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Aaisha works for KPMG; one of the ‘Big 4’ professional services firms (commonly mistaken for an accountancy firm, but what they do a lot of is auditing).

All information and links were correct at the date of original publication on
15 Jan 2013

Who is Aaisha Knights and what makes her tick?

I work for KPMG which is one of the ‘Big 4’ professional services firms (commonly mistaken for an accountancy firm, but what they do a lot of is auditing).

KPMG employ around 11,000 staff in the UK and have reported £1.7 billion turnover in 2012.

As well as my core role within the organisation, I sit as Chief Operating Officer / Treasurer of KPMG’s internal African and Caribbean Network (ACN) Steering Committee.

What was the catalyst that made you take up this role?

I was inspired to volunteer to join the internal African and Caribbean Network (ACN) committee because I had attended some of the prior events that they had staged and had lots of ideas of how I would improve them.

My aim was to kick up the profile of the events up a notch and also invite external attendees instead of just the usual internal people to encourage higher attendance.

I would say that I have added value to the ACN committee since joining by reaching out to my extensive network within our firm to help us secure some prominent and interesting speakers for our events from the black business community.

My input has raised the bar considerably to the point that we still get queries about when our next event will take place – I especially take pride in that achievement.

Our ACN committee were recognised for our Black History Month event (which took place in October 2012) with an internal award.

It was also a great opportunity to network and make acquaintance with some successful members/ inspirational people of the black business community.

Examples of such people are the likes of Winston Phillips, Chairman of BBC’s Black and Asian Forum, Caroline Marsh, Property Developer and star of TV’s “The Secret Millionaire”, Elizabeth Uwaifo, Partner at Sidley Austin, Dr Dwain Neal and Dr Donald Palmer of the Reach Society and Donia Narh of the Aces Project.

I am pleased to also say that we have confirmed Baroness Scotland QC and Tim Campbell MBE to speak at an event KPMG’s ACN is hosting in February 2013.

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What benefits has this role had on your career?

Before taking on the ACN role, the only thing that was holding me back was my very busy day job!

Thankfully my boss’s job remit has Diversity & Inclusion under its hat so she was very supportive from the start.

What was the best career advice you were given?

Never forget your p’s and q’s, always be polite as you never know where your next opportunity will come from, Carpe diem (seize the day) – as in take advantage of your surroundings NOW.

Don’t wait for things to be offered to you on a platter – go and get yours!

Finally, network, network, network and then leverage those contacts to get your voice heard.

What is the most exciting thing happening in your sector right now?

Well for me, it seems that Diversity & Inclusion is becoming a big watch word now and future business need.

For example, in my firm there is an increasing focus on the need of the staff employed to reflect the demographic of the society around them.

Other large corporates have also realised a business need for more women, LGBT and BAME origin people at all professional levels in order for them to stay relevant.

Many firms do not want to seem out of touch with the new generation (i.e. future talent/workforce) and that includes people from very diverse backgrounds.

This is something to look out for in 2013 and for those who have the skill, take advantage of. I see an opportunity here for those with talent to really shine and “market” themselves for a rewarding career.

How is the workplace environment changing and what do you need to be doing more of to catapult your career?

The need to be social media savvy, yet keep a professional face on things.

Also an excellent PA/assistant needs to be a few steps ahead of the game.

There is increased pressure to be a font of knowledgeable within the business, know the right people to get the job done for your boss.

Also having a strong internal network is important and being able to pull on those contacts when you get into a tight spot.

What social media tool are you using at the moment and why?

I currently use Twitter, but for my own personal use. I am in the process of setting up a Twitter account / LinkedIn profile that will be linked to my professional career.

This is very useful for keeping on the pulse with current topics, trends (i.e. hashtags #) and just public opinion in general.

What is your take on career failures?

My take is “if at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.” I also have an inspirational quotes app on my smart phone that gives me a new “motto” everyday.

A recent example of my work ethic was when I had to move the date for one of our ACN events upon realisation that the guest turnout might be lower than desired.

This was due to the time of the year (too early in the year) so we had to re-schedule it.  This meant that I had to rather reluctantly contact my high-profile speakers for the proposed event to secure a new date! It was challenging for me to do this without seeming incompetent yet come across as a professional.

I did manage it (only just) but it was definitely a learning experience.

What is difference that is making the difference for success in the network at the moment?

I think just being brave enough to put yourself out there and show people what you can do.

No point sitting at your desk wondering why you haven’t been discovered when you can create those opportunities for yourself.

That includes going to networking events when you can, seminars and mini-conferences that you can learn from in the process.

Who are you following on Twitter and why?

Too many to list, but I follow a lot of news agencies on Twitter like CNN and Huffington Post as I don’t always get to read a paper on the way into work or even have time for the news when I get home.

What book would you recommend for entrepreneurs?

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

What is your favourite quote and how are you applying this in your career?

It’s actually a proverb, rather than quote, but its “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”. I apply this everyday in a general sense.

You just have to take (measured) risks/chances.

What next for the network?

To make KPMG ACN events the most talked about and well attended in the African and Caribbean business networking space.

Fantastic to spend some time with Aaisha.
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