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“I’m a firm believer that ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’”- Annabelle Beckwith
What is your backstory?
I grew up in rural Wiltshire, went to an all girls school, took a year out between school and university to work as a volunteer supporting recovering drug addicts in Hong Kong, then went to Birmingham University to study English Language and Literature.
I remember thinking to myself ‘I don’t want an ordinary 9-5 job’
After writing consistently to the BBC in Birmingham to ask for work, I got a job as ‘hospitality coordinator’’ on a daytime TV show, but contributed ideas and researched some items for broadcast.
I left the BBC to go home and help my mum with a tribunal case: she’d been fired because she’s Indian. She won the case and donated the money she won to have wells dug in rural villages in Gujarat.
I got a job with a communications company in Somerset, and had the best boss possible, with whom I’m still in touch. She was an entrepreneur who’d set up her own business and we worked not with local Somerset companies, but with national and global organisations like the NHS, OFWAT, BP, Amoco.
I married and moved to Scotland and couldn’t find a job, so temped for a while and then set up on my own in marketing and PR.
As part of this, I held a contract with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, (then the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama) as commercialisation manager, with the role of securing additional income streams for the academy. I set up an agency for students and ran drama-based training programmes for the corporate sector.
I was promoted to Head of Development and Public Affairs, responsible for marketing and fundraising and had a team of 5… but I had no experience of leadership at that point, so it was all guesswork.
I left to set up an arts-based training company with a friend.
That was 18 years ago, my company name has changed in that time, but I’ve worked with leaders at all levels in major organisations during that time, in the UK, Europe, USA , Middle East and Far East.
Can you tell me the story of your prior successes, challenges, and major responsibilities?
There have been successes along the way, but I count my biggest success as the journey I’ve been on over nearly 2 decades.
Today, I’m coaching and training senior level leaders in large organisations and working with ambitious entrepreneurs who want to scale their businesses. I’ve worked with clients all over the world, and have seen first-hand core principles at work: what makes good leaders and what makes poor leaders. Which factors lead to business success and growth…and which don’t. These patterns and principles are universal.
However, 20 years ago I was a manager at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. I loved my job but I had no leadership training whatsoever at that point, and I was guessing my way through it day by day. Not only did I make mistakes that impacted on my team, it was deeply stressful as I questioned pretty much every decision I made.
I left to set up a training and coaching business with a friend (who’s since moved on to other things) and we started, hesitant at first, to win a few clients through our creative approach.
We also worked as associates for larger training companies, and at that stage this was a godsend, as it enabled us to work with huge multinationals and REALLY start to understand the scope and potential of what we were doing.
From working with UK companies, I was offered the opportunity to work with clients in Europe: at that point it would have been easy to say ‘no thanks’ because it was something new for me, I had young children etc etc
However (back to that mindset thing!) I said yes… and more overseas opportunities came, and continue to come. Most recently, we’ve been a training delivery partner for a New Zealand company, for its subsidiary businesses in the UK, Europe and USA.
I’m a firm believer that ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’. Mindset is everything: if you decide that this is one challenge too many and the game’s over…it is. If you decide that there is a way forward, your thought process shifts from ‘if’ to ‘how’, and this in itself precipitates creative thinking and action rather than uncertainty.
My thinking has never been around ‘what if this doesn’t work’ but always around ‘how am I going to do this?’
My early challenges revolved around the initial move from employment to going it alone, especially as I had a family to support. Finding clients was the opening act: we started by targeting public sector organisations with projects under £25,000 that didn’t have to go to a massive public tender, and moved gradually from there to working with corporates, often as associates of larger more established firms, and gradually built up our own diverse client base.
The economic environment has provided its own challenges: during the banking crisis in around 2008-2009, many companies simply slashed their training and development budgets: projects that had been scheduled were simply pulled completely or scaled back drastically.
At that point, I found it was a matter of pivoting a little and going to where the corporate focus was: one to one coaching for those leading or going through big changes in their business environment and career coaching for those losing their jobs became a focus that year.
Political surprises like Brexit also provide a challenge: if working in Europe is going to be more difficult (and who knows what will happen frankly) then we turn our attention further afield, to Asia, Australia/ New Zealand and the USA.
For me, responding to challenges has to be about:
a) acknowledging the issue head on, rather than pretending it’s not there
b) thinking creatively and flexibly about how to work round it, through it, over it or under it
c) taking action. Taking a step forward. Doing something…. and recognising that overthinking leads to inertia!
In terms of life in general my major responsibility is to my two teenagers. I’ve always been their provider, so failure isn’t an option!
In terms of business it’s twofold: first, responsibility to my clients, in delivering what I promise and in making a difference to their business. If my coaching programmes or training courses don’t make a difference to individuals and to the impact they have on the businesses in which they work, then it’s all been a waste of everyone’s time.
I set out on every project to change lives.
Secondly, it’s to the people I work with. I work on an associate basis, bringing in specialist experts into client projects depending on what’s needed. Aside from the obvious factors of ensuring that they are compensated well for their expertise, I feel a responsibility to ensure that we’re all working on worthwhile, interesting and useful projects where we can actually make a difference.
I’m not particularly interested in ‘tick the box’ training or coaching where an organisation is just going through the motions without really caring whether or not it makes a difference. It’s soul destroying: I won’t do it and I don’t expect my team to either!
Can you tell me about a time when you almost gave up, how you felt about that, and what you did instead of giving up?
We’re all human. Whilst we tend to talk about our successes and the times we’ve pulled through, there are times when it’s all looking so bleak and hopeless that we’re ready to throw in the towel for good.
During the financial crisis, when clients left right and centre were cancelling training programmes that had been booked and confirmed, it felt like the ground was shifting under my feet. Everything I’d worked hard to build up by that point: regular clients who came to me through recommendations, a full diary of interesting and profitable work, a lifestyle that meant I was there for my kids much more than if I’d been working a 9 -5 job… all of it was about to crumble under my feet, and there was nothing I could do about it. I had no control whatsoever. I lost sleep every night, and felt physically sick and weak at the thought of failure, and potentially losing everything I’d worked for.
I’d been scheduled to deliver some leadership programmes in Europe with one client – until they announced that as a cost cutting measure, they were putting the programme on hold. Suddenly there was a big gap in the diary…and that meant a big gap in my business finances.
Other clients started to do the same – cancelling or indefinitely postponing work, putting bans on international travel… all of which spelled doom for my business.
In those times it’s easy to panic and think ‘any port in a storm’ , and I started to look at other options, primarily finding a job.
In that storm, though, there were literally no ports! Companies weren’t recruiting, even when I started to think about giving up and getting a job, the prospects of finding something decent were so lame that it was better to soldier on.
It was a case of weather the storm or drown.
Bizarrely, a walk in the woods gave me a fresh perspective: I noticed that although it was winter and everything had died back…there were still evergreens. There were still the last few berries on the trees. There was still life amongst the dead branches.
I decided to look for the ‘evergreens’ and the last few berries in my work: what I started to notice, was that companies were focusing on going through change, and on career coaching. I saw that these were areas in which I could provide a service, so I refocused here.
- I survived the storm: sometimes in business it’s not about boldly sailing forward, it’s about holding fast and avoiding shipwreck on the rocks, and living to sail on another day….