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In Conversation with Natasha Babar-Evans
Episode 818th June 2021 • Go Glocal • Ellen Wang
00:00:00 00:28:44

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This week, we invite Natasha Babar-Evans, Chief Operating Officer at Wizu Workspace, who graduated from LUBS in 2016. Natasha has gained a multitude of experience in various industries before embarking on the journey of entrepreneurship. This week, she discusses how thinking globally has helped steer her strategy at Wizu Workspace, and offers insights onto how to become a successful entrepreneur. Read the blog here.

Transcripts

Ellen:

Natasha:

Ellen: Great to hear, great to hear. I mean, in the introduction I deliberately didn't say too much about you, so I think a really good place to start today, Natasha, is for you to tell us a little bit about yourself.

Natasha: Yeah, good stuff. Well, the first thing to say is that I'm a mum of two beautiful kids. In terms of my career at the moment I am the Chief Operating Officer and one of the owners of Wizu Workspace, which is a flexible workspace provider, but actually before I'm probably describe myself as a jack of all trades. I've been a lawyer, a banker, and then now an entrepreneur. So, I've pretty much given everything a go. And in terms of you know me, I'm actually just reading a book at the moment called ‘Don't Surround Yourself with Idiots’, and it's all about profiling and personality, personality profiling, and when I look at some of the words to describe myself with the way I would describe myself is determined, enthusiastic, and kind. And then the other side of me is very sporty. I absolutely love sport, and I play football, when we're not in lockdown and martial arts and, I've just discovered cricket as well in the last year, which is awesome before lockdown.

Ellen: Oh my goodness, I, I felt like I can't quite keep up with all of the things that you throw at me just now, but that sounds fantastic. I mean, jack of all trades that isn't a bad thing, especially in nowadays right is, it's a very good strength. And so just to follow up on that I'm interested to learn a bit more about your journey, after your MBA at Leeds and how that may have helped you with your career after graduation, please.

Natasha: Yeah, I will, I promise I will answer that question but it's probably quite important for me to answer the why I did the MBA in the first place because I think that's a big driver. It will make sense then. So for me, the MBA was a really really important step in my career, I've been in industry, I've been a lawyer and a banker for a number of years, and I was in sort of a senior management position in my different sort of organisations. I've been through a lot, we went through the recession whilst I was, was in those positions and I can remember in one organisation that I've been in five restructures in five years, I was beginning to think it was me, not the economic environment. What I was tending to find in those situations that is we as an organisation, it wasn't just one, we're doing the same things over and over again and we’re almost repeating the same mistakes. And also, just in terms of how we were dealing with, with our teams, our people. It didn't sit well with me, but I didn't have any of the answers, and what I haven't done is had a chance to really develop as a person. And so, I actually got to the point where I was like I need to stop, and I need to personally develop, I don't have answers to some of the challenges and the problems that we're facing. And I want to learn how to help me develop those, those solutions. So, I stopped, I did the full time MBA and it was one of the best decisions in my career because it just gave me time to pause and to reflect on. You know how I behaved how the organizations have behaved, what I could have done better, and you don't often get a chance in life to really reflect on what could you do better, and it really really was important for me to do that. And the biggest thing was I loved the learning, I love the asking questions and I almost stopped doing that in my previous roles. So, what I did next was really important to me. I didn't want to go back into the old way of doing things. The old sort of corporate life and making those same mistakes. So, we actually chose to do something very different, I went and worked for a social enterprise that was supporting hundreds of entrepreneurs. So, I was a coach in that environment, and it was almost like, continuing on with my personal development and putting into practice everything I've learned on the MBA, but supporting entrepreneurs with their journeys, and I absolutely loved it so for me that was really important, an important step. That organisation, that social enterprise was funded by a bank, NatWest and NatWest actually, the social enterprise couldn't continue, or decided not to continue for one reason or the other, and NatWest actually took on the accelerator hubs, and I was appointed Regional Entrepreneur Director looking after all of the entrepreneurial hubs in the north. Again, I continue to love it, it was different. I had a team of coaches, we have this amazing environment for businesses to grow without any cost, and we were able to connect people with people to help them grow and thrive. So, I just ended up in a position that was brilliant, but I was surrounded by all these amazing entrepreneurs, and it made me brave, it made me think, you know what I can do this, and I was almost inspired by them to finally make that leap into Wizu Workspace. So that was my journey and that's how it all came across, but, but the MBA was massively important to me, and I really made the most of that as well. So, some of those consultancy projects that you get to do. You know I really, really did it, did things which would help fill gaps in my own development and career. So it was, it was great. So really, really, really positive about it.

