Posts Tagged ‘professional’

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.

 

Drug of Choice Pic

Aged nine it did not take a lot of time for boredom to set in when out on a fishing trip on the Lough Mourne with my father. The patience required for the trout to bite alluded me at the time, in what now looking back, was a beautiful wooded setting close to my home town of Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland. I was drawn back to those times recently when out on one of my frequent dog walks. I was watching Briar, my six month old Springer spaniel puppy running free among the woods on the Wiltshire plain set above the beautiful Vale of Pewsey.

I was wondering when was the last time I had felt as energetic and wanting to run at that pace for the sheer joy and hell of it? Then I thought back to those fishing trips where I would disappear away from the water’s edge and head up into the dense woods. Just as Briar the puppy had been doing, inventing games in my head to play on my own. One of them was running full on, as I thought at the time, like Hawkeye in the “Last of the Mohicans”. Full of fun and health, just running and skipping between the trees for the sheer love of it. Lost in a world of my own, seemingly on a different plane, losing contact with the ground at points through the speed and agility of movement.

In my late teens I would feel that lightness and almost floating sensation again when I moved to England to train and play Badminton at a semi- professional International level. That occasional feeling in a game, both of all the long hard hours of training mentally and physically coming together in one sublime set of movement and strokes. That ability to glide across the court, jump to new heights to smash the shuttle with effortless ease, creating an adrenalin buzz that would last many hours and take a long time to come down from.

Fleeting times that these were, I would not have missed them for the world; surely this was a type of drug, not just an endorphin rush, but my own private little narcotic. After sport at that level of fitness as many top class sports people will attest, the drop down after you stop playing at that level can be hard. To substitute that sensation or moment is a challenge and one that most never do replace and have to live with that acceptance. I can see here where the temptation of taking a drug might creep in to sustain that level of feeling and performance for just a little bit longer.

Luckily in my late thirties it came to me again. This time as an entrepreneur, a different type of full on existence, some say 24/7 in the whirl of building a technology start-up in the Dotcom era. Based in Silicon Valley California, seven weeks there and 3 weeks back in the UK for over 2 years, a full on adrenalin spree, pushing what turned out to be a successful company into the global market. Again the theme of competition, but less about fitness and more about resilience of mind and body.  Pushing harder than other killer players to win. When you do, the euphoria engulfs and surrounds you again on a very similar level, that floating feeling comes back.

I say luckily, but as I often say to young entrepreneurs starting out on the start-up path having built five companies myself over 25 years. There is only one certainty, at the end of the run you will be sat in a corner exhausted and in tears. This will be because you have either just sold the company and won the game, or alternatively and more likely have lost the lot. Coming back from both scenarios is equally challenging, just different, surprisingly.

As I enter my sixtieth year, I have returned to the badminton after 22 years retired from playing, never having been on a court in anger in all that time. I was not setting out to recapture that feeling of exhilaration again, that would be foolish. But I had been back to the gym for the best part of two years and strangely as I saw it, was as fit as I probably had been in a decade. I had promised myself I would return to the badminton one day when I could play it socially and not mind losing or at least not mind as much as I used to. I had thought after my sixtieth birthday, having gained my senior railcard would be the considered time. But prompted by my current fitness and also thinking you never know what is round the next corner, I signed up for the winter season.

I was out drinking recently with a friend of mine in London; we were coming up the steep escalator at the Angel Tube station. Now I am giving him ten years but we were both moving at pace and we were chatting away as we do about a range of topical subjects. I enquired about his health, a throwaway line as I make it seem, but I am always keen to know my friends and their families are OK. Especially male friends who as we know rarely visit the doctor until too late and are hesitant about discussing these areas.

Anyway, I think he was surprised, but used the term robust to describe how he felt and I thought yes that is the word, as we get a little further down the track, we need to feel robust and able to deal with the hustle and bustle of today’s fast changing world. Those of us lucky enough to have good health and this does seem to be the luck of the draw, should relish that particular high. I have just been reading “The Triumphs of experience” by George E Vaillant this is the longest longitudinal study of human development ever undertaken. The bottom line there being that our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often become even more fulfilling than before.

This of course goes against conventional thinking, that in particular, men get set in their ways “can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. But this ability to reinvent oneself at any age is there and needed given modern demands of innovation and the technological impact on our lives. Those moments of joy, ecstasies, floating whatever way we wish to describe them, are all possible throughout life. I am certainly looking forward to creating more magic, using my own drug of choice on the next stage of life’s adventure.

There I was in the gym just doing my usual routine. A set number of exercises blending cardiovascular work with strength building over an average of fifty minutes with a warm up and down of a few minutes either end. This routine had built up from experience over many years of in the early days training to play professionally, then in later years just keeping a level so that I would not hurt myself while playing against generally younger opposition. Just a local gym, nothing fancy, the same faces mainly that mostly know why they are there and what they are doing. But the rest, well I wonder when they are going to hurt themselves given the lack of knowledge of how to approach even the simplest of tasks. Now to be fair the majority are perfectly happy, content to be there and that’s good, better than not being there at all.

But there are a few you can see who with a little bit of feedback and thought could be getting a real lift in return on the time spent there. In fact the real gain for them would be reducing the time they need to spend there, concentrating on quality rather than quantity. Well bar the occasional input from me, if they welcome it, I will leave that to the professionals, which in this field I am not. But it did make me think about the age-old question, in the wider context of my years of business management in the technology markets, whether professional experience at the C level will most of the time trump natural talent, enthusiasm, energy and the will to win of young executives in growth companies?

Well if we are to believe the PR in the trade press there are plenty of success stories of young men and women knocking it out of the park. Building and scaling companies with wonderful business cultures that they just have the spark and vision to drive forward. That is good of course celebrating success and inspiring others to do the same, the entrepreneurial world we live in today. But the reality is for every photo shoot or video that is featured there is a massive counter balance of executives at companies where they have soaked up all the research, books, magazines, network meetings on being a player, but are stalled in the process of recreating that dream for themselves, why?

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Now this can be for a myriad of reasons which I am not going to cover in this article, the question for here is if they were trained professionally themselves, or had professional experience around them as a reality check or guidance would more of them be progressing? I meet a lot of entrepreneurs across the TMT markets and through my trusted networks across many other industries. The theme I see is them making basic mistakes time and time again that comparable professionals removed from their business life’s early on. Now it is impossible and maybe not necessarily a good thing to have these young executives be totally insulated from mistakes and it might toughen them to find out the hard way a few times the consequences of their actions. But if you don’t know what you don’t know, how can you learn on the job in a small company?

But it does seem that some of those more basic things which can really put a company at risk could be easily avoided if the support and feedback was readily available. Growth companies move at a pace where all the bases are difficult to cover especially when you are consumed at the bleeding edge of your market. While there will hopefully always be the superstar exceptions, having a blend in a team, the founding team’s natural talents alongside hardened players has got to be a good thing especially when fighting on multiple fronts. It is the balance of instinctive skills and professional experience in a business which will in the end win in most fast growth situations.