Archive for the ‘Interview’ Category

Learn from the Experiences of Others: Interview With David Gray

April 3, 2009

 Avil: What’s a typical day like for you?

David: A typical week-day starts around 7:30 am with a breakfast of home-made muesli.  I very seldom miss breakfast.  While I eat, I respond to emails. Then it’s off to meet my clients.  When possible, I grab a quick lunch.  Then in the afternoon the consultation process continues with my clients.  In addition to my own practice I work on large firms’ Career and Coaching delivery contracts, so there is seldom a dull moment.  By 7 pm I am usually home and enjoy spending a couple of hours with my wife, Anne, sharing a laugh while we cook and eat dinner and then settle in for a couple hours of reading or TV.  By 11 pm I am back at the computer responding to emails.  By 1 pm I am generally in bed. 

Saturdays and Sundays are catch-up days.  I might see one or two clients on a Saturday, but for the most part I enjoy doing domestic chores (yes, I am that rare male who actually enjoys doing cooking, laundry etc., as I find it very relaxing.)  For exercise I swim at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre at Spadina & Bloor where I am a member.  I try to fit some yoga in at the Yoga Sanctuary at College and Yonge, and I do a stretching and Pilates routine.

  Avil: What does it take to succeed in your field?

 David: To be successful in my field one typically needs empathy, compassion, a conscientious work ethic and a background in HR.  However, to be truly outstanding one additionally needs a great degree of life history in a variety of business settings as well as a high degree of intuitive and innovative intelligence in order to be able to work with people from numerous diverse backgrounds who are each struggling with very individual career and life challenges.  In a word, one needs wisdom.  And typically, that can only be accumulated over a long period of time after encountering a variety of challenging situations in one’s own career and life. 

Avil: What are the three greatest threats to your business success?

David: Fear, procrastination and indecision.  I focus very consciously and creatively on potential available solutions to whatever current challenge I am facing in order to banish those threats.

 Avil: What do you observe most people in your field doing badly that you think you do well?


David: I tend to think way outside the existing structures and definitions concerning how to help people break-through to new levels of consciousness in both their business and personal ways of dealing with challenges.


Avil: Tell me about your big break and who gave you.


David: My big break was convincing my wife to marry me.  That relationship has been the foundation for all of my business success.


Avil: Describe one of your biggest failures. What lessons did you learn, and how did it contribute to a greater success?


David: My biggest failure was in not recognizing or having confidence in my own potential as a young adult.  As a result, I worked at manual labour and other mundane jobs while other fellows were going to graduate school.  Eventually, I wrote the LSAT (pre-law exam), scored in the 93rd percentile and realized I was actually quite bright. That gave me the confidence to do an MBA, go into Business & Technology consulting and then enter the Leadership and Career Coaching fields.


Avil: What has been your biggest disappointment in your life – and what are you doing to prevent its reoccurrence?

David: Not having children.  My antidote is to live my own life to the full.

Avil: What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life?

David: The toughest decision I have had to make was to walk away from a friendship of many years that had turned sour.  To this day I feel the loss, but despite my best efforts there was no way I could discover to turn the situation around.

Avil: How did mentors influence your life?

David: Mentors have influenced my life more by their actions and their own ways of conducting themselves rather than by any specific mentoring per se.

Avil: What’s one core message you received from your mentors?

David: Establish trust by being principled and doing what you say you will do.

Avil: What process do you use to generate great ideas?

David: Take the situation, consider the conventional wisdom and then try to turn it on its head and see what comes up.  In other words, think in a consciously contrarian style.

Avil: Which one book had a profound impact on your life?

David: Hero of a Thousand Faces by the great mythologist, Joseph Campbell.  He taught me to ‘follow my bliss.’

Avil: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what are five books that you would like to have with you and why? Give a brief summary of each book



  • Don Quixote, by Miguel De Cervantes:  The first modern novel, this book revolutionized the imaginative approach to the then core myth of Chivalry, itself a central concept in most European’s self-construct.  This book reminds us never to take at face value the assumptions of the society in which we happen to live because of vagaries of our birth in a particular geographical space, social context and time. 
  • The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History, by Philip Bobbitt.  An erudite and sweeping review of European history until the 19th century and then an analysis of world history in the 20th and early 21st centuries viewed from the dual perspectives of Law and War.  This book provides a context within which to grasp the complex geopolitics of the world we currently live in. 
  • The Poetry of Robert Frost: All eleven of his books – complete, edited by Edward Connery Lathem.  This book reminds one that the only life worth living is one including a degree of reflection. 
  • The Measure of a Man: a Spiritual Autobiography, by Sidney Poitier.  This book teaches a man how to live as a man.  In a day and age when men are increasingly out of touch with their essential masculinity, Poitier’s story of his personal challenges, triumphs and philosophy of life reads like a melodic breath of very fresh air. 
  • Lincoln’s Melancholy:  How Depression Challenged a President and Fuelled His Greatness, by Joshua Wolf Shenk.  A biography that reads like a detective novel. The real Lincoln is far more fascinating and inspiring than the manufactured American myth of the man.  Like Poitier’s book, this one provides insights into what is possible to achieve and, far more importantly, what it means to live life as a man who is true to his own vision, come hell or high water.  Interestingly, in Lincoln’s case it was the hellfire of a bullet, whereas for Poitier it was a near-death experience with high water.