There was a career coach as well who was, it was career farm by Jane Barrett and that really helped me sort of reorganise my own thoughts on what I wanted out my career.

Ellen: That's such a fantastic story to hear and you know your passion came through from that. And I think I picked up one thing that really inspired myself is that, you know nowadays people are just too busy to go forward but never really looked back so like you said, there's very little opportunity for people to just pause and reflect, and to understand exactly what is important, what do you really want to do in life, and it sounds like you found the one after graduation, of the MBA. So, let's talk about Wizu Workspace. So, I want to know a little bit more about that, and also what is the big vision for Wizu Workspace, please.

Natasha: Yeah, absolutely. So, Wizu Workspace is a flexible workspace provider but what do we do, what, what we really really want to be able to do is to turn unloved buildings into beautiful, loved workspaces where businesses can focus on their growth. And the reason why we're doing that. So, my big why if you like, is that I love to watch our members grow and thrive, and we feel like we're building the future economy of the north, and we've got this rare opportunity to be part of the journey of the amazing businesses and members.

So that's why, our big vision but then how we do it… we think that's quite unique. We've got three really really cool characteristics at Wizu, which makes us Wizu, and that is firstly it's completely flexible and ultra-flexible in everything that we do, whether it's a problem solving a problem for a member, whether it's how we behave in business. We're Ultra flexible. And then, what we love, is that we provide beautiful workspaces, it's not just an office, I think the days of having just a white square box when people work. It's not inspiring it doesn't, it doesn't work for a lot of people, you know you want plants, you want natural light, you want an environment that inspires you and your team so beautiful workspaces. And then finally, we don't see our members as just tenants of our buildings, they're members, they’re part of us and part of our community. So that's Wizu.

Ellen: That's really fantastic, it sounds like your, your vision really is, it's not only just turning a lot the buildings into a beautiful workspace, but it's also about building that community, as well, of people coming together and work together to build a brighter future together. Right?

Natasha: Yeah, absolutely, and what's really interesting we have, we've got an awesome community, but community doesn't mean that you necessarily always want to be talking to people. We have some amazing members who just want to be around other humans, and actually having gone through this pandemic that's just never more important, so it might be that you don't want to have a really really really long conversation, and you don't want to, you know, help each other in business but you just want that human contact. So, we have members who want to get really involved and collaborate with other members, but we also have those members that just want to be around other people in a beautiful environment.

Ellen: Absolutely, and at the end of the day, we’re all social animals, right, so we all need to be with other people. So yeah, absolutely. I agree with that. And so, I want us to talk about the theme of our podcast, in terms of the focus on glocalisation, and you talked about the pandemic of course, the pandemic and the impact of this is huge, in our society, on higher education in particular. So, one of the things I really wanted to raise awareness of is the importance of think globally but act locally, so I wanted to know what your thoughts are on term of glocalisation, please.

Natasha: This is brilliant actually and it's perfect for the way that we describe ourselves, in the way that we describe Wizu as being friendly and not distant, local, not global, and tailor made, and not off the peg. So, what we mean by local not global, isn't that we don't understand global, it’s that actually, we see that a lot as you know a lot of people in the community want us to focus on what's happening in our local environment, and that we want that friendly feel. And I think there is a perception that when you go global, that you lose that, that friendly feeling, and it's almost distant. So that's what we mean by local not global, but it doesn't mean that we don't have a really close eye on what's happening globally, and I think, actually, I think you're going to get onto this, hopefully, but, but actually understanding how your, your clients, your members think, and also watching what's happening in the world is really really important. So, although we describe ourselves as local not globa, we definitely need to have a mindset what's happening globally.

