BEVERLY LUCAS IS A GLOBAL CEO

Beverly Lucas is the CEO for Knight Composites a global company designing and manufacturing high performance wheels for the cycling and triathlon industries. Originally hailing from Sheffield, Yorkshire, UK, Beverly is the true definition of a multinational company leader. Like many CEOs of international companies, Beverly’s hard working pragmatism and dedication has led her to global success.

Beverly explains to Dalton Koss HQ the importance of being politely pushy and why it is easier to run a global company when you are living and/or working in a number of countries across different time zones.

I started racing when I was 9 for my local club, the Rutland Cycling Club, the oldest UK cycling club. Riding and racing your bike against your twin sister instils an independent spirit. My mum still tells me today that she knew when I was 4 years old that I would be the one in the family to fly the nest and go abroad to become an amazing leader. My mother’s support has been the one constant in my career for which I am continuously thankful.

I like to think that I have my mum’s dedication. She has always pushed and encouraged me. If I am honest, my leadership journey has been relatively easy. I never experienced sexism in the cycling industry; I have only been treated with the upmost respect. I think this is because I always maintain my ground, fighting for what I believe in. It stems from having determination, fire and passion and making it clear that I will not be trodden on. I have never let my gender get in the way of what I wanted to do.

My leadership journey started at Felt bicycles. In addition to having a strong work ethic, I had a brilliant boss by the name of Bill Duehring. He always steered me in the right direction and is the great-uncle I never had. Bill shaped my career, giving me advice to become the great leader I am today. If I can be half the person Bill is, then I would be happy. Bill encourages his staff to succeed. He was and still is my mentor.

When I moved to Bend, USA, in 2005 I became one of their first telecommuters. Bill had faith in me to continue my job no matter where I travelled. It takes a certain individual to work from home in a management role for another company. It requires work life balance. Felt was a real success story for me. I was one of the few women in the cycling industry in a management position and I’m proud to say I helped put Felt on the map with its first Tour De France team. It was wonderful to do this for Bill and he still thanks me today.

In 2007, I became pregnant with my second child Cameron and my husband and I decided to buy a bike shop in June/July of the same year. I just finished working for Felt, I was within three weeks of delivering and I was the volunteer coordinator for the Cascade Cycling Classic. Simultaneously, I was consulting for elite athletes, managing their contracts. It was at this time that Jim Pfeil came to me with (then) Edge Composites wheels and told me that the company needed some guidance. Jim called me and asked if I would consider speaking to Edge’s CEO about product globalisation.

I started to research Edge and I was impressed with their product considering they were a small company, but I uncovered that Edge didn’t own their own name or IP and a Chinese company was ripping them off, so I knew they needed help and I started to work for them from Bend. We then relaunched the company under a new name the following year at Eurobike and it was incredibly successful. I also took ENVE to their first wind tunnel tests using my connections at Felt. The results were less than spectacular and I recommended that they needed an aerodynamicist to assist their composites engineers with a much faster design.

At that time, the Australian cycling team, Fly Virgin Australia, was sponsored by, and using, ENVE composites. As an avid Formula 1 fan, it caught my attention whilst watching the Melbourne (Australia) Gran Prix back in 2009, that Jenson Button’s F1 team, then Brawn GP, were also sponsored by Branson’s outfit. I used this connection to basically blag my way into the Brawn GP compound in Brackley, UK, to discuss the potential of having Brawn GP aerodynamicists help with our wheel designs. An alliance with Brawn GP would have been massively expensive, but their Head of Trackside Aerodynamics told me about Simon Smart, who had an engineering background with Red Bull and was also a big cycling fan. At the time, he was already involved with a couple of brands in the bicycle frame industry and was rapidly becoming renowned as one of the top aerodynamicists. I had a beer with Simon and we got along like a couple of old mates.

We started working with Simon and before we knew it, we had the Smart ENVE System. It is about having the courage to believe in what you think is ground breaking and pursuing that thought. This courage sets you apart from others and is essential in being a leader. It was watching the Melbourne Grand Prix at 5am that I had the light bulb moment of gaining better aerodynamics via Formula 1 race engineering. It is about trusting your instincts. I went after the Brawn GP to work on wheel dynamics and a successful partnership was borne out of that. It was fun!

After working for ENVE and spending a couple of years – ironically – working in the bicycle industry in Melbourne, I was approached by Jim Pfeil and Kevin Quan and asked me to join their quest to create the world’s fastest bicycle wheel. I immediately responded with yes! Initially we didn’t have a brand name and tossed around some ideas. It was my partner Sean who approached me and suggested to call the brand Knight, my dad’s surname. Taking on this name was sentimental for me. My dad passed away when I was young. He introduced me to cycling, sharing his love and passion for the bike with me from a very young age.

Knight Composite 65 Custom Wheels
Knight Composite 65 Custom Wheels

I was asked to be the company’s CEO by our investors. This proposition took a little longer to agree to. Heading up a new company is a huge risk, especially as a parent with the responsibilities of two children. It takes a lot of courage and faith to move out of a regular job with a regular paycheque to owning your own manufacturing company. Unyielding hard work, devilishly long hours and very little sleep – it’s hardly a glamorous role and certainly not one for the faint hearted.

However, this risk has paid off with Knight Composites comprising of an amazing team of people creating fantastic results. Each person is 100% committed to our brand and products. The whole team works incredibly hard, but we all love what we do. Like any cycling team, to make it to the top you have to be prepared to sweat and work with your teammates; you’re in the race together. I’m incredibly proud of what we do, who we are, where we are going and how much fun we will have in getting there. Being the team leader – or CEO – is just the small print.

Knight Composite wheels are used extensively by  triathletes and cyclists.
Knight Composite wheels are used extensively by triathletes and cyclists.

Some key words I use to describe effective and successful leadership include:

  1. Dedication; a large quantity is needed.
  2. Courage; you have to have faith in your own ideas and courage to see them through.
  3. Face-to-face conversations and relationships; building trust, confidence and integrity across all your professional relationships is necessary to build a successful career.
  4. Confidence; it is important to believe in yourself and see any program of work through to the end.
  5. Humility; it is important to understand the perspective of others and what it is like in their shoes. I am lucky that I have worked at the global level with different cultures so I find it easier to get on with a diversity of people at multiple levels. I always love to help people, getting them where they need to be. I thrive on other people getting a kick out of what we do.
  6. Creativity; be creative in how you make things happen, identify the gaps and see the synergies.
  7. Build strong partnerships; each partner will bring something to the table. I have amazing staff here in Bend and you need to trust and empower your staff. I am not full of my own self-importance.

Face-to-face communication, whether on Skype or flying to meetings, is the best way to communicate. This is incredibly important in Europe and Asia, where discussions around a table are still far more respected than emails and phone calls. This human side to a working relationship is incredibly important, something that emails and phone calls cannot replace. Cycling is a business, but most of us are in this industry because we love it! There’s nothing better than getting to know your business partners in and out of the conference room by putting a ride together after work or going for a swift one down to the local pub! That’s the difference between business travel being a chore and actually becoming an opportunity to experience other ways of life. It was a lot easier to travel when I was young and single. It’s difficult to leave your kids when you have an important job to do but I have never missed Molly and Cam’s birthdays yet!. It is really hard to keep a work life balance of being a good mum and employee. Most of the time I think I am pretty good at this, but it does require hard work. 

I attribute a lot of my success to my mum. She taught me dedication and instilled a sense of just keep going; basically resilience and strength. I am fortunate to have amazing people in my life that I can count on. They provide a great support network and will be honest with me, calling me out when required. In essence, it’s actually easier to run a global company when you are experienced in living and/or working in a number of countries and across different time zones. I think you have to be prepared to put in the hard yards and make the effort to travel to other countries to really understand the mechanics of global business.

Azjer Airgas Pro Team with Knight Composite wheels at an international Pro Race.
Azjer Airgas Pro Team with Knight Composite wheels at an international Pro Race.