 How do you resolve the challenges in your life? If you had to live your life over, would you do things differently? How do you define success and what is your formula for success? To find out David’s answer to these questions and a lot more, click here to download the entire interview.

Let us know what you think. Do you agree with David? Which aspects of his interview resonates with you the most?

About David Gray: David has advised executive clients based in Canada, the UK, Europe and Asia.  In addition to his own consulting practice, David serves as President of the Board, Toronto Chapter of the Association of Career Professionals International (ACP International), and is a member of the Strategic Leadership Forum (GTA).


Interview With Jude Smiley Your “Invisible Mentor”

March 11, 2009

Life is about taking chances, and it doesn’t matter how much due diligence is done, one can never anticipate everything.  Despite this, doing nothing is not an option. Always try to mitigate your risks. Jude Smiley, principal of RainMaker Inc. shares her story.

Describe a business challenge you had and how you resolved it.

Challenge: A few years ago I was offered an ownership position in a packaging design company. I didn’t know the owner very well but thought it seemed like a good opportunity to utilize my skills and experience building a design consultancy. I had recently sold my own marketing and design company and was looking for a new venture. This company seemed to be doing great and was ready to move to the next level. I did what I thought was good due diligence and decided to jump in.

After a few months into this new arrangement it became very clear that the other partner was not only dishonest, but had been stealing from clients and embezzling company funds. My gut tangled in knots as I considered all my options. It wasn’t as easy as selling my equity and getting out, my name had been tarnished and my financial resources were already tied up. It looked like it was going to cost me a lot of money and heartache to disentangle myself.

Instead of acting in haste, I sought the counsel of my lawyers, my mentor and some other trusted associates. Together we came up with a plan to remove the partner from the company, make restitution with the clients in whatever way we could, and minimize any additional risk by locking up bank accounts, client files and so on. Once I had a plan in place, I went to the other partner and told her I wanted a ‘divorce’ from the partnership. We had a long conversation and I left the office that day feeling like I was going to be okay.

When I showed up for work the next day, I walked into an empty space. No furniture, no computers, no nothing. Thankfully, I had approached all the staff and our largest client and let them know what was going to happen. It was an interesting few weeks with lawyers, police and bank managers. Thankfully I had put the controls in place so that I and my reputation were protected early on.

 Resolution: Once the initial shock wore off I started to think about how I could have done things differently. I realized that I hadn’t listened to all the clues or ‘red flags’ that kept coming up at the beginning of my discussions with this person. I decided instead to think with my head instead of listening to my gut which is always a big mistake.

A year later, all the company’s debts were paid, staff had found new jobs and I decided to dissolve the company. We filed criminal fraud charges against the partner which are still pending.

I also came to a real sense of clarity about what I was really good at, and how I wanted to best serve the world. The services we were selling at the packaging company weren’t anything I was really passionate about and so it made sense to walk away and start fresh.

What lessons did you learn in the process?

 Lessons Learned

  1. Always follow your gut. Learn how to read your own signals. For me a positive step is a strong feeling of excitement and passion. A negative is an empty, kind of dead feeling. When I first engaged in conversations with this person, I always felt strangely calm and without any enthusiasm.
  2. Do an enormous amount of due diligence. Don’t just read financial statements, get out there and talk to the clients, talk to the suppliers. Trust the instincts of your lawyers and mentors. They know what they are doing. It turned out that the financial statements that I “bought” into were extremely inaccurate and brought fraud charges to the table after they were reviewed by an outside accounting firm.
  3. Take action immediately. The minute I sensed something was really wrong, I took any and all actions I could to protect myself further. By doing that, I managed to save $100,000 in potential damages and ensure that my ex-partner couldn’t tarnish my name any further. I camped out at 7:00 a.m. one day to meet my bank manager with all the legal documents and made sure we had locked all access to the accounts. My ex-partner showed up at 8:30 a.m., stood at the teller and tried to pull a cash advance out of the company. If I hadn’t acted that day, she would have gotten away with it.
  4. Build your reputation. At the end of the day your reputation is all you have. Thankfully my reputation was strong in integrity and excellence. Whenever my ex-partner tried to tell lies or slander me, she was met with a very unresponsive audience. People already knew me, and that I would do the right thing, no matter what.
  5. Don’t assume that other people think or operate with the same morals and ethics as you do. This was a hard lesson for me but an important one. It has taught me to ask better questions, check references and communicate openly about the standards I have for myself and what I expect from others.

