recruitment and social media. I shared what I learned with the leadership team and how I felt it would be valuable to offer this training internally. Everyone was really receptive.” 

Mark worked with the People Operations team and the producers of the webinar to create a special episode of IWTV – an internal TV channel broadcast to everyone at Infinity Works. Not only did the episode receive good feedback from those who watched it, but it also helped encourage more people to join the Pride network and led to Mark being asked to get involved in other initiatives. “We recently did a review of the language across our assets to ensure they were gender-neutral,” Mark continues. “We can always do more, of course, and we’re currently looking at developing some training for our interviewers.”

Neurodiversity is another area of interest, as Mark is keen to better support the people in his team who identify as neurodiverse. “There’s a real conversation going on around this,” he says. “Accenture offers a lot of neurodiversity training for leaders and I’m looking forward to learning more about the topic to understand how I can be a better leader.” Mark also explains how recent senior leadership meetings at Infinity Works have included discussions about how to equip everyone to work sympathetically and productively with people who are disabled or neurodiverse. “There’s a lot of complexity,” Mark admits, “But the more we can respect difference and work with it, the better it will be for everybody. It’s great that Infinity Works and Accenture are so supportive and committed to creating an inclusive workplace where everyone feels like they belong.”

Shaping an optimal hybrid workplace

As a senior member of the Leeds practice, Mark is aware of the importance of face-to-face interactions between colleagues, but he also respects people value flexibility in their roles. Being based in the city means Mark tries to go into the office three days a week. “I get a lot out of interacting with people, especially with peers who maybe I wouldn’t see in the type of meetings I have with my team,” he says. Mark also explains how he values the opportunity to gather information “through osmosis” and make connections that wouldn’t necessarily occur to him in a virtual setup.

As a business, Infinity Works is committed to supporting its people and giving them flexibility in how they work. Alongside the Leeds leadership team, Mark listens to colleagues for new ideas on how to make the Leeds hub an inviting space which supports innovation, creativity, teamwork, and most importantly allows people to have fun.

We host lots of events in our offices such as community meetups, board games nights, and cheese and wine evenings, to ensure our people have regular opportunities to relax and have fun with colleagues. It’s archaic for employers to say everyone needs to go to the office five days a week, but we’re all human and I think everyone benefits from face-to-face interaction.

Mark presenting at the Infinity Works Leeds Top Banana Awards

Life lessons for a great work-life balance

While Mark continues to take on new roles and responsibilities, he makes sure he carves out time to switch off from work and does the things he enjoys doing.

When he’s not working, Mark enjoys socialising – so much so that he and husband Jeremy converted their garden shed into an outdoor bar during the pandemic. It soon became his favourite place to relax at the end of the working day. He also loves cooking, reading, playing with his beloved French bulldog Stanley, and travelling. In fact, Mark used to travel a lot and, before joining Infinity Works, took three sabbaticals – two for just over a year and then another for six months – to backpack around the world and explore new places. This gave him a breathing space away from the career treadmill he was on in London and helped him recalibrate his work-life balance. “I’m always happy to work hard, and I’ve always enjoyed life, but travelling made me more relaxed about my career,” he explains.

Mark & Jeremy's outdoor bar

Mark is grateful that his travels and the subsequent gaps in his CV weren’t an issue for Infinity Works when he was recruited. His message to anyone with life dreams they haven’t fulfilled is: “Don’t put things off or be afraid that it might impact your career. Look after yourself, and make time for yourself and your family.” Mark also advises against viewing your career path as a linear progression: “Sometimes you go to the left or the right, it doesn’t mean that’s better or worse – and sometimes that deviation provides the perspective you need to truly develop your career.”

A self-confessed compulsive planner, Mark discovered through travelling that you can’t plan every minute of your life. Being flexible is a lesson that has made him a better consultant, he says: “You can’t be in control of everything in this job. There are so many variables and things going on client-side. You need to be able to adapt and if you do, things always work out in the end, however tough they may seem at the time.”

They certainly worked out for Mark. At Infinity Works, he’s found interesting challenges and a rewarding place to work where difference of any kind is not only accepted but, most importantly, it’s valued.

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Written by Infinity Works