I don’t subscribe to the view that you can be a rounded leader by only ever working from one desk in one city – for example, how can you possibly head up global sales or global marketing if you only have a one-sided geographical and cultural perception of how industry and commerce work in other countries if you don’t actually live it? You can’t be parochial about business matters and equally you have to learn to empathise with the people you’re working with. I have such phenomenal friendships with past business partners because I spend time getting to know them.

My health and wellbeing is central to functioning across multiple time zones. I don’t do yoga because I can’t spend more than ten minutes in a group setting without laughing. My back yard comprises of 350miles of off-road trails. I don’t ride as much as I would like to, but I often choose to ride and run on my own, avoiding groups, so I can think and plan accordingly. My personal time is pretty haphazard anyhow and I can’t stick to a daily regime. The only constant in my life is school pick up and drop off. If I need to clear my head, I take a break and go for a run or ride.

I am totally dedicated to what I do. I am a research junkie. I am a tech geek. I am not a TV watcher as I don’t really have time for TV. This time researching keeps me ahead of the game and my competitors. I am lucky to have a lot of common sense and find the time to talk to a lot of people. I look at what other companies are doing. It is mind blowing as to what is out there. I love my job. I do have a sincere passion for what I do but I also care about what everyone is doing.

For those who want to create their own business or product within the cycling industry, my advice is to reach out to knowledgeable people even if you don’t know them. Ask people to help you. For the most part, 90% of people in the cycling industry are in it because they love it and they are happy to help you. Across any industry, there will be handfuls of people who don’t care and will not give you the time of day. You will quickly learn who they are. Don’t be afraid to reach out. LinkedIn has been an amazing tool for me that I use daily; ultimately you need to learn how to communicate yourself to the greater professional world. Don’t be afraid to be politely pushy.

To learn more about Beverly and Knight Composites, please click on the links below:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/beverlylucas

Knight Composites: http://knightcomposites.com

Beverly looks after her health and wellbeing through a number of sporting activities including skiing.
Beverly looks after her health and wellbeing through a number of sporting activities including skiing.

EMMA GRELLA, KATE PALETHORPE and ANNA THOMSON ARE THE CREATIVE ENTREPRENEURS BEHIND FONDO

Emma Grella, Kate Palethorpe and Anna Thomson are the co-founders of Fondo. What started as a creative passion project to address the current market gap for modern and trendy women’s cycling kit, has metamorphosed into an entrepreneurial business that supports women cycling at all levels.

Dalton Koss HQ talks to Emma, Kate and Anna about their desire to grow Fondo while simultaneously improving women’s cycling across the globe.

We all met while working for a food company. Anna and Emma were in the marketing team, while Kate was in product development. Someone came up with the idea to enter Around the Bay in a Day as a team. Coincidently the three of us had just started riding bikes. We entered the event and bonded over the riding learning curve, laughing at our first attempts of riding in cleats.

Our first cycling kit purchases consisted mostly of drab patterns and heavy text logos. As we continued riding we noticed there wasn’t any fashionable cycling kit for ladies that wasn’t pink. This is how Fondo started. Instead of lamenting the lack of fashionable, fun and sexy women’s kit we created a new line that moved beyond pink lycra and florals. We discussed the concept for about 12 months before we actually took the jump into manufacturing.

When we started Fondo it was almost by accident. The three of us were at a crossroad with our careers. We were, and still are, working full time day jobs while we manage and grow Fondo in our spare time. When we initiated Fondo it was as simple as lets just do this. We became creative entrepreneurs overnight. Moving from the conceptual design of the kit to manufacturing has been the hardest part in realising Fondo. A lot of time went into researching cycling clothes manufacturing. We found that many of the companies that manufactured cycling kit were not flexible, preferring to stick with their designs rather then meet the needs of a new customer. As Fondo, we wanted flexibility to design our own kit and not rely on other designs. That was the whole point of Fondo, to design something new, fresh and appealing to women across all age groups.

Anna, Kate and Emma in the stylish and sexy Fondo kit.
Anna, Kate and Emma in the stylish and sexy Fondo kit.

We eventually found a manufacturer that was willing to design our kit but unfortunately this company didn’t take us seriously. There was the usual discrimination that women’s cycling constitutes a small market. The manufacturer wanted to use their own branding and had different ideas as to what our product should look like. It was a difficult 6 months; we knew what we wanted but didn’t know how to get there.

Using our networks, we eventually found another manufacturer who was based in Italy, one who produced good quality products and had an excellent reputation. Our account manager was also a woman and she understood what Fondo was trying to do and supported us in realising our company. She was very patient and explained all the manufacturing nuances that one doesn’t know if you are not in the manufacturing industry. By being flexible, our designer was open to our ideas and most importantly provided us with an excellent chamois for our kit (a must for anyone who wants to be comfortable in the saddle!). All of the sudden our concept became tangible.

When we received our first prototype, we were very excited – it was amazing! Emma made a trip to Italy to oversee the manufacturing process. It was a wonderful experience and was very reassuring for Fondo being a small and new business. The owner of the company, a wonderful older Italian man, spoke to Emma during her visit. Keeping in mind that this company makes kit for pro peloton teams, the owner was highly supportive and encouraging of our work emphasising that we are the new and young generation filled with fantastic ideas that need to be realised. Receiving these words made us realise that Fondo was at the right manufacturing company.

Having a go is the key; we would not have done this as individuals. We had to put our own time and capital into Fondo. Since we started Fondo, we have received a lot of support. Fondo has also reciprocated by giving a lot of support to women’s cycling. To hear our customers and networks confirming how well Fondo is doing is really nice and satisfying. As we continue to ride we know what we like and want for Fondo. We listen to women and our customers and tailor our designs to address the issues they raise. Fondo injects fashion for women who are into cycling and are fashion conscience. Although Fondo took time to develop, we are doing what we love and delivering a product to fill this large gap in the market place.

Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing; just keep going. Don’t let your fears stop you.

Developing Fondo from a passion project into a successful business taught us some key lessons including:

  1. Communication: with three co-founders of Fondo we have to make decisions collaboratively. Everyone needs to be kept in the loop across all decision-making.
  2. Honesty, Integrity and Trust: You need to trust in each other and have the confidence to make decisions.
  3. Courage: move beyond your fear by just doing it. Two sayings we apply at Fondo are: “This time next year you wish you started today” and “It is always to beg for forgiveness then permission”.
  4. Inquisitive: always be inquisitive, ask questions. It is the only way to become knowledgeable.
  5. Respect: be respectful to everyone around you no matter if they are your customer, colleague, family member or friend.
  6. Passion: love what you do. Being passionate moves beyond fun as it gives you that edge. Fondo doesn’t feel like a job. It is fun. We never thought we would be those people who love their work.
Fondo supports women's riding at all levels, from sponsoring women's racing to hosting a monthly women ride in Melbourne, Australia.
Fondo supports women’s cycling at all levels, from sponsoring women’s racing to hosting a monthly women’s ride in Melbourne, Australia.

There have been a few challenges growing Fondo from a passion project into a business. When we started to design the Fondo kit, we wanted women to freely mix and match tops and bottoms, a bit like finding the right bikini for your body shape. However this makes ordering challenging – it can be difficult to know what sizes to order when we haven’t been in business long enough to experience any trends.

Overseas manufacturing is also a challenge. Waiting for designs and stock can be stressful at times, specifically where there is high customer demand and no product to fulfil that need. Additionally, we have to be mindful of northern hemisphere holidays, for example, the whole of Italy shuts down in August, meaning Fondo has to timetable and organise production and manufacturing to avoid being caught out. As mentioned earlier, finding a reputable and good quality manufacturer took time.

