I guess there was something about writing that I always enjoyed – even though I was nothing special in English classes at school.
I discovered later that being good at English doesn’t always make you good at creating effective business communication.
I was born In Kilmarnock in the West of Scotland – a town famous for being the birthplace of Johnnie Walker whisky and the place where the poetry of Robert Burns and his international anthem Auld Lang Syne were first published.
I attended Grange Academy, where I edited the school magazine – my first foray into publication. The teachers at the time gave us freedom on what it should be called, which the later regretted when we called it Xanadu! This was inspired by the music of Rush as I recall rather than directly by Coleridge’s poem or by Olivia Newton John’s song. I think they changed it the following year.
After school, I studied marketing at Strathclyde University, where I also edited the student newspaper Telegraph.
My First Job
Perhaps a career in journalism should have called at that point but instead I began my career as the first person ever recruited by financial services company Scottish Amicable to work full-time in marketing. Wow – that makes me feel old; I remember the day these wonderful new machines that sent faxes were delivered. We forget how times change so quickly.
I was very lucky in that role because financial companies had just discovered that they needed to do some marketing. So at the age of 22, I was thrown straight into learning all about television advertising, media relations and major sponsorships.
The downside of getting involved in everything so quickly was that, after 5 years, it seemed I had done everything. I felt the need to try something new.
The London Years
So when I got the opportunity to try out my first interest and take a job as a journalist, I jumped at it and moved to live in London.
I remember one of my former colleagues asking me how I’d handle the transition from ‘the world of fiction’ – working in marketing – to ‘the world of facts’. I fear he had a slightly optimistic view of how newspapers work! I worked as a reporter on the specialist financial paper Money Marketing and loved being part of a competitive successful team.
I had the opportunity to be at the center of many important activities – working with business leaders, regulators and government ministers. I have many happy memories of those years and I guess the highlights included interviewing John Harvey-Jones, one of the UK’s best-known ever business leaders, winning an award from my publishing company for Best News Story of the Year and seeing changes happen in the financial industry as the result of our work.
While most of my colleagues from those days moved on to other jobs in journalism, I chose to return to marketing and corporate communications working for several London agencies over a few years. One thing they all have in common is that they no longer exist under the same name – but I don’t think that’s directly connected with me!
After 8 years in London, I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland’s beautiful capital city, where I worked in marketing and corporate communications roles in three leading financial services businesses. I ended up as head of the corporate communication team at Scottish Widows, the UK’s best known insurance and investment brand, and part of Lloyds TSB.
The highlights of my time in Edinburgh involved my time in JCI Edinburgh, where I became president in 2001. I also had a taste of mixing with Royalty at the Queen’s garden party and at a private dinner with Prince Charles at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
My time in JCI was a fantastic opportunity to meet people from all over the world and I visited many countries, including attending events in: Oslo, Stockholm, Berlin, Ostend, Dublin, Monte Carlo, Hawaii, Reykjavik and Sapporo.
Many of the things I learned in that time inspired my interest in personal development and I later trained more specifically in fields such as NLP, hypnosis and Hawaiian Huna.
What struck me most was the strong connection between those fields and my professional interest in effective communication and marketing.