Inspirational Woman: Dr Jo North | Founder & Managing Director, The Big Bang Partnership

Jo NorthDr Jo North, 52, is Founder and Managing Director of The Big Bang Partnership Ltd, a consultancy that specialises in helping businesses innovate and action creative ideas.

She uses her unique background of academia – with a PhD in entrepreneurs and innovation – and her hands-on experience working in multiple sector-leading businesses at board level to implement complex projects. She uses this dual experience to mentor senior business leaders and whole teams to innovate, enact business strategy and use creativity in business.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

Having lived on a caravan park in Skegness as a child for a while I was never expected to reach the heady heights of studying languages at Oxford University, but through sheer hard work and determination, and unfaltering support from my mum – a single parent who worked as a teacher – I did. I have always believed that if I set myself a goal I can achieve it and I have never been proved wrong, despite some very challenging obstacles.

I work as a consultant for many high-level businesses and government departments, and through my business – The Big Bang Partnership – I am now using my knowledge to create the life I want to live and enable me to help smaller businesses develop as part of a charitable angle to my work.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have always been very focused, and I work well with writing down a plan then strategising to achieve it. If I set a goal, I will meet it, it’s just the way I work and my success and experience now enable me to help others achieve their goals too, from solo startups to global corporations.

When I look back over my career to date, I have literally been the architect of my own professional development, supported by a number of terrific bosses and colleagues who believed in me and cheered me on along the way.

In my early career, if I felt I wanted to learn something, I simply found a job that would literally mean I had no choice but to learn – quite a masochistic approach, I guess, but it never felt like that. It was much more intuitive, and I moved seamlessly and successfully from accounting to HR, to sales, then to marketing and some category management, and general management.

I transferred my skills as I went from retail, to publishing, to transport, and into different types of transport. I now work in utilities, with entrepreneurs, with tech companies, construction, engineering, defence, professional services firms and much more, and am confident that I can step into any industry, learn superfast, and succeed – which I do repeatedly.

As I developed my career I must have seemed very different to some of my colleagues! I remember proposing a market research project to a transport company I worked for, something I’d experienced a lot in the retail sector. I tried to describe the process and benefits to my boss, who just said “I’m not sure I fully get it, but you seem to think that’s it’s such a good idea and that it will help us, so let’s do it!’

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

For many years I suffered a sense of Imposter Syndrome, a lack of faith in my abilities.

Having come from a humble background I often felt I didn’t belong in the places I ended up. I felt Oxford University wasn’t for people like me despite the fact I was just as able and worthy as my peers. I achieved an MA in Modern Languages at Trinity College, University of Oxford, but felt so unsure of my deservedness I didn’t actually collect my diploma officially until I was in my 40s.

As my career had developed and I realized I was able to command four figure day salaries from clients, I began to realise my worth. I collected my degree and embarked on my PhD. I’m now proud of my achievements and use my success and experience to help others, and to enable them to also realise their value in business.

Most of us have something that we feel holds us back. I was working with a coaching client only today. For her, English is her second language. Her English is super fluent and very articulate, yet she feels inadequate in a group situation simply because she worries about the quality of her communication. For me, it’s always been about me being overweight and being concerned that people will underestimate me. What I did was to overcompensate and get super serious about my academic qualifications and research. So I think that sometimes imposter syndrome can help us indirectly or directly. My coaching client works hard to polish her English and extend her vocabulary. I work hard provide great innovation experience and knowledge that is supported by research. As long as it’s not taken to extremes, and done within healthy boundaries, imposter syndrome might be making us stronger in unexpected ways.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Aside from personal and family achievements, I have two big accomplishments that I am proud of. The first is definitely achieving my PhD. I studied part time for 6 years, whilst having a more than full time director role in the transport industry, and later, whilst getting my business, The Big Bang Partnership, started.

The second is successfully starting and developing The Big Bang over the last 11 years. It took real courage to leap from a six-figure salaried leadership role to starting a brand-new business from nothing. I’m so pleased I did. I really haven’t looked back since.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

My determination and drive to succeed. I can be hyperfocused and once I have a goal I work in a smart, practical way towards achieving it. I use my talents and experience to develop my success and set realistic boundaries so I don’t get sidetracked. Having suffered Imposter Syndrome for many years, I now have full faith in my abilities and experience and am confident in using them to help businesses achieve their full innovation and brand potential.

I have a very strategic way of working, I ensure I absorb every bit of information I can, creatively use the insights I glean and then I set a structured plan on paper. I use mind maps and am always flexible and open to ideas, this means all plans are always in beta mode – there is always room to diversify or adapt, and flexibility and adaptability are key to the success of any business. Just look at lockdown – the businesses that survived or thrived, such as The Big Bang Partnership – were the ones that quickly went online, adapted to the current climate, and capitalised on the situation. The ones that failed were those that could not or would not transfer offerings and services to suit what was happening around them.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I often mentor small businesses and entrepreneurs, and I use my income from my bigger business jobs to enable me to do this for them free of charge. I have always wanted to give back and to support people who may not have the best start in life. I believe you can achieve success whatever your backstory, you just need the drive and tools to do so.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

I would skyrocket the profile of successful, ordinary yet amazing women of all ages, who are achieving great things in business, via social media and popular tv. I’d show them as real role models, aspirational in some ways, yet attainable, so that other girls and women can see themselves in those role models and be inspired to go for it, if being in business is what they want. We need to get more girls and women believing in their own business ideas, capabilities and strengths.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Believe in yourself. Use your intelligence and achievements to claim what is rightfully yours. You are worth it, and you can do it.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My next challenge is to really expand my online business, to reach more people in an accessible and affordable way. I also have plans for my next book. Exciting stuff!

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