All of Fondo’s co-founders work full time in day jobs, so we need to be organised and ensure we meet at least once a week to make decisions and discuss our next steps. Fondo’s success has come from networking, both face-to-face and online. We have learnt to be open. There is always someone who has a connection and can assist. Never underestimate the power of a conversation. Fondo receives a lot of support from the local community especially from the many wonderful female cyclists. The women’s cycling market in Australia continues to grow. Fondo has opportunities in this market place and being a business led by women for women strengthens our brand in this space.

Two years ago, we joined a ride at Tour Down Under. Most of the women were left behind as the men sped off into the distance. We learnt a lot from this experience so when Fondo hosted a ride to Wilunga Hill for the 2015 Tour Down Under, we ensured no one was dropped whether they were female or male. Fondo’s customers came from across Australia, totalling around 75 riders. It was wonderful to meet our customers. There was a steep hill, but we all made it shouting and encouraging each other along the way. There is nothing more powerful then getting a group of women together to egg each other along. We all rejoiced and connected through the love of cycling.

Fondo kit is sexy and fun simultaneously and beautifully manufactured in Italy.
Fondo women’s cycling kit is simultaneously sexy and fun and beautifully manufactured in Italy.

Our next greatest challenge will be moving Fondo into the international market space. We have just launched a Fondo Ambassador program to advocate and promote our business internationally. Catching up once a week to discuss these initiatives is important for growing Fondo beyond our Australian shores. These weekly meetings form part of our business discipline; it is our Board Meeting. It can be risky going into business with your friends but we put our friendship before Fondo. We all have different skills sets. It helps to cover all aspects of the business. Emma is Fondo’s self appointed Chief Financial Officer, Kate is Fondo’s legal team and Anna leads and manages Fondo’s marketing, PR, networking and brand ambassador. We believe that women and physical activity will receive investment in the long term.

At Fondo, we all believe in looking after our health and wellbeing. We do a lot of cycling, practice yoga and meditation and support exercise in general. This keeps Fondo going. All of us need to have reflection time in a relaxing environment. Creating the second Fondo range was draining and hard. There was a lot of pressure, high expectation and we didn’t want to release something poor or second rate. We did a whole range and then scrapped it because we weren’t happy with the idea. We are releasing a new Fondo range very soon; we are incredibly excited.

We keep an eye on fashion trends and work with people who can help achieve Fondo’s vision. We stay true to Fondo’s philosophy and founding principles. There has been a conversation about designing a men’s range, based on feedback from male cyclists, but at the moment we really want to focus on women.

We need to create new visions for Fondo’s product line. What is next and how do we achieve this? If we don’t continue to create, we run the risk of doing the same thing. Once you are in a business there are always new opportunities. It is important for all of us to step out, carefully address each opportunity and then focus on delivering just one creative idea. It is important for us to keep having a go until one of the ideas is successful.

To learn more about Fondo and how to be part of their monthly women’s rides, please click on the links below:

Fondo website: http://fondo.com.au

Instagram, Twitter and Facebook: FondoCycling

Fondo-4

Warren Kennaugh Helps Others Find the Right Fit

Warren Kennaugh is a Behavioural Strategist with WK Global and works closely with senior executives, elite athletes and sporting organisations to develop and further enhance their capability. Warren’s leadership in behavioural change has seen him deliver development programs that include: Senior Executive Coaching & Development, Advanced Leadership, Human Capital Due Diligence, Strategic Planning, Team Building, Sales Strategy Development, BPR and Generation Y.

Warren discusses with Dalton Koss HQ the importance of understanding your values and behaviours to ensure best fit within your chosen career.

I started my career as a mechanical engineer. Arguably it served me the most compared to other work I have done over my career. I take an engineering approach to understand people. For example, when building a bridge you need to understand its construction from the detail to the big picture. It is the same with people. You need to understand their underlying values, motivations and expectations to the bigger picture of what they want to achieve in life. After a few years in the engineering sector, I decided that I wanted to expand my knowledge and opportunities beyond practical engineering application.

I made a move into the banking and finance sector by taking up a sales role. I was in this industry for 5-6 years and worked my way up into leadership roles. During 1995, my organisation went through a restructure and I saw it as an opportunity to start my own coaching and facilitation company. On reflection 25 years later, I was happy that I made this choice when I did.

Since 1995, I have worked with 50-60 major organisations, specifically with senior executives. In early 2006, I was approached to work with elite athletes in national sporting teams. I was asked to build their emotional and behavioural capabilities. My first role was working with the Wallabies in the lead up to the 2007 World Cup. This experience created further opportunities in the sports industry. I have now worked with ARU, SANZAR, World Rugby Referees, World Rugby Teams, Cricket Teams, Australian and International Umpires, Elite Equestrians and World Golfers.

These experiences taught me that there isn’t a lot of difference between elite athletes and high-level professionals. There are many similarities in the skills they value or undervalue, judgements that are made, and their goal oriented drive. I seek to understand these polarities and how they are applied in daily approaches to work. These two major groups of professionals also face similar dilemmas, for example, where and what are their blind spots and how will these cost them? For five years, I served on the Board of a NRL Team and held a number of advisory roles on banking and financing boards and financial services.

One key word that I use to describe successful and effective leadership is fit. You need to find a role that fits your values and behaviours. This role needs to be in an organisation where the team and other leaders value what you value otherwise you will not engage and will feel disconnected. You need to understand how you operate. Those who are technically good at what they do will often move to other organisations until they find a better fit based on their values. By not discovering our values the daily bump and grind of our role is more articulated compared to the enjoyment of a role when our values and skills are the right fit. As a consequence of not understanding these values there is lot of wasted energy in the workplace. Philosophically, I understand the need to earn money in a role that is not satisfying to ensure personal financial responsibilities are met. However, there comes a point in time when this lack of satisfaction becomes too hard and it will be apparent whether you are the employer or the employee.

The key to my success is to always follow my nose. I believe in myself even in the face of detractors. I tend to be a little on the edge, different and so far it has worked for me. I push my boundaries and find my own path. Often, I had wished that I had done things faster. I see this as my failure; I wasn’t quick enough to take action. These situations were always associated with self-doubt. There were opportunities I missed because of my self-doubt and this is how I learnt to always believe in myself.

A professional life is not simple anymore; the rate of thinking has changed. We are more connected and the lines of authority are somewhat blurred. There is whole series of disruptors in our world that creates complexities where as 30-40 years ago professional life was a lot clearer. There were direct lines of professional responsibility. Now there are more options, which can be viewed positively but it comes as a cost due to increased complexities.

My success is attributed to the combination of having an idea and running with it. I work hard and I am very blessed to bump into the right people at the right time. There seems to be a general aligning of the planets. I am strongly supported by my family, which is critically important for me. I am lucky that I can follow any train of thought across any occupation, which is important in my role. I am easy to get along with and I am humble. No matter what I do, I always apply integrity and honesty. It is important to work out what you are good at and how to grow in this area so you can become the best you can be.

Live life and be observant is the number one rule to learning about yourself. Build yourself a strong support network and have trusted advisors who can be honest with you and you with them. Take nothing personally and challenge yourself. Take on a big project, we don’t learn in our comfort zones. If you are not drowning at times, you are probably not where you want to be. Learn and practice the art of self-reflection and self-awareness.

I use the McKenzie Three Horizon model to plan ahead. This approach allows me to identify what I need to be doing to be effective for the next 12-18 months, what opportunities can manifest in the next 3-5 years and what wild and crazy ideas can I seed for fruition in 5 years and beyond. It is important that I think creatively and I am innovative in my approach. It is important for me to be continuously learning so that I can assist people across all their challenges. I am lucky that I am ambitious and inquisitive about how things work. I am curious. These personal attributes are critical for my success. I think we are in an age where we need to think like a consultant no matter your role. Unless you are better than the next person, you get passed over. To be a good leader it requires emotional intelligence to understand yourself and others. Some people are too self aware and others are not aware at all.

It is important to find a good mentor. Learn from the best in the world. This person has most likely covered the majority of the territory you are interested in, even looking under and between the rocks. Find a philosophy or a person you align with. If it is a person, contact them, if it is a philosophy apply it to all that you do.