Ellen: You raised a really interesting perspective though is sometimes when companies go global, then often associated with a standardisation, which loses that kind of a tailor made, the local friendliness, and I think this is something that you, you're addressing here, right?

Natasha: Yes, that's what we mean by it, and I think, you know, we do a lot of talking to other people about how we describe ourselves and, and actually, that's how, that's how they see it is that distance if you like, but actually we wanted to just be clear that that you know we are warm and friendly and supporting our local economy, but it doesn't mean that we don't have an eye on what's happening.

Ellen: Sure. Sure. Thank you. So, I think you talked a little bit about this already but I'm just going to dig a little bit deeper if that's okay, Natasha. I love what he said about you know being tailored, but not off the peg and friendly, and also local not global. And so, I just wanted to understand a little bit more in terms of how does the term resonate with your sector, not only yourself but also sector as well. And why do you think this is a really important strategy for Wizu Workspace.

Natasha: Yeah, absolutely. And I think, I can't really answer this question without talking about one of the biggest flexible workspace providers that you may have come across and some of your listeners may have come across which is We Work, so they are global. And, to be fair, they made what we do recognisable in the industry. So, it's really really important for us and it's been an interesting observation for us to see how they have responded to the challenges how they've come out fighting. Yes, they've had losses but actually, now that we're starting to see an upturn. So, for us it's important to understand what's happening worldwide there. And also, most importantly on a global, global scale, our, our members are global our members, some of those are out in the US or internationally, and it's really really important for us to understand the challenges when they for example coming into the UK. So, actually, understanding for example that actually when it comes to international reporting regulations for profit and loss statements. Actually, if someone's from, I say for example, the US stays for us for more than 12 months, it means they have to be recognised, that liability needs to be recognised on their balance sheets, and that sort of information is really really important because it helps us to structure and be more flexible about our approach, whereas in years gone by, with the flexible workspace provider. You know we have longer terms. Now, actually, you know, we offer, you know, rolling contracts we offer all sorts of flexibility, but actually understanding the why that's important. And you can only do that if you understand what's happening globally. So, for example, internationally, what the different reporting standards are why one of your potential customers or members, we like to call them, are doing what they're doing and how they're behaving, so we really really need to understand that.

Ellen: Absolutely. So let me just ask the question there. And, obviously, my understanding is Wizu Workspace, you're providing the space but by the sound of things, it doesn't just mean providing space, but there's so many more services that you're providing as well. So, can you tell us a little bit more about that. And also, I was going to ask that question and the end, but it sounds like it's probably more appropriate to ask now is, if our listener, one of those entrepreneurs, that we have other business school, or at the University of Leeds that wants to start something, by themselves, and they're looking for something exactly like this. How do they get in touch with you?

Natasha: Oh, my goodness, yes, absolutely. So, it's www.wizuworkspace.com is our website. But if they just email us at hi@wizuworkspace.com, they can get in contact with us, but our website will have all of the information but, but if they listen to this and you want to get in contact with me you'd be really really welcome to to do so, and I'm sure you'll be sending out my, my details where you can contact me on LinkedIn, I'd be really really happy to help with that, but it's interesting what you say about more than just a space but we absolutely are more than just a space where we see ourselves as a service. So, we very much see ourselves as sort of a hospitality service that we provide. So, it's not just, you know, white boxes, absolutely not that. But one of the most amazing things for us is our people, our team, Wizu team. And people come to us because they love the warmth and the care that someone shows when they come in all, of our all of our team members connect with our members, we ask them how they are not just asking how they are, we know them by name, and that that is something really special. We know what's happening with them we know when it's their birthday, we know when it's their anniversary, we know when they're struggling, when they want to come and chat to us, we're here for them. And not just that we have an amazing environment where we're really encouraging health and well-being. So, for example we do, we follow their lead in terms of what people want, but certainly we do healthy breakfasts. We do all sorts of things and events, which, which means that if they want to get together and it's safe to do so, outside of, you know the lockdown, when it is, then we can, we can provide that so it's very much a service not just space.

