As a 45 year old male with a long history of success working for companies across the world promoting products and solutions from consumables to capital innovations. Promoting and distributing the latest in technology across the UK, Europe and North America.
I was living the success story of a 3rd son, single parent family growing up on a housing estate in south Birmingham, UK. I started my unofficial career at 15 working to install Royal Mail post boxes with a friend of a friend. I was 6’2 and strong, the basic qualification for the role. I also knew at this early age that hard work reaped it’s rewards.
Having watched my mom struggle to raise 3 boys working various jobs to try and support us through school I felt a strong responsibility to help out the household. To pay my own way you could say, take away the strain a little. At the same time I was skipping classes and eventually days of school to the dismay of my teachers who implored me to attend as I was allegedly a talented student.
But you have to understand, I grew up fighting for anything, I grew up appreciating the smallest things. We didn’t have holidays or allowances, there was no car for my 17th birthday. No one discussed which University or even College to attend. We just made do and enjoyed what we had with the ambition to have a little more one day.
Eventually I finished school at 16 and managed to get a job helping in a warehouse at a company my mom was the receptionist at. A great family business that rewarded hard work and ambition. Giving me the chance to experience the ‘ins and outs’ of a small company and explore skills I’d nurtured in my free time (computer programming, technology, engineering).
I spent just under 10 happy years with these guys and girls and loved every minute, watching a small company grow from selling consumables to being one the UK’s key players in the emerging healthcare technology product markets.
To this date I thank them for helping me gain career skills that have helped in my journey, whether interacting and supporting customers that in turn developed my relationship building skills. To exploring early marketing work on an old Windows 3.1 OS. I gained sales techniques, marketing tools and business knowledge from logistics to book keeping during this early employment.
At 26 I started to work with a larger company as a ‘business development’ manager, a role tailored to my certain specialist healthcare technology skills. A position that in turn saw the company secure several new distributorships from weary international companies looking for a person to promote their brands and products with the in house ability to handle the technical nature of the products ie. me.
As previously the role evolved into an all encompassing position that saw me interacting with international companies to deliver the message to the potential customers. Understanding the key skills to securing trust from the key opinion leaders in each field of expertise.
After a great 5 year stretch in this position I was offered the opportunity to supply several products directly, a great confirmation of the skills and experience I’d grown in the industry. After a little thought I decided to venture out into self-employment and started a small ‘one man’ limited company. Importing technology and supplying to the UK and Ireland.
The anticipation was exhilarating, yet scary at the same time. I did my due diligence, I researched the markets, produced the business plans and spoke with a network of business owners pre launch.
Initially my tasks where focused on marketing a new revolutionary product to a market that was very competitive with bigger players. Falling back on years of experience to analyse the base and sell the unique features of the company first and then the products. I’ve never struggled to sell myself to potential customers, I’m open and honest, I don’t mince words and have never forgotten my roots.
The biggest challenge I had was capital, I didn’t have a never ending bank balance or a rich benefactor to lean on, I had to be a little clever with invoicing and payments. The 30 day terms expected within the markets I supplied did not help. So I offered early payment discounts, shedding 10% if you paid within 15 days or even more for pre-payment. This worked with some but larger institutions like NHS and governing bodies had strict accounting regimes that wouldn’t bend.
After overcoming the initial company start up hurdles and gaining traction in the markets with successful marketing campaigns and educational workshops I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. That is until I then discovered my manufacturer and supplier was not exactly being honest about the sole distributor agreement, in fact they were actively seeking a blanket approach to selling the product approaching many companies across the UK and Ireland.
This shocking news meant I no longer had secured business, the plans in place were void and the capital already invested was not to my benefit but instead would see the brand and product sold on the back of it to competitors in a tiny market like the UK and Ireland. With the writing on the wall and without the financial backing to take legal action I had to rethink before debt overtook.
