My Story

by | Apr 16, 2020

We all have a story that shapes who we are, why we do what we do and how we show up. This is mine.

This period of imposed self-isolation as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic creates time for ourselves. Quality time to reflect, refocus and possibly redirect. Time to think, to create,  to write. I never thought of myself as much of a writer, but here’s a start.

Some might say I am a high achiever. Graduate of Oxford University, Chartered Accountant, Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and Telstra Business Women’s Award finalist who has enjoyed a successful 30 year career in business. A career spanning a Blue Chip company, Big 4 accounting firm, private family business and not-for-profit organisations in the capacity of Executive Manager, Chief Financial Officer, Company Secretary, Corporate Services Manager and Non-Executive Director. 

This is all the more significant given I was the first in my family to go to any university, let alone Oxford University, plus I secured a scholarship based on my academic merit.  To this day, this rates as one of my proudest achievements in life because I came from a very normal working-class background in the south of England, educated in public schools and my parents didn’t spend a penny on my education!  They didn’t have the money to do so, and I don’t have any hard feelings about that. My Dad started work as a steel fabrication apprentice in London and worked for the same family owned company for all 45 years of his working life, retiring as the Operations Manager. My Mum devoted her life to working as a mum and home keeper, and I am so grateful for that. She was always there for us before and after school, helping with homework; there to listen.  They will soon celebrate their 60 years anniversary.

My parents had to work hard for everything they had. They had to save money and had to go without as they strived to provide my sister and I with a good start, and to improve their own quality of life.  I guess from my upbringing I get my core values of a strong work ethic, being on time, well presented, good manners and not taking anything for granted.  I was a bit of a “girly swot” at school; I was driven to do the best I could and to make my parents proud. Studying at Oxford was an absolute privilege, I still have to pinch myself sometimes – did that really happen?

I think my resilience, independence, tenacity and confidence had to develop quickly when I started at Oxford. A shy introvert, just 18, living away from home for the first time, feeling very much like an imposter amongst the private school “set” who I assumed were all so much smarter than me. This imposter syndrome stayed with me for most of my working life.  But I soon found my place with other like-minded students, mostly from similar backgrounds but now I realise, more importantly with similar values. 

After I left university, I had no interest in going along with the crowd and signing up for a graduate program within major commerce or industry.  (Early signs of challenging the status quo perhaps).  I spent 5 years working out what it was I thought I really wanted to do, before getting accepted by KPMG as a mature graduate, aged 26.  A year after graduating I met my husband Pete, who kept me grounded and helped me navigate my options.  We have been married for 24 years, and he continues to provide me with critical support and wisdom throughout the journey of life.

My 5 years of working it out included working within a landscape architects’ practice, a garden centre, insurance, logistics and three years with Glaxo Pharmaceuticals as a medical sales representative.  How I ever ended up there I have no idea, as I don’t have a sales bone in my body!  I suppose they must have seen in me the ability to build relationships.  The training in interpersonal skills was second to none, and I certainly had to develop some more resilience and tenacity if I was ever to overcome the Practice Manager and actually get in front of a doctor! Working from home, on the road all day, my self-motivation, strong personal organisation and drive also played out in this role.   I chose to move on from being a drug rep for 2 reasons (1) I needed more intellectual stimulation and (2) the ethics within the industry challenged my moral compass.

Interestingly looking back on my 10 year career with KPMG, the reason I ultimately chose to leave was because my values were compromised.

Moving on, the last 15 years of my Executive career was within a large private family owned business.  I had a great role within a great organisation, fantastic boss, fabulous team, with plenty of challenge, for good reward and most importantly a place where my values were aligned. But something was missing for me. And the bit that was missing was in my heart.  It took me a long time (I mean years) to listen to myself (and ignore what everyone else thought) to pluck up the courage to leave this all behind.  The hardest leadership decision that I ever made. But I knew there was something else I had to do yet, be it I didn’t know what. I was 51 and didn’t want to look back and have any regrets that I hadn’t given something else a go.  I gave away my job in December 2017, with nothing else lined up, to create the space to start to explore what next. To try and find my purpose.

My 18-month journey of exploration included doing a lot of work with coaches and counsellors on me and my why. Getting more comfortable with valuing myself and my own needs. Travelling by myself trekking in Nepal for 3 weeks (at age 51 the first time I had travelled alone).  Firmly believing that finding my purpose was about securing a role with the right not-for profit organisation whose purpose resonated with me.  A couple of short-term contracts and several rejections later the penny eventually dropped. 

My moment of clarity was to realise that I didn’t need or want to be a Chief Financial Officer anymore. It had served me well, but I didn’t need to let my past continue to define me. Whilst I am good with numbers, I realised it was the people that motivated me more than the numbers.  I also realised I had been looking for my purpose in the wrong place.  I needed to be looking much closer to home.

In the meantime, I pursued an interest of completing an Executive and Organisational Executive Coaching Certificate. Not because I was necessarily intent on becoming an Executive Coach, but because I felt that my natural leadership style had a coaching flavour to it, and the Certificate would add some more useful tools to my leadership kitbag.

My lightbulb moment was to realise that my purpose is to share the gift of my life’s experience with others; and that I could do this through professional one to one coaching, mentoring, business coaching, consulting and non-executive directorship within organisations whose purpose resonates with me.   Hence my entrepreneurial journey began.

From my own experience, I believe that everybody deserves the opportunity to find fulfilment through doing what they truly want to do, and not what others think that they should do. It took me 51 years to work this out.  I would love through coaching, to be able to help others to come to this realisation earlier in their lives than I did. 

If I can inspire and enable individuals and organisations to be the best, they can be, facilitating the removal of obstacles to improve performance, I will have fulfilled my purpose. My approach is to treat people with respect, listen to them, believe in them and give everybody the opportunity they deserve to succeed.  My expectations are high; I like to surround myself with high performers with the drive to do things better.  To challenge the status quo, to vision how things could be, and manage the necessary changes to get there.

Written By Debbie Millard

Master your business through strong leadership, knowing your numbers and empowering your people

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