What I've Learnt: James Edgar, Chief Talent Officer at Wavemaker

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo
James Edgar, Wavemaker

James Edgar has been Chief Talent Officer at Wavemaker for a little over a year - previously having been Head of Talent in the Market Development team.

He helps lead Wavemaker's inclusion and diversity intiatives, focusing on people and culture. James is passionate about giving back, and supporting young people. He supports Working With Men (Future Men) and runs executive coaching to ensure a better future.

We spoke to James in order to learn the lessons from his career.

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

Finding some space - sometimes the day’s pressures can mean you lose perspective or get swept along.

I've found that I need time for me, to reflect and think. I am also developing my somatic awareness to notice where I am triggered or not present in the moment. Sometimes getting up and moving around is all I need to regroup.

I also have a Fitbit that helps me manage my sleep and exercise. I know when I am lacking in either. I am growing to learn the importance of listening to your body; it is an amazing instrument. 

What's been your luckiest break?

Probably two close calls - I later learned that I scraped a pass on the Ford Motor Company HR graduate scheme. I was part of a pilot programme using the assessment for year placements.

I passed and worked for a year and then returned once I had completed my degree. It was a phenomenal training ground. And hugely challenging - not many 22-year-olds get to deal with a factory called to strike! I did seven years in total with Ford, and some of what I learnt stands me in great stead even now.

I also passed my driving test by the skin of my teeth. It was freedom for me at 17 (well, taking my mum’s car anyway) and fuelled my love of cars and driving challenges. I have driven an old banger around France’s Champagne country, raced around the Nurburgring and driven for charity to Barcelona for the Grand Prix and back and covered the four points of the UK in 24 hours in fancy dress. 

What's your best failure?

Giving up on learning Japanese. I am half-Japanese, and was able to speak and learning to read and write when I was five. Then I visited the country, hated the trip and refused to carry on. It’s a decision I regret now. I admire those who are multilingual. 

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

Probably in myself. I have a real thirst to keep learning. I completed my MBA which helped me approach business challenges methodically. It taught me to question the status quo.

More recently, I trained to be an executive coach. The training gets you to look deep to find out what drives you and what holds you back: what makes you you. It has been a fascinating journey for me, and it’s been rewarding to work with clients and see them progress and realise potentials that they had not thought possible.

I take my coaching very seriously, feel privileged to have my clients’ trust, and continue to invest in my own journey and develop as a result. 

How would you describe your work/life balance?

It’s a work in progress. I juggle a global job, with coaching, being a trustee for a charity supporting boys and young men, and have a growing family. It can be a struggle. It is about balance, but I don’t always get it right, and it is about also managing the important - not always the urgent. You'll never get back that missed school play or parents evening. 

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

I am currently reading 'Man’s Search for Meaning' by Viktor Frankl. It is a haunting account of the concentration camps which at times is difficult to read.

Interestingly, Frankl observes that those who comforted others and went out of their way to help, for example gave their last pieces of bread, often survived the longest. He argues that despite losing everything, you always maintain the ability to choose your attitude in any given situation. Through the search for meaning and purpose you can overcome any suffering and setback. 

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

Be kind to yourself - I am very driven and at times this has been my downfall. I can be my own worst critic, harder on myself than others.

This has presented its own challenges to me for my own mental health. Sometimes I had forgotten how far I had come rather than where I hadn’t got to. 

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

Family - my father taught me integrity, strength and the importance of relationships as well as a drive for mastery.

My mother taught me resilience, drive and to never give up no matter what you face. She was a Japanese woman, living in London in the 60s. The racism I witnessed her endure makes me appreciate her strength even more. My children remind me that I’m also a role model, and of the importance to develop and leave a legacy. 

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I was a secret diner for Gordon Ramsey’s Best Restaurant Competition. I didn’t know that I was only one of two secret diners and had a 15-minute section on camera cut down to “I found it sweet and sticky” when it went out on television! 

What does success look like to you?

To create something special at Wavemaker, to give back, and see my daughters grow into rounded and independent women.