“At My Best” with Deanna Oppenheimer

19 January 2017

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The Belong team first met Deanna when she was Chief Executive of Barclays UK Retail Banking. We’ve always been struck by her positive energy, charisma and passion for employee engagement. Here we find out what makes Deanna tick, and how she juggles her time as non-executive director of organisations including Tesco, AXA, Worldpay and Whitbread.


My first seven jobs? I was the head of a plum thinning crew, aged 14 (it was my first experience of a leadership role!). Number two, a summer lifeguard and swimming instructor. After college, I worked in advertising and marketing for a lifestyle magazine. Job number four was Director of Research for a political research company in Washington DC. After that, I went to work for Washington Mutual, in its very early days, creating new marketing programs. Jobs number six and seven would have been promotions at Washington Mutual. I stayed there until I ended up as the president of retail banking.

Now, what I find most satisfying is helping others develop their leadership skills. I’m a sounding board for them, helping them to think through issues by posing questions that cause them to ponder on the answers. You cannot have sustainable, effective leadership without the leader having very strong active listening skills, particularly when you’re going through times of disruption or venturing in to the unknown.

Going from an exec to non-exec or advisory role is like going from being a parent to a grandparent. As a parent you’re making all the decisions. As a grandparent, you’re trying to give really good advice, only stepping in when things get really tough.

I’ve had several mentors, but the one who stands out is the former CEO of Washington Mutual, a gentleman by the name of Lou Pepper. He made sure I was addressing the right meetings in the right peer groups and went out of his way to really give me chances to succeed. I was incredibly blessed to have him in my life for the better part of three and a half decades. 

As you go up in age, you better start learning from the group below you. I now get mentored by a lot of the people who look to me. I’m learning about digital and innovation from my clients who are the CEOs of early stage companies. It’s important, I think, to learn from people who are part of a bigger group than you. Staying relevant is the most important thing.

A great communications professional has to be able to read trends and be very nimble without getting whiplash or losing their direction. They have to be the perfect blend of left and right brain – able to appreciate data, without over-analysing it.

You are only bound by your imagination and your ability to create opportunities and support for what you want to do. Twenty years ago, you would have had a hard time reaching an audience without a very programmed, corporate structure of communication. Today, there’s so much opportunity to go outside that. You are only limited by your capability to creating something that’s relevant, and timely, that others want to tune into.

Deanna is the founder of CameoWorks: http://www.cameoworks.com/