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Elevate Australia 2ic & Head of STEM (Business Development M
Ayrton studied Bachelor of Laws (Hons) & Bachelor of Commerce at Monash University
What's your job about?
Elevate are Australia’s largest provider of study skills workshops to Australian secondary schools. For the first 12 months of my full-time role at Elevate, I was a Business Development Manager for NSW & SA. My role was to grow Elevate’s business within those two states, either by meeting with and bringing new schools on board or by working with existing client schools to help their programs grow and evolve. I loved this role as it combined sales, client management and a lot of strategic thinking. My day to day would generally include getting in touch with key decision makers at schools via email/phone to discuss our program - or to discuss the existing Elevate program at the school - and suggest ways for our program to solve needs within the school (for example, low levels of motivation in the student body or a year group who struggle with exam preparation). I would then spend a week meeting schools once every 3-4 weeks, which was great – it breaks up the daily office routine, allows you to travel for work and helps you build strong relationships with the schools and staff who run the programs.
After 12 months in that role, I have been thrown a new challenge – head up an entirely new business unit within Elevate (separate to our study skills programs) and build that business. Again, there is a large amount of business development involved, but I am also involved in a lot of strategic thinking, building the business plan/budget and setting the long-term vision of where I want this new venture to go. It’s a pretty amazing opportunity for someone who is not even 18 months into full-time work!
What's your background?
I was born in Adelaide but completed my schooling and university in Melbourne. I was a humanities student at school but studied a Commerce/Law degree at uni after deciding the law was where my future lay. I enjoyed my degree and for 95% of my time at uni I was intent on becoming a lawyer. Throughout my law studies, I worked for Elevate on a casual basis as a seminar presenter – going into schools to deliver the study skills workshops – and whilst I loved it I didn’t think I would end up there permanently.
It all came to a head in my final year of my degree. I had completed some legal internships and was offered a full-time role at a large commercial law firm. However, by that time I had also progressed to be one of the more senior presenters within Elevate, had travelled and presented overseas a few times and had also been offered a full-time role in their Sydney head office. All this had given me a much better idea of what the company stood for, the amazing impact it was having and the opportunities available to young and ambitious full-time employees. After mulling it over, I decided working at Elevate would be more enjoyable, would give me greater satisfaction and would allow me to progress my career much faster than working in a law firm. I turned my back on law and chose to come on board full time with Elevate and relocate Sydney.
As I have mentioned, I have now been in Sydney for almost 15 months and have learnt an enormous amount about business, leadership and management. I’ve been exposed to Australian and global board meetings; I’ve managed teams of people and have been responsible for shaping and monitoring the strategic direction of our company. I can confidently say it has been the best decision of my life and I have never looked back.
Could someone with a different background do your job?
Absolutely! I have never used my legal training at Elevate (although it has helped me think more analytically when confronted with a business problem) and, although I studied commerce at uni, much of the theory you learn is built upon and challenged when you step into a real business environment. The type of person to succeed at Elevate isn’t defined by where they come from or what they have studied, it instead depends on their personality and character traits. If you are intelligent, confident, hard-working and enjoy problem-solving, that is all you need to succeed at Elevate. And if you like the idea of working in education to help students achieve their personal best, or the idea of working closely with a group of young, like-minded people, you’ll love what you do.
What's the coolest thing about your job?
I’d probably split this into two separate points. Firstly, I love the people I work with. It is a small office of 10-15 people, the oldest person in that office is 27 and I would consider everyone as my friends (as well as my colleagues). We are all very similar, get along extremely well and all share the same passion for education. We praise each other’s’ wins, we work hard together but celebrate our individual and collective achievements together as well.
Secondly, the opportunity afforded to people at Elevate is almost unparalleled. I am not getting work put on my desk and being told what to and by when. I set my daily agenda, I set the tasks I have to complete and, though I obviously still report to the General Manager, I have autonomy in how I hit my targets. It is rare that your first full-time role gives you so much autonomy, and even rarer that within 18-24 months you could be running a branch of a company overseas. But that’s Elevate for you.
What are the limitations of your job?
Again, I’d split this into two separate parts. The first limitation that I had to become comfortable with was that the role involved selling. I think that sales has a negative connotation to it and I initially hesitated at the thought of selling for a job. However, when you sell a product which is a market leader, you don’t feel like the slimy used car salesman which I think people picture. I have also come to realise that everyone sells something in one way or another – parents, teachers, lawyers, doctors – and in fact, mastering the art of persuasion is probably one of the most vital life skills you can develop.
The other thing to be aware of – I wouldn’t call it a negative – is that we work hard. It is a small team in a growing business, so there is always plenty to do and the autonomy and freedom which we work under also gives rise to high levels of accountability. We don’t by any stretch work all night – I am rarely in the office late – but if you want a job where you clock off at 5.30pm on the dot this probably isn’t the job for you.
3 pieces of advice for yourself when you were a student...
- Don’t automatically follow the default route. When I studied law, it was the expectation that you would then go to practice law. Most of my friends have moved into jobs at law firms just because that is ‘the thing’ you are meant to do, but I don’t think any of them like their work and most are looking already at other career options. Be brave and open minded when choosing your first career move – don’t just stick to the status quo.
- Look for mentors. Try and find a role where you can be mentored by more experienced people. This is invaluable in helping you develop in that role/industry. This was one of the big pulling factors for Elevate, as everyone in the office works closely with the global chairman and global COO, who are both extremely successful businessmen and great thinkers.
- Invest in your personal development. Even while at university, begin learning as much as you can. Read books on business, leadership, strategy, marketing or whatever takes your fancy – nothing in this world is new and every business problem you face can be informed by your knowledge of how similar leaders or businesses have dealt with that problem before. Your reading doesn’t have to be limited to business books – I am currently readying a book called Sapiens, which charts the rise of humankind, and I am learning so much about what makes people tick which I can use in my role as a manager.