An Interview with a Top Influencer

A/N My interviewee this week is recognised as one of the Top 25 European Office 365 Influencers. Only two women made this list.  She is also one of the 4 women recognised in the Global Top 25 Office 365 Influencers.   As if that’s not enough, she’s also been awarded the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015.

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.

I was born as the first child of a very poor family, living in Eastern Hungary. I inherited my father’s skills at problem solving; he had been always good at school, but he didn’t have the chance for any higher education.

In school, being the smartest and poorest child in the class was a very bad combination. Since I didn’t have too many friends, I turned to what I was good at: learning. My math teacher recognized my math skills and managed to let me into the programming classes. I loved sitting next to the Commodore +4s! Controlling what they should do was one of the most powerful experiences I’d ever had at that time. There was never any doubt that I wanted to study programming after high school.

When I was accepted at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, I thought my life was on track – but a few months into my studies, I realized that university was too much of a burden. The costs of my studies and living in the capital were way too much for my family to afford.

I was at a huge decision point. Everything suggested I had to stop my studies and look for work. Nobody believed there was any way to avoid this and stay at the university, continuing my studies. But I didn’t give up. I was sure there must be some way.

I made the decision: I would look for a job AND continue my studies. Due to the programming awards I had received during my high school years, I found a programming job at one of Hungary’s biggest and most well known IT companies.

Five months after starting university, I found myself working there. I was saved! Those years were the hardest period of my life, though. I studied hard. I worked hard. I slept for only a few hours every day. My parents got divorced. But I was free.

For the first time in my life, I was doing what I loved, and I could do this because I made it possible for myself. In the end, I finished studying and got my degree after seven years. And I already had 6.5 years work experience which proved to be a HUGE benefit.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?
First of all, you have to be passionate about your job and you have to be persistent. Also, you have to love learning new things every day.
Last but not least, you have to be a team player. Even if you work from home like I do, IT projects are always complex, there’s always a whole team of professionals involved.

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?
What I do is quite complex. I help enterprise organizations with their Information Architecture (how to organize and classify their content, how to “clean up” and optimize their processes, etc.) as well as with Enterprise Search (how to make the content findable and discoverable, how to help users reduce the time spent with searching – especially with non-productive searching).

It sounds like it’s an IT role, but it’s much more about understanding people’s content, intent and behaviour. It’s much more about psychology. Maybe this is why I not only like working on people’s Information Architecture and Search solutions, but also mentoring them with their own life and career path. It’s amazing how similar these two things (consulting and mentoring) can be!

What can be challenging about your profession?
First, in IT, we have to solve complex problems and we have to deal with new kinds of problems every day. If you don’t like that, you’re lost.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a programmer, an administrator, a project manager or a system architect – if you don’t like solving complex problems, you cannot be good at it.

Secondly, in what I do, it’s very challenging to be able to think like my customers. Even organizing our own stuff can be challenging, just think about your kitchen or children’s rooms. But being able to understand the content and knowledge of someone else quickly and to provide a structure that helps them – this is something that’s never easy. But this is why I love doing this!

Thirdly, you should never forget: IT is always about serving humans. Always. Even if you never see the end users and customers, working with those bits is always about making people’s life easier in some way.

What do you most like about your profession?

I really like solving the complex problems of my enterprise customers, I like it when I have to use my brain power. Because every customer and every project are different, I learn a lot from each engagement. What could be better than being paid for learning time? 😉

But beyond that, I like the human part of my job the most. I like travelling the world and seeing beautiful places. I like meeting people, making new connections, having friends literally around the globe. I like helping others with their journeys.

I especially love helping young women with their career paths: to find their real passion, their real mission. To motivate and inspire them – this is what I like the most.

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
A few years ago, before my children were born, I was working for a company in a role I didn’t really like, for quite a low salary. I wanted to quit, but at that time I was too young and not brave (self-confident?) enough to discuss it with my managers.

I applied for a job, which I really wanted, at a consultant company. To my great delight, they invited me for an interview. I thought the interview went well, and felt good that evening. The very next morning, one of my managers invited me to his office. Each of my managers were there, and when they closed the door behind me, I realized it must be something serious. It turned out, that one of the guys who invited me to that interview the day before, was a good friend of one of my managers. And of course, he’d called him asking about me.