Finally determining that closing the company and returning the employed workforce to secure an income and start repaying some debts was the only route. A massive hit to me personally and professionally, both financially and mentally. I gathered my spirits and looked for the next adventure.
Eventually after a few more roles that didn’t work out, due to some strange directorship ideas. I revisited a company I worked with previously, supplying their brand through a distributor. A company that knew my experience and array of skills. They knew I was a go getter and had helped them achieve great sales and visibility in the UK.
They approached me and asked if I’d consider helping them grow the UK and Ireland markets. But I’d have to work as a consultant as they were based in Italy and had no registered UK office at this time. I hesitantly agreed after my disaster being self employed previously but knew them to be a trustable family company that valued it’s employees.
Initially I was tasked with recovering markets from a disastrous previous distributor (ie. I left). I would be working with another colleague who’d be focused on the NHS market but would be required to mix up the focus when necessary. Perfect for me as my whole career has been based on a adaptability when required. A skill learnt growing up on the housing estate in Birmingham.
After 5 years, several successful product launches and smashing sales goals. Life seemed to be back on track, it wasn’t perfect. I clashed with my colleague due to our opposing views on how to handle just about every single damn professional decision. But I enjoyed the challenge.
It was about now I met my wife, a sweet Canadian teacher working in Abu Dhabi. We hit it off and quickly got married in Gibraltar with the idea she would teach in the UK as the Middle East experience was a nightmare. However the more I got to know her the more I realised that the UK 9 to 5 tick box teacher routine wouldn’t suit her. She loves teaching, she loves helping the kids and exploring different avenues to get the most from them. A policy not encouraged in the UK.
So with this in mind I decided to move 6000km to the middle of Alberta and a small ‘city’ called Medicine Hat. I gave up my career in Europe, my lifestyle, friends and family.
But as in my career, I could see how she shone when she discussed her students and how much this would help her achieve her ambitions. Similar to my experiences managing teams, mentoring the best from them and helping them reach their potential in the work place.
On arriving in the -26 degrees temperature I quickly had to get the visa’s sorted and get a work permit. I say quickly, I arrived in February 2017 and had eventually secured a work permit by September that year. I then secured a job almost immediately. Wow I thought, this is easy!!
Well ‘easy’, not really. The role was to manager the British Columbia province for a medical technology company. Now remember I’m living in Alberta at this point and Canada is a little bigger than the UK. So I would have to work and live in BC. After discussions with the wife, we decided it was a great opportunity and once she’d completed her term at the local teaching position she could look at opportunities to teach in BC.
So the day arrived, I loaded the SUV and headed off to Vancouver, BC. A short 1300km drive, but wow what a drive. Through mountains, past lakes, on empty highways with only nature to keep you company. You basically drove in to the sky, found heaven and then returned to our world in one trip.
After an initial few days of acclimatization in my new amazing digs over looking the US Mountains and the Frazer river, I ventured out to meet customers and test the waters. Now I didn’t expect it to be plane sailing. Hell I hadn’t ever had plane sailing in my career. But I did rely on the information I received from colleagues being honest, which in this case was a little swayed.
The management of the province had been a disaster. Five managers in 4 years, all failing to support and maintain the very competitive area. Many upset customers and more worryingly, several key opinion leaders too. But one never to shy away from a challenge, I threw my hat in the ring and started to rebuild the confidence primarily, trust and eventually the market share.
As I toiled on in BC my wife was teaching but experiencing a few health issues, originally thought to be from the conditions she’d experienced in the Middle East. Now diagnosed as cancer of the cervix. Not ideal for a 34 year old women to hear. After several invasive treatments it became apparent she’d need to have a hysterectomy to remove the threat.
This was a hammer blow and pretty much threw everything in the air, however I knew one thing! I wanted to help and support her how ever I could. So had to resign my position after just 9 months and returned to the prairies of Alberta to help.
It wasn’t a decision made lightly as I had started to gain ground and was becoming very successful in the new role, but I was confident I could help for a few months while my wife recovered then start a new role and life would continue.
