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 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 Head of International Development – Retail

A/N  This week my interview subject is a fellow Old Rishworthian alumni. I hope you’ll enjoy reading her journey and the advice shared.

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

From setting up shop with my cash register as a little girl I knew I wanted to be in retail. Somehow over the years I now am still in retailing, and now have the privilege of travelling all over the world looking for new retail opportunities with a great brand. How cool is that?! I always think I have been lucky, but my friends remind me that it is me who has found and made the opportunities.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?

Opportunity driven, understanding both your customer and client, loving your brand, long hours and sheer determination! Listen more than you speak. Consultation, persuasion and selling skills are critical.

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?

International Retail Development and Franchising.

What can be challenging about your profession?

Long hours and flexibility to be available 24/7, this is retailing. Jet lag and chronic tiredness. Demanding customers, clients and bosses. Life never stands still so you need to be flexible and on the ball.

What do you most like about your profession?

The buzz of making things happen. Easy measurements for success. Seeing results. Every day is different.

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
Announcing the wrong speaker at a huge conference I had organised. I wanted the floor to open up. I don’t think it bothered anyone else but I hated making a mistake!

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?

Negotiating and landing a big contract.

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

Believe in yourself at all times.You can make anything happen if you have the will and determination.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Build up as many contacts and connections as you can. If you find someone interesting who makes you rethink things see if they will mentor you.
Read articles, chat, listen and learn.
Don’t forget your family and friends.. You can’t bring back time..

Helen Barnish, Hamleys of London
Helen Barnish, Hamleys of London

Helen Barnish is Head of International Development – Retail, Hamleys of London. Researching new markets to expand to, and contracting new Partners