PTHR 10-Year Anniversary Speech
Friends, collaborators, clients. Lend me your hearts. For this is a speech all about love.
But first, there’s a cool tool online that converts word count to speech time. So please bear with me for 21.4 minutes.
I’ll start this speech in perhaps an unusually sad way. We’re a few Transformers down. We call ourselves Transformers for the T bit in People & Transformational HR.
So a goodly part of this speech is dedicated to Kirsten and Clare who can’t be with us as they planned to be for the last several months, through illness but who so keenly wanted to be here with the teammates they’ve come to love, and who love them.
And if people tell you love has no place in work, they’re wrong.
Because 10 years ago, I fell out of love with a job I’d come to adore, in a profession I’d come to also adore. But the profession in me — in my case, HR — didn’t die that day on 10th September 2012 when I tendered only my second resignation letter ever. I won’t dwell on it too much but I broke my job and let people down badly then. I had to walk.
It gave me what I’d been looking for though, a push into something new and bold. More so, freedom from the cage of a job description. Now, I’ve gone on record time and again to say how much I hate those f****** things. Useless, shackling devices that define automatons, not humans.
But freed from that cage, I had no idea exactly what I’d do or who’d “buy” me.
Now here’s the first act of love, kindness and insight and a reason why I love the people in my network so much, And indeed why a network isn’t collecting humans as you would stamps or football stickers. It’s trusted, admired and kind people who know stuff you don’t, who share that, and who help you and urge you to be whoever you want to be.
Chris Matchan — who can’t be here tonight because he’s working overseas. A man by his own admission has the biggest mortgage in the whole of Berkshire who I came across at Henley Business School. We had a coffee after I’d resigned and he gave me the most sound advice.
- Make a list of things to do before you die.
- Know what you need to live on per month.
- Know how much to charge in order to do 2 and perhaps some of 1
- Be prepared to have lots of conversations that won’t turn into an invoice but they’ll be nice conversations with interesting people and be prepared to walk away from them with nothing but that nicety.
And that’s been my mantra since. So thanks Chris — will love you for that forever.
So as I said, I have this wonderful network and this thing called social capital. And if you don’t have much money (which when I started out, I didn’t) but you have social capital it counts for a lot more than money can. And still does to this day.
I messaged some folks “Sorry we won’t work together at Big Lottery Fund anymore as I’ve left and I’m now freelance” and was greeted with “good luck” and other niceties and then some lovely but bizarre responses like “Oh, so you could do something for me in my business then now?”
And that’s how work started coming in. I checked back on old emails, and I delivered. My first invoice was expenses only for a speaking gig for £244.89 on 23 September 2012. My next one was £628 on 12 November 2012. I was preparing myself for the often barren place that is your invoice log.
Now that year — 2012 — was also Peter Cheese’s first as CEO of the CIPD. We had a chat over drinks in the bar at the CIPD conference where I was part of the speaker team.
We met in Wimbledon and before I knew it, in March 2013, I became a Hackathon Guide to the project Peter had with Gary Hamel to Hack HR. I did contract work with Peter for 18 enjoyable months.
Big moment for me, so I have to give a lot of love to Peter because whatever we might think of the CIPD’s reputation and impact, he’s always wanted the right things for us HR professionals.
But I want to go back now to 2012 before I had even thought of resigning.
This Social HR chap called Gareth Jones ran a thing called Connecting HR. Something I felt a pull towards. Rebels, new thinkers, kind souls. Like Meg Peppin, Neil Usher (who wasn’t even in HR) and Merv Dinnen.
At an amazing unconference in a disused bed factory in South London, where I met some awesome people like Steve Toft (AKA Flipchart Rick on Twitter), Robert Ordever then HRD at Fulham FC, and also this woman who presented on democratic organisations from an outfit — WorldBlu — called Miranda Ash.
Now I’m not exaggerating here but her talk was life-changing for me. As was that event.
I wanted to rebel even harder than I had before. I wanted to know more about these amazing Freedom-Centred workplaces. So I kept in touch with Miranda.
Because, and going back a bit further, earlier that year I did my first international HR speaking assignment in Romania with the amazing entrepreneur that is Roxana Mocanu. Love to Roxana, for sure.
In that wonderful event in Bucharest, I was talking about democratising talent management — something I’d worked on 2 years prior. I met 2 young Romanian women — Ana Marica — who can’t be here tonight, And Catalina Contoloru who I thought were translators as that is what they did for me.
