After having studied and having enjoyed my time so much at Sheffield, everything has fallen into place in terms of my early career

James Hughes
James Hughes
Global Marketing Associate, Pernod Ricard
BA Modern Languages & Cultures
James graduated with an undergraduate degree in Languages & Cultures before embarking on a career in marketing.
James Hughes

What is your current role and what are the main responsibilities?

I currently work for a French multinational alcohol company called Pernod Ricard as a Global Marketing Associate in the Cultural Conversation team, focused on the brand Chivas Regal. My team is focused on making the brand more culturally relevant among our target consumers in a meaningful, engaging and authentic way. I work closely with key markets like Mexico, Nigeria, UK, India and Japan, and am currently leading a project which aims to provide our global employees with  more profound cultural intelligence through newsletters, magazines, talks and podcasts. Before this, I was a Scotch Whisky Brand Ambassador in Colombia.

Please summarise your overall career since graduation, but in particular, what was your first relevant role to the area in which you work now and how did you secure that position?

After completing an MSc in International Business, also at the University of Sheffield, I applied for the Chivas Brothers Graduate Programme. A scheme which looks for qualified young people, especially with language and culture skills and experience, to represent their Scotch whisky brands in various markets across the globe. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for me and, thus, I applied. It was quite a lengthy and challenging application process, but definitely worth it. I completed a number of tests, including Spanish and Portuguese proficiency exams which I passed with flying colours thanks to my studies in the SLC.

Next was the interview, which involved planning an event, giving a presentation about one of my favourite brands (a brand which I discovered in Madrid while on my year abroad).

After receiving the call I was waiting for, I packed my stuff to head to London and Scotland for a month where I was trained alongside 20 other graduates of similar backgrounds, and off to Colombia I went to work with the team over there for a year.

This was without a doubt the best experience of my life. I learned so much, developed as a young professional and had a blast. I was then offered a global position with the same company, in an area of marketing which I am extremely passionate about, and I decided to accept. I am now working from Head Office in London.

What is an average day like for you in your current role?

Whereas in my previous role in Colombia an average day consisted of consumer experience planning, hosting events such as whisky tastings, and training bar staff about our products, nowadays my role is much more strategic. Currently we have a global project in the pipeline so am currently being pitched to by a variety of top creative agencies in order to choose who will take charge of the production of the campaign. It is really interesting to see how other agencies take on board a brief and how they interpret your brand. 

What do you think is the most exciting thing you've done as part of your current role?

In my current role, in which I have only been 2 weeks, I would say the most exciting thing so far has been helping organise a talk in the O2 in London with the co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records, who has worked closely with Kanye West and Jay-Z. I will also soon be working on a music video with Stefflon Don, a top London rapper, as well as working on the MOBO awards. In my previous role I would say the most exciting thing was being part of the parade in Barranquilla carnival, Colombia’s most famous and important cultural celebration. I also organised and hosted a Boiler Room event in Medellin, which was a celebration of contemporary Colombian music – something which I am really passionate about.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

In a professional sense, I would say my greatest achievement to date would be increasing the Instagram account of my previous role by over 100% in one year. I set myself the target of engaging more with consumers during my time in Colombia. I took over an account which has been active for around 7 years which, when I took over, had around 2,500 followers. In the year I was in charge of the account, it grew to just shy of 6,000 followers, achieving a personal goal that I set myself beforehand. Achieving this alongside all of my official KPIs was very satisfying. In addition, I would say landing a role in the team in which I currently work is a huge achievement too, and I hope that in the coming years I will achieve many more great things.

Do you use the knowledge and skills you gained from your studies in your job?

Without a doubt. I landed the role as Brand Ambassador with Chivas Brothers thanks to my linguistic and cultural abilities. I was able to arrive to Colombia with the confidence and skill to not just survive but thrive. After 12 months living, working and immersing myself in Colombian culture, something which my studies taught me to do, I left with an abundance of friends, who I would even consider family, and left being known as “the most Colombian Englishman in the world” as people could not believe that I was English by the way I adopted the Colombian dialect and mannerisms. I am eternally grateful to the UoS SLC for this.

What advice would you give to current students who are interested in pursuing a career in your field?

Do it! You definitely won’t regret it. It is an amazing industry to work in, full of surprises, excitement and opportunity. The ability to communicate effectively in other languages opens so many doors and this can be taken advantage of in this field.

What were your previous academic qualifications?

I studied BA Hispanic Studies (Spanish & Portuguese) in the University of Sheffield School of Languages and Cultures, graduating with a First, as well as two awards, in Spanish language proficiency and Portuguese language proficiency. I then went on to study MSc International Business Management in the University of Sheffield Management School, graduating with Merit.

What were your career aspirations when you were younger?

I always knew I wanted to work for a big global business, but I never knew in what area. I always loved learning foreign languages and I wanted to do something that would involve speaking them. I think that after having studied and having enjoyed my time so much at UoS, everything has fallen into place in terms of my early career.

What impact has attending university had on you?

A huge impact. Not only academically, but socially and personally as well. Moving away to University, especially in a city like Sheffield, can teach you so many things that prepare you for the world of work. I always worked alongside my studies which definitely helped too. It teaches you to work hard, organise yourself, be patient, resilient and believe in yourself.

What advice would you give to young people considering university?

Firstly, I would always advise that, when possible, move away from home for University. As previously mentioned, you gain such a broad learning and development experience doing so. However, I also understand that University is not for everyone, and it is certainly not a requirement. However, if you feel passionate about a certain area then you should 100% strongly consider studying at the University of Sheffield. You will receive all the necessary support while having a great time simultaneously. 

Why did you choose Sheffield? 

I chose Sheffield after having visited the city and the University buildings. I thought it was so charming and welcoming. My mum also fell in love with the city which definitely helped! I met a few of the teachers during my open day – I remember meeting Carmen Ramos Villar that day who subsequently became my tutor throughout my 4 years studying there, and a friend. 

What did you most enjoy about your time at Sheffield?

It is hard to pick out one thing. I left Sheffield full of happiness and pride thanks to a wide variety of aspects. My friends, tutors and colleagues had a huge effect on me. Other tutors like Sonia Buckland, Paul O’Neill and Phil Swanson gave me the ability to really believe in myself academically. I met some amazing people who, in the most part, studied the same course as me which I think speaks volumes of the course. I think the only thing I didn’t enjoy was the winter weather… I’m much more suited to the Colombian climate I think!

What other elements of university life/extra-curricular activities helped you to achieve success?

As mentioned, I always worked alongside my studies. I spent 3 of my 4 years working in the University cafes – mainly the Medical School and Jessop West – which also played a huge part in my time there. I played intermural football for the department which I also loved and we collectively achieved success, winning the league. I took part in an extra-curricular teletandem, conversing weekly with someone in Brazil as a kind of language exchange which was also really beneficial, preparing me for my time abroad.

What are your favourite memories of studying at Sheffield?

Graduating during the pandemic was far from easy, however, the collective positive mindset of my friends and I, all from the same course, allowed us to actually enjoy our final year to the max. We would work hard in the daytime, battling to get our final projects finished. Come the warm summer evenings, we would be in the park having fun as a group. More or less every single day was spent like this and it actually ended up being the summer of a lifetime. It is something I will never forget.

In one sentence, how would you describe the impact Sheffield had on your career and life after university?

The University of Sheffield is one of the best things that ever happened to me and I am forever grateful for the profound effect it has had on me as a person.

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