Ellen: Absolutely. So, sounds like, from everything that you've described Wizu Workspace is much more about globally minded people, but localised service. So, I wanted to come back to our students, our student community if that's okay. And mentioned, I mentioned that a lot of our students are looking for ways to, you know, opportunities, enhance themselves, especially within the pandemic period, and some of, some of them must be very entrepreneurial minded as well. One of the things I wanted to ask is, what advice can you give to our current students to be able to develop such a global mindset. Under the current situation, because you talked a lot about from a practitioner perspective. So, what advice can you give to our students, please.

Natasha: Okay, so to be globally minded just touching on that. The first thing to say is that you have to have your ears and eyes open all the time, you need to be watching, listening, and then reacting quickly. So, in terms of global situation at the moment there's a lot of people who are, who are almost making assumptions about how people are going to behave, how they're how they're going to feel coming back into the workspace and responding to life after the pandemic. I think we need to just keep watching and then adapting to that. And the best thing that you can do if you're trying to start a business and you're not sure about whatever innovation or whatever idea that you have, you need to ask people, but that's the biggest thing. So, we constantly keep learning by sending out, sort of member surveys. So, we did really, really important one during the pandemic where we, we asked our members, what are you most anxious about transit coming back to the workspace. And that was really illuminating because I think I've made a lot of assumptions about what people might be scared or what might be anxious. And one of the biggest things was commuting, for example, I wouldn't have picked that up necessarily as being the very first thing, but literally 85% of people said, we're worried about commuting. Now, because we knew that we could adapt what we did and we've got discounted car parking. I'm very very keen on the environment and so I know that driving in isn't, isn't always the answer. So, we actually enhanced our bike, bike, sort of, we've got fantastic facility within our workspace, which means you can leave your bike safely and even showering facilities. So, we knew that we could look at how we make this easier for our members. How can we solve the problem that they've got right now which is their fear of commuting, and that's the biggest thing for any budding entrepreneur is to always be thinking about what is the problem I can solve not, I have something here now make the problem fit it? You have to think about what is the challenge that someone who is going to want your service or product. What is the challenge, they're going to and then fit your service or product around that.

Ellen: Great, thank you. I think you talked about two points that I picked up, which are really interesting one is about embracing the change in terms of, you know you got to understand what the changes are adapting to, so actually embrace the change and the other one is about asking questions, from which that informs your decision making process, right.

Natasha: Yes, exactly.

Ellen: Great. So, I think you talked a bit about the two elements that I was asking, one is about developing a global mindset, but also as a skills from, from an entrepreneurs perspective. The last question I'm going to ask is, what do you think our students can do to develop these skills, whilst there are at university because I think is, it might be easier from a practitioner perspective, but what do you think our student can do when they’re at university, and probably not as experienced as a practitioner, is there anything that they can do to do that?

