This week we caught up with graduates Steven Wright (BA Economics, 2001) and Charlotte Thomson (BSc Biomedical Science 2017) who shared their stories of working with luxury French fashion house, Chanel.
I studied Economics but didn’t live on campus - I didn’t particularly get into the university lifestyle at all. To be totally honest with you I just turned up, did my studies and went home. I enjoyed my subject, certain modules in particular and the relationships with the tutors.
Yes, I really enjoyed my time at Essex. During my first year I lived on campus in the Meadows which were brand new at the time. I’d come through Clearing and had never even seen the university so it was a big relief that it was so nice.
I was part of the Essex Flames cheerleading squad and made a lot of friends going to competitions around the country, as well as on tour to Spain, which was a lot of fun! I really tried to make the most of campus life and what it had to offer, and I even managed to spend some time in the library! I studied Biomedical Science – I’d enjoyed studying science at school which led me to that degree.
I enjoyed the subject and spent a lot of time in the labs working on my dissertation. For my third year I studied abroad at the University of Arkansas in America – and it was a very unique experience that I would definitely recommend.
Steve: Towards the end of my degree there were a few modules which got incredibly theoretical. I realised that numbers was my passion which led me to accounting. My career really began from there and I worked my way up the ladder. One of my clients was Chanel and the rest is history!
I worked with Chanel for five years as UK CFO and then took on a global role for which I moved to the US. Two years after that Chanel actually relocated its global headquarters to the UK so I returned.
Charlotte: I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after graduating but finally engaged with the Careers services and they told me about an internship programme which I applied for, and got a role as a Data Analyst for 6 months at the University. That led me to a permanent role working with students in Essex Business School and the Economics department which I really enjoyed. I ran workshops and helped with applications and interview preparation, as well as meeting employers looking for students for placements.
Through this work I learned a lot about the accounting and business industries and thought a career in this area would utilise the data analysis skills I had gained from my dissertation and internship. In early 2019, Steve had shared a graduate role at Chanel with the Careers Team which looked like a fantastic opportunity. I applied, got through various interview stages and about six weeks later was offered the role. It just shows how important it is to engage with your university’s Careers Team and utilise all the opportunities and connections they offer.
Steve: We are a globally renowned brand and are a private independent company that has existed for a long time. 2021 is actually the 100th anniversary of Chanel No. 5.
We are a friendly company with an established culture. It’s a great example of 'tone from the top'. A lot of the senior people have been here for a long time and the standards and working styles that they have set have permeated the organisation. Simply, it is a lovely company to work for. At Chanel, we believe in the freedom of creation, we cultivate human potential and we act to have a positive impact in the world. Everything we do is with that mission in mind.
It’s this which drives many unique and exciting opportunities as well as the company’s focus on the long term.
Steve: Similar to Essex, there’s a global diversity and inclusion agenda for Chanel, as well as a strong environmental position. It’s often difficult for voices to be heard in a global organisation but our structure empowers these voices and a number of people with passion for these subjects have been able to get involved in these topics irrespective of their role or seniority. In 2021, Chanel issued a €600 million Sustainability Linked Bond which committed it to achieving certain environmental targets by 2030.
I’m now a mentor and a recruiter. I left the University twenty years ago and, to be honest, did not have much contact over the first 15 years but about four years ago, I found an opportunity to work with Essex on a recruitment drive we had at the time. I think the timing just worked well where I was in a position to be able to offer a role to a graduate and I’ve enjoyed being able to open that opportunity up to students who might not have realised they could work with us. I’m now at the end of my third year of mentoring and have enjoyed meeting students from various disciplines and backgrounds as they start to think about beginning their careers or further education after Essex. It helps give me a real perspective on the ambitions and priorities of new graduates joining the workforce and it even gives me the excuse to come back to the University once in a while. More recently, I have also become a philanthropic supporter, donating to the University’s Student Hardship Fund which has been providing much needed financial assistance to students hardest hit by the pandemic and helping make sure they are supported to complete their degrees, so it’s nice to be able to ‘give back’ to Essex in a few different ways.
Charlotte: For a start, it’s so nice having a fellow Essex graduate in the office! He’s a friendly face who I know I can go to for advice. I feel my internship and work at Essex really supported my professional development and helped me to feel more confident transitioning to a more corporate workplace at Chanel. I really do think it’s important for students to have a variety of work experience on their CV, to gain a different perspective and understanding of working culture.
Charlotte: I feel quite lucky because I joined Chanel in September 2019 so I had six months in the office before the pandemic and working from home began. For me not a lot has changed since as I work fairly independently and communicate with teams around the world. My main responsibilities are administration of our global financial systems which includes maintaining global end user security, metadata updates, user support and training and working with our global finance users which I really enjoy. Every day I speak to someone in a different market so it’s always interesting.
Steve: My role is really varied – no two days are the same. I’m responsible for various aspects of the finance function, reporting to the Global CFO. Like a lot of us, my week is filled with meetings, reviewing documents, keeping up-to-date with the latest trends, managing my team… and lots of emails. There does seem to be a genuine desire to get back to the office in some way now that restrictions have eased. I’m confident that lots of people will return after the summer holidays - we are based on New Bond Street, above the Chanel boutique in a beautiful listed building and with a pretty decent coffee machine so what’s not to like?
Charlotte: Getting this role was huge for my career so I was incredibly proud when I was offered the job. Since then, I’ve really enjoyed working on new projects and just getting as much exposure to the industry as possible.
Steve: For me, I’d say my role in helping to relocate a number of US departments to the UK.
We had a great time chatting with Steve and Charlotte and gaining an insight into such a world-renowned company. There are a range of placement and internship opportunities for Essex students, so whether you’re a current student or an employer looking for opportunities to recruit, get in touch. You can also find out more about alumni volunteering opportunities and other ways to give back, including our mentoring programme.