Queen Mary Alumni

Alumni profile - Maria Mercado

We interviewed Maria for World Mental Health Day: "According to Mind, 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, and often we aren’t coping with these challenges in healthy ways. In light of the severe impact the pandemic has also had on our wellbeing, it's imperative that people have access to practical tools to help keep a sense of balance and stability within their physical and mental health."

(Marketing MSc, 2012)

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Why did you choose to study MSc Marketing at Queen Mary?

I did my Bachelors in a French “Ecole de Commerce” (Business School), and felt it was important for me to expand my perspective beyond learning methodology. I felt that having a different approach to learning would provide me with a wider, richer viewpoint and also broaden my overall reasoning and thought process.

I did quite a lot of research on UK Universities and found that the MSc Marketing programme at Queen Mary was quite complete - it covered a wide range of subjects and it also gave students the opportunity to choose topics to further deepen their knowledge. The information on entry requirements and learning objectives was clearly presented as well.

I also looked at Queen Mary’s reputation nationally and internationally which became a key factor in my decision-making. Queen Mary offered the best route in terms of tuition, learning outcomes and most importantly, future prospects. Having a diploma from a well-respected institution such as Queen Mary definitely opens doors!

What aspects of your degree did you enjoy and what were your most memorable moments at university?

I was amazed by the diversity of my fellow students, including nationalities, educational backgrounds and aspirations. While each of us had a different professional goal, we all agreed that this master’s degree was a stepping-stone in our future.

Memorable moments at Queen Mary… for me it was connecting with like-minded people. I made strong friendships and to this day we not only keep in touch, but also encourage each other to go further in our respective fields.

Another great memory (the one that puts a smile on my face) was seeing the rush prior to submitting a paper that was particularly challenging - mainly on Marketing as our professor was amazing but had the reputation of being harsh when marking assignments! Some students would be mentally calculating the hours they had to be awake at night to submit the paper just in time!

In my job, serving others while contributing to their overall wellbeing is definitely something that is in close alignment with my personal values. I’m passionate about having our customers at the center of what we do and ensuring they have a great customer experience with us.

Can you describe your career path to date and touch on your current role as Head of Brand & Communications at Sodexo Benefits & Rewards UK?

Since my early professional years, I’ve always been part of Marketing and Communications teams for various industries ranging from luxury, FMCG, pharmaceutical and not-for-profit. For me, a key aspect of my career development has been a multi-industry approach. As a marketer, I am fascinated by the subtle and sometimes not so subtle differences when communicating to customers and various stakeholders within a given industry. Key learnings and best practices can also be translated from one industry to another. Of course, no direct copy and paste will ever work but new perspectives are always beneficial.

I recently joined Sodexo Benefits & Rewards UK as a Head of Brand and Communications looking after the overall communications strategy and brand alignment internally and externally across all stakeholder groups.

One of the main reasons I joined this amazing team is because they are a purpose-led organisation. Sodexo play a vital part in organisations that aim to improve the quality of life for millions of people around the world. Contributing to such an incredible mission gives me a great sense of purpose and direction.

Alumna Maria Mercado seated in a yoga position

What are some of your daily responsibilities in this role and how does this job allow you to explore your passions and play to your individual strengths?

There’s no other day that looks the same at Sodexo. My day to day has a lot of variety, from projects, to planning, to collaboration with the teams across the business.

Explore my passions: serving others while contributing to their overall wellbeing is definitely something that is in close alignment with my personal values. I’m passionate about having our customers at the center of what we do and ensuring they have a great customer experience with us - with the end result of improving their quality of life.

In this role I can put my strategic hat on as well as utilising my communication, planning and implementation skills. Having over a decade of experience definitely gives me confidence but I’d say that there’s always room to learn and improve. In a global environment where fast change is the norm, it’s vital to keep on learning, and adapt in order to thrive.

Which aspects of your degree are relevant to your current role?

Quite a lot to be honest! They range from strategy, to brand management and communications. What I would also say is that it has never been more important to continue learning both on the job and through other methods. These days we have the luxury to access information and training tools with a click. Being professionally relevant and up to date is an asset for both the individual and the organisation.

What advice would you give to a prospective student considering studying MSc Marketing based on your own experience?

Marketing can be quite a competitive field; employers are not only looking for marketers who have great foundations - which you will certainly acquire at Queen Mary – but they also look for individuals who are curious, willing to learn, and willing to challenge themselves. Your motivation is a key factor in deciding if a masters is right for you, and if the answer is yes, then Queen Mary is a wonderful choice.

