I am a recent member of Women in Business (WIB) and was disappointed I couldn’t attend the inaugural Entrepreneur Conference back in March. So when this one was announced I thought it would be a great opportunity to meet more members, find out more about WIB and do some networking.
The conference, for the main part, had a sporting theme, with a spotlight on rugby. It was an interesting concept and I’ve heard many leadership talks and discussions which use sporting analogies to significant effect.
Stephen Watson did an excellent job as compare and first to receive an introduction and warm welcome onto stage was Suzanne Wylie, CEO of Belfast City Council. Out of all the speakers I enjoyed Suzanne the most. I related. Suzanne shared a personal account of how she got to where she is today, from being born and raised in a normal, average family, believing that her school teachers did not expect her to amount to much (she showed them!), to beginning work in a male dominated environment and being the butt of many a practical joke. In the work place Suzanne secured promotions, performing better than more experienced and older male counterparts. Something which often didn’t win her popularity contests! Suzanne was extremely fortunate in having a role model and mentor in her Grandmother, who always supported her and encouraged her, making her believe that she could do anything she wanted. Suzanne spoke openly and honestly giving an account of herself as a woman, wife, mother and granddaughter fulfilling her career potential.
Next on stage was Libby Jackson, Global Head of Alternative Legal Services at Herbert Smith Freehills. Libby spoke fondly of setting up the Belfast office. It is still heralded as a best in its class. Although it does not provide services directly in Belfast Libby has ensured the office remains due to the talent, skills and intelligence to be found in Northern Ireland. Today the office is run by a local woman and is an exemplar within Herbert Smith Freehills.
“Staying on top of Your Game” was the topic of the next presentation by Alasdair McKee, Offload Rugby. Much of what Alasdair said resonated. He was coaching rugby part-time, and working as recruitment consultant part-time. But he breathed, ate and slept rugby. It was his passion. So, he gave up recruitment consulting and decided to coach full time. The tone of his speech and body language would suggest he hasn’t looked back since. Alasdair spoke about preparing for success which requires the ability to define it, making it realistic and measurable and creating momentum. He emphasized the importance of the right mindset for success and the need to focus – multitasking isn’t always the right thing. One of Alasdair’s parting shots and most memorable was there is “nothing worse than an arrogant winner”. People relate better to others that are humble.
At the breakout sessions, we were addressed in turn by three members of the Irish women’s rugby team. In my group, Nikki Caughey firstly spoke to us on preparing for the game which was not only about tactics but mental and physical well-being. Then Louise Galvin told us about the brutality of the analysis including what sounded like some humiliating criticism in front of the team. There was lots of discussion regarding this point and the importance of the “positive sandwich” in both the business and sporting world. Finally Sene Naoupu discussed the importance of communication with team mates during the game.
The event was wrapped up by the final key note speaker Stephen Ferris. He began with a very well placed clever plug of his new book, (so it’s only right I too honour this), “Man and Ball; My Autobiography”. Stephen shared with us that he was forced into early retirement through injury. He could have succumbed to all the disappointment and challenge that brought, including the cessation of the monthly salary. But he chose to focus on the fact that he got to play professionally for as long as he did, something the majority of us will never have the opportunity to do. He talked about the skills and determination required to adapt and continue to succeed in the face of adversity. This resilience is a necessity in the business world.
The conference was well organised and slickly executed. The exhibitions were interesting and relevant. I had the opportunity to meet lots of new people and I believe the skills I have developed since attending Lean-In events stood me in good stead as it was easy to begin to talk to complete strangers and make introductions using my brand. The sports metaphor worked well, even for a non-sporty person like me. There were many moments of resonance and realisation.