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From Executive to Consultant – A Personal Journey

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Expert Analysis from Gerry Egan CDir, M.Sc., a consultant and trainer specialising in corporate governance, data protection and strategy, working with clients in the private, public and non-profit sectors.

Many members of the IoD will make the journey from a full-time executive role to consulting or non-executive roles.  I thought I would share some of the lessons I learned over the past three years in the hope that it might be helpful to other members. 

Who I Was and What I Did

In my ‘previous life’ I worked for Coillte, the State forestry company, for over 30 years. My last role there was as Group Director, Strategy and Governance.  At Coillte, I was also a Director of Lough Key Forest Park, a successful commercial joint venture between Coillte and Roscommon Co. Council, while I was also a director of windfarm joint ventures between Coillte and SSE Airtricity, ESB and Bord Na Mona, so I had a lot of experience.

What Happened?

I decided to avail of a voluntary severance package while I was still young enough to do something different. After taking a few months off I did a number of things: I got a career coach to help me to figure out what I was good at and what I wanted to do next; I qualified as a Chartered Director and I made a plan. I also drank lots of coffee as I mined my contacts book for people who might be able to help me to make a fresh start.

My plan focused on four areas: trying to get a job (which I thought I wanted at the time); looking for consulting and training opportunities; looking for non-executive roles; and continuing with non-profit Board work. I spoke to recruiters, came close to getting some jobs, refined my consulting offering, targeted relevant companies, spoke to other consultants, attended training courses, wrote articles, attended events and generally did everything I could think of to boost my profile. 

Breakthrough Moments

Gradually, I started to get a few breaks. Friends engaged me to do small pieces of work. An IoD classmate asked me to do a substantial project. Engaging with a training provider led to an invitation to become a trainer, which led to significant consulting and speaking opportunities here and overseas. Referrals followed and today I’m consistently busy and working with a number of associates.

So What I Have Learned?

  • Be clear about your offer - 30 years’ experience is great but it’s not enough. You need to have some specific skills or expertise to sell. What makes you special or different? Ask a friend or, better still, a coach to help you to figure this out.
  • Keep turning up! You have to be where the work is. People need to know what you can do for them and that you’re looking for work. So, meet people for coffee. Go to networking events.
  • Ask! - You have to treat this new chapter as a job. Dabbling in business development for a few hours a week will not bring results. Clients want people who are as committed as they are, so you need to be ‘all in’. 
  • Keep a journal - Writing a daily or weekly journal is good for the mind and the soul. Tracking how you’re feeling, what you have to be grateful for and the progress you are making even though you might not have had the big breakthrough – yet – is very powerful. 
  • It’s a small country
  • Word of mouth is huge and every job matters to your reputation. So be prepared to go the extra mile in delivering quality work. You never know where the first or next job is going to come from. 
  • Know your worth - Pricing is one of the trickiest challenges and it is tempting to price low or even work for free for ‘exposure’. If the client values you and the work required to be done, they will be prepared to pay a proper rate. 

Looking forward 

I’m still trying to figure lots of things out. My focus is on consulting and training in corporate governance, data protection and strategy, which I love and I’m good at. I know that I don’t want to work as an employee, but I do want to contribute in a Non-Executive Director (NED) role. I think I have a lot to offer generally and, specifically, to companies who need good relations with Government, want to adopt better environmental, social and governance practices or who need expert board oversight to reduce data protection and privacy risks. 

So, I plan to ‘keep turning up’ and see where that takes me next.

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