Manon Antoniazzi was recently appointed to the role of Chief Executive Officer, Tourism and Marketing for Wales within the Welsh Government. Prior to this she worked in the private sector as a specialist in leadership development and was a member of the household of the Prince of Wales, where she served as a senior Private Secretary from 2004-2012. Manon has worked in public affairs and governance at the BBC, as Secretary of BBC Wales and subsequently Head of Public Policy, Nations and Regions. She has also worked as Director of Communications at the National Assembly for Wales and Head of Press and Public Relations at S4C.
Manon is a former Chairman of The Prince’s Trust Cymru and Governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company and has served on the advisory boards of the Philharmonia Orchestra and Welsh National Opera. She is currently a Non-Executive Director of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. She holds a doctorate in Medieval Literature from the University of Cambridge.
Tell us about your journey to where you are today.
Like most people, I have always worked best when driven by things that interest me and about which I feel passionately. My first job (after finishing a PhD in Medieval Welsh Poetry) was at Welsh Water where I was tasked with drawing up a policy for bilingualism across the various groups in the company. This was a great introduction to commercial life and taught me a lot about balancing principles and practicalities. It proved the start of a varied career which has spanned marketing, communications, governance, policy and management work – the unifying thread has been cultural content. Each job has had elements within it that have led to the next and I’ve been fortunate to twice have had the chance to return in an enhanced role to a previous employer, showing that it can sometimes pay to be bold about career moves. Having made that start in the private sector, I have also worked in the public sector and the third sector, so I have an appreciation of the strengths – and frustrations – of each.
How has your life experience made you the individual you are today?
Definitely the most defining experience was the birth of my daughter. I was pregnant when I was appointed as Assistant Private Secretary to The Prince of Wales in 1993 and started work in Clarence House when Indeg (now 20) was 5 months old. It was a crash course in combining motherhood with a very busy and demanding job and on top of it all I had to move to London. I don’t believe I will face many things that testing again!
Has there been a particular role that has propelled your career into a different direction to what you were expecting?
I haven’t been prescriptive about planning a career, but probably the most striking change of direction came when I was at S4C, the Welsh language broadcaster, as their head of Press and Public Relations. The channel had developed a strong expertise in animation which had potential to be marketed in different language versions around the world. One project was an animated film of The Prince of Wales’s book The Old Man of Lochnagar and I found myself not only co-ordinating a press launch, but also coaching HRH to deliver a Welsh-language voiceover (not that he needed much coaching). Next thing, I was asked whether I’d be interested in my name going forward as a potential Assistant Private Secretary in his office. It was approaching the 25th anniversary of his Investiture in Caernarfon Castle and it was thought a good idea to have a private secretary on the team from Wales. It was a two-year secondment which was to turn into an eighteen-year professional association… I was privileged to get to know the UK from a unique perspective and work in partnership with some of Britain’s leading cultural and charitable organisations.
Tell us about your role at Visit Wales.
I was appointed eighteen months ago to work with the talented team responsible for developing the tourism sector and maximising its contribution to the Welsh economy. As part of the Welsh Government, we invest strategically in individual tourism projects and major events and are also responsible for marketing Wales domestically and overseas.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your time at Visit Wales?
We had an excellent year last year, helped by fine weather, but of course also by some very focussed marketing work! Highlights include the current celebrations of Dylan Thomas’s centenary, the chance to host a meeting of NATO in September in Newport, and the opportunity to appreciate through local visits just how far the industry has developed in the last few decades. Challenges boil down to making the most of our resources to make an impact in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.
For a reader who is thinking of visiting Wales what would you recommend that they see and do?
The website www.visitwales.co.uk has a wealth of information on what to see and do – be that for a family holiday, luxury weekend or activity trip. As the Wales Coast Path has just celebrated its second anniversary, why not tackle some of the 870 mile long path. Rhossili Beach has recently been named as the best beach in the UK and among the top ten in the world – and there are plenty more fantastic beaches to explore along the coast path. The Dylan Thomas 100 festival adds to our wealth of festivals and events this year as we celebrate the centenary of his birth, an opportunity to discover more about the poet and the places which inspired him. There’s plenty of on offer to get the adrenaline going too, from Zip Wires to downhill mountain bike tracks and of course, no visit to Wales would be complete without a visit to one of our 641 castles.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I work long hours, but do so in order to protect time off with the family, who will let me know quickly enough if I’m getting it wrong. There are plenty of things I love doing outside work, such as reading, playing the harp and running, so I don’t allow work to expand to fit all the available time. I am fortunate to have an excellent team around me – that makes it much easier to share the burden.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have had great advice at various stages in my career, not least from my parents. Outside the family, one former boss is still someone to whom I turn every time I contemplate a new career move. On the professional front, I worked on a project a few years ago to help an international mentoring company called CMi establish an office in London – our purpose was to match up high flying (board level FTSE100) executives with experienced Chairman who could mentor them, utilising lessons learnt from experience rather than from theory books. This has left me with great respect for that mode of working and the benefits gained by both parties from developing strong privileged relationships with people who are just distant enough from your work to be objective. It proved particularly useful for women in business – irrespective of the gender of their mentors. You do have to establish excellent chemistry though, so it isn’t entirely straightforward to find the right match.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I lapped up Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In last year. I think it should be required reading for young women. It is still too difficult to achieve success on the same terms as men in some sectors and getting the tone right can be tough. I have learnt a lot from female bosses I have had over the years, from Menna Richards at BBC Wales to Jenny Abramsky at the Heritage Lottery Fund and Welsh Government Minister Edwina Hart.