Human Resources

C-suite career advice: Martin Woolley, The Specialist Works


Name: Martin Woolley

Company: The Specialist Works

Job Title: CEO

Location: London, UK



What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received?
Don’t email when you can pick up the phone. Don’t use the phone when you can walk over and talk to someone. Most problems are reduced or eliminated when we take the trouble to interact in the most human way available. The more senior you get, the better this works.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received?
Know your limitations. It was quoted by a senior contact, trying to illustrate why my team were being too ambitious. It’s a Dirty Harry quote that was supposed to make a point. But of course, was spoken by Clint Eastwood, Actor, Director, Producer, Musician, winner of four Oscars, Politician and Businessman. Ignoring limitations and being unafraid to fail not only allows you to achieve more, but it’s way more fun.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the tech industry?
Tech, like anything else in business, is at its best when it solves existing significant problems or creates new possibilities. When you forget what end your work is serving, you start your journey down a rabbit hole!

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position?
Be careful what you wish for! No seriously – C-Level positions are, by definition, for a few people, so before you assume that’s where you want to be – do your research. Top roles suit people who enjoy thinking about strategy and influencing others. If your joy comes from other types of work – owning whole tasks, working flexibly or independently for example, you may consider different ways of making your career fulfilling. If you do your research and want to go for the c-suite anyway, be prepared to devote more of your life to work than your peers as you spend a lot of your waking time in the search for inspiration.

Are you particularly proud of any career advice that you’ve given or the career route/development of anyone you’ve mentored?
The greatest satisfaction for me usually comes from essentially the same thing: seeing what the business needs and finding the solution in the potential of current employees. Sometimes you can see this in them even when they cannot see in it themselves. This can be for reasons of self-confidence or because they just haven’t thought of themselves in that way.
When you get it right it can change lives. For example, when I moved someone from a lower level technical role into account management. This person needed a lot of encouragement and mentoring to leave the certainty of the safe, but unstretching, role. It took guts for them and the solid reassurance that mistakes were acceptable as part of a learning process. Wind forward several years and that person now heads the department they subsequently created and has given themselves and their family opportunities that were not imaginable before.
As feelings in business go, that’s pretty much as good as it gets.


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