During my year at Queen Mary, I was quite impressed with the amount of support provided to students. From accommodation, to learning resources and also wellbeing. I remember that there were so many clubs and societies to choose from through the Students’ Union (SU). I remember that the SU offered great professional advice to help you land a job once you’ve completed the course and they were always willing to help.

Lastly, I would say that Queen Mary is a highly inclusive environment that really provides the right conditions for success. The rest of course is up to you to put the work and effort in that's required for you to succeed.

I’ve been following the Isha practices for about 4 years. At first, I really didn’t know what to expect (or even if I should expect something out of it!) but after a few months of regular practice, I’ve found myself feeling grounded, my capacity to stay focused has significantly increased and so did my creativity.

Outside of this role, you also volunteer for the Isha Foundation. Please can you tell us a bit more about the history of this foundation and its aims?

Founded in 1992, Isha Foundation is a volunteer-based, non-profit organisation aiming to contribute to global harmony through the science of yoga. Isha's yoga and meditation programmes have touched the lives of over 200 million people, reaching out to individuals irrespective of their economic, cultural or religious backgrounds. The growing international importance of Isha’s work is also reflected in the foundation’s consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and accreditation with the United Nations Environment Programme for its outreach projects.

Offering comprehensive live online and in-person courses for personal growth, Isha provides methods for establishing oneself in a way of life that affirms responsibility, wholeness and vitality. Isha’s large yoga centres in Tennessee (USA) and Coimbatore (South India) act as global bases for the foundation, welcoming guests from across the world who are seeking practical tools to find fulfilment, transform their inner wellbeing and unlock their full potential. In over 300 other locations across the globe, the foundation’s dedicated volunteer base run online and physical sessions for their respective regions. As a global policy, the foundation is following strict adherence to COVID-19 guidelines. 

The efficacy of Isha programmes is demonstrated both through their large number of continued practitioners, numbering in their millions from 55+ countries, and through scientific study. Harvard Medical School, Rutgers University, the University of California and IIT Delhi rank among the leading institutions to confirm the varied benefits of Isha practices for mental and physical wellbeing.

What made you want to volunteer for Isha Foundation and how have you personally benefited from the volunteer experience and Isha practices?

I was aware that Isha Foundation had a volunteer programme (with 11 million volunteers across the world and counting!) and for some time I’ve been wanting to use my skills to positively contribute to our communities and volunteering with Isha has provided that avenue for me.

Collaborating with the Isha volunteers is such a great experience, they are all very welcoming, inclusive and everyone has a voice. Each of them genuinely cares not only about the foundation but also about you, as an individual. It’s a highly positive environment that really allows you to just go for it and takes you out of your comfort zone! If I had to sum up why I volunteer with Isha in one sentence, I would say that it fulfills me to know that somehow I’m contributing to a better world. In the word’s of Isha’s Founder: “How deeply you touch another life is how rich your life is”.

I’ve been following the Isha practices for about 4 years. At first, I really didn’t know what to expect (or even if I should expect something out of it!) but after a few months of regular practice, I’ve found myself feeling grounded, my capacity to stay focused has significantly increased and so did my creativity. The quality of my relationships both personal and professional was also positively impacted.

During the first year of the pandemic, the Isha practices kept me balanced, allowing me to provide support to my family and to my team members at work. The practices have been part of my daily routine for years, and to this day, I still can’t believe how they have resulted in such a profound sense of peace, joy and gratitude.

Today marks World Mental Health Day. Why do you think it is important that we make our mental health and wellbeing a priority?

According to Mind, 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, and often we aren’t coping with these challenges in healthy ways. In light of the severe impact the pandemic has also had on our wellbeing, it's imperative that people have access to practical tools to help keep a sense of balance and stability within their physical and mental health.

When you’re well you not only help yourself, but you’re able to support those around you too.

In recognition of today and the fact that next month it will be International Stress Awareness Week (1-5 November), are there any resources you can share with our readers to help them with their individual mental health and wellbeing journeys?

Yes! I warmly recommend you check out the Isha Foundation and the Free online yoga and meditation practices that they’re offering. Their practices have been the subject of medical studies by Harvard and Rutgers Universities and are proven to reduce stress and enhance wellbeing. There are free monthly online sessions that require no previous experience of yoga or meditation.

If you are experiencing any serious mental health concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact your GP or call 111. Other great resources can also be found via Mind's website

This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Officer, Nicole Brownfield. If you would like to get in touch with Maria or engage her in your work, please contact Nicole at n.brownfield@qmul.ac.uk