This month we met Laura Osborne, mother of two, Managing Director, Corporate Affairs, at London First and now co-author of Poles Apart. We caught up with Laura to see how she makes it work.
What did you study and what college were you in?
I started at York studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE), and decided at the end of the first year to concentrate on the two Ps. I was particularly drawn to philosophy and loved the opportunity to explore so many ideas in such a great setting. I was in Derwent College – in what was then the ‘new’ blocks over the road from the main college.
Describe your uni experience in 3 words?
Eye-opening, intense and, quite often, hilarious!
What did the early stages of your career look like and how did it develop?
I was staying with a boyfriend in London whose flatmate had also gone to York, and she told me about her new job in a public affairs agency. Until then I’d thought the only roles in politics were in MPs’ offices so I was excited to find out you could work in business, which I very much wanted to do, and still have that political dimension. I wrote to all the registered agencies in London asking them to interview me and was fortunate to get a place on the PPS Group (now part of SEC Newgate) graduate scheme. I worked in an agency for the first five years of my career before moving into the Civil Service and then back into a business role.
Tell us about a normal day in your life and job?
I am the Managing Director, Corporate Affairs, at London First, the capital’s business group. I am also mum to two daughters (5 and 10) and wife to James, as well as co-author of a new book, Poles Apart, Why People Turn Against Each Other, and How to Bring Them Together, published by Penguin Random House. Over the course of the pandemic, I worked from home, managing my team remotely, home-schooling and writing Poles Apart with my co-authors in any and all spare moments! It was an intense time, as it was for everyone, and it has since been wonderful to be able to go out and talk to people about the book in real life and hear how they are using it in theirs.
On a normal day, I’ll take the kids to school before starting a run of meetings with businesses, colleagues and sometimes journalists and MPs. I always keep some time clear at lunchtime to review anything that’s come in and to remember to take a break – pre-pandemic I tended not to manage that and only realised when trying to combine home-schooling as well, how bad it is not to take any time out! I usually have meetings for most of the afternoon and will try to finish by 17:30 if I can so I can spend a bit of time with my daughters in the evening. I am a terror for keeping an eye on my phone all the time, but it does go with the type of job a bit, particularly the media relations part.
What did you want to be when you were younger/at uni? How has this evolved/changed?
My favourite thing was always to read, so when I was very young I thought I might be best suited to becoming a librarian. As I got older and my interest in current affairs intensified, I wanted to find a role that brought together what was going on in the world with what was happening inside a business. I’ve been very lucky to have a number of these roles.
What do you love about your current role?
As Managing Director, Corporate Affairs, I have the opportunity to work across all the disciplines I love, from the more creative aspects through to the cut-and-thrust of the news cycle. Working for a membership organisation is also a great opportunity to learn about – and from – all the great businesses based in the capital, as their drive and adaptability over the last couple of years has been immense. I was also grateful to London First for the flexibility to write Poles Apart – I was part-time in my previous role with the company. This meant I had the space initially to podcast on polarisation (Changed my Mind) and then to work with my co-hosts to become co-authors.
What do you miss about York?
I miss York a lot! I visited in the last half term and I feel like the pull of the city is so strong, as it has so much to offer. I live in Kent now and while it is beautiful and has many strengths, there is something incredible about the way York seems to cram the whole of life into one city.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in your field?
Be prepared to work your way up and learn on the way. When I started out, I used to bemoan all the admin tasks I had to do as I was rotated around the business, but it meant I got to know the business and its leadership really well from the outset. Also, don’t be afraid to ask. I didn’t have many connections before university and was worried that would hold me back from getting the work experience I needed, but I found that as long as I was prepared to go for volume – that is, put in the time to get in touch with as many people in the field as possible – someone would open a door.
What is your favourite memory from your time at York?
So hard to pick one, but probably the places I spent time with my friends, from the pub in Heslington through to dancing at the Gallery (that probably dates me!) and everywhere in between. I also loved the library – maybe I am still clinging on to that librarian ambition deep down somewhere – as it was the place I found huge peace on campus and also where the interests I am so passionate about now really started.
What tips and advice would you give to anyone wanting to write a book?
We were unusual in getting a book deal before we wrote Poles Apart because of our podcast, Changed my Mind, and our editor’s interest in the issues. We did, though, have a clear idea that we wanted to write something interdisciplinary and also accessible. I think knowing what kind of reader you are talking to helps, particularly with multiple authors, as it is the thread that guides the draft. I would also advise being very sure you want to write something that long! Sounds obvious but having written probably hundreds of articles in my lifetime, I was still underprepared for the level of research, focus and dedication you need to write 100,000 words.
Find out more about Poles Apart
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