It was a really embarrassing situation and an annoying discussion that I had with my managers that morning. I felt lost. I even felt stupid. But in the end I got a promotion at my existing company and my salary was almost doubled! It was a happy ending, but I wouldn’t encourage anyone to be as stupid as I was then.

Be self-confident. Be brave. Trust yourself. Maybe you won’t get the promotion I got that time, but even if you leave, it’s much better to do so in a friendly manner. I needed a few more years to learn that, but was lucky to learn that lesson through experience.

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?
My most nerve-wracking moment was many years ago when I had to make a presentation to a hall full of around 100 people I didn’t know. I’ve always been comfortable presenting to small familiar groups where you get some interaction. But to stand on a stage and not even be able to see the audience out there, let alone gauge their reaction is quite something.

It’s something I volunteered to do because I knew it would be hard – something about facing your fears and all that!

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?
Never give up. Even if you feel it’s impossible – it’s not! There’s always a way to move forward! Be curious. Be passionate. As Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” – See more here.

Is there anything else you would like to share?
It takes time to build skills and move up the career ladder – don’t be impatient. Don’t pull yourself down, but don’t be over-confident either.

I thought I knew it all at 25 and I look back now and see that all those people who told me how important experience is were absolutely right.

Most importantly – be yourself. Find a role that fits who you are. Don’t try and be someone else. Be proud of who you are.

Agnes Molnar
Agnes Molnar

Agnes Molnar is a Consultant, Speaker, Mentor, Author and Modern Working Mother. She is based in Budapest, Hungary. You can learn more by visiting Search Explained

Contact details: aghy@aghy.hu

An Interview with a Lead Consultant for a multinational software solutions company

A/N My interviewee this week is someone who used to be in the study next to me at Rishworth School.  I know you’ll enjoy this interview with an amazing woman who’s forged her own path and has some great tips to share!

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.

When I left school, I just wanted to be financially independent. My real dream was to do Interior Design, but I figured there wasn’t a serious living to be made from that (tell that to Kelly Hoppen!) and I didn’t want to study any longer anyway.

Not really knowing what I wanted to do, I visited a job agency and landed a job as a trainee sales ledger clerk at Wimpy International the same day. Rapid progression in accounting related jobs led me to study for accountancy exams, and I worked in that field for many years.

In those days it was the accountants who were exploring computerised options and I was probably one of the first people to use a spreadsheet on a PC. As I played around with spreadsheets and then became involved in projects to automate processes, I found myself enjoying that side of things so much more. As I was working for a big company it was easy to make the transition into IT and I became a Business Analyst, defining system requirements, designing solutions & processes and sometimes managing projects. I had found my niche, and although I have moved between business and IT roles over the years, and even taken a break to study Interior Design and work in that field (still requirements analysis, design and project management!), I know that what I really am is a Business Analyst.

Today I feel that I have my dream job as a consultant working for a multinational software solutions company visiting clients across Europe & South Africa to run requirement gathering workshops.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?

To be a good business analyst you must of course have an analytical mind. You have to be able to quickly understand processes, document them and critique them … always looking for better ways of doing things.

An empathy with people at all levels is important as you have to gain their trust and listen to what they have to tell you. It’s not a technical role – more of an interface between business people and technical people. Can be very social at times, and very isolated when you have to shut yourself away and document findings and recommendations. You need initiative and the ability to get on with it!

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?

My current role involves me mainly with Financial institutions where I work with systems to make business decisions, but a key facet of a good business analyst is the ability to walk into any part of any business and quickly grasp the fundamentals of the relevant processes in place there. Essentially, it’s about business, but that covers a multitude of things, and in this age of technology the solutions called for may be very different to those used previously.

What can be challenging about your profession?

I think the most challenging aspect is trying to win over people who are set in their ways to new and better processes. Businesses are always looking for efficiency and improvement, but you often find someone whose authority comes from their specialist knowledge of what they do and they can be very defensive when you try to find out the detail or suggest alternative approaches.

