Ironically, for someone who has spent almost four decades in the industry of professional development, my first experience after stepping out of education was unemployment. I vividly recall queuing to register as unemployed at the age 16 in a Northern industrial town in my native England.
At the time, school, or at least the type of teaching taking place in academic institutions, didn’t particularly inspire me and so I consequently dropped out with no qualifications. In fact, my first proper job was that of a shelf-stacker in a small, local grocery store before eventually landing a role as a Junior Sales Associate for a pet food company. While I actually enjoyed my work, I began to realize that the environment I was in, the organizational culture of the company just wasn’t for me. The day I watched the Sales Director of the company eat a plate of dog food at a conference I realized it was time to make a change. Shortly after, I joined the Coca-Cola Company, whose products I was much happier to consume and my career took off rapidly from there.
I chose a career path of training and people management, a decision influenced by my ongoing journey of self-development. By 24 I was a field trainer, training salespeople more than twice my age, my skills sharpening as I figured out how to navigate out of the role of new kid on the block. Initially, I was resented, then liked, then finally respected. Earning that respect was a vital step towards my success, it led me to positions of leadership as my career progressed because, as I realized in hindsight, with respect comes trust and with trust comes loyalty, both from above and below.
At 25, I became an Areas Sales Manager and swapped my home in Northern England for the bright city lights of London. I eventually progressed into customer management and senior commercial roles, both positions which would not have been possible without the solid foundation I had built by spending years developing my soft skills and Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Over the years, breakthroughs with people during training and development have always been the most memorable experiences for me and I often draw on some of these experiences in my blog.
Working for a global brand gave me opportunities to travel, live and work in some amazing places. One posting was not what I had envisaged; I had a choice between relocating to Hong Kong or the island of Cyprus. Always one to take the road less traveled, I opted for Cyprus, unaware that on that small Mediterranean island I would meet a beautiful woman from Florida who would become my wife.
In Cyprus, I inherited a challenging but talented multi-cultural team, providing me with an onslaught of new experiences and opportunities to learn. My natural inclination toward developing people succeeded in driving the business forward and my team and I quickly turned things around for the company whilst I simultaneously continued my own personal skills development.
Life offers up its fair share of curveballs, some positive and others less so. I always tell our three children it’s not the curveball itself that matters because no degree of preparation will prevent it, it’s how you deal with it. After my assignment in Cyprus, I moved to the United Arab Emirates where I lost my job, a victim of downsizing. I tried to practice what I preach, reminding myself that through destruction comes opportunity. For the first time in years I finally had free time, and after a period of self-reflection, I decided that this was the perfect chance for me to finally go back to school. I spent the following year completing an MBA in the UK before returning to Dubai to launch the first of my four start-ups, Gameplan, a company specializing in professional competency development. I realized that my ability to positively impact people was maximized when I focused on helping people with performance and the search for satisfaction in their work-life. My wife calls it my sweet-spot and I feel extremely privileged to be able to run my own business doing what I love while simultaneously trying to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
My personal life took an unexpected turn when my wife bought us our first Harley Davidson motorbikes in Dubai, leading to the discovery of, what is now, one of my favorite hobbies. Despite needing to placate my children’s concern that our bikes represented a mid-life crisis, I immediately loved riding. I enjoy applying my enthusiasm toward helping people learn even in my personal life and this led me to accept a role as a road captain and safety officer for the local HOG chapter. My wife and I are both dedicated riders, a necessary requirement for motorcyclists in the Middle East seeing as summer rides involve a 3:30 AM wake-up call to avoid the excessive mid-day heat. Doing what I love to do both in my personal and professional life means that I happily put 100% into both. Riding also gives me the opportunity to incorporate another one of my hobbies: landscape and architectural photography, I began taking my camera with me on long bike rides. My wife, Kim, always exhibits endless patience when I eagerly pause our rides to spend half an hour setting up on the side of a deserted road to capture a shot of an abandoned barn. I often joke with my kids that when I retire, I’ll finally have time to publish a coffee-table book full of dilapidated road-side buildings.
We had always planned on eventually relocating to the USA and in 2016 we achieved our goal and North Carolina became our home. We have a powerful product and system which engages students, parents, educators, counselors and corporates, and aids them in the process of creating more successful outcomes in education and career planning, recruitment and talent management. I am excited to continue researching and addressing the challenges we face in the evolving workplace and to contribute to enriching people’s work lives through this blog.
There’s an expression that says: What got you here won’t get you there. In my experience, that’s just not the case. What got me from that unemployed teenager in England to a business owner in North Carolina is what I intend to keep on doing… getting to the root of problems, keeping my eyes open for opportunities, crafting winning solutions and driving to generate positive outcomes.
I look forward to others joining me on this journey.