July 18th, 2013
Like many firms, mch tenders for some training and consultancy opportunities. The tender process often follows that of a typical job application: a written application and then (if mch is short-listed) an interview. At such interviews it is common for attention to turn to my own background, rather than just the company’s experience. At this point, I can invariably tell the unprepared interviewers: those looking at my CV for the first time. The ‘tell’ is often a raised eyebrow (surprise) or a furrowing of the brow (confusion).
I can appreciate such reactions as I’ve not taken the most direct route to running a staff development company for the charitable sector. Occasionally the interviewer pays me the compliment of being blunt:
“How does a PhD chemist end up studying Diplomacy and Trade, then work for McKinsey; only to become Chief Executive of an Aboriginal football and netball club?”
There isn’t always time to give a full answer to this question and I don’t always feel it’s appropriate to do so. However, it’s a perfectly reasonable question and I believe mch’s blog is an appropriate place to provide the full answer.
Essentially, from an early age I’ve considered myself very lucky. Lucky to have a loving family, lucky to have a home, lucky that I never went hungry, lucky to be born in a place where I had a right to free education. To quote the industrialist John D. Rockefeller; “every right implies a responsibility” and in addition to a sense of responsibility, I felt a genuine desire to do something positive with the skills and insights that I was lucky enough to be learning.
At the age of 17, it was time to decide whether to go to university, and if so, what to study. At the time, my best subject was chemistry and so I thought that through developing medicines, my desire to have a positive impact could be satisfied. So I went off to university to study Chemistry and gained a master’s degree and PhD in the subject. After seven years a decision had to be made:
- Do I continue down the pure research (academic) route of drug discovery?
- Do I move into the more commercial world of the pharmaceutical industry?
- Do I think again?
With option one; while I could manage a laboratory, I didn’t think I had the academic ‘horsepower’ to discover anything that would one day find itself onto a pharmacist’s shelf. Furthermore, intellect did not guarantee success – I knew plenty of outstanding chemists who ended their careers with no major discovery to their names. Even if you were successful, you had to be very patient, as it could be many years before your discovery actually became a medicine.
With option two; I knew I would miss the loss of autonomy – I would become a small cog within a massive machine. Consequently, option three made the most sense and after some soul-searching the short list was either:
- Working in government (perhaps the diplomatic service or international development)
- Working in the charitable sector
Having a PhD in Organic Chemistry was unlikely to be much use to either and in an attempt to narrow it down to just one option; I studied for a Master in Diplomacy and Trade. I chose the course and institution because many of the other students were diplomats from developing countries, or were MPs/civil servants in local, state or national government. The course achieved its primary goal, as I graduated knowing that I wanted to pursue opportunities in the charitable rather than governmental sector. Essentially I was ‘turned off’ by the slowness of government and the adversarial, point scoring approach to working. While I saw some outstanding pieces of work in government, it also troubled me how often mediocre work was accepted.
At this stage, I was a ‘career student’ and a growing number of degree certificates was unlikely to be attractive to a typical charity. I write ‘typical charity’ as I did not have a strong calling to any particular charitable cause. Instead I felt that I could have the greatest positive impact through general management and leadership of an organisation. Consequently, I needed a fast track to gaining the management and leadership skills to be useful in the charitable sector. The solution was to work for a firm such as McKinsey. In a short period of time I gained a good understanding of what makes organisations successful. McKinsey also had the budget to provide professional development opportunities that no charity could match.
With the help of a mentor, I left McKinsey as soon as I felt that I could have a positive impact with a charitable organisation. Through a mixture of persistence, chance and naïve enthusiasm on my part and desperation on theirs, I became Chief Executive of Rumbalara Football and Netball Club. So began two of the most challenging and rewarding years of my professional career.
For personal reasons, I did not extend my visa to continue working at Rumbalara and returned to the UK. Although the UK has no Aboriginal football clubs, I knew I still wanted to work within the charitable sector. For a number of reasons, I founded mch rather than finding a management/leadership role within the sector. The two main reasons were:
I felt that mch made the best use of my experience and skills and thus I could have the greatest positive impact through mch.
- Having decided I wanted to become a father, I felt mch would give me a greater sense of autonomy to control my workload. In turn, this would give me the time and energy to hopefully have a positive impact on the most important job I have: being a dad.
Upon founding mch an initial priority was to develop a ‘brand’ and the associated website and other marketing materials. This was not something I was looking forward to. Given my lack of creativity, I’d need some help and previous encounters with marketing ‘experts’ had left me with the impression that a passion for fonts, colours and nebulous phrases was crucial to marketing success. To my surprise, the first (and only) marketing specialist I met did not start with talk of fonts and colours. Instead he simply asked why I had founded mch. After verbalising what I have written above, he asked a few more practical questions and then stated he had enough information to propose an initial brand for mch. Rather surprised (and pleased) that not a single reference had been made to fonts or colours; I awaited the proposal with interest. Today’s brand is essentially what was outlined in the initial proposal back in 2005. When I asked the expert how he had come to choose the simple ‘plus sign’ logo and the ‘Positive Impact’ strapline, he stated that (unbeknownst to me) I had used the term ‘positive impact’ several times to describe why I had founded mch. Since having a positive impact was a very personal desire, he had combined the positive symbols and wording with my initials MCH.
And that is why I founded mch and why the strapline is ‘Positive Impact’!View comments >