“No”, Cata told me they were students at the Alternative University in Bucharest where there were no degrees, no tutors and students taught themselves and set their curriculum. I was enraptured by this and wanted to see this for myself. So I had a trip to the Learning House and was blown away by self-managed study.
This is what I wanted to be more a part of, than being inside an organisation.
So when Miranda talked about democratic, freedom-based working, I knew there was an alternative to work calling me to step into that space as I’d experienced in Bucharest some months earlier.
So love to Miranda for being the spark that lit a huge flame in me that burns eternally.
Now, Self-Management. The one hill I really will die on.
No hierarchies, even anarchic systems I’ll have, but let’s self-manage. In fact, I’ve said to Gareth Jones, I want my epitaph to be “He helped bust the hierarchies”.
Now back even further. To 2009. I was delivering a “new values” workshop with the Head of Comms for Big Lottery. At Wallacespace, Covent Garden. In prepping the event, in walks this red-headed, intelligent woman who was Assistant Manager there. Jessica Bailey.
Now I have this superpower in talent spotting. And I spotted Jess’s talent. So we got to become friends and I almost brought Jess to my team at BIG but I resigned before we could do this. But we kept in touch, had a few boozy “mentoring” sessions and became good friends. I’m jumping all over the timelines a bit here but fast forward to January 2020.
Jess sends me an email. She’d been working in LA. “Hi, I’m back in the country, I’ve got a little son, living with my Mum and looking for work”. So we had our “interview” in a place near London Bridge and Jess joined PTHR.
So one thing to know about me: I carry torches for as long as they’re needed. But they nearly always come to something.
Now Jess is a vital part of PTHR. Adaptable, driven, and committed. As our Chief Engagement Officer, she has the future of our presence and relationships in the most assured and dynamic fashion. She’s put ALL of tonight together. CLAPS.
Love you, Jess. We’re going a long way into the future together and so that torch is another of my eternal flames.
OK back to 2012 again.
I had the fortune of a good relationship with a conferencing outfit from Aberdeen called Benchmark for Business. I’ve seen Hamel, Gladwell, Goleman, Sinek, Goldsmith — all the leadership-speaking gurus.
I went to an event JUST after I’d resigned. Bob the MD was good enough to keep giving me a place gratis.
On registration, the normal support team had one smiley, warm and engaging individual added to them. “Oh, Perry,” said Bob in his gentle Scots accent “This is our newest hire, Kirsten Young. She’ll look after you.” And she did. We chatted that day. We compared values cards from Kouzes and Posner and they were similar. “We should keep in touch”. And we did. And in 2019, we agreed to meet as Kirsten had married, had a boy, and was moving to London. We agreed to try some work together. And now we’re the tightest working pair I could ever hope for.
Kirsten Buck — as she now is — is one special individual. And that she can’t be here tonight really is breaking her amazing heart. Kirsten, you’ve made me see how important the work is that we do at PTHR and that how we do it really matters. That we are a BCorp — one of my biggest ambitions — is down to her and Cata, with Jess and others. Driving our certification.
Kirsten’s passion for the planet, for fairness and flexibility and her thirst to learn and know more and do more, is so great I’m in awe of her. So being our Chief Impact and Culture Officer — balancing performance with spirit — is who she is. I’m the luckiest founder alive in having Kirsten lead as she does and do what she does with such zip and zing. Love you, Kirsten.
And zipping back to 2012, and meeting Catalina, at the end of that year, Cata and Ana expressed an interest in coming to the UK and hanging out a bit with me. So we arranged for a bit of a student-exchange-like principle For a while, the 3 of us became professional conference goers and even arranged our own events.
This blissful state of affairs lasted for a year and we had such fun. TEDx, CIPD. But Cata and Ana did me one of the most amazing things; They put my name forward for a TEDx in Bucharest in 2014. I accepted of course and delivered this rather off-the-cuff look into the future of work. But that moment — becoming a TEDx speaker — gave me SO much cred. It’s led to work, interest and more. So thank you for that Cata.
And of course, Cata being the nomadic sort got involved in different things and ended up being a COO at a Digital Marketing Agency. We kept in touch and I mentored Cata as best I could. Until I got a lovely contract with a Romanian bank — again through Roxana. We met for breakfast and Cata and I discussed a reunion in working together. So in early 2020, we agreed to bring Cata back into PTHR and become our Chief Operating Officer. Helping steer us through the COVID crash (and only just getting home after our team kickoff in March 2020), getting our BCorp certification going, building processes and self-managed systems and a resource allocation spreadsheet I swear is a thing that would perplex IMF analysts. Cata’s been a lynchpin of PTHR since those days and then announcing her pregnancy and keeping in touch, Cata’s now back as our Chief Incubation Officer leading one of our most exciting ventures for 2023 — Spin Out enterprises. Love you Cata. Love all you’ve done for me and will do together.
