Ex-McDonald's crew member in final of national awards honouring those shaping business world

Lindsey Norton Stewart and Josh Olomolaiye

L-R: Lindsey Norton Stewart and Josh Olomolaiye have been named as finalists in the Black British Business Awards. - Credit: Lindsey Norton Stewart and Josh Olomolaiye

A former McDonald's staff member is one of two men from east London in the finals of the Black British Business Awards.

Lindsey Norton Stewart and Josh Olomolaiye have been selected for their outstanding professional achievements as well as work reshaping the business world.

Dagenham-born Mr Stewart lives in Stratford but started his working life at McDonald's in Harold Hill. He is one of three finalists in the professional services senior leader of the year category.

Mr Olomolaiye, from Newham and a senior manager in banking audit at KPMG, is a finalist in the professional services rising star category.

Mr Stewart said: "It feels a bit surreal being named a finalist along with some real superstars, but I'm very happy.

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"Black people, like everybody else, have plenty to offer the UK. We have that important contribution to make."

A senior investor engagement manager at accounting giant KPMG, the 39-year-old is soon to move to the Financial Reporting Council regulator.

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The former pupil at Eastbrook School in Dagenham described his route into the finance industry as "unusual".

Members of the Windrush Generation who came to Britain from the West Indies, his father worked in car manufacturing and mum was a midwife.

After earning grade As in maths and accounting, university might have been an option, but an aversion to debt triggered by the onset of student loans, lack of precedent and a D in his third A-level put a young Mr Stewart off.

After a stint as a picker at a warehouse in Harold Hill, he went to work as a crew member at McDonald's before progressing onto a management course where he scored the highest marks in his cohort.

In 2000, he decided to have a go at getting a job in the City and after signing up to a recruitment agency, was hired by Makinson Cowell, which was later acquired by KPMG.

To young black people at the start of their working lives, he said: "It's a case of not being afraid to be black and make an impact.

"There's a lot of well-meaning advice encouraging us to keep our heads down and we will be rewarded.

"But that's not the mentality to have in this day and age. It's a case of focusing on where you think you can make the most difference to the industry, organisation and people around you."

Recent research from Green Park - which recruits executives and consults on diversity - found no black chairs, chief executives or chief financial officers at FTSE 100 companies.

This is despite commitments from government and business to increase ethnic diversity at leadership levels.

"I see how much effort is going into [black people gaining senior roles], but it's slow to show results.

"There are senior leaders who want to make a difference and we are starting to see results," Mr Stewart said.

But he explained how recruiting people at the bottom of an organisation and assuming they will make their way to the top isn't enough.

"It takes more than that. It requires organisations to go through a cultural change which takes years to develop.

"But I do feel optimistic because I've seen just how much talent there is out there," he said.

Proud of his working-class roots, the keen runner believes he has defied the odds to get where he is today.

"Talent is everywhere. We need to grasp that in the UK. You can have the most talented person from an unprivileged background, but that person won't succeed without opportunity.

"The question is, how can we create opportunity for people regardless of their background?"

The winners of the Black British Business Awards will be announced on October 7.  

Investment bank JP Morgan is key partner of the awards, which were established in 2014.

Sponsors include Barclays, Baker McKenzie, Cisco, Goldman Sachs, The Executive Leadership Council, The Economist Group and Wellington Management.

Sophie Chandauka, executive founder and chair of the awards, said: "After an extraordinarily challenging year, I am thrilled that for the eighth year running we are highlighting the resilience and abundance of brilliant, black talent in Britain. 

"Our finalists represent the very best of being British in a post-pandemic, post-Brexit Europe."

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