To learn more about Warren and his work as a Behavioural Strategist, please click on the links below:

Website: http://www.warrenkennaugh.com

Connect with Warren on Linked In: https://au.linkedin.com/in/warrenkennaugh

Follow Warren on Twitter: @Warren_Kennaugh and @WKGlobal

Lisa Tarca is Creating a Just and Right World

Lisa Tarca is the Chief Operating Officer at The Hunger Project Australia. Lisa has forged a career in advocating human rights and justice although her journey started in a very different sector of work. By taking advantage of her background and experience in economics, information systems management and consultancy, Lisa has been able to assist the not-for-profit sector in visioning their passion for creating a just and right world by applying forward thinking business strategies. In her spare time, Lisa has volunteered with Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative and The Song Room.

Lisa talks to Dalton Koss HQ about her career journey from the business sector to human rights advocacy in the not-for-profit landscape and the importance in maintaining a work life balance.

From a professional viewpoint, I started my career in the early 1990’s with Accenture. As a learning organisation, they are excellent and recognise the importance of investing in their employees. They were progressive and one of the first organisations that I was aware of that promoted women up the ranks. Any employee who had the desire to learn was provided with an opportunity to move forward. There was a “work hard and play hard” mentality. You needed to be willing to give a lot to the organisation, but they gave a lot back. I had mentors and learned skills such as people management, even if it was provided in a clinical manner. My Bachelor of Economics and Masters in Information System Management allowed me to pursue the application of technology systems within a corporate structure.

From Accenture I moved to one of my clients Verizon. This move to a client was a risk. As a leader you need to know which risks to take. I had a team of 200 people and budget of multiple millions of dollars. There was a lot of pressure and I didn’t think I was ready for it. After chatting to a lot of supportive friends I convinced myself that I could do step into this leadership role. Even with this confidence I needed the extra support to make the tough decisions. However, this experience taught me that I could stand on my own. I was working and living in New York with an office on the top floor of the building located near the CEO. There were late nights and weekends, and there were sacrifices. I also negotiated in this role that I needed space to be a mother. I did this role for 4 years and it was fantastic.

During my time at Accenture I was living in New York when 9/11 happened. I helped out at the Mayors Office as a volunteer. This voluntary experience was an epiphany for the professional direction I would take for the rest of my life. I am lucky to have organisational and project management skills that can be applicable to other causes that make a real difference in the world. It was this dilemma that I faced when I took on the Verizon role. I was already in the headspace of wanting to create change. But I took on the Verizon job so I could build my skill sets. I decided that four years was enough. I didn’t want to go any higher; I wasn’t interested in the CIO position. It was an exciting time, but I wasn’t prepared to give my heart and soul. Work life balance was far more important to me. This role gave me financial security and flexibility to make other choices.

On leaving Verizon, I decided to take some time off to research the non-profit/for-purpose sector. I attended workshops and trained myself. I wasn’t set on an ideal of what I wanted to do. There were certain causes that spoke to me such as human rights. My family background includes refugees from World War II and so I had a personal interest in human rights. From a leadership perspective it is important to realise your passions and what makes you tick. Belief and passion is integral to being a leader. I wanted to incorporate IT into for not-for-profits after noticing this gap in my research. With this in mind, I met Mel Washington from Human Rights First and discussed with him the opportunities I saw for the sector in adopting new IT approaches in their daily business. This led me to applying for an IT role at Human Rights First. It was the first time in 15 years that I had to sit for an interview and it was a little daunting. I was fortunate to be offered the position. I took a major pay cut, but that was fine as I was more fulfilled by this position and the salary was enough to cover my basic needs.

I went from managing 200 people to Director of IT with a team of three. The first year was one of the best times professionally speaking. It was so much fun and such a great team. I added value immediately. It was a pleasure being part of a team that turned around thinking to creating a difference. I stayed at Human Rights First for 4 years. Mel left, and I was promoted into his role of Chief Operating Officer. Shortly thereafter, our Chief Financial Officer also resigned, at the same time as the start of the global financial crisis. Due to a high dependency we had on foundations which were invested with Bernie Madoff, we lost 20% of our funding in one day when the Madoff scandal was revealed. It was during this period that I assumed responsibility for the finance function, with help from a new Director of Finance, and under the guidance of the organisation founder and a relatively new CEO. It was a challenge. We had to let go of staff. It was essential that I delivered this information in a way that was compassionate and organisationally responsible.

During this period, the love of my life finished his Masters in Finance and we knew we were moving back to his home country of Australia. I decided to take a sabbatical to pursue other interests before our move to Australia. I did consulting with Human Rights First for the first 6 months and to this day I still maintain a relationship with this organisation. Whilst visiting Melbourne, I did a barista training course. I completed a month-long intensive yoga teacher training at an Ashram in the Bahamas, and then became a yoga instructor for a short time whilst living in Santa Fe, NM. During this time I also worked as a barista and volunteered with Human Rights Alliance and coordinated the LGBT parade. These experiences provided me with a great network and friendships with eclectic people.

When I came back to Australia, I initiated research into the Australian for-purpose sector. I connected with the Ethical Jobs Network. I found a link into Social Ventures Australia (SVA); a great organisation that bridges organisations that have capital to for-purpose organisations which need funding. Though I enjoyed this work, I felt that many of the projects were too short and I left them before seeing them through to completion. It was through my time with SVA which I started volunteering with Boomalli and The Song Room. Through SVA, I came into contact with the organisation One Laptop per Child (OLPC). Australia was not part of the OLPC business model, however, one entrepreneur – the eventual CEO of OLPC Australia – convinced the organisation that this project was vital in aboriginal communities. This same person convinced the then Gillard Government to roll out laptops to aboriginal communities that was supported with a $12 million budget. They asked me to come on board and help with their role out plan. I knew this project was to be delivered over a finite time. It was a risk, but I said yes. I was in this position for just under a year and the project came to a conclusion faster than I expected due to tensions between myself and the CEO. I still keep in contact with the alumni of this organisation. I found myself on the job search again.

Via a SVA contact, I was informed about the Chief Operating Officer position at The Hunger Project Australia. I was interviewed and got the job. I am still in the same role at this organisation. I enjoy working with each individual in this organisation and have immense satisfaction from the work we deliver.

Lisa Tarca working with community women leaders in India.
Lisa Tarca, COO of The Hunger Project Australia, working with community women leaders in India.

The 5 key words I use to describe effective and successful leadership have been selected as a personal reflection of my leadership journey and from my mentor experiences, they include:

1. Responsible – In a past role, I completed the Gallup Strengths Survey, which includes 33 words to describe strength within the context of your professional effectiveness. There is no right combination; it is your personal attributes for leveraging your strengths. It creates a shift in your personal thinking moving towards positive working applications. Responsibility is one of my key words resulting from this survey. I am not one to stand aside when I see a problem. Rather I take responsibility for the issue, even quite often when I didn’t create it. By being responsible, I am also creating my integrity.

2. Connections – This word is attributed to my yoga spiritual teachings and practices. I believe we are all connected. We all have commonality and connection and I believe in the power of connection. In a leadership position, it is about using your connections responsibility and not exploiting them. You need to give back to those connections.

  1. Achiever– An effective leader gets the right stuff done and makes it happen. They understand the bigger picture of why stuff needs to get done.
  1. Compassionate – I have a Yin-Yang philosophy. Compassion and vulnerability is not a weakness. My role models have been the most compassionate people. Compassion opens the possibility for relationships.
  1. Committed – Leadership is taking and channelling your passion and committing to whatever it is that drives you. You need to be very clear on your purpose and then communicate this to those you lead. You need to align your passion to the work you are doing. You make the leap from understanding your passion to executing your passion. You are committed to doing that.

