Eleven years with Aston Martin, including nine years in diverse roles at its factory in UK, helped Elizabeth Walsham-Gray, Brand Manager, Aston Martin Oman, hone her management and leadership skills. Muhammed Nafie reports.
It is not an overstatement to call Elizabeth Walsham-Gray a member of the extended Aston Martin family. It’s not only because her husband has worked with the same company for the last 17 years as well; but because, having started her career with Aston Martin’s factory in UK 11 years ago, Elizabeth has scaled new heights in her professional and academic life with the luxury sports car brand. Since the last year, as the brand manager of Aston Martin Oman, she has been looking to create more brand awareness about the cars in Oman. In between, she also had a short stint with Aston Martin Qatar.
During her nine years in the factory, Elizabeth gained extensive experience having been tasked with different responsibilities. She started with the materials, planning and logistics division; later became a production supervisor on the shop floor; and then worked as an integral part of the launch team looking after the new models. In the meantime, she completed her Masters of Science degree in Engineering Business Management, as part of Aston Martin’s prestigious management training programme. “I had a Bachelor’s (honours) Degree already, and the company encouraged me to take my skills further forward by doing a Master’s,” she says. “I could study alongside my work in the factory, and I was very lucky that my final year dissertation topic was centered around the role I was doing, meaning that it was very easy to translate everything I studied back into the work environment.”
Nine years in the factory stood Elizabeth in good stead when it comes to management and leadership skills. As a senior production supervisor, she led a team of over 50 people. “I was able to lead the team very effectively, mentoring, coaching and teaching what I know about the brand and the business. I had a team of five lead supervisors working for me. The important thing was to recognise what individual skills they have and encourage them,” she says.
The shift to Oman, a country which she loves very much, was a completely new experience for her. “Business is very quiet here in Oman,” she admits. “It’s a very different market here, compared to Qatar where there is more willingness to spend money on luxury cars and a lot of awareness about the brand. Here in Oman people are not as aware of Aston Martin, as they are in Qatar, Dubai or Abu Dhabi for example. It is very difficult to come here with the brand I know very well to realise that other people don’t recognise it as perhaps we think they should. In other countries in the GCC, it is as popular and exclusive, if not more than, as Ferrari and Bentley.”
However, as Aston Martin is celebrating its 100th anniversary next year, Elizabeth is working to generate more awareness about the brand in the Sultanate. “I have taken on a new sales manager who has been working in Oman for many years, and knows the market very well. He comes with a wealth of experience, and is helping to create more brand awareness.”
Coming from a working ambience where one is used to rigid starting and finishing times, Elizabeth found it difficult to cope with a working environment where deadlines are not that strictly adhered to. “In the factory I was always able to maintain the strict balance between professional and personal time, whereas here in the Middle East that balance gets a bit blurred,” she adds. “However you have to make sure that you have your time at the weekend and in the evening to separate yourself from the busy schedule in office.”