When I was young, my family owned a convenience store, where I worked most evenings and weekends… though I’d rather have been playing football, tennis or going for a bike ride with friends. I didn’t take my school studies too seriously, but fortunately did well enough in my A-levels to go on to study physics at university. The natural world made more sense to me than the humanities, and I got a kick out of trying to understand how the natural world 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 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 people 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 executive workshops and 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
It’s been quite a journey, and one that I still very much relish and enjoy.
– Mani Sandher