What do you most like about your profession?

I particularly like the project related aspect. Each project has a start and an end and even thought you might be working on several at once that overlap, there is always a sense of making a difference and moving on to the next challenge. My worst nightmare is routine – as an accountant, I could tell exactly what I’d be doing on day x of each month. I hated that.

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?

My most nerve-wracking moment was many years ago when I had to make a presentation to hall full of around 100 people who I didn’t know. I’ve always been comfortable presenting to small familiar groups where you get some interaction. But to stand on a stage and not even be able to see the audience out there, let alone gauge their reaction is quite something. It’s something I volunteered to do because I knew it would be hard – something about facing your fears and all that!

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?

To me, the most important thing is to do something you really enjoy. Follow your heart.

Careers advisors try to push people into what they seem like they’d be good at, but if their heart’s not in it, they aren’t going to do well. Something that doesn’t come easy, but if you have a passion it is far more likely to be a success in the long run.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

It takes time to build skills and move up the career ladder – don’t be impatient. Don’t do yourself down, but don’t be over-confident either.

I thought I knew it all at 25 and I look back now and see that all those people that told me how important experience is were absolutely right. And most importantly – be yourself. Find a role that fits who you are. Don’t try and be someone else. Be proud of who you are.

Rose Lores
Rose Lores – also an avid powerboat racer!

Interview with the CEO of a luxury goods retail chain

A/N – This week’s interviewee is someone I have personally known since my teenage years in Beirut, where we both attended the Manor House School. Read on to gain an insight into the role of someone always on the look out for the latest in luxury goods…

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.
In 1978 I started working in our family business, the Beidoun Trading Company, which was founded by my father in 1961. He was a visionary and pioneered beauty and fashion retail in Kuwait.

I worked my way up the ladder learning about the company as I went. The company has continued to expand and now includes some of the most renowned brands of skin care, make-up, fragrances, and luxury goods.

Today I am the CEO and we have 16 showrooms in Kuwait, so life is never dull.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?
A thorough knowledge of the luxury goods market is essential. We stock the finest global brands ranging from names like, Mount Blanc and Yves Saint Laurent to Guess.

Good customer relations are also vital to maintaining our position as a business of choice for our customers.

It’s also very important to have a good relationship with suppliers, including a secure commitment to each other.

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?
We operate primarily in retail and distribution.

What can be challenging about your profession?
My father started by acquiring the most prestigious fashion and cosmetic brands such as Lancôme and Jacques Fath, and it is my role to ensure the company he established in 1961 maintains market share in these competitive times.

What do you most like about your profession?
Customer relations and travelling to trade shows. I love customer relations because I see the reactions of customers to our products, and I love the trade shows because this is where I have an opportunity to discover new products as well as renew relationships with existing suppliers. Face to face contact is really important in business.

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
When a cheque bounced!

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?
I have had many. But the one that outweighs them all was the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990 and the subsequent chaos and uncertainty that followed.

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?
Find a start-up niche product and work your way up with the brand

Is there anything else you would like to share?
Yes, make sure you have a solid contract signed because many brands, once they become successful are easily taken over by larger conglomerates and you need to be protected.

Jamil Beidoun is CEO of Beidoun Traders

Jamil Beidoun - CEO Beidoun Traders
Jamil Beidoun

Email: info@beidoun.com

Interview with a HR Manager

A/N our interviewee this week has transitioned from a successful 22 year career in the Royal Airforce to private enterprise….read on to discover how.

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.
I left school at 18 and joined the Royal Air Force a year later, having had a number of part-time jobs, bar work etc. I joined as an Admin Clerk and progressed through the ranks and HR roles for the next 22 years.

I left the RAF 10 years ago and remained in HR. I worked in Edinburgh for the NHS for 9 years then moved to Stafford 2 years ago and now have an HR Manager position in a computer company.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?
I think you need to be compassionate and empathetic where necessary but also be firm and determined when required. Some of the jobs that HR Managers have to do are not always pleasant, such as dismissals and disciplinaries, but employment law is fascinating and the employee support side of HR can be very rewarding. You also have to have exceptional attention to detail!

