“We can all achieve amazing things. Often the only person stopping you, is You! Be aware of that.”
Sue Stockdale is a motivational speaker, executive coach and record breaking explorer. She works with some of world’s top companies, helping leaders to maximise their performance using her 20+ years of business experience. As a high achiever, Sue has represented Scotland in athletics, and was the first British woman to ski to the Magnetic North Pole. She is author of eight business books including Secrets of Successful Women Entrepreneurs and The Growth Story – profiling women-led high-growth companies. Her academic background includes an MBA in Entrepreneurship and a Masters degree in Quality Management. Sue is well respected in the women’s enterprise sector, and is London Chapter Chair of Women Presidents Organisation providing peer support for women entrepreneurs with annual revenues in excess of £1m.
Who is your role model as an entrepreneur?
No one person in particular – I am inspired by a number of role models, not all of whom are entrepreneurs. For example, some of the polar explorers I know and many business leaders inspire me. What is important to me, is that the person really walks the talk. For example, a few years ago I met Vivienne Cox, when she was a Director at BP when she spoke at an event I attended. She seemed very genuine and I wanted to write a piece on her. So I reached out to her and she got back to me the very next day asking how she could help make things happen. That’s a role model of leadership. Many busy and successful people say they want you to contact them, but then they never follow up, and use their PA’s as a gatekeeper. I am most inspired by the leader who takes the time to do what they said they will do, as actions always speak louder than words.
What has been your greatest achievement to date?
For me it has to be starting up Mission Possible and then making the business decision about the type of business I wanted to build. I didn’t want to run a big business and knew that at some stage I would want to sell it. Many people told me that I would not be able to sell my business because it was too linked to my personal profile. But I did find a buyer and made a successful exit. That’s very important to me, because when I am working with other entrepreneurs, I can truly say that I have been through the entire business cycle, from creation to exit and I can share the lessons I learned.
On a personal level, becoming the first British woman to ski to the North Pole was the icing on the cake! I am very proud of that. I believe that when I go into the unknown, good things will happen.
Being prepared to embark on a journey of discovery to the Arctic was exciting yet we had to overcome many challenging situations and obstacles on the way. That great human experience gave me the foundation to do what I am doing today as a motivational speaker.
I like doing adventurous things and when I saw the ad in the paper all those years ago looking for 10 amateur arctic explorers, my curiosity drew me in! I wondered what it was like to survive in the cold and saw the opportunity to answer that question for myself. When I applied and got a brochure back with photos of all men and the title “are you man enough for the challenge?”, that made me want to go even more, and prove that as a woman, I could absolutely do it!
What has been your biggest challenge as a woman entrepreneur?
Internally, I don’t think I believed enough in myself in the early days of being an entrepreneur. I didn’t think big enough, what was really possible. I don’t know if it’s genetics or because of the lack of role models that makes me and other women think that way.
When I take big steps, I realise I really can do it, and that makes me realise that I had not been thinking big enough back then. I would look at other people and think, ‘why can they do that and I don’t feel confident enough to do that? Then I realised, if they can do it, so can I’. It was all about my personal ambition and beliefs.
In the past, some people did not take me seriously. When I first set up my business, I went to my local bank and told them I was opening a bank account to set up my business to become a motivational speaker. The male bank manager laughed at me and really didn’t think I was serious! As you can imagine, I changed bank to move to a more supportive person. Now if I find people being sceptical with me, I turn it into an advantage, a driver to move me forward. When I go to many industry events, I am still one of a few women there. You stand out and get noticed, and now I leverage that. It’s all about how you turn a challenge to your advantage. In a positive way, I prefer to say « I’ll show you » rather than let others try to defeat me.
What do you think is key to your company’s success?
We are a small company and I believe we make a big difference to our clients. I think our success comes from the fact that we have strong brand values, which we deliver on, so that our client’s will refer us onto other contacts and colleagues. It’s about what we do and how we do it. We have a genuine passion to help leaders and entrepreneurs achieve more than they imagine is possible. We see everyone as human beings, regardless of their job title and genuinely listen to them. We are not transactional with our clients, rather we really connect with them at a very human level. That makes a huge difference and they feel it.
If you could do one thing differently, what would it be?
For me, it was when I had to make the tough decision about Mission Possible – should I grow the company to become bigger or not? It would have been an easier decision to make, had I been more honest with myself earlier on.
I realised that I am better at inspiring others and should stick to what I’m really good at rather than what I thought I should do. I would have tried to be quicker at spotting where my true passion lay.
But I like to finish things I start, and I learned that sometimes, you just have to walk away from something, even if it’s not finished.
What would you say to others to encourage them to become entrepreneurs?
Just think about the word ‘enterprising’ rather than entrepreneur (this word can scare people). How can you be enterprising? Whether it’s fundraising for your school or setting up a business, there are different ways to be enterprising. When you have practised being enterprising in different ways, then setting up your own business doesn’t seem so scary. When I coach people and explore areas they have a skillset in and help them realise this, it changes what the word entrepreneur means to us. Practise the skill of being enterprising ! If you re-frame how people see themselves, it can make a big difference!
How would you describe your leadership style?
I would say that I am inspiring! Over the past few years, the people I have worked with show me that with my enthusiasm and commitment (even when there is little cash), I can inspire them with a bigger vision and bring them along the way with me. I engage people’s energy and enthusiasm. Being an enthusiastic person and can take you a long way, even through the most mundane and routine tasks. Just think how those tasks fit into the overall scheme of things and move forward.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
When I was younger, I believed that ‘taking action’ was everything. Now I’m doing more reflecting to make sense of the world.
Don’t be so focused on jumping to action and ‘doing things’ – most times thinking and reflecting first can lead to better actions, and focusing on the right things to do. I now know I should have done more reflecting earlier.
What do you want to achieve in the next 5 years?
My current quest is for the business to go global, by thinking bigger and making a difference at an international level. Over the past few years, I’ve have been able to do a good job motivating people in Europe and the U.S. Now I want to find opportunities to do great work elsewhere. I firmly believe that opportunities come out of the least expected occasions.
Follow your instinct, spot and seize the opportunities that come along, remember to be agile and flexible.
That’s my motto to bring us forward on the global scene.
3 key words to describe yourself:
- Action-Oriented – a ‘doer’