There have been a number of successes, challenges and failures in my leadership journey. I have been very lucky with receiving a number of promotions and progressing well within those opportunities. I am also relatively successful in balancing work life commitments. However, I am continually challenged in whether I am getting my work life balance right. I am constantly recalibrating and revaluing while balancing my relationships. I didn’t succeed in my One Laptop per Child role that I set out to do. It was a learning experience but I gained some of the most wonderful relationships. What felt like a failure at the time, was a learning experience in retrospect.

My success comes from family support. My mother came to the USA as a German refugee and came out as a lesbian vegetarian campaigner later in life. Education was an important investment. I continually gain new perspectives from my current role at The Hunger Project Australia. We are lucky. There are so many people who are suffering and experience hunger and I see myself as incredibly lucky that I was born into a life of opportunity.

There is a natural cyclical pattern in life. Be conscience when you are in a good cycle and save money so there is flexibility later on during tough times. Reinvent yourself during tough times; you may have to sell your services in a different way. Be adaptable and flexible mentally, physically, emotionally. It makes you resilient. If you design your life to have support structures in place, you can survive, you become resilient.

Wellbeing is a big part of my life. I do yoga 5-6 days a week and cardio exercise. I grew up with my mother farming organic produce and consequently buy organic whenever possible. To maintain my mental wellbeing, I keep studying. I am currently learning Italian and chat about politics and problem-solving with my Mathematician husband over dinner.

Taking time to reflect, balance, recharge, skiing and visiting family in the USA keeps me ahead in life. I advance my knowledge in a particular area to learn new things. I stretch myself by investing in new challenges. It is not about staying ahead of the game; rather I invest in life so I can keep growing.

For those who want to transition from corporate roles into the Not-for Profit landscape I strongly recommend the Ethical Jobs Network (www.ethicaljobs.com.au). I also suggest reading the Social Venture Australia’s quarterly magazine where contributors are leaders in Not-for –Profit organisations (www.socialventures.com.au). The stories promote the sharing of incentives and ideas for creating a great culture of rewards and strategy. Business Chicks Australia also provides an amazing network that connects women entrepreneurs across all ages in Australia (www.businesschicks.com.au).

To learn more about Lisa and her work at The Hunger Project Australia, please click on the links below:

Lisa Tarca on LinkedIn: https://au.linkedin.com/pub/lisa-tarca/8/497/748

The Hunger Project Australia: www.thp.org.au

Rethinking What’s Possible Workshop: http://thp.org.au/communities/rethinking-whats-possible

Bridie O’Donnell Embodies the Multidimensional Modern Women

Dr Bridie O’Donnell is a Medical Doctor and Educator at Epworth Health Check and Breast Care Physician at Epworth Breast Service. While most people polarise themselves into either the arts or science, Bridie is the embodiment of the multidimensional modern women, displaying great breadth and depth across multiple landscapes through her various roles that include: team manager and rider for Total Rush Hyster women’s cycling team; broadcaster; SisuGirls Podcast creator/presenter and Ambassador for Disability Sport and Recreation.

Bridie discusses her unshakeable desire to be exceptional with Dalton Koss HQ.

In May, 2015, during the 2015 Mersey Valley Tour in Tasmania, Cycling Australia delivered a fantastic development opportunity that allowed 13-16 year old young women to have access to professional cycle racing teams. Part of the program saw two young women sitting in the team car with our team director. The program organiser also asked me to talk to the young women on a panel one evening after racing. This wonderful opportunity to chat with these young women prompted a discussion on whether I am a role model. I used to think that to be a good leader and/or role model you needed to have a high level of achievement, for example, be an Olympic or world champion. My thinking on this has changed. I have come to realise that being a good leader/role model is about the choices you make and the learning taken from these decisions.

I am a good role model due to the choices and pathways I have taken. I didn’t choose the easiest paths; there were many negative and hard moments. I became an athlete late in life and I often took guidance from the wrong people in my haste to progress quickly. In both medicine and sports, I do my best to model how to do things, and communicate how to do things. I have high standards of organisation and communication and I know I find it difficult to work with people who are not organised or are poor communicators. I am incredibly clear about what I expect from people in advance. I am consultative, and it is important for me to understand other people’s values. For example, as Team Manager I meet with all the riders pre-race to chat about our tactics and who will be doing what. I also lead by example. I am the hardest riding member of the team. I am modelling for them: honesty, clear communication and commitment to the team not as an individual rider within a team. I can be a workaholic when it comes to team commitment and I am willing to work hard and do what others are not willing to do. As I started my professional cycling career later in life, I have always considered myself to have lower levels of physical talent. I found this out the hard way when I was a professional cyclist in Europe. However, I always move on from disappointment. I always make an effort to understand and take into account expectations from those around me as it can affect team performance, whether it is in sport or medicine.

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Dr Bridie O’Donnell is team manager and rider for Total Rush Hyster women’s cycling team.

My experiences in medicine have created a personal foundation for clear communication. Over the years I have noticed that a high proportion of doctors are poor communicators. This is due to the traditional modes of medical education and student selection processes. Of course there are numerous specialist skills but they often exclude being a good listener, empathetic and approaching the patient’s problem from a holistic viewpoint, i.e. what else is happening in the patient’s life that is influencing their current health problem. I see it as my duty to teach mindful listening for influencing behaviour change. To create an appropriate strategy for any patient it requires listening time to develop a holistic approach to address their needs. Generally, doctors are time poor, over worked and resentful, and this influences how they view their patients. This creates poor behavioural models in senior doctors that continue to manifest across generations of medical practitioners.

Personally, there were few opportunities and accessibility to great medical mentors. My behaviour and approach to patients and colleagues has been developed from observations of how not to behave. I try my best to be kind and to pause before I verbalise my frustration with a patient on their unhealthy choices. It is incredibly important that I listen to my patients so I can understand their values. This allows me to assist them in finding different paths to create behaviour change. It is about asking the questions, “Is this important to you?” and “What would have to change for this to become a higher priority / likelihood?”

It is important to acknowledge how lucky we are. I am very fortunate. My parents were educated and employed. They were interested in education. At a young age I said to my parents that I wanted to be a doctor and they supported me. It is a fortunate position to be in and I was very lucky. I went to university, received a top education and probably will never be unemployed. When I took time off medical work to become a full time athlete I didn’t have the disposable income that I was used to. I quickly realised that material things did not make me happy. 

Key words I use to describe effective and successful leadership are:

  1. Action: Always model good behaviour, act on your personal values and what they stand for. In sport there is general hypocrisy, deceit and not honouring the things you promised to do. On a hilly stage of the 2015 Mersey Valley Tour it was my job to get my team leader to the bottom of a major climb in the best position. I was physically and mentally exhausted, but it was important that I acted on what I promised. I dug deep, pushed out the mental blockages and got on with my promise. Acting on this promise provided me with ammunition to prove to my team that I followed up on my deal and highlighted the importance of making a race plan.
  1. Kindness, thankfulness and gratitude are all required in leadership. Kindness will always be taken on board by the recipient and will influence their acts and attitudes in your relationship with them. However, it is important to be kind and express gratitude when it is deserved and not as a means to win friends.
  1. Listening and Empathy: If you do not listen and try to understand someone’s perspective you will never get that person on board. Understanding a person’s motivation and perspective is essential for any successful teamwork.
  1. Honesty: You have to be honest and upfront with yourself and to the people around you.
  1. Being Tall: metaphorically and physically. Feeling tall comes with confidence and age. Now that I am 41, I find men still tell me what to do, even those with little or no experience in my field. I just smile and say ‘thanks,’ but let them know that I have a plan. I don’t need people to like me anymore. I am better at negotiation and doing what is best for me. Men are usually more assertive as women are taught to be softer in their approach. I don’t care about this anymore and I stand tall for myself. 
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Dr Bridie O’Donnell’s knowledge and wisdom across multiple landscapes combined with her passion for living a full life makes her a powerful agent of change.

