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Edward Guest, COO and CFO, UNLIMITED


UNLIMITED is an insight-led, tech-enabled agency group focused on delivering better business outcomes and conversion for clients. Its interconnected capabilities drive sales, performance, and ROI for clients, through a deep understanding of human behaviour at speed and scale. Its unique ‘human understanding lab’ is at the heart of everything it does.

A company of over 600 people with 120 experts in neuro, behavioural, and data science, the company uses cutting-edge tools to deliver unique, accurate insight. UNLIMITED’s marketing experts use this insight to define strategy and drive performance across increasingly complex customer journeys.

Q: Can you give us a brief introduction to your career background?

A: My career has mostly been in people-based businesses and international roles. It started when I graduated from Durham University with a 2:1 in Modern Languages (French and Spanish) before qualifying as a Chartered Accountant with PwC.

I spent six years at advertising company Ogilvy, starting out as an internal auditor and becoming OgilvyOne Europe Chief Financial Officer (CFO), and then Nordic CFO, a role based in Stockholm.

After that, I spent two years at mining company Anglo American, as Head of Performance Reporting. This was followed by six years at property services firm DTZ, taking on various c-suite roles including CFO/Chief Operating Officer (COO) of DTZ Global Consulting, CFO of DTZ Europe and CFO/COO of DTZ Investors.

I then moved into a private-equity-backed CFO role at maritime transportation company LOC, and oilfield services firm EXLOG, before assuming my current title as the COO and CFO of UNLIMITED.

The big questions:

Q: What’s been your biggest success in your career?

A: I’ve been fortunate to have had numerous successes. I’m particularly proud of the most recent one: helping UNLIMITED grow by over 30% over the last couple of years, taking it from breaking even to 20%+ margins by creating an integrated insight-led and tech-enabled conversion agency.

As part of this, I’ve developed a “productivity playbook” which focuses on five key strands, namely utilisation (i.e., number of billable hours worked), recoverability (how many of those billable hours are billed and recovered from the client), resource allocation (maximising capacity), pricing (focusing on value) and structure (feeding and honing good junior talent from the bottom of the pyramid). We’ve followed this up with the optimisation and automation of processes and tasks throughout the business to take productivity to the next level. Our next step is to help AI drive new ways of working.

Q: What has been the biggest challenge in your career?

A: One of the biggest challenges I faced was when I was asked to go to Sweden to be Nordic CFO at Ogilvy. Ogilvy Sweden was not performing well at all, and the work involved a full restructuring: reducing the company size by a third, resigning numerous unprofitable clients, dealing with a range of crises, and liaising with a rather bloodthirsty local press. This allowed us to turn the business around, grow it and return it to profitability.

Q: What has been the biggest regret of your career?

A: I don't believe in regrets. I have a philosophy that everything that happens in life can be a gain. Using the lessons from difficult moments is what helps you become more successful and a better person. Whilst there are always plenty of valleys (difficult moments), it is making the most of them that helps us reach the next peak (to achieve greater success).

I am passionate about skiing, and rather than regretting not having done it sooner, I hope to do a ski season in the future.

Q: How do you develop your skills and knowledge?

A: I invest greatly in my own personal development, from attending leadership courses, to avidly reading and listening to books that help me grow as a leader, person, and expert in my field. Every day, I walk 7km while listening to audio books at twice the speed, which helps with my focus and concentration.

Q: What has been the biggest learning opportunity of your career?

A: I have had numerous learning opportunities. I know that I learn best when thrown in at the deep end and have had to do this with a range of businesses that have needed right-sizing and improving. Each one has helped me learn to approach life pragmatically and to keep calm when faced with adversity. It is all about looking for solutions and not dwelling on problems. Each experience has given me great insight on considering different solutions and choosing the best one.

Q: Who have you learnt most from? What have you learnt and why has this been useful to you?

