"Communication is the killer skill - it is the unfair advantage"

When I was young, my family owned a convenience store, in which I worked most evenings after school and during weekends.  Although I didn’t take my school studies too seriously, I did well enough in my A-levels to go on to study for a BSc in Physics. Why Physics? I’m not really sure, but as long as I can remember, I always got a kick out of understanding how the world works. After my degree, I had a choice: i) to join KPMG as a trainee accountant; or ii) to go on and do research in Physics. I chose the latter.

A couple of years into my PhD I realised that I wasn’t actually very good at Physics, or at least not good enough to make a career out of it. As I continued my research, I started exploring alternatives. Aged 27, I pursued the only other path that really held any attraction to me: becoming a business analyst.

I joined Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) in the Change Management practice of their London office. I was very much attracted to AC’s policy on professional development – in those days, they’d invest 10% of revenue back into PD for their staff - and boy did I need developing beyond my physics background. I also felt that joining an IT consultancy would be easier to adapt to than joining a strategy consultancy. At AC, my role on projects was to ensure that the large IT systems we were implementing would result in not just a ‘technical success’, but a ‘business success’ too. This required designing usable graphical interfaces, and also getting end users to actually use the systems in the way they’d be designed. I achieved this primarily through delivering usability workshops and end-user training programmes.

After 3 years at AC, I joined another consulting company, AT Kearney, in the Enterprise Transformation practice of their London office. In the mid-90s, AT Kearney had a very good reputation as a ‘high-value-add’ consultancy. They had just been acquired by EDS the year before I joined, and had very high hopes for the future. My role at Kearney was to ensure that people would be engaged with, and take ownership of, the large-scale business process changes that we were helping the client to implement. This required encouraging client participation in the change process. I achieved this through delivering change workshops and training programmes throughout the client organisation.

A year or so after I joined Kearney, I attended their in-house, two-day presentation skills training, called KRISP (Kearney’s Rational and Incisive Speaker Program). In those days, most KRISP trainings in Europe were delivered by an old-time Kearney Partner called Hans Naumann, who had been head of Kearney’s Paris office for most of the ‘70s. I was simply blown away by Hans and by the training itself, and became a KRISP trainer myself. I was fortunate enough to be able to deliver a couple of trainings a year with Hans, in-between my client commitments. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to apply and hone my presentation skills 'for real' in a whole host of client boardrooms.

As well as having a natural aptitude for presenting, I also found that I was particularly effective as a workshop facilitator with clients, and became renowned as ‘the workshop guy’ in Kearney’s London office. Whenever there was a potentially difficult workshop with a client, I would be called in to facilitate – I’ll never forget a workshop I ran at Lindholme prison near Doncaster in the UK… fortunately with prison officers and not inmates!

After 3 years at Kearney, I decided to leave and set up as an independent. At this point in my life, with a number of years of ‘hard’ consulting experience under my belt, I felt I had a good idea of what I was naturally gifted at, what I enjoyed doing, and how I could add real value to others.

I later added another string to my bow in the way of a diploma from the Academy of Executive Coaching in London.

It's been quite a journey, and one that I'm still very much relishing and enjoying.