Leadership Stories: Arti Halai is a talented media and communications expert who challenged convention to forge her own path in her professional and personal life.
What does leadership mean to you, and how has your approach or style changed over time?
Leadership for me starts from within and then manifests externally so you can reach out, touch and inspire others.
When I look back I’ve always wanted to carve my own path and do things others weren’t doing. Importantly, I refused to accept “no, you can’t do that…” and stood my ground. I always approach things as if I’m on a level playing field. That way I can give it my best shot and keep control at my feet instead of giving my power away.
I have been lucky to have three careers in my life:
- Fifteen years in the media as a television reporter, producer and presenter working for organisations like the BBC and ITV. I was born in London in 1970, one of five girls and grew up in a traditional Indian household. My father always wanted me to do law. It was a real shock when I went down the media route, carving a career in news and current affairs. Despite not knowing a soul in the industry, I got my foot in the door and honed lots of useful skills, in the art of story-telling, interviewing and presenting that would help me with my next career.
- After leaving the media industry, I joined forces with a business partner and over the next twelve years, we co-founded and built three companies all tapping into the power of communications. The PR agency, Fleet Street Communications and creative design agency, Grin Consultancy were profitable, grew in parallel to reach seven figures and work with some of the world’s largest brands. In May 2022 I successfully exited both businesses. Leadership is about learning from others and knowing when to pass on the baton. In my current role, I continue to work with people on their presentation skills, media training, crisis comms and Executive Coaching. I love this work and I’ll always continue to do it! Leadership skills are about recognizing your strengths and what you enjoy doing to help others.
What have been the biggest challenges and the biggest successes in your life, and what have you learned from them?
There have been a few big challenges which have also become my biggest successes:
- Being born in the UK to Indian immigrants meant I was taught to embrace the rich and colourful Indian culture but it came at the cost of not being able to do ‘western things’ like wear mini-skirts and go to discos. I learnt at an early age to take the best from both the Eastern and Western cultures and not focus on one at the expense of the other.
- Working in the media industry, when there were so few Asians was a real eye-opener back in the 1990s. I started my career working on ‘programmes for the Asian community’ both at the BBC and ITV, before moving into mainstream news. Having a degree in Social Policy from Sussex University, I always felt out of my depth as I had very little formal training, picked up things from work experience placements, watching others and learning on the job! Landing my job at the BBC after going through the application and Board process was an early win and real turning point in my career.
- In business, be prepared for things not turning out as you expected. When we set up the businesses, all the co-founders were clear we wanted a trade sale at the end of five years. What eventually happened was a Management Buy Out at the end of twelve years.
- As an Indian Hindu marrying a Pakistani Muslim man, we created huge upset on both sides of the family. We were both born in the UK, educated and had good careers but religious and cultural divides run deep. Having our beautiful daughter (at age 45), albeit so late in life, has healed the rift, as has the passing of time. When you take a decision like that, the stakes are really high, the pressure immense and you need to be strong-willed, self-focused and know why you are taking the decision.
What advice do you have for younger women aspiring to leadership roles?
Don’t shy away from acknowledging, sharing and highlighting your story and achievements. It will propel you and others will benefit hugely.
Throughout my career, I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to champion causes, young people and women.
I have presented, facilitated and hosted award ceremonies, conferences, forums and events from venues like schools and colleges to the House of Lords and before audiences of up to 20,000 people.
Always remember everybody is unique and to be valued. When meeting people smile, be open to listening and be clear on what you want and what you have to offer.
Finally, don’t overthink things…just go for it!
Despite not knowing a soul in the industry, I got my foot in the door and honed lots of useful skills.