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?
I operate mostly in employee and business support.

What can be challenging about your profession?
Dealing with people always has its challenges, particularly when dealing with disciplinary matters or when dealing with conflict.

What do you most like about your profession?
I love the challenge of dealing with different people and to be able to see change taking place to benefit employees.

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
It wasn’t embarrassing for me, but it did end up being embarrassing for the officer who took me on! I was 8 months pregnant and had been asked to run a Court-Martial on the base I was on. One officer had the temerity to ask me if I could “cope”…you can imagine my response and he ended up with egg on his face – plus the Court-Martial was very successful!

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?
Going for my first job after leaving the RAF…I hadn’t had a job interview for 22 years…I ended up getting the job and staying in it for a couple of years, despite my nerves at interview.

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?
Make sure you know your employment law, if not, then check, check and check again. HR administration takes a lot of time, effort and checking, often people’s careers are at stake. Always remember that you are dealing with real people.

Andrea Fraser
      Andrea Fraser

Andrea Fraser is HR Manager dealing with all aspects of HR, including disciplinary, employment law, policy and process implementation.

Interview with a Leadership and Management Development Consultant

A/N – this weeks interviewee is another strong woman who loves her job.

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.
I started off working as a cashier in a bank when I first left school. I knew I wanted to be a teacher or work in a bank. I was good at maths at school and thought that would come in useful in banking. I wanted to be independent, so further studying did not appeal to me. I loved working with others and banking gave me a variety of career opportunities.

I worked my way around the different jobs available to me in the branch (that’s what everyone did in those days) and soon wanted to become a manager. I got my first management job, and boy was it a wake up!!

Managing people can be really challenging. I worked in many different ‘head of department’ roles within an office environment and then decided to go back into the branch and manage the counter and sales staff. This brought about new challenges; encouraging others to sell banking products to customers whilst working with lots of cash and being expected to balance to the penny at the end of every day. We asked a lot of our staff.

It was whilst I was managing a large team of people that the penny dropped with me that I wanted to know/find out what made people want to work hard for their boss – as that was the key to my success – no longer doing the work myself but motivating and encouraging others to play their part. I had had many different managers over my years and knew what I liked and disliked, but I didn’t know what ‘experts’ in the field thought.

I decided that I wanted to explore training; something I’d dipped my toe into a few years before. So I took a bit of a backwards step salary wise and bit the bullet. I started off training people how to sell at first and I enjoyed that as I still had contact with lots of people. I had an opportunity to work with managers too, and that side of the job really peaked my interest as it was more about psychology and how people ‘tick’. I got an opportunity to become a Leadership and Management Development trainer which is what I still do today – that was about 15 years ago. I haven’t looked back since. I now build managers capability, helping them to be good managers and leaders.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?
What makes someone good in my field is
1. A positive attitude – not everyone who comes to a workshop will buy into what you are saying.
2. An ability to facilitate a meeting rather than talk at people – so ask lots of questions and get delegates to join in debates etc.
3. Being able to travel and stay away from home for a big hunk of the week. Usually training teams are based in a head office and sometimes it’s cheaper for you to travel to various locations rather than everyone travelling to you.
4. Understanding human behaviour – why people might react in a certain way. You never know what is going on for any person at any point in time and so, when you create an open and honest atmosphere in a workshop, sometimes you get negativity. Managing this negativity is sometimes challenging as you don’t want one person’s negativity to ruin everyone else’s experience of the day.

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?
I left the bank I worked for about three years ago after being made redundant. I now work for a small training company and we operate in the public, private and third sector. Training managers how to get the best from others generally are universal skills; it’s mostly about psychology. I love, love, love getting to know my clients and their businesses so that I can tailor my messages to business specific examples.

What can be challenging about your profession?
1. you never know what a person might ask and so you need to have quite a few tools in your kit bag to be able to pull upon them.
2. Working away from home a lot; sometimes means having to set off Sunday evening and not finishing until late Friday evening. It is not a 9-5 job. Staying in a hotel sounds exciting when you don’t do it; when you do, I can assure you it really isn’t.
3. I am very much a people person and so I miss having people I can talk to about my job as we all work quite independently. You have to be utterly professional when you are delivering a workshop and so can’t say “yes I am having a bad day too.”
4. Training adults is not like training children, you have to make sure that they feel their time has been well spent and sometimes that means changing the content and/or style of your workshop on the hoof.
5. You will not always get appreciated for what you do and, because you often work on your own, you have to be able to evaluate your own work and decide if it was a good day and you did the best you possibly can.

