Posts Tagged ‘mentor’

I was thinking over the weekend, it’s been a long game and asked myself how did this fresh faced kid get to where I am now? … or as the Irish man replied when asked for directions, “Now if I were you, I wouldn’t have started from here.”

This is one way to tell the story … Let’s start with me at age 16 still at Carrickfergus grammar school set in the fields above the council estate in NI where I lived. I was playing badminton for Ulster and Ireland by this stage, which is all I really cared about at the time. Despite the troubles we still travelled all over Ireland for matches. damon oldcorn aged 17 - Edited

Labourer Braidwater Spinning – on the factory floor building spinning frames in a textile plant in my holidays, a wage packet. (luckily I had help.) First real job Laboratory Assistant Greenland School – in a secondary school not known for its academic standards (mainly feeding the mice/rabbits and covering classes for delinquent teachers.) Accounts Clerk Rothmans – worked directly for the Management Accountant in a major tobacco company (never dreamt of smoking after that) Some said I would have made a good accountant but being tied to a desk did not suit. Sales Representative Corry Business Equipment – selling electronic cash registers to retailers (When I say sell, seldom did, I hadn’t a clue, but the company car came in handy for getting to the badminton tournaments.) Attended OCTU (Officer Cadet Training Unit) for the RAF at Biggin Hill. After a week of rigorous tests made an offer which I turned down, one of my better decisions, but still felt needed to get out of NI.

The move to Guildford, Surrey, England Aged 18 needed to access the centre of world badminton at Wimbledon Squash & Badminton Club.

Financial Representative Mercantile Credit/ Barclays Bank – with a small branch team in Guildford underwriting and lending £3M per month to consumers and the motor trade in Surrey. (Wrote the first contract hire deal in the UK.) Well trained here in all aspects of financial analysis but it was poorly paid. Financial Representative Commercial Credit –  As above but for a lesser name, more freedom,  paid more money, easy choice to move. Sales Representative Belstaff – Selling motorcycle clothing to retailers across the South East of England. I was difficult to pin down given the vast territory and remote management. So all good for the early morning coaching at Surrey University before work and then training late afternoon/evenings at Wimbledon with tournaments across the country at weekends. Salesman VGL Industries – Selling the Terence Piper microchipped vending machine in London. Getting closer to the technology world but not quite. Years at the sharp end having to outsell teams in half the time available hones you and as we see in the next stage of my career the lessons learnt here paid off in the end.Damon Oldcorn International Badminton Player

My technology years and career were about to start as the industry began to emerge

Now aged 22 beginning to realise how much money it took to live and survive in Surrey and that the Badminton was never going to be anything more than semi- professional … if even that. Salesman NEXOS – Selling the first screen based word processors to the financial and legal markets in London. Loved it here, great professional competitive team, had a flair for it and really flourished.  Salesman ITT International Telephone & Telegraph – Selling Facsimile machines and screen based electronic Telex systems. The top salesman, City/Square Mile as my patch, Big Bang Time, a killing ground.  Senior Salesman/Team Leader STC Standard Telephone & Telegraph – as above but also added bonus of hard edged Xerox US style sales management training.  

Sales & Marketing Manager Chernikeeff Telecommunications – Headhunted to a startup. Successfully hired/managed the sales team and created the marketing that launched the company that designed and built the UK’s first message switching systems. Sales & Marketing Director Norbain Micro – turned round this small public company that was a major UK Distributor of computer peripherals from Japan. Learned here about all the facets of a business in the boardroom. Sales & Marketing Director Tandon Corp – US Personal Computer vendor that sold through indirect channels in Europe. Re-energised the salesforce and dealer base and gained No 2 vendor slot in the UK 486 processor market.

As we left the eighties entered the nineties the world economy began to slow and enter recession

The PC hardware market lost sufficient margin to support an indirect model and other new major US players went direct. Time to look for new ground. Consultant Hutchison Whampoa HKJoined a small group of ex PWC change consultants to restructure the retail subsidiaries of HW in Hong Kong. Student University of Bristol – Embarked on a two year full time Masters degree in International Business which encompassed extensive study periods at Harvard, MIT and UC Berkeley. This was for the thinking time and the network not the degree. Sales & Marketing Manager Vodafone – Paknet the data arm of a voice company that did not fit, interim contract to find new markets for them.

Filled with entrepreneurial zeal and understanding particularly from my time at UC Berkeley and Harvard 

I had already created a support network in the States. First landed in Silicon Valley CA in 1987 and lived there off and on over the 90s, 7 weeks there and 3 weeks back in the UK for 3 years during the DotCom years with PhoneMe. Founder Interim Edge – I created the first of the virtual management companies for the TMT markets, later to be the interim management industry. Mine was born out of William Davidow’s thinking in his book “The Virtual Corporation” that I had engaged with in CA. Founder/CEO PhoneMe – Off the back of a world beating engineering team and their soft switch launched a Global “Web Callback” telephony service (PhoneMe “The human voice of the web” ) UK/Boston/San Jose which led to a Silicon Valley exit. Founder/CEO NicheGnat – Pioneered web conferencing in Europe through a distribution partnership with Boston based WebDialog Inc. CEO ZebTab – Led the founding team to create one of the first sports (ManUtd) and news (BBC) media platforms to successfully deliver video content directly to the desktop computer on an advertising based revenue model.

