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What I’ve Learnt: Zoe Wallace, Director, Agent Academy

Zoe Williams, Agent Academy

Zoe Wallace was appointed as Director of Agent Academy back in 2017 and has since developed the enterprise as the place for future talent.

Based across Manchester and Liverpool, Agent Academy is a social business with a mission to redefine skills development for young people and upskill future talent, especially helping those from underrepresented groups to secure employment in emerging careers in the digital, creative and tech industries. 

Wallace has helped hundreds of young people begin promising digital, creative and tech careers across a range of sectors, including regeneration, utilities, professional serves, among others.

As well as her role at Agent Academy, she is an active member of the British Interactive Media Association and is also part of pro-manchester’s skills committee.

She shared all the lessons she has learnt.


Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

I absolutely couldn’t do without using the first half hour of each day to catch up with the team. This has become an integral part of our daily routines and I believe it really have a positive effect on each of our days. Understanding where everyone is up to in a relaxed environment with an informal catch up every morning gives us the opportunity to align – and of course get our morning coffee fix.

What’s been your luckiest break?

Landing my job at Agent Academy was a life changing moment for me. Prior to that, I’d had a really diverse career, from event management, to training and development, and everything else you can think of in between.

It was only when I started working with Agent Academy that the stars aligned and all that diverse experience and expertise that I’d gathered along the way came together, giving me an edge when it came to supporting and encouraging the next generation of talent. The good, the bad, the highs, the lows – it’s all been very valuable.

 What’s your best failure?

Unbeknownst to many, I once launched my very own street food van. It was during a time where street food was taking the media and hospitality sector by storm – and I wanted to be part of it. However, due to my inexperience and very limited resources I quickly realised the reality of this entrepreneurial pursuit was not what I envisaged when I dreamt of becoming the next Duncan Bannatyne.

Given that my burger van journey coincided with the coldest winter to date, the lack of customers meant that this failure gave me a lot of time to sit from 5:30am to 4pm each day and reassess what exactly it was that I wanted to do.

I took up some temporary work as a trainer for tech products, which involved upskilling retail teams; it was here I discovered what I really wanted to do, and shortly after that I landed a job with O2 Telefonica as a Training Manager. Had it have not been for this time of reflection – the big punctuation mark that was the failure of the van – I doubt I would have found my path into skills development and got to where I am today, not just professionally, but personally too.

What is the best investment you’ve ever made, either financial or time?

I had the privilege to work alongside Frances Molloy on the Tyred Campaign a couple years back. The campaign came about after her son, Michael Molloy, lost his life in a devastating coach crash caused by a 19-year-old tyre in 2012. Frances established the campaign to change the law to ban dangerously old tyres from being used on our roads. The Agent team got involved when our CEO Paul Corcoran vowed to support Frances in her pursuit by utilising our resources, and he invited me to become the campaign manager.

Although this was outside my experience at the time, leading the coordination and activating this national campaign, which included press communication, awareness raising events, public petitions, digital campaigns and garnering celebrity endorsement, taught me so much that I continue to use to date.

A pinnacle moment was when we were successful in our mission and finally changed the law to ban old tyres. This was an important moment for us all, as we were so invested as a team and I will never forget the feeling it brought. Working alongside Frances taught me what it means to have the qualities of a true leader. Her commitment to truth and justice required endless courage, wisdom, and compassion. I will always be grateful for the time I spent with her working on this campaign, up and down the UK, her example provided me with so many valuable lessons.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

‘Essentialism’ by Greg Mckeown. It’s the disciplined pursuit of less. For me, I have sometimes been guilty of being a busy fool and doing a lot of stuff, without being clear of its value.

This book is about creating the best life by doing less and being smart with your time. It allows you to establish what success looks like to you, and once you do its easier to pull back on things that aren’t taking you in the right direction. It encourages me to be a more conscious of where I invest my time and why that’s important.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

I’m not someone that has major regrets, but I think if I was to give myself one piece of advice it would be to be a bit braver and look outside my immediate environment more. I didn’t do much travelling when I was younger or move away from home to study and I sometimes wonder how doing so might have enriched my life in different ways.

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

I think there has been two massive influences in my life – one has been the people around me and the other is the place where I started out in my career. Throughout my life, I’ve attracted people who align with who I am; my values, ambitions, ethics and how I want to work.

In particular, Paul Corcoran, who is the CEO of Agent and founder of Agent Academy, has been a big influence in my career journey. I’ve seen Paul work hard over the years with unwavering passion, values and ambition. The results of this are evident in the difference Agent and Agent Academy has made to the people we work with and places where we work. One of the most influential times in my career was the build-up to Liverpool landing its title as the European Capital of Culture in 2008.

The momentum and ambition in the city was like a rebirth and I was so engaged with what was happening around me. Being part of that transformation had a major influence on me; I understood how it all worked and how we could create positive impact in our communities through regional growth and development.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

When I was younger, my dad owned a hot dog van called Oliver Twist Hot Dogs located at a popular Liverpool Market – which is potentially where my passion for street food vans started! In an attempt to attract more customers, every weekend my dad would dress my brother and I up as characters from Oliver Twist.

It wasn’t until many years later when I was in conversation with a friend that they informed me they knew exactly which van I was referring to, however what they – and I can only imagine everyone else who passed us – wasn’t aware of was the fact that we were part of a marketing strategy. A great lesson in creative marketing for the 6-year-old me.

How will the COVID crisis change work for the better?

I think any sort of disruption brings potential opportunity and our job as professionals is to understand what the value is. In this case, I think people found different ways of working, new and improved systems and businesses had the opportunity to look at everything in a different light. I think this time gave people the chance to appreciate what we were doing well and take time to celebrate this.

What does success look like to you?

For me, success is when the work that you do resonates with your strengths and values. A successful day, week, month, or year is when the work I’m doing is energising me, usually this comes from supporting the success of others. Whether it’s the young people on our programme landing jobs, or the building of new relationships that turn into valuable collaborative projects – making a difference and delivering what we’ve set out to do is ultimate success for me.


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