As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Hilmarie Hutchison, CEO, Matrix Public Relations Dubai.
Hilmarie comes armed with multiple disciplines, mainly communications, business management, accounting, and information technology. This has served her well as CEO of Matrix PR. Her career path has seen her play roles as an accountant, CFO and business and communications consultant in the USA, Australia, South Africa, Denmark and the UAE. Since 2008 she has been actively involved with communications, PR, Social Media and Digital Marketing. Equipped with her background in IT and Accounting, as well as exposure working with varied business models, she is able to provide valuable insights and recommendations while working with PR clients.
At Matrix she wears several hats. In addition to managing the day to day operations of a small consultancy, she is also responsible for developing and implementing internal and external communications programs for the company. Additionally, she plays an active role in developing and improving operating processes and systems, supporting and building the team while driving the broader business objectives, planning and strategy.
Her education includes a Bachelor’s degree, with a major in Accounting and minor in Information Technology, which she completed Summa Cum Laude at the University of Maryland, USA.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
During my career, I have had the pleasure of being exposed to a wide variety of businesses and played several roles, which have shaped and influenced my career. I started off in accounting which is what I studied. I went on to become a CFO and then later ventured into a different but exciting career path as a business and communications consultant. My experience spans a range of business sectors including retail, F&B, information technology and security, manufacturing, commercial and industrial sectors. In addition, I have also been very fortunate to have lived in many countries and experienced diverse cultures, including, Australia, the USA, South Africa, China, the UAE and Denmark. This exposure has helped me to understand and work easily with a mix of nationalities, which fortunately we have at Matrix Public Relations. The variety of backgrounds and personalities we have at Matrix is what makes it such a special place.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I have found that often mistakes happen when you do something while in a rush, under pressure, or distracted. For example, despite my background and experience in IT, and always advising my team to be careful about the links they click, I once made a really silly mistake myself! While I was talking on the phone I was ‘multi-tasking’ and checking emails at the same. I inadvertently opened an email and then clicked on a link I should not have! At a glance the email looked like it came from one of our regular suppliers. However, because I was distracted, I did not pay enough attention to the source of the email and without thinking, I clicked on the link! Well, it turned out to be ransomware that encrypted a large number of my files. I learnt two vital lessons from that experience — never open emails or click on links when you are preoccupied and secondly, always have a backup! The important thing for me is that when I have made a mistake I want to learn from the experience.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Throughout my career and in my various roles, I have read many books, some inspirational and others that were in line with my work. All these books contributed immensely in my career growth in their own unique ways. However some books that stand out and that inspired and influenced me are ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins, ’The Four Agreements’ by Don Miquel Ruiz, and ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ by Spencer Johnson. It important to remember that change will happen, but what sets successful people apart is their attitude toward change. That principle goes for many areas of life, it is our attitude toward change and challenges, both personal and professional that can make the difference between success and failure. Also, learning never stops. In my current line of work, which is PR, communications and digital marketing, reading is a must! In order for us to remain competitive in the industry, it is important that we keep up with consumer trends. The only way we can do this is by constantly reading and studying well-researched articles and journals that put these ever-evolving trends into perspective. This helps us better understand how we can exploit these insights to serve our clients better. So, I always schedule a time everyday when I can either listen to a podcast or read an article or two.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. What is your vision, your purpose for your company?
This is true because most successful companies today are not solely driven by profit margins. Leaders, having understood the importance and impact of running a purpose-driven organisation, are now increasingly mainstreaming purpose as their key growth driver. My vision for Matrix PR is anchored on value addition. We don’t see ourselves as just a service provider. We see ourselves as an extension of every client. Our primary goal is to add value to your business — which also happens to be our purpose. This mantra has been integrated into our business strategy and it is a crucial factor that not only guides me in my decision-making but motivates the team as well.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
People first! Our business never stands still. The market and the world around us are constantly changing. With changes also comes challenges. In our line of business, these challenges also bring out the very best in us. But also, in the quest to manage these challenges, we try our best to be agile and stay flexible responding to demands appropriately. Out biggest strength is the family we have created called Matrix PR. In times of difficulties, it is always the people we have who have risen to the occasion. We afford them opportunities to learn, make mistakes and grow. We have been particularly adept at managing crises episodes. However, my guiding principle has always been — learn from your mistakes and most importantly, celebrate your wins — big or small.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Humanity as we know it was brought to its knees with the COVID-19 pandemic. It struck at the very heart of our societies; disrupting lives and businesses. We have all now been forced to adjust to the new normal. Working parents in particular have borne the brunt of this new way of living. It has been a tough call juggling working from home and homeschooling children. As if being a working mum wasn’t enough I had to be a teacher as well. In my case, playing all these roles simultaneously was a difficult at first. But this is where my organizational skills came in handy. We created a schedule early on, which definitely helped to ease the burden on everyone. I have now been able to strike a balance between my work and family obligations. I keep reminding myself that we’re all in this together and going the extra mile to make others comfortable, safe and happy is uplifting.