In your opinion, what’s the formula for success?

Formula for Success

  • Exist to serve – instead of asking what you want from this life, ask life what it wants from you.
  • Focus on your passions
  • Decide what you truly want and create a plan to achieve it
  • Take action everyday
  • Recognize your accomplishments along the way
  • Never sacrifice your integrity
  • Enjoy the Journey

If you were in Jude’s position, what would you have done differently?

Visit Jude Smiley’s website at

Excerpt from March 2008 Ambeck Edge

Interview With Your “Invisible Mentor” Rodger Harding

March 6, 2009

When you think of a mentor, what comes to your mind? Perhaps you think of a champion with whom you meet with regularly. Or, a  person who guides you. But, does a mentor have to be a live person?  Could a mentor be a book, or even an interview?

I think so!

I call these types of mentors “invisible mentors,” and the best thing is that they are just a point and a click away, and you can access them at your convenience. Read Rodger Harding’s interview with an open mind and see what nuggets of wisdom you can pick up. What aspects of the interview can you use in your work and life?

Describe a business challenge you had and how you resolved it.

Challenge: As a small business operator, immersion in tasks/deliverables is often at the expense of new business development; this results in frequent cash flow challenges.

Resolution: To continue working toward my own priorities in the hands-on fashion I love, the pursuit of like-minded clients has resulted in a constant, albeit erratic, flow of referrals

People who believe in me have helped out …without being asked! This is perhaps one of the most gratifying aspects of my life – I have somehow earned the confidence and respect of people who believe that it is important that I continue my work…..

Lessons Learned

  1. It is OK to graciously receive – I had always thought it was my role to be a giver… Learning to receive, has taught me how better to give!
  2. I have tailored my life style to accommodate my business ethic
  3. I can live happily on considerably less than I was used to – Compared to my upbringing and former diplomatic life, I have no status, fewer assets and no power base, yet am happier and a far more useful member of society than ever before…

How did mentors influence your life?

 Mentors have held up the mirror and shown me potential I did not know I had…Oftentimes I only realized the enormity of their contribution years later…

 What’s one core message you received from your mentors?

  That I am a gifted person who has loads of untapped potential…Using this potential will benefit myself and others.

What’s the most important discovery you’ve made in the past year?

I am definitely on the right track professionally. Some 10 years ago I decided to work only with individuals/companies that are a good fit – Many advised that this was the path to ruin – I now know that, given my personality, methodology and experience this was the right choice.

What do you observe most people in your field doing badly that you think you do well?

I prefer to work on a subjective basis with clients, marrying their circumstance/requirements to objective market/industry/workplace realities; I have a strong aversion to labels, profiling and template driven training.

To reach other people requires a degree of risk … I believe I take those risks recognizing, understanding and acknowledging the individuality of others is the greatest validation I can provide!

Tell me about your big break and who gave you.

There have been many! All involved random relationships that blossomed into good business deals.

Example: Soon after starting my business, I was invited to participate in a live call-in television program. A young woman, Emelia Prempeh, later called my office and asked for advice, which I freely gave. A year later she hired me to provide career guidance sessions for graduating classes at the Information Technology Institute – then a vibrant IT college that specialized in training diverse professionals and academic graduates into IT experts. I almost refused the opportunity as the compensation was way below market worth, yet my relationship with Emelia prompted me to accept – – Interaction with some 1700 people has been a vast business and personal resource that persist to this day. The 4 year experience made conscious my theory of what constitutes human excellence. I can honestly say that confidence in my unique approach to empowering others had its foundation in the intensity of the 1700 validating interactions experienced.

What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life?

That being myself will not always be the easiest route. Many see this aspect of me as arrogance/attitude, yet despite my self-consciousness, lack of confidence etc. something deep inside has always refused to go with the flow for the sake of an easier ride….

Do you have problems integrating work and life? Do you waste time thinking about what could have been? How have mentors influenced your life? And, when are you happy, have you ever stopped to think about it? To read Rodger Harding’s responses to these questions and more, download the entire interview at

For more than a decade Rodger Harding’s Toronto based Business Leadership Consultancy has provided high level consulting, training & keynote speaking services to diverse corporate, government and not-for- profit clients. His skill-set has evolved over almost three decades in an international career that spans, Law, Diplomacy and Business Consulting.

Excerpt from January/Febraury 2009 Ambeck Edge