Allison Kirkby – Fearless


You know it’s, not obvious that failure helps one be fearless, but bear with me, because I, as I reflected on my own life story, I’ve realized a lot of it’s actually, through the failures that I’ve, probably learned the most and learned to be the fearless version of myself that I now am.

First of all, I should probably start with helping you understand who I am and my background as you can hear. Probably I’m from Glasgow uh. I was um, you know a clever kid that went to what would nowadays be called an inner-city school.

I was bullied for being clever and I was bullied because I didn’t live in social housing. My parents, who were both factory workers, had you know, stretched themselves to their financial limits to buy a house, but that was unacceptable at the school that I was at.

So I was bullied. My parents were very hard working, but factory workers. As I said they had a tough life. My grandparents’ lives were even tougher and both grandfathers were alcoholics and in that context you know I escaped a lot through reading books.

I escaped a lot through working really hard at school, but by keeping my head down and the books and uh and the aspiration I had from some role models in other parts of my family made me want to move beyond that tough experience, and so I had aspirations to go to university, to get a profession, to get a qualification, but sadly my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

In the summer before I was due to go to university, we decided not to tell him that he was going to die, so it wasn’t the right time for me to go to university. Whilst we were trying to pretend that everything was okay, so all of those experiences, whilst tough really made me who I am today. First of all, the bullying helped me become tough, but they also taught me to have empathy.

The fact that we had limited financial resources taught me to have my own financial independence as quickly as I possibly could. I actually started working at 12 and had two jobs by the age of 14. The fact that I didn’t go to university taught me that I had to learn a number of other skills beyond just straight academic skills, to be able to move on and achieve in life and be able to to move up the ladder and achieve so much more than my parents ever could.

And finally, losing a parent at a young age makes you realize that life can be very short, and if life is too short, you should never stick anything too long. If it makes you unhappy as a result of that, my motto in life is to have a dream and bravely make it happen.

There have been many experiences in my life that probably this starting point in my life has made me: have the confidence or be brave enough to take them on, and so just let me take you through some of those most monumental uh experiences in my life. As I said at the age of 12, I was selling fresh cream around the doors of Glasgow, kept very many old men that lived on their own happiness on a Saturday morning, as I was delivering fresh cartons of ice cream to them.

That was the equivalent of a Caddo or online Amazon these days. Actually, I was ahead of my time. At 14 I was an Avon lady and after knocking on doors, I finally realized that actually, all my family members could sell so much more.

For me, if, if I outsourced it to them because they worked in factories. I guess that was Amazon, again reselling at the age of 17. After not going to university, I joined the Scottish whiskey industry and became their west of Scotland trainee accountant of the year and spent five years with them, one day a week going to college but learning to be in finance in 1990.

I then joined Procter & Gamble, and that was the start of 20 years; a great 20 years, where there were many experiences, but some of my bravest movements were probably going to Romania in the mid-90s.

It was just after the fall of Ceausescu. We were trying to open up markets like Bulgaria and Serbia. I had to fire the Bulgarian distributor for paying off the mafia. I had to find Serbian distributors to sell detergents, and that was between the Bosnian and Kosovan wars.

So the people who we were meeting kind of dressed like warlords.

After that probably one of the braver moves was after 16 years of being very successful. I approached Gamble finance. I made a move into general management to run Gamble’s newly acquired hairdressing business, and so I got to know all of the hairdressers and there’s, lots of celebrity hairdressers across the UK and Ireland.

So having been an accountant, I was then in the hairdressing industry, which was totally different, but a great grounding for becoming the CEO that I am today after 20 years.

I then moved into the TMT sector, so I was brave enough to leave Procter & Gamble after 20 years, and, you know, first Virgin Media and ending up here now in Scandinavia. During that time, though I started to realize that you can always pick your own bosses. I had a couple of failures during that time as well.

One of them was because I just couldn’t cope with an undermining boss. Another one was when I didn’t get the job that I really wanted, which was to become the CFO of Manchester United Football Club, and then another time was when I had to walk away from my job when I realized I didn’t have the backing of my major shareholder..

These were all life-forming experiences for me and, as I look back if I hadn’t walked away from the undermining boss, if I hadn’t failed to get the Manchester United role, then I probably wouldn’t, be here in Sweden today.

Having spent now almost seven years in a variety of some of the biggest telecoms companies in the world, and in fact, you know you know a lot of people said, “Why are you going to Sweden when you can get a great role in the UK?”

But having thought about weekly commuting between Windsor and Manchester you know Stockholm became an even easier, and more delightful weekly commute, especially during COVID times, because Stockholm has actually been a great place to be.

So. What are the insights and lessons we can take away from my fearlessness, but also my failures? I think you know looking at the concept of leveling up the need for social mobility, the need to reduce the divides, and the inequality that now exists in society.

We absolutely need to be role models to the kids at the pure ends of society.

We absolutely need to invest in education and teachers that not just give them academic qualifications but actually teach them life skills and give them hope, give them aspiration.

We absolutely need to get the service and hospitality sector back up and running again, because, for a lot of those kids, that’s, the only place that will provide financial independence, but they’ll, also learn life skills beyond school and then, finally, from a career point of view, what are the insights and lessons?

Well, I think first, pick your boss, pick the companies you choose if you can so that you’re in an environment where you can grow and develop and be challenged and get some brave moves along.

This way also makes sure that you don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

You know after 20 years at Procter & Gamble I also started to put myself on boards. I first of all started on a charity board. Then I ended up on the board of Greg’s. the bakers and now I’m on the board of British Telecom.

I’ve also taken up mad sports things over the years like running the London Marathon or doing some crazy bike rides through Vietnam and Cambodia.

They were all great distractions away from when things were tough and when I had moments of failure because then I could focus on achieving something else.

Finally, pick your partner. I have a great husband and we have a great home environment that I go home every weekend and I focus on weekends and holidays very much.

So finally, I just want to say what’s the lessons to be learned from all of this, and what do I give to you?

Don’t view failure as a failure; view failure as an opportunity for you to learn and make yourself a more confident braver version of yourself. And finally, don’t always pick the obvious candidates, because if companies like Procter & Gamble and the Scottish whiskey industry had picked the most obvious candidate, they wouldn’t, have chosen me and maybe they would have missed out on a lot so be fearless and learn from failure.

Becoming Smart!

It is said that with age comes wisdom. As a "senior" I would candidly say that were I able to live my life over again but retain all of the lessons that I have learned in my life, then the new, young me would enjoy a very different life than that which I have enjoyed. Experiences (good and bad) teach us life's lessons if you apply them. My intention with this blog is to provide a constant source of wisdom to you, gentle reader, in the hope that you can avoid some or more of life's mistakes and thus enjoy a better quality of life. My sources are global because applied wisdom is what counts.

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