Posts Tagged ‘careers’

on ambition

A few weeks ago a professional journal for one of the sectors that I work in talked about attracting young people into the trade. It got me thinking about the young people that I currently work with and then my own career.

Asking around amongst some of the under-thirties I know there seemed to be a balance between probably sticking with their current sector, if not with the same employer, and those who would just see what came up. Of the former only one thought that they would definitely want to stay in the sector.

The general opinion was that things change and that there was no guarantee that the right opportunities would be there for them when they needed them. That got me thinking about how my working life had panned out.

In my later school years I looked at what would have been a long term career, but although there was a chance to go for it, there was a need for parental commitment that was not forthcoming. It left me with a desire to become a manager, but with no idea of what.

An opportunity to achieve that ambition came as I left school, but was screwed up when we moved elsewhere a few months later. Another long term opportunity sailed away with redundancy and I then spent the next six years or so drifting along with four distinct changes of sector before settling into a major corporation with which I was to stay with for over thirty years.

However, even there I did not settle into any specific discipline. I worked for them in retail, finance, IT, policy, procurement, logistics, sales and marketing, training and facilities management working all around the UK. If I had any ambition it was to move up the ladder, but around half of my moves were because of reorganisation rather than me actively seeking them.

In the end I did achieve that rather vague ambition to be a manager. I worked my way up from the bottom to the board room and have served as both executive and non-executive director, but I cannot claim to have been focused on a career. More that I just took my chances and played whatever hand I got dealt as best as I could.

Following that example is perhaps the best advice that I could give.


let your people go and be pleased for them

“Poaching talent” said my fellow speaker, and, even with pantomime season nearly at a close, you could sense the audience wanting to boo and hiss. Read more…

monday musings of FM in the boardroom

We talk a lot about getting FM into the boardroom and similar ambitions to further our profession and in these aims we are no different to many other specialist disciplines; when wearing my purchasing hat my colleagues there are no different, but when I have my logistics hat on my colleagues there don’t often have that issue, for they are usually firmly embedded at the top table, so how do they do that and what can FM learn? Read more…

let’s stop using power words in CVs and bid documents

January 21, 2013 1 comment

Last week I got involved in a cyber-debate about the overuse of power words, in this case about their use in CVs, but the principle applies more widely. I have two main issues with this abuse of language; firstly that much of it is transparently nonsense (and therefore untrue) and secondly that it wastes my time. Read more…

the importance of being educated

I always find it sad when I hear people say that they’ve never used anything that they learned at school, because I have found what I learned in my school days to have been a help in so many ways. Read more…

experience is as to intensity and not as to duration – thomas hardy

Quite rightly experience is valued. When we are recruiting an employee or engaging a contractor we look for relevant experience, and when we look at ourselves we talk about having paid our dues; done the hard yard and so on. Read more…

I’m happy to aspire to things, happier still to earn them, but entitlement; no thanks

There once was a schoolboy who wasn’t too sure what he wanted to be when he grew up, but he was quite keen on factories and offices, even if he didn’t understand too much about what went on there. The day came when he had to get a job and, perhaps fittingly for someone who liked buildings, he began to train as a surveyor. A recession curtailed that career, and he found himself working for an insurance giant in the City, but even the prospect of one day stalking the floor at Lloyd’s placing business with the syndicates was not enough of a draw. No, this youth wanted an office and a secretary. He didn’t know why, nor grasp what he would need to do to get or retain such trappings, but that was what he wanted. The City was a bore and he drifted into the retail and wholesale trade where his aspirations were refined through visits to many a private office, sometimes to be rewarded but, more often, to be chastised. As he would stand and take his medicine he took in the subtle benefits of the corner office, of mahogany over laminate, of carpet over lino, of the North West corner over the South East and more. From his early forays into management positions it took almost 10 years before everything came together and he not only realised what he needed to be able to contribute to a business for him to warrant an office of his own, but was able to demonstrate it to the satisfaction of those above him. By then he was with an organisation where such things were carefully prescribed; 11m2, carpet, swivel chair (with arms), desk with two pedestals (lockable), visitor’s chair, 4 drawer filing cabinet (lockable) and 3 hook coat stand. His name would be on a plate affixed to the door and his name and telephone number would appear in bold type in the internal telephone directory. To these things he was entitled. From that first box in the corner of the room to the North West corner office and a secretary (OK, a half share of one) took less than a third of the time it had taken to get to first base, but a dreadful irony cast its shadow on this idyll. For now that our hero had achieved his aspirations and more, he found that he wanted to discard them. In arriving at the position where the buck for delivering results stopped where he sat, one of the key things he had learned about earning that place was that leaders needed to lead by example. At a time when there was a need for austerity and sacrifice all around, why was he sat in splendid isolation in a space that would take 6 workers in comfort? So the corner room on the top floor of the office was swapped, firstly for what had been a store room in the warehouse, and then for a desk in the open plan and then for cadging a desk. All of the trappings that he had aspired to for the first half of his three score years and ten were gone within about 4 years of him having achieved them. Aspiration was one thing, but amongst the myriad things he had learned along the way to that corner office was what it took to earn that position, and being able to do that, to work successfully at that level, was in itself fulfilling; the trappings that came with the job didn’t matter. To aspire to something is one thing. To earn it is another, but to be entitled? No thanks.