A: I have been very lucky to have had some great mentors over my career, from the General Manager of Ogilvy Europe, the Chairman of Ogilvy Europe, to my boss at DTZ Global Consulting, and probably most of all from my current CEO and private-equity operating partner at UNLIMITED. All have driven a strong work ethic in me, have helped me become a capable leader and taught me commercial insight and strategic thinking.

Q: What's the biggest challenge in your marketplace at the moment, and how are you working to overcome it?

A: The state of constant flux the world is in now is regularly creating new challenges, particularly in keeping people motivated, and in ensuring we’re driving business performance. To navigate choppy waters, we find that reinforcing the mission to employees, maintaining business discipline, pausing to celebrate success, providing development opportunities, and growing and maintaining a collaborative culture, have all helped.

Tips from the top:

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?

A: Always try to frame whatever happens to you in a positive light. Good comes out of challenging situations. Be hungry to keep learning. Avoid unnecessary distractions that prevent you from climbing the mountain.

And, above all, be a good person to all those you come across. “It pays to be nice to the people you meet on the way up, for they are the same people you meet on the way down.” – American playwright Wilson Mizner.

Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring CEO/CFO/COO?

A: As you become more senior, stakeholder management becomes a key skill, upwards, sideways, and downwards. What makes you successful is being able to balance all the competing demands from the different stakeholders, making yourself someone who they see as an indispensable business partner.

A specific skillset will only get you so far, and as a leader, you have others who can perform the necessary tasks that will get you and your organisation where you are going. Being a good communicator and keeping everyone around you motivated will make you a strong leader, and the person everyone wants to follow.

Q: What do you think is key to managing a successful team?

A: Setting the vision and empowering the team to find solutions that deliver that vision in the way they see best. If you have assembled the right team, then that team has the right skills to be successful. Your role is to guide the team and let them thrive by creating a collaborative environment where they can all contribute in their specific ways to achieving the mission.

Q: What's your top tip for managing work-life balance?

A: Make sure that when you are not working, you recover effectively, rest properly, and switch off completely. Rest is productivity. You achieve more when fully recovered. It is not about how much you do but about how much you achieve in the time allotted to work. If you rest well and are then focused and productive when you work, you will find that your life is naturally balanced between work and play.

Future gazing:

Q: How do you see the CEO/CFO/COO role changing in the next five years?

A: The speed at which the world is changing is accelerating all the time. I think a c-suite leader has to become increasingly nimble with the ability to embrace change more quickly than ever before. It is important to have a growth mindset and a desire to learn. Businesses will get left behind if their leaders aren’t able to adapt to new ways of doing things quickly and effectively. Being able to balance the constant change with the ability to ensure appropriate governance is also key.

Q: What technological advances do you foresee within your role?

A: Automation and AI are already driving transformational change. Being able to leverage these opportunities in the right way is fundamental. We have already set up an AI taskforce to see how we can make this work, from how we work in the back office to mid office, and how we deliver work to our clients in the front office.

At the heart of our business sits the ‘human understanding lab’ – a team of 120 neuro, behavioural and data scientists, technologists, and strategic planners. Through this, we can provide human-centric analytics and insight to our clients, unlocking new paths to growth and driving conversion. It’s an exciting space to be in, and our AI-powered insight tool, LUCA, proves invaluable.

Q: What do you see as the future of work in the UK?

A: Companies will need to find the right balance between office and remote work. It is an ever-evolving situation, but I think the old ways of everyone being in the office full time have gone forever. The best companies will be the ones that can manage face-to-face, collaborative work and team bonding, with focused work that helps the employee grow and develop in the most productive way.

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Q: What do you love most about your role and why?

A: The variety, the constant challenges and the people. No two days are the same, no challenge is the same. But the fact that the work is varied, and new challenges are always arising means we are constantly moving forward in trying to be better and achieve greater success. What makes it even more fun is that I’m working with great colleagues every day.

Q: What does your average Monday look like?

A: I always like to start the week with a clear deck, so I make sure that my Mondays never start with things hanging incomplete from the previous week. This gives me a clear mind to focus on planning the week and setting the priorities for me and my teams. The rest of the week can then be focused on delivering and driving the business forward.

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