What do you most like about your profession?
What I like most is that what I train people on actually works! I can honestly say that every method or theory I share with others, I will have tried out for myself. (It helps to have management experience you can pull on yourself). I am passionate about supporting others and go the extra mile to be there for anyone after a workshop to discuss how they might have applied something. I do get the occasional thank you which always makes me feel valued and appreciated. Because I often get into people’s psyche, I have made amazing friendships. There’s a mutual respect and trust which builds with people opening up to you.

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
As I meet so many different people, I sometimes get their names wrong which I absolutely hate.

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?
I am often nervous. Every workshop or presentation I do I get nervous before. What I have realised is that the moment that nervousness goes, it’s time to look for another job. Nerves work for me and heighten my energy and attention.

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?
You have to genuinely want to help others and also be quite assertive. It’s an unusual mix really. I’d get some management experience as that gives you credibility, and study with a professional body like CIPD as this keeps you up to date with the latest thinking within our profession.

Is there anything else you would like to share?
If you want to build your management and leadership skills, we offer open workshops at our premises in Halifax. You can also study for a qualification at the same time.

Jill Cannon
Jill Cannon of Aspire Development

Jill Cannon is a Leadership and Management Development Consultant working with business partners to design, deliver and evaluate management and leadership development solutions.

Jill can be contacted at Aspire Development, Suite 2.15 Holmfield Mills Holdsworth Road Halifax HX3 6SN Aspiredevelopment.co.uk

Phone 07702 189436

Interview with a Keyboard Player/Musician

A/N This weeks interviewee is a guy whose carved out a different kind of career for himself. Read on to learn how he’s managed to make his boyhood dream a reality, and the lessons learnt along the way.

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.

I actually have two careers – in my day job, I am a Sales & Marketing Manager for a professional audio solutions provider called Audiologic which I’ve been doing for just under three years following a number of years as a Business Development Manager for major audio manufacturers like Bose and Sennheiser. My other career (or night job, if you like) which I’ll be talking about is that of a musician.

I had a fairly traditional formal introduction to music at Rishworth School – 10 years of piano, flute and theory lessons along with studies in ‘A’ and ‘O’ Levels (including an ‘O’ Level in History and Appreciation of Music which I took a year earlier.) This was only part of the story though as there were many opportunities to further your musical experience at school including the annual Music Competition and various other activities into which I always threw myself wholeheartedly!

When I left school, I went to live in South Africa with my parents and, owing to my ‘A’ Level grades not quite being what I needed for my chosen University, I decided to start work in a local music shop in Johannesburg called Soundhouse. It was there that I began to meet many of the local musicians and found that keyboard players like me who could read music and understood synthesisers were a relative rarity – everyone wanted to be a guitarist or drummer! So – I joined my first function band called ‘Atlantic’ in 1989 – and was promptly fired from the band three months later for not wanting to rehearse!

Over the next year or so, I ‘paid my dues’ (and in doing so learned some much-needed humility and desire to rehearse) in all sorts of different environments including a production company who used to put bands together for specific events. I would receive a phone call in the morning and, if I was available would have to meet the band of musicians (usually different from the last ‘band’ that was put together) that afternoon – have a brief rehearsal then play for a corporate function that night! The pressure was immense, but the experience of playing different music with different musicians on every occasion certainly did wonders for my versatility as a player.

I spent 1991 to the end of 1993 playing hundreds of gigs for various South African bands including Toys for Girls, Communique, Skippy & Savannah and Dessi B – from tiny little pubs where no-one came to listen, to large clubs with a few thousand people. Throughout all this, I also maintained a day job – first with Soundhouse until 1992 then I went to work for the local distributor of the keyboards that I used as a Technical Product Specialist. The day job was a concession to my parents’ old-school concern for the transitory nature of the music industry, but that also honed my work ethic so there were no complaints!