My biggest challenge was leaving my secure and stable situation in Australia to start a professional cycling career in Europe. Over time I have come to realise that this experience taught me a lot of things. I was stripped of my ability to freely communicate. I was living in Italy and riding for Italian professional teams who spoke little to no English. My Italian was poor and my inability to communicate was stifling, isolating, lonely, disempowering and terrifying. My Intel was at base level with limited ability to ask the important questions such as, “When will I get paid?” and “Where do I go after the race?” I could only connect to others one on one or in small groups. I was living with younger women of different maturity levels and I missed my family. My ego also raised its head; I was grown up, a doctor and I was being patronised by those who were supposed to guide and coach me in this journey. It was also difficult to acknowledge to myself that I signed up for this, placing my strengths on the line. This European experience has become relative to everything else that I have done in my life.

After four years in Europe and year in the USA, I came back to Australia to work in medicine. It was easy in comparison! They paid me to show up….I received good feedback… patients loved that I had energy. What is not to like when I get paid, thanked and appreciated for my work in something I enjoy. It was a breath of fresh air.

It has been a relief that I didn’t need to go down a traditional medical career path. When you do something slightly different from the traditional path it surprises others. It is risky. Medical practitioners are often very risk averse and frequently scared of ‘failing’ when it comes to their ego. We need to fail more to test and push ourselves. It is similar with people in long-term relationships not asking themselves if this is as good as it can be? Could I do a better job as a partner? It is absolutely important to ask ourselves whether we are doing the best job to be our best in our personal and professional life. We all have scope to be our best and decent self and not go down the path of being mean and deceitful. 

I am a big fan of change and taking control of my destiny. I don’t fear anymore. I was married, got divorced and I don’t have any major regrets; it was a hard but the best decision. Life is a natural progression; the more skillful you appear, the more maturity you have, the more senior you are. They say courage is ‘feeling the fear but doing it anyway,’ and it’s true: I feel fear a lot of the time but I go ahead and try things anyway. The fear of looking foolish, making a mistake or humiliating yourself can be controlling but it is important to embrace risk. Change is the only way to becoming the best you can be.

What am I successful at? Time management, communication, making mistakes and the ability for self-reflection. As I mature I am being kinder to myself. I even like myself. Being a perfectionist it is not sustainable on a daily level and it is ok to be mediocre some days. It is about how you manage feelings of disappointment, frustration and mediocrity that makes you a successful leader. It is important to acknowledge how you feel, let it sit and watch it. It is about managing whatever you are going through. Having a good coach and/or mentor with realistic goals is really important. You need the right coach when you are an athlete and it is the same for mentors in a business context. We don’t always know what we need from a mentor/coach until we have a bad experience.

Each year in August every professional road cyclist worries about whether they have a contract for the next season. This worry is linked to your sense of self worth and ability as a bike rider. You receive feedback about variables that you cannot control. I see a lot of athletes that end up in crappy teams because they do not want to compromise on their values. People do not know when to quit and when they should compromise. There is a myth in the sports industry that hard work is rewarded. I learnt the hard way that very few people reward you for your hard work. Rather, I witnessed on a number of occasions that selfish behaviours are acceptable and rewarded. Having a small taste of being a high profile person is exhausting and can be quite corrupting if you are young. However, this comes back to being kind and behaving as a role model, but simultaneously being straight forward and honest.

I do something everyday to maintain my mental and physical health and wellbeing. Most of the time it’s riding which makes me feel well, or less tired or just gives me greater mental space. If I don’t do it, I feel subhuman. Part of it is the solitude and my need for time out. It is quite tiring to be a good behaviour change Doctor, a mindful listener and assist patients making decisions, so in order to be at my best I need my time out. At those times, I don’t want to talk or engage with others. I prefer to ride and train on my own rather than engage with bad conversationalists. I enjoy watching great TV series or doing Sudoku; it is not overly intellectual but I am being entertained. I am a big fan of film and watch a lot of movies. Boredom is underrated. Seeking constant stimulation, such as being plugged into social media, is unhealthy. Doing routine work such as cleaning and listening to radio is a great way to disconnect.

Instead of following the pack, it is important to find a sporting club that supports your needs. As a female cyclist it is important for me to be a member of a club that places female cycling at the forefront and that advocates and promotes women events. Currently, I’m coincidentally only working with women in medicine, which is a big change from my former life as an elite athlete where all positions of authority are held by men. I enjoy working with women. Too often I see older men giving unsolicited advice that is laced with discriminatory behaviour to women younger then them. It is fortuitous to work with hard working and smart women. Your working environment needs to be invigorating and supportive and how this plays out will vary with age, your role and where you want to be in the future.

To learn more about Bridie and the organisations she supports, please click on the links below:

 Dr Bridie O’Donnell: www.bridie.com.au

Disability Sport and Recreation: http://www.dsr.org.au

Sisu Girls http://www.sisugirls.org

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Naomi Edwards Is Creating Happy Beaches

Naomi Edwards lives on the Gold Coast, a popular Queensland coastal strip on the east coast of Australia. Naomi’s passion and drive translates into a number of diverse roles including: Young Social Pioneer for the Foundation for Young Australians, National Landcare Ambassador, Founder and Researcher for Happy Beaches and a Griffith University student and coastal community advocate and expert.

Naomi chats with Dalton Koss HQ about her passion for beaches and her drive to empower the people around her to have ownership of their dreams.

I always wanted to be a pilot. The idea of flying through the clouds enchanted me. But during my high school years at Keebra Park SHS, I went to Queensland’s south-west outback for 10 days on a science school trip to work alongside Peter McRae, a lifetime campaigner and conservationist for the endangered bilby. Peter inspired and transformed me to live a life with purpose where sustainability is at the heart. His passion for world sustainability led me to study environmental science and post-graduate degrees in international and community development, and coastal cultural studies to refine my purpose. I preferred to be outdoors, volunteering and looking after coastal environments. It didn’t take long to discover that my purpose was to inspire communities to care for beaches and influence coastal management decisions having grown up along Gold Coast’s beaches.

My journey really began with volunteering at my local beach with watering native dune seedlings during south east Queensland’s decade-long drought. The Friends of Federation Walk have been restoring the dunes at The Spit for over 15 years and my experiences volunteering with them changed my life – again. As one member made quite an impression on me by stating, Naomi, it is up to you what you want to do with your life but why not create a masterpiece.” And there I was standing on a sand dune creating a masterpiece. What was once a bare sand dune is now a thriving coastal rainforest, a beautiful ecosystem for native biodiversity.

Yet, I recognised that only a small group of dedicated people volunteered and wonder what difference we could make if more people supported the cause – perhaps more positive outcomes for the sustainability of the coast. I shared the possibility with my fellow science students and academics at Griffith University. What started as four university friends turning up to volunteer, evolved into twenty undergraduate students consistently volunteering every month, planting trees and keeping up with the restoration maintenance. We called ourselves Griffith University Science Maintenance Team to help support the small group of volunteers. Despite the less-than-engaging name for the group, this was the launching of my first coastal community project – without even realising. Then all of sudden I saw plenty more gaps, patched them up and inspired and supported other’s to do so too.

After completing my Bachelor of Environmental Science, I planned to study an Honours vegetation ecology, specifically, carbon sequestration. However, I was having too much fun on the beach working with volunteers and in between researching various forest structures measuring over 15,000 trees for the Program for Planned Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research (PPBio) project. It was these experiences that opened a world of opportunity, fuelling my passion for community wellbeing and the environment – particularly, beaches and dunes.

As I believe where there is a need, there is an opportunity, where there is passion, there are people, and where there is a dream, there is hope. My dream is to transform the sustainability of beaches to be happy beaches, so there is hope for the coast and the future of beaches and coastal communities around the world.

I have never really considered myself to be a leader, rather an instigator for progressive change for the environment, particularly beaches. There has been a lot of learning along the way; there was no strategy and there is no strategy. Luckily, I had wonderful support and mentoring to guide my spontaneous acts of action. As I just did things, didn’t wait and thought about it later.