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The level of disruption COVID-19 has caused at the workplace is unprecedented. To make matters worse, no one was prepared for it. First, most businesses have gone on safe mode, which means they have temporariry suspended some of their (non-essential) service providers. As a result, revenue streams have run dry. In our case we decided to help our clients weather the storm by trying harder to come up with value-added solutions. That way, we remain relevant and resourceful to our clients. Another big challenge is adopting remote working. Having gotten used to the office environment, some employees experienced difficulties transitioning from office to a home setup. Fortunately, we have always provided flexibility to our team and our system was setup to allow remote working well before the pandemic struck. That helped the whole team to quickly put new structures in place which helped the team adjust rapidly. The situation was also made a bit easier thanks to video conferencing tools such as Zoom, which has enabled us to interact with each other and with clients frequently. Collaboration tools such as Slack have also enhanced communication between us. This has enabled us to maintain our productivity levels. At the same time, we have had to ensure that our clients as well are able to make the transition to a virtual office, and we offer them our help and expertise whenever required to do the same.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
The current news cycle has been rather demoralizing. The idea that this pandemic could permanently change our lives is causing many people a lot of anxiety not to mention sleepless nights. The after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could be dire for many families — even for those not affected by the disease directly. To shield my immediate family and extended family (which includes my colleagues), I have encouraged them not to dwell too much on the pandemic-related news. We are instead engaging ourselves with activities that keep us engaged, entertained, motivated and hopeful. We are also using this period to learn new skills and enhance what we already know by taking online courses, many of which are now being offered for free. As a company, we recently launched and run a successful campaign designed to help local businesses tell their stories on how they are helping others in their community that was well received by the public and the media as well. We offered our services for free to help them tell their stories. We are keeping hopes alive by helping and inspiring others. We may have been affected but that should not stop us from helping those who are not as fortunate as us or who could use our help.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Of course, COVID-19 has taught all of us important lessons — as human beings and as businesses. Also, as much as the pandemic has negatively affected us, it has also created some opportunities as well. Although social media was already being used as a communication and marketing platform by individuals and businesses, it really exploded during the pandemic. According to Statista, worldwide usage of social media rose by 45 percent, with Italy and China leading with 52 and 50 percent respectively. We expect this trend will catch on post-COVID.
We believe remote working will also gain in popularity. Although some companies had already adopted this operating model, many were yet to fully embrace it. But in the wake of the pandemic, I foresee many more organizations going this direction. Companies like Facebook have already hinted that some of its employees will continue to work from home even after the pandemic. Backed with readily-available technology, remote working is bound to take off post COVID-19. This will also open up other opportunities in other sectors as well, such as manufacturing, cloud computing, among others.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
There will be a new normal. I can see distinct changes in consumer behavior taking place. This is because the lock down measures have made us drastically change how we do things. I also think that this situation has made us rethink our values.
On a brighter note, the pandemic has made us more socially responsible, more respectful to the environment and more accountable and purposeful as businesses. Large industries will be under a lot of pressure to act responsibly. Crisis management will also be mainstreamed as the pandemic has served as a wake up call and taught us to always prepare for the worst.
Moreover, I believe there will be a rise in more environmental groups and nature conservation organisations. Of course, there will be continuous research in medical science to find a vaccine and anticipate future pandemics.
Most people’s social behavior is also bound to be affected by the measures put in place to help curb the spread. We can anticipate a new social dynamic in due course.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
My first move will be to examine what we do, how we do it and why we do what we do. I will want to challenge the ‘normal’, so to speak, and find a way to reinvent ourselves as a communications consultancy.
I would also like to redefine what we have been doing and respond with strategic solutions to a new economic order. The expectations and demands will have changed after COVID-19 and our response must meet those needs.
We do not feel threatened by the post-COVID economic challenges. Rather, it fills us with a new sense of excitement, to get out of our comfort zones and carve a new future for ourselves. We believe we can do this by thinking and acting differently. Our values might have to change and with that our new personality as a brand.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I encourage others to use this pandemic as a wake up call. Examine how it affected you as a person and as a business. Identify which areas in your businesses suffered the most as a result of the measures put in place to fight the pandemic. Map out a strategy on what you will do to improve these areas. Since pandemics can happen at any time, make sure you have a solid crisis management plan in place, which covers different scenarios. Also, have a business continuity plan, which shows step-by-step how the business operations will continue during a crisis. Lastly, look for opportunities to diversify. Existing streams have become strained during a crisis. It would be in your best interest to have a few more innovative revenue channels that will keep the company operational for longer. This way you will protect your most valuable assets — your employees and by extension, their families.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have many favorite quotes I live by but there’s one I particularly try to apply, which is “It is better to be kind than to be right”. Often times you can accomplish a lot more by showing kindness than by always having to be the one that is right.
How can our readers further follow your work?
If anyone is interested in connecting with me, they can do it via LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/hilmariehutchison/. They can always visit our website, follow us on twitter, like our Matrix Public Relations Facebook page or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/company/matrixpublicrelations/. We are constantly posting industry updates on LinkedIn and our website has always got fresh blog posts.