OK back to the timeline and 2013. An internal comms and HR practitioner drops me a line. We exchange some nice words, and I agree to get her a ticket to see me speak at an engagement conference. Katy Stanley was VERY pregnant at that time. We had a nice chat and then years went by. Then at the tail end of a very difficult 2020, I get this message. It was Katy. Keen to explore coming back into HR work and if I could help her.
We talked, and we arranged for a few hours to work with us in our recovery and run things alongside her now-established childminding business. Well, Katy gave the childminding up because not only did we find an amazing Chief Operating Officer in Katy, Katy found what she was looking for. It’s clear to me how much Katy loves all we are and we all love Katy, especially me.
And so, I managed to get a few bits of work continuing through 2013 and into 2014. When I got a call from an amazing HR Director. Karen Beaven. Could I help her out at River Island? In those early conversations with Karen, I was introduced to the weaver of diary magic and this keeper of all things performance: Clare Hems (was Taylor then).
Now until this point, I had a rule. I was barely responsible for keeping myself in economic safety, let alone anyone else. So my rule was I wouldn’t be responsible to anyone who needed a regular income. Until meeting Clare. I instantly knew I wanted to make a client unhappy by poaching her +1 and breaking that rule. It didn’t happen. But you know, never say never.
Until mid-2020. Mid-pandemic collapse and recovery. And Clare’s desire to go back into work after the birth of her daughter Nylah. I jumped on it. Clare agreed and I got what I hoped for 6 years earlier. Now, Clare took on my Exec Support. BUT it was clear that whilst it suited her, Clare had a big future. So big, she became big with her second child Elijah. So PTHR’s first newborn mini-Transformer came into being and I had to learn fast how to navigate maternity leave (to be fair, Clare self-managed that).
During her time on Maternity leave, we kept in touch and it was during conversations I realised we could do with a Chief People Officer (we were in double figures by this time). So we agreed that when she returned last year, we’d make Clare our Chief People Officer. And her husband Nick, posted the most adorable LinkedIn piece on her, so thrilled was he about her promotion.
And Clare has plans for some of our Spin Outs that Cata will help incubate. So watch out for those in 2023. But love you, Clare.
Now I must be mindful of socialising and keep to 19.5 minutes time, so without anything other than love, and stories still unfolding; we’ve now got Tamasin Sutton — after a chance meeting at CIPD conference in 2013 now a core part of our team with amazing dedication and guile; Maddy Woodman, a client turned Transformer from work together at Henley Business School and a creative campaigner for better and inclusive places of work, Alessia Mevoli, CIPD student conference, our first ever intern and now part-time energising source for our HR Careers Accelerator, Adrienne Skelton, a former internal Director client of mine at the Big Lottery Fund and soulful strategist; the wonderful Sharon Aneja, the super clever Sarah Taylor, the energetic Louise Brown, and the sharp mind of Becky Norman plus Tom Paisley our OG of Digital — we are a bonded, brilliant and brave team. I love you all, and thank you for being with us in our exploits.
And what’s made it all it is, is how come you’re all here. RBG — no, not Ruth Bader-Ginsburg epic though she was.
Remember these 3 things in all you do in your work.
Know people, love them and if they aren’t worth it, let them go. And the doubters and those who insult you — and I’ve had a few of them believe me. Envy, disdain and arrogance are not things you should be bothered about. Let them and it go.
Believe in yourself, in something that’s more important than you are.
And be kind and give. To others and to yourself. Like it’s going out of fashion and abundant and endless.
What being human is all about.
What running an enterprise should be all about.
What matters most. What pays you beyond monetary wealth. What sees you through.
I love that I have relationships with all of you. I love that there’s a belief between us in who we are and what we do. I am blessed with generous people and I hope I give as much — if not more — back to you all.
RBG — Relationships — Belief — Generosity.
Now unusually for me, I’m reading this from a prepared script because that’s how I held it together for the greatest speech of my life: My dear Mum’s eulogy in May 2020. And why I’m having to do this now to hold it all together. Because if not, I’d be a blubbing wreck.
But here’s to PTHR’s 10 years and decades more to come.
Love you all — let’s drink to transformational love!