Home thoughts from abroad; a postcard from America

Oh to be in England, now September’s here? Not really, no.

I’m taking a few minutes of quiet time in between business and the essential hospitality that goes with it, at least it does more so here in the USA that maybe back home. Shortly I will be back on show when my host’s guests start to arrive and we get down to some serious socializing and, it has to be said, networking.

So, home thoughts from abroad? For me this is more home than home in the sense of where I live. Yes I know that I am British, and I am proud of that, but I am more at home here in the US than I am back in Wiltshire and, if I had the chance, I’d set up home here for good.

For me there is a lot about America that we have seen wiped out in the UK. People do care about each other here and there is a much greater sense of community spirit. In many ways it is like the England that I grew up in in the 1950s and 1960s. Nostalgia may not be what it used to be, but I am nostalgic for a time when people were far less self centred; my Monday Musing last week talked of the Musketeer’s motto of “One for all and all for one”. So much of what I see back home is more like one for all and every one for themselves.

Here there is a much simpler attitude in most people, and it shows up in the way that I am being looked after. The whole concept of me being over here and staying alone in a hotel is an anathema to the people that I’m meeting, so a range of hospitality gets lined up for me to meet families and friends.  This isn’t expense account stuff either; it is a genuine desire to welcome a stranger and look after them.

Back home people often mock the “have a nice day” culture, but here it is, in most cases, genuine. This morning I went for a walk down a couple of blocks to buy a newspaper. I’d not got far before I fell into step with someone heading the same way. By the time we got to the news stand I knew his name, what he did, the names of his wife and his children and how they were doing at school and he’d had broadly equivalent information from me. When I used to commute into London by train there would be the same herd of us heading off to the station each morning for the run into Liverpool Street, but in three years of doing that I got to talk to two other people. Everyone else just kept their heads down and ignored those around them.

The Americans bring this warmth into much of business, whether that be BtoB or BtoC. In most cases there is a real need to give the customer service that goes a bit further and that’s great. It makes doing business a pleasure. Sure they are hard negotiators, and yes there are sharks, but doing a deal here is a very different experience to doing one back home.

Maybe some of this is just because it is a change for me. It’s nearly a year since I was last over and it could just be the grass being greener on this side of the hill. Maybe I would find it less attractive if I was here full time. Maybe not, and I have to come home soon anyway.

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Who would I have on the board of Me plc?

September 28, 2010 2 comments

My friend Kwai Yu asked who would be on the board of Me plc. Having thought about this for a couple of days I’ve come up with some possible solutions here. I’ve taken a Fantasy Football approach with some of these, and have grouped them, as you will see, by category. So the nominations are:

The Entertainment Board.

First to invite would be Lionel Blair. If you wanted to personify the word irrepressible, then that would be Lionel. A positive mood to board meetings would be assured by his presence. Next up is Jane Russell. Here I’m not sure whether this would be as herself or one of her characters; maybe from the Outlaw, or Gentlemen prefer Blondes? Whatever, a smart cookie that one. Then I’d ask Doris Day. Let’s face it, whatever scrapes she got into everything always worked out in the end, and I’m an eternal optimist, so I’m sure that we’d go together well. We’d need legal advice maybe, so who else but Denny Crane; what could I add? Denny Crane! The final member of this board comes from the sporting world, and would be the late Sir Bobby Robson, the only member of this team that I have met. Two words sum up the reason for his inclusion; passion and loyalty.

