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My Influences: Mirage Islam, Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing & Innovation Lead, University of Salford Business School

Mirage Islam has had a successful marketing career spanning more than two decades.

Working with leaders for the likes of Sky, Channel 4, Sainsburys, TalkTalk, Ernst & Young, Invesco, RBS, Beiersdorf, Saatchi & Saatchi and Publicis Worldwide, he then moved into higher education, sharing his wealth of knowledge and expertise with the next generation of digital marketers, while also supporting charities with digital strategies.

Islam has worked with multiple leading figures in marketing, who have had a huge influence on his career but credits the primary school teacher he met when he was 4 to 5 years old as being one of his greatest inspirations. Despite being in her nineties, and them initially meeting decades ago, they continue to keep in touch today. 

In his role as a senior lecturer in digital marketing & innovation lead at the University of Salford Business School, he shares his top three influences.

The person that has inspired my working career the most, and why

That’s a tough one. So many people come to mind and I know I can’t mention them all. That said, here are a few who have influenced and inspired me at different stages of my career.

In my formative years, it has to be my parents due to their resilience and striving for a better life. They were forced to leave their home country, which is now Bangladesh, for political reasons. A land that at that time was dealing with the legacy of empire and partition in 1947 and then a war for independence in 1971, to begin life all over again. My father was an entrepreneur and a philanthropist having a significant impact on shaping British culture in terms of cuisine and improving the lives of others. Like most Asian parents, education was a priority and it’s no coincidence that today my career has transitioned from industry to being a Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Salford Business School.

Then there’s Mrs Elizabeth Davies, my first teacher at primary school, who has been an inspiration to me from the beginning. Someone who not only invested time in my development at school but also at different junctures of my career. A kind and incredible advocate, I recall conversations during my teens where Mrs Davies would hone in on my positive attributes and encourage me to seek careers where I would excel. She filled me with confidence and a sense of self-belief that has served me well. A stark contrast to many secondary school teachers who routinely told me I would not amount to anything because they saw my colour and background as a negative. At 92, we still talk to one another and she is still encouraging me to this day.

Another teacher, Simon Turney was not only my rugby coach but a mentor too. Someone who taught me about discipline, strategy and tactics but also instilled the need to work as a collective to achieve the desired outcome. It was all about the team and using individual strengths in key game changing moments to make the difference. As a result, we were one of the best school teams in England.

In the early days of my career my love for sport helped me secure a dream job running a sports channel for a web company during the dot com boom in Soho London. It was my innovative and ground-breaking work here that got me head-hunted for a role at Sky. It was at Sky that I reported to two Directors, which can be tricky. Ian Valentine was Sky’s Technical Alliances Director and Gary Smith was a formidable Commercial Director – I learnt huge amounts from both. Ian taught me about the need to constantly disrupt and innovate business models, not settling and to seek better and efficient ways to serve customers’ needs, no matter how much push back you get. Gary was a role model and inspiration. He was highly respected for his commercial acumen and professionalism. I was able to shadow, listen and learn from him in major commercial negotiations and deals. This knowledge has served me well over the years.

Today the biggest shout out must go to my best friend, coach, wife and inspiration, Dr Safina Islam. The work she does humbles and influences me daily. She is an inspiration to me, selflessly helping the most disadvantaged in our society whilst also ensuring the lives and stories of the underserved are captured and archived for future generations. Safina is someone who has encouraged me to embark on a teaching career for many years now and I’m glad she persisted because I truly love what I do.

The place that has inspired my working career the most, and why

Bristol, because it opened my eyes and mind. This was my first living away from home experience. I was a student there and I have to say it was an incredible learning experience – and I’m not just talking about my lectures.

The people I met, helped me realise there was a world out there. It made me want to travel and explore the world, which I was fortunate enough to do after working every hour to save up enough money to travel for a year. This global experience and outlook helped me massively in my career – I have worked in the UK and overseas, dealing with clients and customers all over the world.

Coming from a small town, Bristol felt like a very big city and a taste of what London could be like.

Post-university, I worked in the marketing department for an investment company which helped me get that all important experience on my CV. I continued to play rugby to a half decent level and that scene allowed me to network further, exposing me to more experiences, as well as different people and opportunities. An education of sorts that has helped me to navigate working environments that were alien to me as a first-generation British-Bangladeshi. Looking back, Bristol introduced me to people from all walks of life and ultimately influenced the direction my career took.

The thing that has inspired my working career the most, and why

Sitting in the same room as Nelson Mandela in Cape Town and watching him give a speech in South African parliament had a profound impact on the twenty something me. Something that has influenced my work and career. Seeing and hearing him sharing his vision for a better outcome for future generations, the nation and the world, despite the horrors he and his people had personally experienced, left me mesmerised and in awe.

I want to make a difference and be a force for good in everything I do. I worked in an industry where I am not represented and so I take it upon myself to ensure future generations have role models and can see themselves reflected. Starting off my career, I knew it was going to be tough getting a job in an industry that didn’t necessarily hire people who looked like me. The marketing and advertising industry wasn’t diverse back then and still has a long way to go. I had to get experience on my CV and was faced with the dilemma of how to get a job with no experience. I set about getting any kind of experience I could, sometimes knocking on the same door repeatedly until they relented and gave me a chance.

I don’t often talk about my faith in a working or professional context. It’s not for everyone and I respect that. But, this question has really made me reflect and I have to say it is my faith that inspires my working career the most. I have lived most of my life with that guidance and over the last couple of decades have come to realise that it is my Islamic faith that underpins what I choose to do and why I do it. We live in a time where assumptions and judgements are made without a real understanding and there remains a significant divide in the opportunities and outcomes for people from different backgrounds. Meaning that I continue to be inspired by Mandela’s struggle and words, motivating me in my work each day because I want to see equity and social justice in our booming tech and digital sector, particularly up here in the North.

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