All About People

Great products and brilliant strategies are all about the same thing – people.

The Being Group’s Principal Consultant, Katie Wheatley, shares how creativity has taken her from science to strategy, and how she’d love to combine them in her professional future.

A world of creativity

My first love has always been the arts. I studied art history and German at Otago University, in the deep south of New Zealand. I didn’t know what I wanted to do professionally, but I was always absolutely certain it would be something creative.

I didn’t feel I was good enough to be a “real” artist. I love making art, but I see what I do as little squiggles and most definitely not for public consumption.

I was born in South Africa and spent the first ten years of my life in Switzerland, before we moved to New Zealand for the next ten. My parents have always loved to travel and live in different places around the world. My mother is a secondary school teacher, and my father teaches physiology at medical schools. Their love of writing and language, and curiosity about the world, definitely shaped who I became as a person. At university, I generally kept it to myself that Professor Wheatley from the med school was my dad.

I applied for — and won — a grant to undertake curatorial studies in Sydney. Then my parents moved to Ireland, so I went with them and finished the internship element of the degree at a gallery in Galway.

Hobnobbing and odd jobs

In 2010, I moved to London — looking for more gallery work and doing heaps of waitressing and temp jobs. I thought I might stay for maybe six months, but I was there for eight years! One of the jobs I had was at an investment art consultancy. I did enough hobnobbing with rich people to realise I didn’t want to be part of that world.

I was sometimes working three jobs at a time. I was a receptionist (which I was terrible at) and met someone looking for an office manager for an engineering consultancy, called Intertek. It’s the biggest business you’ve never heard of, with 44,000 employees in 1,000 locations across 100 countries. I started there as office manager and eventually moved into sales and marketing. Basically, Intertek and its competitors inspect, test and certify products to give clients quality assurance.

It sparked a lifelong fascination with how things work and how people interact with them. I spent a lot of time staring at small, inanimate objects.

The human factor

Eventually, Intertek put me through a master’s degree at Nottingham University, studying human factors — everything to do with the design and development of products for human use. This is all about why someone might use a thing, how they might use that thing, or why they wouldn’t like that thing at all.

Working for labs might not, on the face of it, seem creative, but I absolutely beg to differ. My career has been filled with moments which sound incredibly mundane, but are actually creative and fascinating.

One of our clients made their own line of anti-freeze. They wanted to be able to say they were the best anti-freeze in the UK. But there was no test to say: “Hey, we’ve got a heck of an anti-freeze over here!” So, we designed an experiment that involved temperature-controlled rooms, compared it with other anti-freezes, and were able substantiate our claims. Is that sexy? Maybe not. But it’s highly creative to find a legitimate way to support the claim. That added significant value to our client’s business.

I also worked at Mintel, a consumer insights research agency, where everything we did was also centred around people. We worked with retailers, brands and manufacturers to help them understand and create products for the future needs and wants of the consumer. It was fascinating to look into the future and predict what products people will be using, how, and why.

Memorable moments

One of my most memorable moments was in dog beds. A client wanted to be able to truthfully say they had the best dog bed. Was there a test for the best dog bed? No. Could we create one? Yes!

In the lab we simulated bite force, how many times it might be pulled at, pawed and slept on in a lifetime. They were then able to claim “this dog bed will last X years” because we’d proved it would.

It felt a bit cheeky applying for a role at BEING, when I’d never worked in an agency, but the obvious commitment to doing meaningful work was highly attractive to me.

My most recent role was at a management consultancy, Vollardian, where we focussed on commercial growth, go-to-market strategies, and helped tech start-ups take the right steps towards success. It was all about vision and values, people and culture, and rigorous research.

Although the clients and outputs are very different to my work now, my time in labs, research and strategy was the perfect preparation for my role as Principal Consultant at The Being Group. I’m still making something for people to use.

Sustainable passion

Consultancy, whether in the sciences or creative industries, is simply to fix a problem you don’t have the time, resources, or expertise to deal with yourself.

I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding around consultancy. If we go into an organisation that specialises in packaging, for example, we’re not there to teach them about packaging. They’re the experts in that. But they might not be experts in leadership or organisational change, and that’s where we add value.

In the future, my dream job would be marrying my previous experience and current role. I will always get a real kick out of working with product. I’ve always loved walking into a shop and seeing a product and being able to say, I was a part of making that.

I would love to circle back as a consultant and work with organisations developing products – the sustainable and ethical side of business is always going to be a big passion. It’s going to be a huge area. If I can somehow bring those things together, I’ll be delighted.

If Katie wasn’t Principal Consultant at The Being Group, she’d have a little florist shop — which would make no money, but be a lovely place to drop in for a chat.


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