My career: from accidental manager to business founder

Written by David Jones CMgr CCMI Tuesday 25 May 2021
My first management role was on team of seven – here's my career-long story of on-the-job learning and development
Double exposure of group of business people and cityscape

At the age of 28, I was promoted to lead a team of seven staff.  Albeit at a junior level, it was my first experience managing others.  Aside from the odd short course, I had little management training and found that my engineering knowledge only accounted for a small proportion of the task at hand. I had to develop new skills in inspiring, motivating, guiding and mentoring others. I learned through observing other managers and from management books and magazines. To put it in CMI terms, I was an ‘accidental manager’.   After a period of on-the-job learning, I obtained a postgraduate Diploma in Management and an MBA. Both courses provided a foundation, but not the day-to-day practical knowledge and skills that a CMI dual-accredited program offers  to managers today.

Having worked in Asia for more than 40 years, and lived in Malaysia for more than 30 of them, I’ve learned to be open to others’ ideas. In an environment of varying cultures, religions and races, I’ve learned by enquiring  and listening to be respectful, inclusive and to harness individual talents of co-workers. I’ve also learned that assimilating inter-culturally was a step-change to recognising different corporate cultures and diversity within the same country.

Recognising and celebrating this diversity means that you can  ensure  others have a seat at the table, that everyone feels involved and their voices genuinely heard.  This approach has enabled me the privilege of working with a number of great teams, and showed me that so much can be achieved by working together. By forming strong and trusting relationships, we are more successfully  able to collaborate with many clients and partners.

I feel fortunate to have worked for and learned from some of the finest companies in the world, including British Airways and Rolls-Royce. I’ve been inspired by their leaders, such as the late Lord Marshall who led the turnaround and significant customer-focused cultural change at British Airways; and Sir John Rose,  who gave me the opportunity to play a small part in pivoting from a product orientation to an aftermarket portfolio.  I have had the great pleasure to start and helm five new departments as well as two new companies, including my own consultancy business.  Through all of these ventures I’ve learned the virtues of remaining positive, focused and determined. It’s so important to engage others,  be responsible, be grateful and show what can be achieved if you set your mind to it.  Likewise, the pandemic taught me how to be resilient, how to work remotely in a culture that often demands otherwise and to recover from redundancy.

It may be an old adage, but I believe you are happiest p when giving.  For me, this has meant spending much of my personal time on different charities including being past chair of a local children’s charity, and with many NGOs.  I was chair at Eurocham Malaysia for seven years,  and was also founding Chair of the CMI Regional Board Malaysia, which has a singular goal: try and make a difference.   Had it not been for my resilience, perhaps my career would look very different.

I have always tried to be true to myself, hold an empathetic ear, have humility, be ethical, maintain personal credibility, be always willing to learn with a keen desire to strive to be better including in management.  I believe these are some of the qualities necessary for a CMI Chartered Companion.

If there is one piece of advice I would leave you with, which made a lasting impression on me, it would be from the late Brian Rowe, former CEO of General Electric Aviation. During one of his retirement speeches, he advocated to be in a job you love and for it to become your hobby – through this you will have much success, both professionally and personally.


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