I would probably put myself in the change maker category. As our future is today’s experiences and if want to see change we have to be in action. That means we are always setting ourselves up for the next thing even if we fell like we are in limbo.

Every possibility presents an opportunity to act.

The five key words I use to describe effective and successful leadership include:

1. Passion – Passion is the key driving agent for all change makers. It fires up the heart and soul and keeps you grounded and focused. It is important for leaders to have a passion to drive energy, a vision, ignite others, influence and open opportunities.

2. Plan – I was fortunate to be guided early on by leading change makers in my community. They encouraged me to package my dreams and desires for every idea – too many ideas – into an achievable plan. This has also helped others and myself stay on track and work towards common goals and objectives to achieve and complete projects and lasting successes.

3. Integrity – Integrity is the foundation of leadership. Yet it can be overlooked or not recognised as it shown through the small actions. This involves keeping your word and helping others without expecting something in return, and always living by your values. People will believe and support you when you have integrity. Do not compromise your values.

4. Commitment – You have to be accountable, do the hard work and create a community full of leaders in their own right, which takes commitment.

5. Consistency – Consistency helps you get over the line to reach success. It helps establish your reputation. It also makes you relevant, and maintains and helps you refine the freshness of your message.

I have experienced a number of key successes and challenges in my leadership journeyBeing creative, having fun and working with the right people has led to many successes in my life. I can’t really pinpoint any specific key successes rather I simply acknowledge the entire journey. In the beginning the biggest challenge was overcoming the overwhelming state of the environment when learning about climate change, marine debris impacts, species extinction etc. You can’t let the negative side of things get to you or else they will bring you down. You have to maintain a positive outlook and act on what you can do. 

I don’t really believe in failures as every action and project occurs the way it is suppose to be. It is about learning from every experience and building your experience bank for next time to do it better, bigger and most likely more innovative. “And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should” (Max Ehrmann, Desiderata: A poem for a Way of Life).

My success is attributed to inspiration and support. I am continually inspired by others, from Peter McRae at the beginning of my journey to the many community champions I come across in my work. I love hearing about other people’s ideas, dreams and hopes and where I can offer my experience and support. Without my support base I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am thankful for the support my family, friends and close networks.

I have been fortunate to live a life where as one door closes another one opens. I think staying true to my passion, being committed and consistent has laid a fun and creative journey filled with endless possibilities!

I apply a holistic approach to maintaining my mental and physical health and wellbeing. I am happy, positive and optimistic and stay true to my passion. I support my support network and encourage others around me to live a powerful life, a life they love. I go to the beach – a lot! I enjoy eating wholesome food but also indulge in sugary sweets when I want. I enjoy walking my dogs and exercising.

You have to think and act beyond your own capabilities to grow, learn and reflect. This begins with dreaming up boundless possibilities and opportunities, sharing them, and then inspiring others to follow and be part of the journey as anything is possible! Leadership is helping others to take ownership of their ideas.

Two organisations I recommend for others to join are:

Landcare Australia – there are many opportunities for all walks of life to get involved in caring for the land and sea.

Foundation for Young Australians – delivers a range of initiatives (co)designed with and for young people to deliver change across Australia.

To learn more about Naomi and her Happy Beaches vision, please click on the links below:

Naomi’s blog – http://coastaltangents.com/

Naomi’s latest project – http://www.happybeaches.org/

Steve Jennings is Creating New Value Through Entrepreneurship

Steve Jennings lives in Malmö in the south of Sweden. He’s the Entrepreneur in Residence at Lund University Open Innovation Center, Sweden. This is the oldest university in Scandinavia. In addition to this role, Steve advises CEOs and company leadership teams inside and outside of Sweden. He mentors students enrolled on the Masters of Entrepreneurship program at Lund University, and is a keynote speaker at international conferences. More often than not, Steve is usually hands-on involved with at least one new start-up venture.

Steve talks to Dalton Koss HQ about his leadership journey, describing how his passion and excitement for creative entrepreneurship has evolved through his life journey.

“I create moments that give me a lot of freedom; physically, emotionally and creatively. The only way for me to remain relevant is to consistently help other people and companies to create value. For this to happen, I need to be out and about in the world, travelling, meeting and talking with a wide range of different and highly diverse people. It is a way of thinking, and a way of being as a person.” – Steve Jennings 2015.

I grew up in Hull in the 1960s and 70s during the golden age of pop culture and the massive explosion in consumer goods. I vividly remember the street where I grew up. No one owned a car, but then with the arrival of mass consumerism, every neighbour began to own a car. It was a time of opportunities; we began to believe that anything was possible. We even landed men on the moon. The late 60s and early 70s laid the foundation for how in many respects we define the world today. Pop culture, music, fashion and the arts saw a burst of creative entrepreneurship during this time period.

I was incredibly lucky to grow up in a home with parents who loved all genres of music. This privileged exposure to music helped to lay down my blueprint for understanding the creative process. I wasn’t academically inclined. Even though I got through school, I never felt comfortable. I always wanted to be outside playing, exploring, I had an abundance of energy, and we’d probably call it ADHD, today. I realised at quite a young age that I didn’t function well in a formal environment with a repetitive structure.

From around the age of 9, adult issues really impacted me, e.g. Martin Luther King, The Vietnam War, the hunger in Biafra. Absorbing these adult images, words and thoughts created a different worldview for me. When I was growing up I was quite lonely in some respects because the things I was interested in didn’t interest most of my friends at school. I wanted to be out discovering the world. And as soon as I got a bicycle, I was out the door. It was a revelation for me. The bike facilitated the journey of finding myself. I was getting out of Hull and riding further and further afield, exploring, experiencing and learning. This way of being has carried me forwards during my adult life.

This image captured in 1964, shows Steve out exploring on his first bicycle at the young age of 3 in Hull, UK.
This image captured in 1964, shows Steve out exploring on his first bicycle at the young age of 3 in Hull, UK.

After finishing school, I began the process of studying to be an engineer. When I was 19, I was given an opportunity to become a professional racing cyclist on a Pro team based in the Netherlands. So I left Hull and headed over to the Netherlands with a one-way ticket. This was my step from being a boy to quickly becoming an adult. I had to figure out how to bootstrap my life so that I could race my bike and support myself. This meant taking on part time jobs so I could continue to compete in bike races. And this is when I realised I could stand on my own two feet with no instant connectivity to my parents, our family home, and my friends. This experience is what set me up for my life journey.

Steve winning a race during his time as a professional cyclist in Continental Europe.
Steve winning a race during his early years as as a cyclist.

After my pro-cycling career ended in 1984, I started to work for Lloyds TSB. Between 1984 -1990, I fell out of love with cycling for a number of reasons. I didn’t own any bikes during this period. I felt I needed to go on a new journey that resulted in me becoming a yuppie, in the world of finance and insurance. I channelled all of the energy from my cycling days into business and making money. It became something of an obsession. I was trying to prove myself. This need to prove myself is something that I’ve had to do a lot in my life, especially when the odds are stacked against me. I found myself in a highly competitive business environment where I could earn a lot of money based on my work ethic. I did this for 6 years and during this period of my life I didn’t take very good care of my body. It was an unhealthy and unsustainable lifestyle. I ended up returning to the bike in the early 1990s to reverse the impact of these 6 years of abuse.

I eventually left Lloyds TSB and started a business, the Maxim sports nutrition brand, and it turned into quite a successful company. In 1990, I was introduced to a sports nutrition technology that wasn’t commercially available. I quickly saw an opportunity to start a company, build a brand and get into the food industry. I had never started a company before Maxim. This was before the days of the internet, and I had to build the company using resources from the Chamber of Commerce and the local library. Once I laid out what I wanted to do, I received a lot of support. And I quickly built a network of advisors and mentors that enabled me to make sense of how to get a food company off the ground. Within 1 year, Maxim went from an idea to a product. And became the official energy food for the British team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. The business took off and I travelled all over the world as I set about building Maxim and establishing the brand by attending global sporting events and expos.

