GTInterviews is a series of conversations with our community of industry experts - from our Network Partners and clients through to our own team. We discuss what brings people to the world of due diligence and investigations and what advice they might offer to others considering working in the space. This month we chatted with our very own Africa Leigh-Watts, Network Partner Manager.
What is your background and how did you join GTI?
I studied History at St. Andrews, and then went on to study Security and Terrorism at King's College. At the time, I didn't know anything about corporate intelligence or the private sector. At university the focus was on MI5 and MI6, but there was little explanation of the other side of the intelligence world. I discovered GTI through an intern program which started in March 2021 when the company was really just starting out. I joined permanently in September 2021.
Tell us about your current responsibilities at GTI
Currently I’m the Network Partner Manager, supporting and growing our community of on-the-ground intelligence sources. But life in a startup means that my role is often so much more. I work alongside our Customer Experience team to make sure that partner matching is optimised as well as training, and supporting, Network Partners to meet client requirements.
My biggest achievement to date has been building and maintaining a database for recording all our information on Network Partners. We catalogue information including which services they offer, what jurisdictions they cover and what level of training they've completed with us.
How do you grow the community and onboard new Network Partners?
We hand select and headhunt our Network Partners, based on regional experience and specific skill sets. We also get lots of referrals and recommendations from existing partners which is great to see as the community grows.
In terms of onboarding, it all starts with a call where I explain more about GTI and how we differ in our approach to due diligence and investigations. We discuss the partner’s capabilities, specialist jurisdictions and working procedures. The next step is vetting and policies. All partners must agree to our policies, including our Code of Conduct, before the in-depth background checking process can begin. We'll also run them through test projects to ensure the work meets the standards our clients expect. Partners working in high risk jurisdictions are also subject to regular repeat screening. If that all goes well they can then start being matched with clients!
What are the best parts about your role?
One of the best parts about my role is the freedom I've had to set the processes up myself. I like making things make sense, making things efficient and I've been able to do that from scratch here at GTI. I also love how connected I am able to be with everyone in the company, as well as getting to know our amazing Network Partners.
What has been your most interesting GTI experience so far?
The role has taken me around the world, just not always physically! I had an interview call with a potential Network Partner in Angola, and they were struggling with internet connection. So he said he was going to drive up the mountain next door to try and get a better connection. I remember thinking, I’m not sure that's not going to work! So he hung up, and ten minutes later when he called back he was on top of an actual mountain and I could see peaks and clouds behind him. So that’s where we conducted his full interview, on a mountain top in central Angola!
What advice would you give to someone who wants a career in this space?
You're never going to fully understand the sector until you're in it. So don't worry if you don't 100% know what you're stepping into. It's worth just giving it a shot and seeing if you like it. It gets said a lot but I would also recommend trying to go to events in the sector, to give you some context. Find people on LinkedIn who work for companies you're interested in and see if they can have a quick chat with you. If you can make a connection with university alumni in the sector then that can also be a huge help.
What are you reading at the moment?
I'm reading book six of The Witcher series at the moment. I absolutely love it, such a great series.
What is your favourite meal and why?
A good English pub vegetable lasagna is my favourite meal. It's so wholesome after a country walk and as a vegetarian it is always so exciting when they have this option on the menu.
Stay up-to-date with all the latest news and interviews from GTI in our blog.