At the end of 1993, I joined a rock theatre show called Stage Fright as Assistant Musical Director which happened after the producer of the show saw me play at a Benefit Concert for one of the local musicians who had been in a road accident – he liked my rather ‘energetic’ playing style (I was not really one for just sitting behind the keyboards – I had been known to break keys and send keyboards flying off their stands in my enthusiasm:)) so a year of playing in theatres began. During this year, the Miss World pageant was held at Sun City in Bophutatswana and the band from Stage Fright had the honour of playing for the Coronation Ball – certainly the largest gig of my career to-date, seen by quite a few people on TV.

I returned to England at the end of 1995 and didn’t play for a while following falling down some stairs in April 1996 and breaking my right wrist in three places. I spent some 18 months getting my hand and wrist put back together and the operation (a Brunnelli Procedure) actually featured in a book by the surgeon as it was a relatively complex rehabilitation.

In 2004, whilst working for Harman Pro, I discovered that many of my colleagues were musicians – including a singer who I knew from my time in South Africa. We had a brief discussion about playing music, went to a random band name generator on the internet and ‘5 Consultants And Their Fish’ was born… We were all mid-30’s professionals by this time with no desire to go back to playing in the pubs and clubs for next to no money, so targetted the high-end wedding industry as a ‘music solution’.

We attended our first Wedding Fair in October 2004 with (I’m slightly ashamed to admit:) pictures on the walls of the exhibition stand (which were actually stock photos off the internet) ‘signed’ by famous people thanking us for our services at their weddings!! Despite the little exaggeration (we hadn’t actually played a gig together by this stage) we left that fair with £11,000’s worth of deposit cheques!

In 2008, 5CATFish (as we became to be known) were voted ‘Entertainment Supplier of the Year to the Wedding Industry’ in the Wrapit Awards held at Claridges. The band continued through to 2011 when I took a break to study my MBA at Warwick Business School.

Coming right up to date, in March of this year I was approached to stand-in with ‘The Meatloaf Story’ for the last 9 nights of a national theatre tour after they had lost two other keys players to accidents… I had one night to learn the full two hour show and, after the first night, which was – well – a little unprepared, shall we say, the remainder of the tour went well, culminating in me being asked to join the other show which this company produces – ‘Vampires Rock’. We are currently in rehearsals and the 40-night national theatre tour starts on October 2nd.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?
A mixture of reliability, flexibility and ensuring that, in amongst doing something that you love in return for money (which is not the case with every career) you treat playing music as just another career and deal with it as professionally as any other job. Also, it’s important to be able to get-on with people…

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?
In terms of musical style, most of my experience has been in rock, soul and pop.

What can be challenging about your profession?
Owing to my preference of maintaining two careers, the main challenge is logistics, especially with the looming tour with Vampires Rock. Learning time for new material can be a real drain on what would normally be my spare time too, so I am lucky to have an understanding and supportive wife!

What do you most like about your profession?
I get to do what I dreamed of as a child every time I go on stage! I’m lucky to be in a position where I am able to be a little more choosy about the musical jobs I do these days and so have the honour of playing with some incredible musicians which just drives me to improve. Also, music is something that you never stop learning – I’ve been playing for almost 40 years and I’ve just started seeing someone for lessons in composition.

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
The first night of the recent Meatloaf Story gigs is right up there! Meatloaf tends to be all about the piano in some of the tunes and there are some especially prominent piano-based introductions to songs in the show. With only one day to learn the set, I was hopelessly unprepared and when the follow-spot light shone on me for the intro to ‘For Crying Out Loud’ I basically froze and the ensuing 30 seconds or so were akin to the great Les Dawson! Traumatizing in front of 600-700 ardent Meatloaf fans, but I think they forgave me…

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?
There have been a few, but playing the fanfare for the entry of Miss World to the Coronation Ball in 1994 was certainly one of them. Also, my favourite band is an American rock band called Toto and I played in a tribute band to them a few years ago. We rehearsed for about 7 months as some of their music is really quite challenging to play as they have two keyboard players and I was trying to cover both keys parts on my own. We booked a venue called ‘The Robin 2’ in Wolverhampton for our first gig and I had to go on stage to play an instrumental to open the show in front of a few hundred hardened Toto fans – for some reason, one of my most terrifying musical moments.