Natasha: Yeah. So, touching back on the first one I probably didn't answer it in full really, but just in terms of the practical skills to help you. The biggest ones I think if you're planning to be an entrepreneur is to know your numbers. That is really really important. Now, I'm not just about, you know I'm very much a triple bottom line believer, in that it's not just about profit it's about people and planet, as well. But, if you don't understand the numbers if you haven't successful product or service, and you don't know its viability and how you can sustain it, then, that isn't going to help you run a business, so you need to know your numbers. The other thing that's really important is you have to love what you do. So, whatever you choose to do that going is going to get tough, and it's never been tougher, so you have to love what you do, otherwise we'll give it up. So, make sure that wherever you know product service whatever you create that you love, you actually love it as well. otherwise, you won't give up when the going gets tough. Determination is the other thing, and that's really really important. One of the biggest two things that I've, I've come across with entrepreneurs that I've coached, that I've recognised as a common, a common issue that they've had is one, delegation, I think when you're an entrepreneur you do everything yourself from the start, and then it becomes really, really hard to delegate, you can't do this on your own. So, you can, you can start off on your own but you need help. And the final thing just in terms of skills that entrepreneurs really need is, no fear of failure. That's a really really hard one because you're going to get things wrong, but if you're an entrepreneur and you're not agile and you don't keep trying, even if you get it wrong, then you won't be able to be, to repeat your success. So having that sort of right, I might fail on this, I'm going to give it a go, that sort of attitude is good but not, not to pump too much money into it until you know it's proven so, so I caveat that. But actually, so how do you get to be that amazing entrepreneur with all those different skills. Now that's hard, but a lot of it is mindset. So, there is so much support out there. And with mindset. I think one of the biggest things that has personally helped me is coaching, is having someone listen and guide, not necessarily advice but guide so that coaching and mentoring is really really important to help you understand your mindset. And there's so much support out, there so at Leeds University you've got spark. There's the LEC has, which has investments, investment readiness programmes, you've got Nexus, got the build programme, you've got the NatWest entrepreneurial accelerator, you've got the School for Social Entrepreneurs, you've just got a huge amount of support out there, so for the students listening, you've got support on your doorstep, you've got support in the region. And so, I would take it. There are a lot of people think they can do this on their own, you don't have to. And there are people who've been there, seen it done, it can ask you, they're stretching questions and you know you need to ask yourself. And that all comes from the coaching. So, I would say if you wanted to develop those skills, you need some support to do it.

Ellen: Oh wow, Natasha. That was amazing. Thank you. I feel like you put me to shame because you know so much more about the facility that offered at Leeds University than I do. But yes, please. I think for the listeners out there these are golden tips, you know, I, I'm getting some of the common themes coming through which you talked about passion, and which came through, from this recording, because I really see it, everything that you say you believe in it. And I think that really, that is the fundamental skill and asset to any entrepreneur. If you start something you got to really believe in it, and the determination you talked about. And of course, when it comes down to doing things you need to understand and learn how to delegate, as well because you started off with a one-man band perhaps but then you’re building the team, as you go, you're going to take people with you along the way. Right?

Natasha: Yeah, absolutely and the, the one biggest message which I learned from Entrepreneurial Spark, when I joined them after the MBA was get out of your comfort zone if you want to be an entrepreneur, there were times where you're going to be really uncomfortable and get comfortable with that, so get out of your comfort zone.

Ellen: Right, and keep challenging yourself right, well I feel like you've given us so much in this such a short space of time. And thank you so much for sharing all of the interesting points with us, and all I wanted to say is that you've kindly offered people to connect with you on LinkedIn, if they wish to look or explore more into Wizu Workspace, which is great so I'm sure that our listeners will take up to that opportunity as well.

Natasha: Absolutely. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

Ellen: Great, so I just wanted to say thank you, Natasha, for sharing your insight and your inspiring story, continuously to inspire me and also on the topic of glocalisation which resonated with you. So, hopefully this is not going to be the last time we invite you back and I'm really looking forward to the development of Wizu Workspace as well. So, remember listeners, if you are interested in getting to know a bit more about Wizu Workspace, then check out the website, otherwise feel free to connect with Natasha Barbar-Evans, on LinkedIn, and I'm sure she will be happy to connect with you, So, thank you ever so much Natasha, and it's really great to have you back and learn so much more about yourself. And that concludes the episode for us today with many things to take away from the session, and I really hope you enjoyed the episode. So, for the upcoming episodes I will continue to invite more guests to join me and share their insights on glocalisation. And so, and how they are tackling some of the challenges along the way. Most importantly, I want to continue to raise awareness on the importance of think globally and act locally. If you're interested in finding out more about this topic, please subscribe to our podcast series, or if you would like to get in touch our contact details available in the episode description. Until then, Let’s go glocal.

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