This was when I realised that riding my bike had created an internal toughness. Building your own company is similar in many respects to sport. There is no such thing as an overnight success. I drew on my cycling experiences to grow the business. I learnt early on to take criticism and to try and ignore self-doubt. Surrounding myself with supportive and good people helped me. Over the years, I’ve had lots of self-doubt, and at times I’ve felt as if I was on the edge of a black hole looking down at a bottomless pit.

After I sold the Maxim business, I moved into the world of technology and the internet. Innovating in the food industry is something that I really love to do. In 2002, I was presented with an opportunity to help start a new ‘good for you’ nutrition business with PepsiCo in the USA (products such as Quaker and Tropicana are owned by PepsiCo). I took all my entrepreneurial experiences to this big global food company, and once I established myself within the organisation, I felt relaxed and had the confidence to be who I am, which is not a suit wearing corporate guy.

Whilst we where living in the USA, my father passed away. He was my cycling coach, and the person who always encouraged me to stride out on new adventures. My dad gave me many of words of advice and encouragement, but what stood out for me was that you shouldn’t be afraid. If you are a good person and you do good in the world, no harm will come to you. His passing at a relatively young age was a big wake up call for me. I reappraised what I was doing with my life. It made me realise that I wanted to make the world a better place. Following his passing, I immersed myself in philanthropy, microfinance and trying to understand how NGOs function. The inefficiencies and seepage of resource from NGOs is shocking, so I started to look at new and disruptive innovation opportunities within the NGO and Corporate Social Responsibility space. This lead to me founding a youth empowerment initiative called The zyOzy Foundation.

The 5 key words I use to describe effective and successful leadership are: 

  1. Resilience: you need to be extremely resilient and capable of bouncing back from one set back after the other.
  1. Belief: you need to believe in yourself, in your idea and most important in the people you choose to have around you. You need to believe that you made the right choices based on the information that you had at any given moment in time.
  1. Love: you have to be willing to give the best of yourself to others and not expect to get anything back in return. If something does come back to you then that’s great, but you can’t only think about ‘what’s in it for me’. The real magic happens when you give the best of yourself, share everything you know and do it unconditionally.
  1. Humility and Humble: This is how I was raised by my parents. When I built Maxim, and it took off, I didn’t feel worthy of what was happening. I struggled with the PR, media hype and the press. It made me feel very uncomfortable inside. It took me quite sometime to learn how to balance being humble and having humility with the confidence required to be a leader of a business and the spokesperson for a global brand.
  1. Privacy: It is important to acknowledge that people have a right to privacy and are not always available. The human condition necessitates the need for private moments of deep reflection.

A key challenge in anyone’s leadership journey is fear. I regularly meet people across all age groups who have really good ideas. One of their challenges is fear, that is, they are afraid and unsure about how to make the first step. The fear that holds back entrepreneurs especially those in the 40 to 50 year age bracket is that of not being able to provide for their family. This juxtaposes the need for freedom to do what makes them happy. When you conquer fear it is liberating. When you put everything on the line and you try your best to make something happen, that’s what defines you as an entrepreneur and a person. My kids know me for being someone who’s not afraid of trying new things and wanting to help others.

The foundation of my success comes from the bicycle and cycling. I am now 54 and I feel very comfortable with whom I’m becoming as I grow older. This comes from the journeys and experiences I’ve had on my bicycle. Exploring new worlds allows you to meet diverse people, opening up opportunities to share knowledge about the way you think and what you do. As a young kid, I always had a lot of confidence in completely new environments, and used to relish the opportunity to listen to conversations about subjects and topics that I knew very little about. It is these new conversations that provide new data and create new insights. I’ve always used simple tools – paper, pens, post it notes to capture new thoughts, ideas and learning’s. I like to interpret and analyse these comments and quotes, and then map this data to try and find things that connect conversations that can range from biotechnology to sustainable fabrics to urban farming to packaging design. From these insights I connect new people, create new moments and start new conversations that in turn creates new value. For me it’s about a way of thinking. But there is always the risk that these new conversations can turn out very different to the way you envisaged. And sometimes that’s not such a bad thing. I liken it to free form jazz.

The bicycle taught Steve resilience and built his internal toughness. To this day, Steve's bike journeys continue to be filled with excitement due to new potential opportunities to discover, explore and meet new people.
The bicycle taught Steve resilience and built his internal toughness. To this day, Steve’s bike journeys in Sweden continue to be filled with excitement due to new potential opportunities to discover, explore and meet new people. It also contributes to Steve’s mental and physical health and wellbeing.

I approach my physical health and mental wellbeing from a holistic perspective. I ride my bike, meditate and run in the sand at my local beach. These activities keep me grounded while maintaining my physical health and mental wellbeing. I like getting lost in my thoughts when I’m out exploring the forests here in Sweden on my bicycle. I like having the opportunity to meditate in the outdoors, this is becoming increasingly important for me. I place a lot of importance on the food I choose to eat and its origins. Nutrition is becoming more important as I become older. I tend to compromise on my sleep so I need to look after other aspects of my life. I also drink a lot of water.

My sense of curiosity is what keeps me ahead of the game. What is around the corner? How does that work? What is under that rock? The human creative process truly fascinates me. For me, science is an art form and art is science. Humans have a need to express themselves creatively. We do it naturally as children and it is part of our DNA. I like to meet and have in depth conversations with people who create art (music, literature, painting, poetry, dance, sculpting). I feel very comfortable in the company of highly creative people and left-field thinkers. If I had a little bit more confidence and self-awareness as I was growing up I would probably have pursued something where the creative arts meets the worlds of fashion and music.

Entrepreneurship is an art form, a way to express yourself. I’m not really that interested in business; it actually leaves me cold. It is creating art and going out on the edge and discovering new revelations that interests me. I just happen to be doing this most of the time in a business context.

I need my private space. Privacy is important to me, especially in an era of the always connected society. Our privacy is rapidly being eroded and that is something that gives me concerns for the future.

There’s beauty to be found in most aspects of everyday life. Life is the most beautiful thing. Beauty is everywhere. Everyone with a little bit of help, encouragement and luck has the capacity to unlock his or her own potential. I truly believe we are becoming overly dependent on technology. I’m deeply passionate about developing solutions, tools and safe spaces that enable people to reveal their vulnerabilities, share their ideas and thoughts, and realise their potential. We don’t create enough opportunities for people to seek out others who can help them in times of need. We’re going to see a lot of growth in the creation of safe spaces, where people are able to share their emotional intelligence. People are feeling more isolation and loneliness, and this is when we are supposedly more connected as humans than ever before. This change in our social fabric has occurred very quickly. The internet isn’t the answer to everything, but it is an enabler for new kinds of solutions that would previously have been impossible to bring to life.

Steve's creative entrepreneurship is inspired by outdoor journeys, meeting new people and engaging in diverse conversations.
Steve’s creative entrepreneurship is inspired by outdoor journeys, meeting new people and engaging in diverse conversations.

Creativity tends to happen in very diverse and unusual places. For anyone wanting to connect with other creative entrepreneurs, I suggest joining a Fab Lab, which provides a physical hacking space to create new ideas. Attend events such as weekend hack-a-thons, find out about what’s happening in your local start-up scene, make contact with start-up incubators, and find out what’s going on at your local university campus.

Art is the set of wings to carry you out of your own entanglement.” – Joseph Campbell

For more information about Steve’s work in creative entrepreneurship and what inspires him, please follow these links:

About Me

https://about.me/stevejennings

Crowd Expedition talks to Steve Jennings at the Crowdsourcing Week Europe 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXKd-5Q9GV4  

Steve Jennings talking about trust, privacy and data at Oredev 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnCO_f4Zaus