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?
Be on time, be professional, be flexible, be friendly… (OK – that’s four pieces, but they’re all so important!)

Is there anything else you would like to share?
There are a few professional musicians who I am delighted to call my friends and they all share my views (or I share theirs, whichever way you view it) of working just as hard at music as you do at any other job in order to succeed.
You might not get to be in the Charts with a Number 1 album, but you can still make a good living from having more than one string to your musical bow – one of my favourite drummers plays, tours, teaches, writes, plays clinics for equipment manufacturers and makes sure he brings his best to everything he does.

Living the boyhood dream.
Andy Lewis – living the boyhood dream.

Andy Lewis is a professional keyboard Player/Musician.

You can follow Andy on Facebook

Company: 5CATFish

Contact Details: andy@5catfish.com 

Interview with a Mediator & Conciliator

A/N – I first met our inspirational interviewee when I took on the role of CEO at Lifeline Top End. 

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.
I had a good education in the UK and a mother who believed her daughters were entitled to be educated as well as her son. I did an honours maths degree Imperial College, London and went straight into secondary school maths teaching in 1957.

Sex without marriage in those days was a dicey option so I married in 1958 and between 1963 and 1967 had three children. Five years home as a full time mother drove me nuts so I was fortunate to be able to return to teaching part-time at an exclusive girls boarding school with a crêche!

My husband successfully applied for a job in Darwin in 1970 and migrated in September. The children and I followed in December (I had to give a term’s notice) and actually arrived on 1/1/71. Over the 18 1/2 years from July 1962 to December 1980 I was out of full-time work but involved in many things, including occasional teaching and studying for a Diploma in Secondary Education.

I spent 3 years with AMP discovering that I was better at teaching than at selling (but saving myself from 24 hours a day immersed in teenagers!) then returned to teaching.

By the end of 1982 my husband and I had separated and he subsequently re-married. I spent 1984 to mid-1989 in secondary schools, always teaching maths, of course! I was then fortunate to be accepted to the staff of the maths section of ITAFE, under the umbrella of the then NTU (now CDU) in mid-1989 and I remained there until January 2005.

From 1993 to 1996 I had completed a Master of Science (Science Education) [really maths education, but there was no separate category!] by thesis through Curtin University of Technology. During my last semester as a maths lecturer in 2004 I commenced studying law, continuing as a full-time student through 2005 until the end of 2007. I also undertook the LEADR Mediation Training Course in 2006 and during 2007 completed all the theory involved in the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice as well as the last 5 units in the law course.

Once I had completed the placement component of the GDLP, I was admitted as a Barrister & Solicitor at the Supreme Court of the NT in February 2008. I practiced as a lawyer, mainly in the criminal law area, until the end of June 2012 and retained my practising certificate until the end of June 2015 so that I could continue to provide occasional free legal advice at the sessions conducted by the Darwin Community Legal Service. Since 2012 I have been engaged in conducting occasional mediations through the Community Justice Centre and in August 2015 I completed a Conciliator Masterclass for the Anti-Discrimination Commission, again conducted by LEADR.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?
My upbringing and the nature of the education which I was privileged to have (all free in those days!) left me with an unwritten obligation to put back into society. I was brought up as a Christian and have no problem accepting the ethical standards, it expects, but have too much of the scientist in my nature to accept blind faith. So I am an ethical agnostic and, as the Dalai Lama says, recognise that I am here to help others – as well as enjoying my own life!

I realise that I have had privileges not shared by all and have skills which I can use to help others. My motivation to study law – which built up over a 30 year period! – was driven by the many examples I encountered of people whose lives were damaged or destroyed because they could not afford legal advice.

Mediation requires the facilitation of a discussion between two parties in dispute in the hope of their arriving at a solution they can both live with. Mediations conducted through the Community Justice Centre (CJC) are free so the parties do not incur costs and can avoid the adversarial approach taken by lawyers.

