Why would someone who has had a 17 year career in corporate life, be talking to organisations and young people about Entrepreneurship?
Are you sitting comfortably? It’s a bit of a long one…. for 22 years I have been studying and fascinated by business, living, breathing and working in business environments, from my first part-time job!
I believe that whether you are an employee in an organisation, or whether it’s your ambition to run your own business, and having experienced both, the belief that you can make a difference is the common thread between the intrapreneur and entrepreneur mindset.
So for me, in terms of my career, I started as an apprentice with BT in 1997 and was fortunate to get the opportunity to progress with my studies, and complete a degree in business. I originally started in the mobile sector, which was fairly new and innovative at the time, for what is now O2, in Leeds. It was a fantastic place to be, and I remember my first day, walking through the doors – there were banners everywhere because they had just signed their millionth customer. Now, when you look at the size of the mobile phone market, it seems like a tiny number!
It was a time when everything was changing, it was a very exciting place to be. There was a lot happening in terms of the Regulatory environment, with the introduction of the Competition Act and Data Protection. This was a great opportunity for me, because I had already studied Law at A Level and originally intended to become a practicing solicitor.
I started a Law Degree and joined to BT because actually, I discovered at the time, studying Law wasn’t for me and I dropped out, which was a big and bold decision to take at the age of 20.
Working at BT I started to be exposed to constant change and opportunity, and the best advice I was given in my first week was take every opportunity you can to work in as many different departments, and get to know people. I worked on all kinds of things in the first couple of years. I created the training programmes on Regulatory Compliance, consulted on Process Architecture and Quality, for ISO9001, with a focus on how we managed the customer service environment.
I enjoyed the Quality Management and carried out Training Needs Analysis as I was consulting, so there was always, beneath the solid business objectives, a strong people focus.
The next move was south, to take a role that I was offered with an emerging “start-up” part of the BT organisation, and again, I had the opportunity to work with some incredible individuals who I am still in touch with to this day, who really challenged me and gave me opportunities to stretch, doing things beyond my own expectations. The role was Procurement, managing supplier relationships, processes, and the people, for the new eCRM division. eCRM is such a part of modern life now, but this was a very new aspect of technology back in 2000.
The role brought forward skills like creativity and problem solving. I suddenly found myself with responsibility for strategy, planning and forecasting, which was not the job I was originally hired to do. I moved then into Outsourcing, which now we know is a major feature of how most business run their operations. Again, at the time it was quite new, and exciting new territory which honed my commercial decision making skills.
The next move was to a purely commercial role with newer technologies that were emerging, such as Security. Part of the role was looking at how we marketed solutions to corporate clients, and what the contractual and pricing frameworks would need to be for viable products. Working at the sharp end with defining contractual arrangements, managing risk and signing off special bids then rekindled my interest in law.
And I was really lucky with my manager at the time. I debated whether to go for a Masters in Economics, over a Post Graduate in Law. Law won that time. Having passed, I studied for the LPC, focusing my studies on Commercial Law, Mergers and Acquisitions. What was wonderful was studying alongside putting it into practice. The exposure you get between studying and being able to go and apply the practical knowledge is an educational model I believe we need to see more in practice. Theory and practice inform each other and do not work in a vacuum.
By that point, I was in my mid-twenties and I’d moved to quite a senior level of management, I don’t think there was anybody else of my age that was at the same level at the time.
I thought, if I can do this, what makes me different? What is the difference here, because we do all have different access to opportunities but what makes you push that little bit harder for success?
And for me, the things I felt on reflection that made the difference were the strength of support, the encouragement and the encouragement to step outside of my comfort zone by my mentors and managers. That was something that had really given me confidence, and my mentors were great role models for the mentoring work that I now do myself, which include advising organisations on mentoring schemes.
My thinking was if I can do this, and get to that level, other people can do the same and it was about leading that path and sharing that knowledge with other people. I have freely admitted that there were a couple of courses that I started and thought, “No, not for me” and changed direction. Knowing when to change direction is probably key to most successful businesses and careers.
This led to me to exploring and taking quite a strong interest in the psychology of business and leadership and after toying with the idea for a while and reading lots of books articles on psychology, whilst running international contracts for the business, I found out that I was expecting my first daughter.
I decided that the commercial stuff is great, I love it, I love working with numbers, and that is now a string part of my new business The GameChanger Consultancy, helping businesses grow profitably through relationships and strategy, but for me the people side, unleashing their potential, led me to train to be a coach.
So I went and did my coaching training at Barefoot in Derbyshire, which I completed before my first daughter was born and I started to think about what I wanted to create as a business.
I registered my company in 2008 and created workshops and programmes privately whilst still working for BT and again, I was very fortunate within BT because I had to actually do live coaching case studies to test the theories and had the opportunity to create a programme within BT to deliver coaching to individuals. By the time I left BT in 2014 I’d coached hundreds of different individuals within the organisation, sometimes for short periods, sometimes for longer. Frequently, those I was coaching were at points where they were thinking, “Hey, what do I do with my career? Do I want to leave? Do I want to start a business?”
I am really passionate about coaching and supporting people to make the right choices, and sometimes you can find a way to bring the passion through in a way that really works for the business and works for the individual. And as you can see, I was fortunate enough to experience that in my corporate career.
If people can understand what they want, then they can make the difference in their organisations in that way.
But equally, sometimes it’s time to take a risk, and step out and look at if you’ve got a passion, can you realistically create your own business around it?
I think we are coming into a time now, particularly with the technology we have available to us, where it is possible for individuals to have the day job, and the salary, but also outside of work, have the opportunity to make so much contribution, whether it’s through innovation, creating a new product, running an online community, deciding to teach something that’s their passion, maybe in health and wellness outside of their career. I was a part time entrepreneur for 5 years before committing fully to a life outside of the traditional work environment.
It creates richer more fulfilling lives for individuals, so if you can get balance. I think it is great for the individual and their emotional health to be creating something with purpose, so this something that I am incredibly passionate about.
So, I encourage you – look around you – look for opportunity.
Be open to looking for opportunities, and get into the mind-set of going for what you want.
Often we will put obstacles in our way, and sometimes it’s simply about taking risk and going for it.
You might not get everything right, but the more opportunities you take, the more you learn and the more success you’re going to create.