Phenomenal Women of AltoPartners – Julia Scheffer
This week we profile dynamic super-communicator Julia Scheffer, AltoPartners Global Director: Business Development. Master of the friendly reminder, and the glue that holds everything and everyone together, AltoPartners owes much to her energy, dedication and commitment to growing a global partnership of professional, like-minded, independent executive search firms with deep local knowledge.
Growing up, what was your childhood dream?
After watching TV series LA Law when I was six, I really wanted to become an entertainment lawyer in New York. For years I would pretend to argue in court on behalf of my clients – who were invariably my pets. [Laughs] As an only child I had to make my own entertainment.
Luckily for us, communications won out over law. How did that happen?
After matriculating, I really wanted to study law but had a crisis of confidence. Following a meeting with a career counsellor, I was pointed in the direction of Corporate Communications. I did my undergrad, honours and master’s degree in Communications. And I’ve never stopped learning. Communications is a fascinating and evolving science and is practically the bedrock of the executive search profession.
What was your first job?
My first (non-corporate job) was a “wedding room consultant” at a department store. I was 16… I was fired for telling a Bridezilla that she wasn’t the first person to get married and that she wouldn’t be the last. This after she had insisted that I push her trolley while she selected her wedding registry items. I learnt valuable skills in that job, specifically the fine art of immaculate gift wrapping and that I shouldn’t always say what I think.
How did you get into Executive Search - was it by accident or design?
Like the vast majority of people in this industry, it was completely by accident. I was Strategic Director of a PR agency in Johannesburg when Stephen Dallamore, the AltoPartners Chairman Emeritus, was conducting a search for the Global Head of Communications for AltoPartners. That was seven years ago, and although I’m not a search consultant, I am now firmly entrenched in the search industry.
What motivates you to do what you do?
The people. I am privileged to work with - and learn from - a diverse, talented, global group of people every day. The people across AltoPartners are energetic and engaging with a passion for what they do. It’s contagious and addictive, and it inspires me daily. I have a lot of fun at work. My job scope is wonderfully varied and covers a range of activities.
Tell us about your mentors.
I’ve had some wonderful mentors in the various jobs I’ve had over the years. I’ve even learned from the bosses whom I vowed never to be like. My biggest mentor – and the person I owe the most to in terms of career development – has been Dr Thomas Heyn. His mantra is to under-promise and over-deliver, and it’s something I try to live by. And when life occasionally happens, I am reminded of his second-best piece of advice: “It’s ok to fail, it’s how you try again that counts”.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t be afraid to fail. Take the risk.
How do you relax and unwind?
I try to get to Reformer Pilates classes at least three times a week - I find it really good for my mental health to have one hour to myself where I am not thinking. Coming from a Mediterranean background, I find my joy in being surrounded by family and friends, cooking and entertaining. Equally, travel is my ultimate “happy” – and I love that this job affords me a lot of that. I draw inspiration from different cultures and beautiful places, and I enjoy getting below the surface of a place.
What’s your superpower?
I can run in heels. And my ability to create incredibly detailed killer event logistics spreadsheets, a skill I acquired in my days as a PR and events organiser.
Tell us one thing about yourself that not many people know.
I was attacked by a dog at age 12 and had extensive reconstructive surgery on my mouth. I have conquered my resultant fear of dogs, and while I like and appreciate them from afar, I still get incredibly nervous if they come too close.