I met a girl the other day who said she was an IVF baby and that she had always been in awe that she spent her first few days in a petri dish; I thought that was a great comment.
I came into this world the usual way. My best childhood memories are the holidays I spent at my grandparents’ summer cottage in Ireland; incredible freedom and independence in a stunning, raw, remote environment.
Fishing for prawns, lobsters, mackerel, helping the local farmer with his sheep and cows – weathering storms and gales. Such liberty, together with responsibility, germinated the innate self-determination which has underpinned my career to date, ranging from researcher for an MEP and political lobbying in the late ‘80s, a business in Poland in the ‘90s, 15 years in the voluntary sector and now Longbow.
I set up Longbow with my inspirational co-founder Christopher James who has a military (Welsh Guards and SAS), Foreign Office and successful business background. Through a serendipitous meeting, we discovered we shared a passion in ‘helping people to be the best they can be’ and created Longbow which has two parts. Longbow future is all about helping people in transition, whether they be young adults just leaving formal education or successful professionals leaving a successful career in their 50s, wondering what to do in the next stage of their lives, or those not sure they are in the right profession www.rutbusters.org. Longbow NXG works with individuals who face the challenges and opportunities of significant wealth. We help with succession planning, purposeful leadership and impact philanthropy www.longbownxg.com
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I have been extremely fortunate in that I’ve always had a passion to ‘make a difference’ though not quite knowing what that is. When I was very young, I thought I’d like to be Prime Minister, but luckily grew out of that desire by my early teens! So not exactly sitting down and planning, but more having a sense of awareness of what it is I wanted (rather than be pushed by others into what they thought I should do), and finding ways to do that. I believe we are more likely to be successful and happy if you work with your strengths and in a work environment which is congruent with who you are. That’s not to say I haven’t done some bum jobs just to make some money.
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so how did you deal with them?
On a good day, challenges are great and test your spirit. We all need bumps on the road to shape us. On a bad day though, they can be overwhelming. And everyone has them. One of my greatest challenges was when I was building a business in Poland and we were due to receive delivery of the equipment (launderette machines) coming from Belgium into Warsaw. For whatever reasons, the truck was delayed, the timing hit Easter Weekend, the goods were stuck at the border, the Customs officials were demanding extra money. It was an impasse; not having the machines delivered would effect the builders who were waiting to install them and a whole cascade of other huge negative impacts. So that was a low moment and eventually despite every plea, we were beaten and the Customs officials said a final ‘nie’ (NO!). We had to wait until the Easter bank holiday weekend was over until the truck was let through. At the time we felt beyond broken – but in the end, everything came together and although frustrated and costly, no real impact. No-one had died!
What has been your greatest achievement within your career?
Without a doubt, the thing that has given me the greatest sense of achievement and pleasure has been the creation of the WellChild Children’s Nurses programme. When I was appointed CEO of a paediatric medical research charity, Children Nationwide Medical Research Fund (yes, zippy name!), I took a long hard look at what it was doing, its purpose and what where the current needs of the beneficiaries (sick children) it had originally been set up in 1977, to serve. This was in 1990, so the charity was 23 years’ old and circumstances in the paediatric research world had changed since the charity had been originally founded. Many other charities focusing on single condition research had been created and although Children Nationwide had achieved incredible breakthroughs through funding research including premature birth, liver and kidney disease, pain in children, the pressing issue to me in 1990 was the fact that many chronically sick children, especially those with complex needs were spending years in hospital as there simply wasn’t the support back at home, or in their community to support them and their families. Inspired by the Macmillan (cancer) Nurse model, we investigated whether such an equivalent model could be established to support children with complex long term conditions to be cared for at home rather than remain in hospital. And so I set up the WellChild Children’s Nurse Programme which has had a massive positive impact on sick children their family, siblings etc – not to mention being more cost effective for the NHS. I’m also proud of the other activities I started at WellChild including volunteering programmes and the annual Awards.
I’m now looking forward to having a different impact through Longbow
What advice would you give yourself if you could turn back the clock to the start of your career?
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Everything that happens, both good and bad, gives you the opportunity to learn and grow. Roll with the punches and don’t waste time being angry or upset by either people or situations. Those emotions are really corrosive and don’t add anything positive.
On a typical work day, how do you start your day and how does it end?
There’s not really a typical work day – in that I don’t go regularly to an office, sit at a desk and then go home. It depends where my clients are and what my day/week holds. But each day (both at the start and at the end) I lie in bed for about three minutes reflecting and practicing gratitude. That gives me a kind of ‘grounding’ for the day/night ahead.
What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations.
Always give a little more. Say yes to opportunities, get involved in activities that interest you. Offer to help. And smile.
Have you benefited from coaching or mentoring. If so how?
Absolutely, as Bill Gates said ‘everyone needs a coach’. Having someone independent to challenge and support you, with no other agenda than getting the best out of you, is vital. This is best achieved through a formal coaching relationship. Mentoring is also invaluable, getting advice from someone with more experience is a very good way to learn too. I’ve been fortunate in both having had an excellent Coach and several mentors including Chairman of the charities I’ve run, and other wise, experienced friends and contacts who have generously shared time and advice.
Do you think networking is important and if so what three tips would you give to a newbee networker?
It really depends what you want out of networking but yes, meeting other people is always interesting. For a newbee networker I would give the best three tips I was ever given just before I had to make a speech as a young adult, in front of several hundred people:
i) ‘everyone sits on the loo the same way’ ie they’re all human
ii) ‘if you cut people’s skull open you would see they are worrying about exactly the same things you are – their family, their finances, what they look like, and what others think of them’. –ie they’re just like you
iii) ‘be yourself, your real you’ – don’t put on a façade as people will sense that there is something not right and then a proper connection isn’t possible to make
Who are your female role models and why
I am extremely lucky to know personally two amazing women who I would call role models:
Dame Alison Carnwath DBE – a phenomenally successful businesswoman. The first woman to chair a FTSE 100 company; has incredible integrity; is wholly herself and does not try to be man in the male financial world. Kind, supportive, wise, smart.
Julia Samuel MBE – psychotherapist and paediatric counsellor, founder of the Child Bereavement Trust. Incredibly knowledgeable, kind, wise, patient and generous hearted.
And although I never knew her, Mother Theresa is a role model; determined, committed, controversial, passionate.
What does the future hold for you?
So much I think. The Winnie the Pooh quote says it all: ‘What day is it today?’ asked Pooh. ‘It’s today’ squeaked Piglet. ‘Oh, that’s my favourite day’ said Pooh. I look forward to every day – of course some with dread(!) but I am extremely fortunate and love my life.