When I was young, my family owned a convenience store, where I had to work most evenings and weekends, when I’d much rather have been playing football, tennis or going for a bike ride with friends. Although I didn’t take my school studies too seriously, I did well enough in my A-levels to go on to study physics at university.
Why physics? Well, the natural world always made so much more sense to me than anything man-made, and I always got a kick out of understanding how the universe worked.
After my degree, I had a choice:
i. to join KPMG as a trainee accountant
ii. to go on and do research in physics
For better or worse, I chose the latter.
A couple of years into my PhD I realised that I wasn’t good enough in physics to pursue it beyond my research project, so I started exploring alternatives. Aged 27, I pursued the only other area that really held any other attraction to me: the world of international business.
I joined Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) in the Change Management practice of their London office. I was very much attracted to AC’s policy on professional development – in those days, they’d invest 10% of revenue back into PD for their staff – and boy did I need developing beyond my physics background. I also felt that joining an IT consultancy would be easier to adapt to than going straight into a strategy house. At AC, my role on projects was to ensure that the large IT systems we were implementing would result in not just a ‘technical success’, but a ‘business success’ too. This meant getting end users to actually use the systems in the way they’d be designed. I developed a specialisation for delivering usability workshops and end-user training programmes.
After 3 years at AC, I joined another consulting company, AT Kearney, in the Enterprise Transformation practice of their London office. In the mid-90s, AT Kearney had a very good reputation as a ‘high-value-add’ consultancy. They had just been acquired by EDS the year before I joined, and were running full steam ahead. My role at Kearney was to ensure that employees would take ownership of the changes that we were helping clients to implement on large-scale business process redesign projects. This meant encouraging employee participation and engagement throughout the change process. I developed a specialisation for facilitating challenging change management workshops and executive/key-manager training programmes.
A year or so after I joined Kearney, I attended their in-house, two-day presentation skills training, called KRISP (Kearney’s Rational and Incisive Speaker Program). In those days, most KRISP courses in Europe were delivered by an old-time Kearney Partner called Hans Naumann, who had been head of Kearney’s Paris office for most of the ‘70s. I was simply blown away by Hans and by the training, and became a KRISP trainer myself. I was fortunate enough to be able to deliver a couple of courses a year with Hans, in-between my client commitments. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to apply and hone my presentation skills ‘for real’ in a whole host of mega-challenging client boardrooms.
As well as having a natural aptitude for presenting, I also found that I was particularly effective as a client workshop facilitator, and became renowned as ‘the workshop guy’ in Kearney’s London office. Whenever there was a potentially difficult client workshop, I would be called in to facilitate – I’ll never forget a workshop I ran at Lindholme prison near Doncaster in the UK… fortunately with prison officers and not the inmates!
After 3 years at Kearney, I decided to leave and set up as an independent facilitator, trainer and coach. At this point in my life, with a number of years of ‘hard’ consulting experience under my belt, I felt I had a good idea of:
i. what I was passionate about
ii. what I had a natural talent for
iii. how I could make a living by adding real value to clients
I later added another string to my bow in the way of a diploma from the Academy of Executive Coaching in London.
More recently, I’ve specialised in helping organisations learn, apply and embed from first principles thinking. Or as my kids would say, helping business people think like physicists.
It’s been quite a journey, and one that I still very much relish and enjoy.
– Mani Sandher