The Former Colleagues Board

This one is made of people with whom I have worked and kicks off with Diane Santos. She was my boss for a time and was as straight as a die. I may not always have agreed with her, but I could always trust her. From the same team, her boss John Robson. John taught me huge amounts about leadership just by doing what he did. Later our paths crossed again when I was his business landlord and I’ll always hold him in high regard; a true gentleman. Very much in the same line is Mick Linsell, one time MD of Royal Mail and, for a time, my boss squared. Another who showed me the ways of leadership just by doing his job. And he stood up to Anne Robinson on live TV and came away with a draw.

The Historical Board

This one doesn’t go too far back, but I’d start off with a couple of politicians from the days when they were real people. Barbara Castle would be first pick. I may not have shared her political leanings, but here was a lady I would have liked to have known and maybe to have worked with. I’d team her up here with Sir Winston Churchill. Another with whom I would often have disagreed, but I love his way with words and his fighting spirit, a quality he shared with Barbara. Then there would be Leonard Cheshire, he of the Cheshire Homes and of Bomber Command. For me truly a great man and one who would bring a single minded courage to my enterprise. Finally here, and from much farther back, Vasco da Gama. I have a great admiration for those who just sailed off into the unknown to find what was there, even if that turned out to be death.

The Musketeers

Back in July ’96 I joined three guys, Chris Drew, Kelvin Little and Ian Tolley, in a team that we came to call the four musketeers (I was Porthos). We did truly live up to the One for All and All for One philosophy. We all still keep in touch even though we parted company in early ’99, having blazed a trail in those two and a bit years.

The winning team? The Musketeers I would think.

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there’s a gunman! – another day on the facilities front line

The clatter of the helicopter blasted through the room, the windows wide open to seek respite from the sticky heat of early afternoon allowing the sound to penetrate what had been another quiet session in the office for our facilities management team.

Ten feet away Phil, my maintenance manager had picked up the phone and was crouched forward over his desk, one hand clamped to his ear as he tried to listen. He was duty manager that day, as evidenced by the words emblazoned on the hi-vis waistcoat slipped over the back of his chair. This was our HQ from which we ran 27 sites across the UK of which this was by far the largest with a perimeter of almost 2 kilometres.

Phil banged down the phone and motioned me out into the corridor. There we could talk. “It’s the police chopper” he told me, “they’ve had a report of a gunman”.

This was a few days after the Columbine murders in the US, and the memories of Hungerford, just up the road, were still very fresh for most of us. “The incident team are on their way” he said, and the sirens were audible in amongst the helicopter noise.

We grabbed our radios and Phil went to the main gate to meet the police and I went to reception to use the tannoy. We had around 1300 people on the site with over an hour before any workers were due to be finishing for the day, but there would be the inevitable delivery vehicles and visitors who might want to get on or off site to be dealt with and we had a well oiled process to put in place.

Having briefed heads of departments to keep people inside and away from windows as best as we could I went out to meet Phil and get the story. A passing motorist, reckoned to be a reliable witness by the police, had called in from his car phone to say that he had seen a youngish male in camouflage trousers kneeling and pointing a handgun at a pedestrian exit gate down at the south west corner of the site.

The police had the situation in hand with armed response units, dog handlers and others dealing with the situation outside of our perimeter. The helicopter had thermal imaging gear and was still cruising low over the site.

I left Phil to work with our security team to monitor the situation and liaise with the police. If we were dealing with a handgun we were fairly safe indoors because of the distances. Our only weak spot was the main exit which was an automatic barrier, but there was some cover for a potential gunman and a risk that an employee might decide to sneak out early. I laugh about it now, but I put on as many layers of clothes as I could and made my way down to the gate to make sure no-one tried to leave.

After an hour we were stood down with no gunman found, but it could have been real; we had had violent domestic disputes before including someone wielding a knife to deal with.

The moral? A well drilled facilities management team working professionally with the police handled something a bit out of the ordinary. These things come out of ordinary days at the office. Leadership and teamwork, knowing your processes and systems, mean you handle the mundane day to day stuff at the top of your game and allow your people to handle such extraordinary occasions with aplomb. Just another day at the office.

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