27 July 2015
On Saturday 25 July 2015 I attended an Eid party and fundraising dinner in Holmfirth for the charity Healthcare 4 All International.
The audience had a large number of doctors and their families, as well as other professionals. The principal organiser Dr Ghulam Abbas had asked me to speak for about 10 minutes on the theme of how to achieve professional success. The lightly edited text of my talk is reproduced below.
After a long career, many things seem obvious now, but they were not obvious at the time!
Good afternoon and assalamu aleikum. I’ve been asked to talk for 10 minutes about achieving professional success. It’s based on my own career.
However, as well as my own experiences, I have had the benefit of meeting many very successful people, and have learnt from watching what other people do right, and sometimes what they do wrong! To keep it short, I will keep it to 10 points, and avoid getting into too much detail.
Be realistic in assessing your strengths and your weaknesses. You then need to choose something which plays to your strengths.
For example, shortly after I started training as a chartered accountant, I realised I was good at solving tax problems. To be honest, I was brilliant at solving complicated tax problems. On the other hand I was hopeless with people and not good at selling. I also didn’t like talking with clients about fees.
If I had set up a small accountancy practice, it would have been a disaster. That’s why I never did.
At firms like Arthur Andersen and Price Waterhouse, I relied on being given big clients. Once I had them, and they saw how well I solved their problems, they were very loyal. But I would never have managed to win them as new clients from a cold start.
Do you want consulting rooms on Harley Street? Do you want to be Clinical Director of the National Health Service? Do you want to be CEO of a private hospital chain?
Writing it down makes it more concrete.
Also success is not all or nothing. If you aim high and fail, you will end up in a better place than if you aim low and succeed.
In my time at Arthur Andersen, my wife regularly complained about my working hours, and wanted me to spend more time with her and our children. I then spent 3 ½ years with a small firm, which much shorter working hours. But I filled my evenings with outside unpaid activities, like delivering leaflets for the Conservative Party.
Both of us then understood that I was not the stay at home type.
After I joined Price Waterhouse, I worked much longer hours than I ever did at Arthur Andersen. However my wife never complained, because both of us had learned what I was like. By then she was completely behind my desire to become a partner in Price Waterhouse.
It’s a great way of becoming better known in your profession and builds your reputation. It will open doors for you.
I have been giving tax lectures since I was 30.
At PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of my specialities was treasury taxation. We had about 250 tax partners but only about 5 who specialised in this field, so it was a very narrow speciality. By writing about it, including the first official PwC blog anywhere in the world, I became one of the 2 or 3 best known treasury tax specialists in the UK. That was possible because I had a well defined niche speciality.
All of us feel uncomfortable when everybody else in the room is a complete stranger. If you are going to succeed, it helps to push yourself into those situations.
There are many occasions when you can meet new people and expand your network, such as black tie dinners. I strongly recommend buying your own dinner jacket. Otherwise the hassle or cost of hiring one becomes an easy excuse for not attending dinners that you should go to. Once you own a dinner jacket, you will look for opportunities to use it.
[My talk was followed by Jason McCartney, MP for Colne Valley, who lives in Holmfirth as well as having his constituency office there. He had the audience in stitches with the story of what happened when his dinner jacket ceased to fit!]
Your boss will appreciate being asked for advice. His opinion of you will go up, not down.
Back in 1988 I used to have a bad relationship with the partner in charge of the Manchester office of Price Waterhouse. Then one of my jobs went disastrously wrong. I remember going up to his office at about 9 at night to tell him this, in complete despair.
He explained what I had done wrong, and gave me some suggestions on how to fix it. That was the turning point, and from then on we had a far better working relationship.
All of us get training on our speciality, whether it is tax or radiology. That is normally referred to as "hard skills" training.
Very few of us are born as natural presenters, public speakers, managers of people, good listeners, people who are good at working with secretaries etc. I have seen some awful PowerPoint presentations given by eminent doctors. You can get better at everything like that with training. That is what "soft skills" means.
Finding that training and getting it is your responsibility, because it’s your career.
Top people in our society, in all professions, do not speak or write English that is just passable. For most of them, it’s easy. If you think of David Cameron’s upbringing and time at Eton and Oxford, why wouldn’t his English be perfect?
For others, especially if you grew up overseas, it’s much harder but it can be done if you really want to.
Your written English needs to be free of all errors. To improve it, read good quality literature.
If someone speaks to you by telephone, they should not be able to tell that you are not white British. To improve your spoken English, listen to Radio 4 all the time, and set out to absorb the pronunciation.
I read my first one, "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie when I was 16, and have been reading them all my life. I am going to recommend just one. It’s: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven Covey.
After I had given the talk, a couple of people in the audience asked whether I was going to publish it. I gave them the two hard copies I had with me, (my delivery copy and my backup delivery copy), and promised to put it onto my website. Hence this page.
Kindle edition above
Kindle edition above