These days it’s more usual than it used to be to meet people who are onto their third or fourth career. I can think of quite a few examples amongst my own group of friends and associates. On Friday at the London IIBN conference I met Niall Quinn & then heard him talk about his own transition from footballer (Arsenal, Manchester City, Sunderland and of course the Republic of Ireland) to Sky Sports commentator to entrepreneur/businessman (when he led the buyout of Sunderland AFC by the Drumville consortium) and now executive Chairman of newco Q Sat, a rural broadband provider.
Any of you who know me will not be surprised to see there’s a photo involved – many thanks to Sinead Crowley of IIBN for snapping that one below!
Niall shared his brutally honest insights with us in his talk & I thought I would in turn share some of them with you. He talked first about how he now views his former life as a footballer as quite a false existence. He used to go training in the mornings & then come home & lie on the sofa. His wife would bring him his meals & make sure the children left him alone. When his first career came to an end he was quite depressed about it & drifted into a job at Sky Sports which although it paid the bills, didn’t really put fire in his belly.
Then he saw his old club Sunderland AFC in trouble, met with his former chairman & after talking to a few of his Irish contacts decided to lead the buyout & after a short (unsuccessful) spell as manager Niall moved into the Chairman’s seat. Along the way he had to stop being a footballer and learn to be a business person.
He found he enjoyed the change and the new challenges and he began to take an interest in new technology. This interest has culminated in Niall moving into a start up business as their executive Chairman. He commented what a big difference it is between selling footballers for £50m & persuading someone to pay you £35 per month for broadband. Q Sat has grown from 22 to 50 employees in the time he’s been there and they now have 11,000 customers (6,000 of those in rural Ireland) and are about to open an office in Nairobi. It’s clear to see that Niall enjoys building relationships with partners and putting something back as well as building a successful and profitable business. He talked a lot about the mentors he has learned from (in football and in business) and the way his company is seeking to build on the work that other Irish people have done before, especially in Africa. One of the pieces of advice he offered to us was in business to keep some space aside to meet people, have conversations and network. I’m a great believer in this approach too.
One of the funny stories he told us was about one of his friends Patrick M’Boma, a Cameroon striker and former teammate at Sunderland. The two guys had clashed heads & both gone down. Niall claims he knew his time playing at Sunderland was over when the physio ran onto the pitch & ran straight past him & over to Patrick. For me thinking about this since, it seems that the life of a footballer is indeed different – as you’re either on the way up or you’re on the way down – the time at the top seems fleeting & hard to define. Hopefully Niall doesn’t miss that aspect of his first career although I’m guessing the same boy has hung onto his competitive streak which will do him no harm. I’m also guessing he’s enjoying being part of a team again as that team spirit is one of the most fun things about being in a small, growing company. He said that one of the odd things about being a footballer is that although you play in a team, you still hope you are the best in the team – something that doesn’t really come up in a business because everyone has their own defined role to play as part of the overall team success.
He finished by saying that looking back he wonders now how much further ahead he would be in business if he’d quit football 10 years earlier. We have a rule Niall – no regrets. It’s the experiences you have along the way that makes you the person you are – and if you meddle with the order then who knows where we’d all end up. Good luck with career number 4.
So – some people change career because they have to & some because they want to. Whatever your reason get on, grasp the nettle and don’t be afraid to ask your network for help and advice. Great speaker, great conference and thank you to all at IIBN for making it a lot easier for the Irish diaspora to do business outside of Ireland. Please share your career change stories in the comments below – you know I love to read them.