 

Decision … No more Tech startups of my own … But what next?

Founder WildIrishGuy – opened a club and network at 8 Northumberland Ave to create an economic place for freelancers and entrepreneurs to be based in the heart of London. This gave me time to breath and meet a wide range of people from different layers of the network and people began to ask me to mentor and advise them. Founding Director The Irish International Business Network – A Not for Profit to support the Irish diaspora in London and New York. Now today both in wilds of Wiltshire and the heart of London working with my extensive trusted network borne out of all those years of work. Founder Partner Oldcorn & Oldcorn LLP – Independent advisory, executive coaching and mentoring to the C suite of scaleups in the emerging technology markets. damon-wild

Thank you for reading this if you got this far, this was more really for my benefit than yours, all about unravelling my thoughts as I recalled how I overcame the challenges throughout those exciting times. In saying that please don’t hesitate to make a comment or contact me direct. If it stirred anything that you would like to shoot the breeze on, the door is always open. Keep well Damon.

 

Damon Oldcorn berates the entrenched ageism of the IT industry.
empowerment

The word ’empower’ is used a lot these days to describe a company’s ability to meet change by giving authority to the people at the sharp end. Words like this always seem to be touted around by public relations people, nothing too detailed of course, just some well concocted statements to mark some occasion or other. So the poor workers on the shop floor (as it used to be known) are going to be empowered. I do hope someone has told them about this new era of decision-making and accountability.

As you know, global organisations and our own high technology firms have thinned down their company structures, partly because of economic pressures, partly with the introduction of newer technology. Companies emerge with a streamlined look, not much middle, a flat top and a flat bottom. The idea behind the structure is that the strategic decisions made at the flat top can be whizzed to the troops at the flat bottom for them to implement tactically, making ever more accountable decisions as they go. Great in theory, but not so great in practice if you’re the 45-year-old who had to be removed to make way for this new wave.

Most of the companies I come into contact with, many in the computer and communications industry, have not trained the executives at the flat top in the new-age skills needed to compensate for this rapid change in business strategy. So as you can imagine it is extremely unlikely that they have got round to the training needs of the flat bottom to help them adapt to the new demands of this empowerment process. The question is, can the executives at the flat top grasp the new-age skills for this tremendously taxing change? I mean this change is major league, so not to be treated lightly.

sensitivityTo achieve corporate excellence today, the executive will have to have many facets in their management kit-bag: creative insight, sensitivity, vision, versatility, focus and patience (to mention just a few). Let’s focus on sensitivity for a moment ( a word not often heard in this rough, tough, high technology market). If, in the final analysis, people are an organisation’s greatest asset, then the new type manager must understand how to bind them together in a culture, wherein they feel truly motivated in the pursuit of higher goals. Face to face communication, ongoing training and development, creative incentive programmes and job security all display the sort of sensitivity that nurtures strong cultures.

Every strong culture and in this case the empowered culture derives from management sensitivity. Without it employees feel unmotivated, under-utilised,even exploited. It only takes a flick through the online job bulletin boards to see how we treat our employees. The turnover of staff, both junior and senior, is as fast and furious as ever, and there is a common pattern to people moving on. A majority when asked why they changed companies, would reply that they were not managed or spoken to in a professional manner. What a waste of time and money for all concerned. Let’s see some action to design companies so that empowerment is a balanced reality between decision-making, accountability, training and management support.

jin-tt-vs-nospringchicken-flatTo return to a point I touched on earlier, ageism, there seems to be an unwritten law in this industry that says because we keep inventing shiny, new products and services, that we must always have shiny, new younger staff as well. The number of over-45s who seem to get sidelined is amazing. What happens? Is it self-perpetuating because we have younger senior executives or younger recruitment staff? Are they unsure of their industry skills or even political ground to keep on older and more experienced staff than themselves. The older executive does not lose his or her ability to make decisions, to contribute creatively and energetically. Let’s not keep falling into the trap of discarding experience, if the industry is to mature it needs that stability.

The number of young executives I see looking for answers to basic business questions (on any online industry forum) that got answered  a long time ago concerns me. It’s not their fault, who have they got to learn from if the older mentor figures keep disappearing? There has to be a process of regeneration, a cycle where experienced professionals, grounded in business skills, impart their knowledge to the next set of executives. Who else will do it? The major company training schools seem to have diminished, or if not, focus too often on technology orientated product courses. You can only learn so much from self-help business books or company sponsored MBA courses.

Day to-day business sense has to be learned on the job, from people you respect and want to emulate. You can’t just hand out senior management positions to young executives before they are able to cope with the pressures that surround these demanding roles. So let’s match the investment that is made in the technology with investment in the long-term skills and care of our people at what ever stage of their careers, young or older.