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‘Know you know nothing. Know how to solve problems and know who to ask’

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Building a company is a difficult task. Whether starting their own or growing an established business, these leaders have made a name for themselves as some of the best of the best. So, what makes business leaders tick and what are they aiming to achieve when all is said and done? We spoke to Ben Foulkes, Leadership Development Director at T-Minus, about his journey in business.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career and how have you overcome them?

I’ve had a pretty fair wind in my career so far to be honest! One of the biggest challenges I faced was actually knowing where to begin or what to do, and I was fortunate that I found an internship with Accenture, and working in consulting I didn’t have to choose one particular industry or path to go down. I had a tough time when I lost my mum to cancer eight years ago, and I had a wonderful boss Eimear who really looked out for me during that period.

I took some time out on sabbatical too, and did a 10-day silent ‘vipassana’ meditation retreat, which really helped me to get some perspective on life and it’s challenges, Unfortunately, a year or so later I was included in one of Accenture’s periodic redundancy rounds and was asked to leave. However, a week later someone in HR realised they had made a mistake with their algorithm.

The common theme throughout this was always asking other people for help in those times, which might sound simple, but often under pressure our focus narrows and we can’t see the different options available. I’m also continually bowled over by the kindness that near-complete strangers show when you ask, and have always had the mantra of paying it forward. I always try to and be the kind of person who my first ever career councillor, Matt Walsh, or the manager I mentioned, Eimear were to me.

Is there anything you wish you knew before you first started out?

The advice I received from my tutor at university still stands out – “know you know nothing. Know how to solve problems and know who to ask”. I’ve still got it written in my notebook and still live by that to this day.

Did you always want to be a business leader or did the desire develop over time?

I never set out with a plan, hence why I chose consulting, which enabled me to kick the decision down the road a bit rather than have to choose an industry to work in or a function like marketing or supply chain that my peers were taking.

So it’s evolved pretty naturally – even in sports teams from school to now I find myself organising, motivating others and looking into understanding myself better – so I guess I naturally gravitated towards an interest in leadership. I love understanding what makes people tick – I find us humans constantly fascinating.

What is your top tip for other business leaders?

Understand what you’re doing it for. Be really clear on that. Use that motivation to guide you and make decisions. Otherwise, there are lots of distractions and shiny things which can make decisions and choices harder.

Sometimes when we chase the salary, or remuneration becomes our deciding factor it’s really just because as people, we want to make things simple by focusing on one number. But it’s rarely the most important thing if we’re honest with ourselves.

I’d also say it’s easy to get caught up in fashionable trends and hype. Whether that’s technology and AI, environmental or social movements – I think as a business leader you’ve got to make decisions for the right reasons, not just because other people tell you it’s the right thing to do. Only you can ultimately tell the difference.

What are your plans for the future?

Good question – I would love to start a family, get involved in more local community initiatives – and see where the T- journey takes me! I used to have a pretty clear vision for the next 5-10 years, but right now, I’m open to exploring where the adventure takes me.

What would you like your legacy to be?

It’s honestly not something that I’ve thought about much at all really. I think it’s a bit ego-driven. Ultimately, I’d like my impact to be on other people. To be remembered as someone who was kind, who had time for everyone, and who brought energy and positivity even to difficult situations.

I’d also like to help change the way we live and work. I enjoy challenging notions like rigid hierarchies at work or the 9-5 work day and show that we don’t have to accept these lying down. Ultimately someone invented them (the concept of the weekend is less than 200 years old), so we can reinvent new structures, new ways of working, and new organisational dynamics that work for us too.

What makes a great business leader?

Humility. And being able to face into and acknowledge the legitimate fear of the unknown with spiritedness.

With thanks to Business Leader June 1, 2023

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