“If you do not find yourself growing in your work, you have not found your place.”
Orison Swett Marden
Career transition happens for a variety of reasons; promotion, career break, outplacement, redeployment, redundancy, work/life balance or a desire to work for oneself.
I’m now approaching my 2-year anniversary as an Executive Coach and thought I’d take the opportunity to share with you the transitions I’ve made throughout my career, and how those experiences now help me to guide my clients through changes of their own.
Once upon a time in the 80’s, lived a young man called Paul…
This is me; happy, carefree (with considerably more hair) and completely oblivious to the fact that I was on the cusp of a decision that would affect the rest of my life.
It’s said that our careers are a journey and at 16 when I took a Saturday job at Tesco, I had no idea I’d be starting mine.
After a couple of years of shop floor work, I found myself at a crossroads; the first of many in my career. Until that point, it had been clear in my mind: I’d finish my A-Levels and then off to university I’d trot to study Computer Science. Instead, seduced by the fact I was making money (as opposed to amassing student debt), I embarked on the management training program with Tesco; a spur of the moment decision which paved the way for my entire career.
“At the most important crossroads in our life, there are no signs.”
I was with Tesco for almost a decade before my feet started itching again. By that point, I’d successfully managed 2 stores and felt ready for my next challenge. Interestingly, it came in the form of an IT venture.
My friend, (a computer whizz) and I started a CD-ROM producing business called Weird Science (did I mention I grew up in the 80’s?). He handled the technical stuff and I dealt with the business end and in just a couple of years, we’d reached an annual turnover of £350,000. This will sound more impressive when I tell you that we achieved this, whilst I was still working as a Store Manager at Tesco.
I’ll admit that juggling the two jobs was absolutely knackering, but at first, I was spurred on by the newness and excitement of it all. After a while, however, that novelty started to wear off and I knew I needed more of a change.
Something I have learnt about myself over the years is a have this inner drive to keep moving forwards and to evolve; it was, for this reason, I finally made the decision to leave Tesco.
After 13 years of service, I did feel a certain loyalty to Tesco, after all, they had at that point taught me everything I knew about retail. Ultimately, however, that loyalty was overshadowed by my need to keep pushing onwards and upwards. They did try to keep me; I recall vividly my Regional Managing Director giving me his business card and on the back of it he had written “Return Ticket”.
I actually did keep his card (I still have it, in fact) - just in case I ever needed it – but as it turned out, 1997 did mark the end of my journey with Tesco. Next stop was an Area Manager role at Iceland Foods and a move of location to London.
It was working at Iceland which gave me my first real taste of peripatetic leadership. I learnt very quickly that in order to be successful, I had to place more of an emphasis on building trust with my team.
As a General Manager, I was always on the ground, but now, I needed to be sure that my guys would do what was required once I’d left the store. This meant forging stronger relationships with everyone; from my store managers down to their cleaners – every relationship was important.
It was around this time that I also found psychology and truly began to understand the impact of looking after and supporting my team in their roles. I really got a kick out of helping my people to reach their full potential, and I still do.
Life as a field manager, was great; I had a nice car (BMW) and a sense of freedom I’d never had working in a store. It made me realise at that point in my life, sitting behind a desk just wasn’t for me. As a result, I decided to sell my shares in Weird Science and focus on developing my leadership skills.
The next decade would see me climb the ranks in area and regional management, hopping from Iceland Foods to Focus DIY. On a personal level, I’d also met my beautiful wife, Zoe and we had decided to move back up north to start a family.
A year or so later, I was looking to move on from Focus DIY and I met another woman who has been influential in my life: Debbie Smith. At the time, Debbie was a Divisional Director at Boots and as soon as we met, I knew I wanted to work with her.
I was taken on as a Regional Manager for Boots and in just 2 years, I learned so much from Debbie about coaching and developing people. She clearly saw something in me too – because when an opportunity arose to be her Divisional HR Manager, she told me she wanted me for the job.
A HR Manager.
I thought she was joking at first; I wasn’t an HR professional and had absolutely no clue when it came to HR policies and procedures.
I did know, however, that I was good with people, and of course I still wanted to progress. I’d already worked in Regional Management for 5 years at that point, so with that in mind and encouragement from the people around me, I accepted the role.
Now, the first 100 days in any leadership position are always difficult. You’re trying hard to impress your manager, your peers, and your team during a period of massive change and often, you don’t have anyone to talk to about it.
Within my first few days of being a HR Manager I was involved in the dismissal of a person who just one week previously, had been my peer. Talk about a baptism of fire.
In the end, though, my stint in HR proved very valuable; I learned how to be a functional leader - supporting 12 Regional Managers and a division of nearly a 1000 stores. I was also instrumental in devising and leading HR change strategies. Not only did this experience in Change Management put me in great stead for my first senior leadership position, but it also armed me with skills I still use when coaching my clients today.
Over the next few years, I powered through senior leadership roles at Boots (Head of Profit, Maximisation and Delivery, Head of Store Operational Support Team, Head of Customer Experience), blazing a trail as I moved, but I was always on the lookout for the next big challenge.
After 5 years at senior management level, I started to feel a little complacent. I was ready to leave Boots, but my choices within retail were limited to similar roles. I was good at my job, but I wasn’t feeling stretched or challenged - I therefore knew I had more to offer.
In 2017, whilst still working at Boots, I took on a Non-Executive Director position at Nene Valley Railway. On the face of it, this was a very different role for me; it was a non-profit organisation and my first time out of retail. I thoroughly enjoyed my role and it taught me a valuable lesson; my leadership and people skills were transferable. In January 2020, it was this knowledge that gave me the confidence to leave Boots.
With my experience and contacts, I was confident I would be able to find work, so left without the security of another job. I had a few opportunities on the horizon, but I still wasn’t entirely sure which direction to go in. It was then that COVID hit, and the world got turned upside down. Like so many of you, I was left a little stunned, sitting at home, pondering my future.
Not one to rest on my laurels however, my period of inaction was very short-lived. I decided to use the downtime provided by the first lockdown, to pivot my career towards consultancy work and coaching.
In just 4 months, I worked my backside off to complete 2 diplomas: CMI Level 5 Diploma in Professional Consulting & IML Level 7 Diploma in Executive Coaching and Mentoring. I knew after completing the latter, that I had found my niche.
It’s now been almost 2 years and apart from this little trip down memory lane, I haven’t looked back. I love coaching and I am good at what I do because I have walked in the shoes of the people I want to help. People like you.
Career Transition Month:
In the lead up to the New Year, I will be concentrating on Career Transition and giving you an insight into how I can help you to unleash your full potential. I will be publishing weekly blogs with practical advice, focusing on the following areas:
Knowing your strengths and working on weaknesses
Surrounding yourself with the right people
I hope you’ll join me in the coming weeks, and I welcome any questions you may have about my career journey - or your own.
Please feel free to read my client testimonials at paulstarbuckassociates.com and get in touch on 07799 474776.