How I Got Here - Suzanne Malhotra

Suzanne Malhotra is the commercial director of 4D Design, a company specialising in 3D-branded environments for live events, exhibitions and conferences. She talked to Event about being immersed in Spanish culture and getting the work/life balance right.

Suzanne Malhotra of 4D Design shares her career story
Suzanne Malhotra of 4D Design shares her career story

What do you do and how long have you been in your current role?

I am the commercial director at 4D Design, looking after our clients and being the face of the company when winning new business. I've been with the firm for 18 years.

Where was your first job and what was the most important thing you learnt there?

After studying bilingual business studies, I moved to Spain to teach English and spent two years completely submerged in Spanish language, culture and society. I find it easy to copy and mimic people, and this was a key part to my fitting in. It wasn't long before I was being mistaken for a Spaniard.

The job itself was demanding and rewarding in equal measure, but I learnt the most by immersing myself completely in Spanish living, and that taught me the great pleasure and satisfaction that can be derived from relationships with other people, whether through friendship or work.

How did you get from there to where you are now?

When I returned to the UK, I wanted to put my training and education to work, and I took a position as marketing executive with a small firm, with a very successful woman at the helm. Inspired by her success, I began working with Tony Capp, and through that I first encountered Pete Allen who had just set up 4D Design. I loved what he was doing in terms of creative, and when he invited me to work with him I jumped at the chance and joined the firm in 1996.

Looking back, did you expect your career path to take the course it has?

In many ways, I'm not that surprised since my father was a self-employed accountant and really inspired me with his dedication working for both himself and other small businesses. As a result, I've never been the kind of person that finishes work at five on the dot. Going the extra mile, perfecting the finishing touches, dedicating myself to the task at hand, all these traits I can trace back to my dad and they've led me to where I am today.

Would you do anything differently?

Yes, I would pay a little more attention to my work/life balance. Of course, these things only really reveal themselves in hindsight, but looking back at my early years with 4D, I spent more time away from my young children than I would have liked. But in retrospect, it would have proved difficult to do otherwise and develop my career the way I have. It was (and still is) a very male-dominated industry, and no-one ever talked about work/life balance back in the late 90s.

It's slowly changing but the pressure on women at board level to match their male peers drink for drink, late night for late night, is gradually disappearing.

Who has inspired you along the way?

As I said earlier, my dad is a huge inspiration to my whole life, but in professional terms I have always really admired  Karren Brady, who started as manager of Birmingham City Football Club at the age of 23. She's an inspiration, not just because of her iron-work ethic and no-nonsense approach, but because she's totally committed to smashing glass ceilings and promoting the position of women in the workplace.

Have you ever had a job interview that went particularly well or spectacularly wrong?

Not personally, but I've had the dubious pleasure of interviewing some really terrible candidates. There's a set of simple, core skills you need to succeed in any interview, beyond your qualifying skills. The number of people that fail to master them never ceases to amaze me.

Is there a piece of career advice you've been told that has stuck with you?

It's summed up in the proverb 'measure twice, cut once'. Tony Capp taught me the cost of mistakes, and instilled in me an almost obssessive need to double check everything. It's a simple piece of advice, but it's easily forgotten in a 'results now', high-pressure business environment.

What career advice would you give to your 21 year old self?

Not that I would have necessarily listened to my older self at 21, but my advice to my younger self would be don't be so uptight, enjoy the people around you and learn from their successes and failures too.

How do you wind down & relax after a hectic day?

I've joined a running club recently, and often go running on my own. It's unmatched for its mind-clearing qualities and bringing me back to the here and now. All the stress built up anticipating the future and analysing the past melts away when I run.

On the flip side, I'm partial to a glass of good Merlot at the weekend, and when the day is done and the children are safely in bed, I'll relax with some reading and a spot of online shopping for the finer things in life.

Want to share your career story with us as part of the Women in Events campaignEmail news editor Samantha Edwards to feature in a future How I Got Here.

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