So after the operation was successful and recovery in full swing I reached out again to various job boards and made Canada aware I was seeking employment. Few weeks passed, probably a dozen roles applied for. Few months pass, over 50 roles applied for! Now consider it took me about a week to secure work in Canada after the permit arrived.
Now I started to worry, not just because I wasn’t snapped up for a new role. But because I wasn’t receiving any responses, even recruiters were just ignoring me. My experiences in the UK where the opposite, getting calls for work even when working and not looking for other employment.
Four plus months into the search across the whole of the country, daily applying on many job boards for roles I could easily manage. I started to get the odd call back, usually a recruiter to check information on my CV. A trend started to appear, I didn’t have a DEGREE, my formal education 30 years ago was letting me down.
Now let’s be clear, I’d worked in sales for 25 years. I’d been successful throughout my whole career, launched innovative products, worked with big brands, made companies MIILLIONS. I’d never been sick, no convictions, never been dismissed for failing to fulfill a role!!
But because I hadn’t got a DEGREE I was not eligible to be considered for a role in modern companies and business. I thought this is a joke, I even had debates with recruiters ask them to explain how a degree would convert to 25 years of success for an employer?
I reached out to HR departments and got a robotic response stating the ATS (application tracking system) computer system decides based on boxes ticked. So in practice, my success didn’t tick enough boxes. The fact I financially was a better investment due to the career trend didn’t mean a damn thing to an uneducated box ticker in HR departments.
Hell I had industry colleagues telling me to LIE about a degree, “just make it up!” I would be told. “We see bullshit Universities all the time in applications!”, would be another response. So it had come to this, lie and potentially get the role under false information or be honest and fall at the first hurdle.
Before you ask and if you hadn’t worked it out, I chose the honest pill in this scenario. My whole career had been based on honesty and now it was faltering and failing due to honesty.
So now I’m in CANADA it’s been nearly a year since I was employed. My wife’s student debt was crippling, throw in the mortgage and life for me was getting desperate. I’d basically come from a mindset where working hard produces results to a world where buying an education gets you an interview.
The only option I had was to start a small business selling my experience, but I was in Medicine Hat, not exactly the mecca for healthcare innovation or top line marketing solutions. So business was slow, very slow. But I managed to get a couple of clients but even then the forecast was dyer.
Reflecting on the whole situation I made a decision to return to my ROOTS and see if I can lever work from past colleagues who knew my ethics and skills. So my not quite 3 year Canadian journey came to an end when I got on a flight to Gatwick, London.
Now back in the UK for nearly three months the realization of the ‘Education Segregation’ has really hit home, I could assume it’s a North American thing! While in Canada. But it’s a GLOBAL thing!! Applying for position after position the only difference is, I get the ‘thanks, no thanks’ response here.
I’m currently starting the brandhat.co.uk model here in Birmingham, UK. To provide my 25+ years of sales and marketing skills to small local businesses and try and carve out a piece of the pie to help pay the bills. I’ve got some great friends helping me out and the wife is still teaching in Canada.
What does the future hold? Who knows, I never thought I’d be washed up and unemployable at 45 with a SUCCESSFUL career behind me. I assumed as a small business owner, people wanted experience over a certificate. But the very digital world I now talk about to local businesses is making the decisions on tick boxes over human responses.
To summarize my working career, I came from nothing, I worked hard, I made something, I saw everything and I returned to nothing. This is a tale of our modern world, while people protest climate, gender equality and race segregation. We ignore the world where basic ideals like work hard, be honest and keep trying are NOT rewarded.
I don’t hear the activists screaming about the education inequality and segregation wealth brings to those in society who have the resources to attend University and buy a degree. I describe it as ‘education segregation’, it roles of the tongue. But let’s not lie to ourselves, it’s WEALTH inequality.
But hey, life goes on and I’ll keep smiling, it’s what I do, it’s who I am!!