Win-win beats win-lose hands down! Whether I am good in my chosen field is for others to say. I know I try to do my best to help others when possible.

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?
Over time I have been involved in a voluntary/honorary capacity in many organisations. Since coming to Australia I have been in various roles and representative capacities with the boards and committees of the Parap Pre-School Association, the NT Pre-School Association, the Inaugural Council of the Family Planning Association of the NT (including its Education Sub-Committee), The Housing Commission, the Mathematics Teachers Association of the NT, the CDU Law Students Society, Undergraduate Member of the CDU Council, Life Education NT, Lifeline Top End, Darwin Community Legal Service and the Environmental Defenders Office.

I am currently on the Human Research Ethics Committee of CDU and, some years ago represented the School of Technology on one of the NTU Ethics Committees. I guess all that adds up to feeling that I want to be involved and help with important decision making without necessarily having to carry the entire weight of an organisation on my own shoulders!

What can be challenging about your profession?
It is hard to now define my profession! I still take a strong interest in maths education and am appalled by the fact that the desperate need for maths teachers in 1957 shows no sign (in 2015) of having been in any way ameliorated by subsequent actions.

I personally feel that education needs a complete overhaul and teachers should not be regarded as surrogate parents! Parents need to learn how to socialise their own children (and I know from experience that is more easily said than done!) Bureaucrats with no recent classroom experience are not in a position to tell teachers how to do their jobs.

As far as the law is concerned, I am far happier with alternative dispute resolution methods. Law and justice are too often poles apart and enforced solutions are less palatable than ones reached from some degree of consensus.

More so today than at any time in my life, I want to change the world. Governments are making life harder not better for the majority of the population and the gap between the privileged and the desperate has become massive. Through Facebook and Twitter I am discovering how vast is the apathy of an alarmingly large proportion of the population who seem locked into the consumerism and ‘I’m all right” modus operandi. I will not despair, but it is a challenge!

What do you most like about your profession?
I think the most satisfying thing in my life these days are having the parties to a mediation shake hands, smile at each other and walk out putting their dispute behind them!

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
I had a matter before the Master in the Supreme Court. Because those at the bench have a microphone which enables recording of all that they say for the benefit of the transcript, I suspect they do not appreciate that they often do not speak loudly enough to be heard in the body of the Court. On this particular occasion, as I could not hear what the Master had said I asked him to repeat it. I got a curt “Are you deaf Ms Jacob?” to which I probably replied “yes” since it would have been inappropriate to suggest the fault was not mine.

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?
My most embarrassing experience was when – as a very inexperienced lawyer – I took on a matter that had previously been handled by a lawyer in a different practice who was not free to continue with the client. I did not know enough about Court procedure and the complications which arose left me with nightmares. I knew I had not helped the client and was entirely mortified.

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?
Train and practice as a mediator BEFORE you study law. You do not need to be a lawyer in order to mediate but the skills you develop as a mediator can be invaluable to a lawyer. The adversarial nature of the Court (and politics) is destructive and learning to help people talk to each other is more rewarding than fighting counsel for the other party! Incidentally – mediation has an approximately 80% success rate!

Is there anything else you would like to share? I think we all have a great many different personalities and which one we exhibit depends on the company and the circumstances. You may bring out the best in someone whereas I might bring out the worst. (I think our recently deposed PM brought out the worst in me and we have not even met!).

I am deeply concerned about the damage that extremism in religion is doing to the world. In my opinion, power corrupts and this can be seen in both religion and politics. Religion should help everyone to live as nearly as possible in harmony – accepting that some people’s brains are not appropriately wired for this goal – and if it causes wars and worse, how can you believe it is the right way to think?

For me, if I am remembered for a short while by a few people after I die, then I will have a life after death. It may not be for eternity, yet if my ashes return to the ground, then even eternity might be an option!

Rosemary Jacob & Michelle Hanton
Michelle Hanton and Rosemary Jacob

Rosemary Jacob (nee Melville) is today a practising Mediator and Conciliator available in Darwin, NT, Australia, through the Community Justice Centre, to undertake mediation and conciliation.