Newcastle University Business School

Tom Johnson

Alumni profile

About Tom

Current job: Business Operations Manager at Chatterbug
Current location: Berlin, Germany
Nationality: British
LinkedIn: Tom Johnson

About Tom's career

Since graduating, what have you gone on to do?
After graduating, I moved straight back to Berlin, which is where I'd completed my Erasmus year abroad as part of my course at Newcastle. I was lucky enough to quickly land a role as 'Entrepreneur in Residence' at a newly founded online language learning start-up, Chatterbug. As the company was very young with a freshly launched product, my role was varied and involved building up from scratch areas of the business that would eventually become formal business functions: testing and defining processes and professionalising along the way. Back then, a typical day might have involved hosting a team breakfast meeting, tweaking our Google AdWords account, before digging into some customer service requests then putting up a shelf. We've since hired people to take on such things full-time, and it's great to see the early groundwork I laid flourish into actual roles in the company.

My new role as Business Operations Manager is essentially a more defined version of my initial position. I'm now responsible for HR and recruitment and I'm focusing on building the B2B side of Chatterbug. I'm still running our social media channels, but hoping to hire someone to take this over soon – even though it's good fun!

Is the above what you planned to do before starting university?
Although I always wanted to do something involving my German language skills, I never actually planned to move abroad. In fact, I almost gave the International Business Management course a miss because of the mandatory Erasmus year. But of course I'm glad I went through with it, I fell in love with Berlin that year and moving here after university has afforded me a job where I can genuinely use the Business Management and German language skills that my course at Newcastle revolved around.

In creating language learning posts for Chatterbug’s social media, even my module in historical linguistics comes into play. I certainly didn't expect that to be so useful in my career!

About Tom's Newcastle experience

What as your favourite thing about your course?
My year abroad. As cliché as it sounds, I'll never forget it and it truly opened up the doors of opportunity for me. I'm still in touch with most of the friends I met and still make use of contacts I made back then for my job today.

Did you complete a placement year/study abroad/summer internship during your time at Newcastle?
I studied Business Management at a small university called EBC Hochschule for the first semester of my year abroad in Berlin. To be totally honest, it was pretty chilled out and allowed me to really get used to life abroad, make friends and generally just enjoy myself. In the second semester, I completed a full-time internship at a music studio, mostly involving business planning for their expansion. The work I did during my internship actually culminated in me doing some freelance consultancy work with the company at the end of 2018, when the expansion I'd worked on took place.

What extra-curricular activities or societies were you involved with during your time here?
I played drums in a band during my time at university and was part of the Music Production society in final year. I really miss playing drums live, but don't really have time to join a band here in Berlin. I still spend most of my free time producing electronic music and DJing, but all just for fun.

About the future

How do you see future technologies or new ways of working (future of work) affecting your sector?
Chatterbug (as with most of the tech sector) is quite progressive when it comes to working culture – we're a dispersed company and can work from wherever we like (although our central office is in Berlin), and we don't really have set working hours. We use technology to facilitate asynchronous communication (Slack, Basecamp, regular video conferencing) and try to remain as paperless as possible (although German bureaucracy hinders this a bit!) I think more sectors will latch on to this path as the importance and benefits of a good work-life balance become clearer and as technology progresses to facilitate flexible working in ever more areas of work.

Where do you see yourself in five years' time?
It's hard to say, but I'd like to think I'll still be here at Chatterbug in Berlin. I'd love to see my work in business operations grow with the company into a fuller business function and perhaps start directly managing some team members so I can build up leadership skills. And maybe I'll get good enough at DJing to play live at some point!

Profile uploaded: 30/04/2019