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Entrepreneur Dawn Metcalfe believes in success – but not in the rat race

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Dawn Metcalfe is the Managing Director of Performance Development Services (PDS). PDS helps individuals, teams and organizations to change behavior and improve performance be it through 1:1 Executive Coaching or delivering Leadership and Management Development Programs.

She has extensive experience of working with different cultures having lived and worked in the UK, France, Spain, Japan, China and now Dubai where she is based. She works regularly with board directors, senior managers and top management teams across the region to improve performance by changing the way individuals and groups see the world and the impact they have on it and others. regularly advises C-Suite executives and high potential employees to develop and deliver their events, ranging from simply delivering 30 minutes on a specific topic or moderating a panel to developing and facilitating a week-long corporate event.

Dawn regularly advises C-Suite executives and high potential employees to develop and deliver their events, ranging from simply delivering 30 minutes on a specific topic or moderating a panel to developing and facilitating a week-long corporate event. She is the coach and author of “Managing the Matrix: How to Survive and Thrive in Your Organisation”, which was published in 2014 and will soon come out in Arabic.

She regularly writes for various publications across the Middle East, including Training Magazine Middle East, Gulf Business, Explorer UAE and LinkedIn (with one article generating over 80,000 hits).

Dawn also contributes to the Business Breakfast on Dubai Eye 103.8, speaking on various topics, and appeared at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature to discuss business writing.

In a recent in-depth conversation with Naseba, Dawn Metcalfe shared the 3 Cs in her life: challenges, changes and choices.

  1. What did you eat for breakfast? (This helps people relate to you–plus it’s fun to know.)

I haven’t had breakfast yet this morning because I was interrupted by a water monitor. I am working from my house in Sri Lanka and breakfast was rudely interrupted by the dogs barking wildly at a trespassing water monitor. By the time I got back the birds had eaten my fruit. Lunch will be fresh prawns in a coconut milk soup made by my wildly talented husband before he flies off again for work. Yummy! Hopefully there’ll be leftovers because, left to my own devices, I’ll eat dry crackers.

  1. What’s your favorite sport or exercise?

I am the least sporty person in the world. As a young teenager I was bewildered by sports involving a ball and couldn’t understand why anybody would want the thing given it could potentially hurt you so I would give away the ball. This didn’t make me popular! In the last few years I’ve started doing yoga and I love it. The competition is entirely with yourself and that seems to reflect reality to me. I also have a chronic disease – psoriatic arthritis – and so need to stay flexible. Having said that I was depressed yesterday to find Facebook reminding me that in a year my downward dog has made little progress!

  1. What inspired you to start your business? Where did you start and where are you now?

I started PDS (now PDSi) in 2010 because I couldn’t not. I needed to be in control of what I was doing and how I was doing it so that I could feel l was providing the best possible service to clients. PDS started in a free zone with just me and I got lucky right at the beginning with some great clients. Our very first contract was with a client who is still now a client. We started by training and then moved into coaching and some consulting. Why start with training? Because I’ve never not taught. Before I worked in the private sector I was a teacher for many years. I worked all around the world and learned some great lessons that were easily transported to business.

  1. How large is your business? Please share the size of team, the number of customers, or something that gives us a sense of where you are today.

We’re very lucky in terms of clients. We work across a wide range of industries from financial services to healthcare to construction and the majority of our clients are big, multinational blue-chips although we also work with some of the best local and regional firms and semi-governmental agencies. I’m very proud to say that all of our clients have recommended us to others and rehired us which is how we’ve built the business. And I say “we” because, although I own PDSi, I have an amazing team of people who are out in organizations every day coaching and training and facilitating and really making a difference to individuals, teams and organizations.

  1. What do you see as challenges for you and your business? Is there something you need to grow your business you’d like to bring up?

Finding the right people is always the biggest challenge. I want people who see their role as helping others and want to be trusted advisors. When that’s the case we’re more than halfway there. I’ve got a great team now but we’ve built organically and it’s taken time.

  1. Tell us a story about a success in your business or a mistake you overcame that made you proud of yourself, or more confident.

About two years after I set up the business I was having breakfast in a snowstorm in Istanbul before delivering some training. The phone rang and it was a long-standing client who was calling to tell me that we hadn’t been awarded a piece of work for which we’d proposed. I was devastated. It was the first time we hadn’t won something we’d gone for and I knew we could do the work. My lovely client could hear my disappointment and explained that the work in question was at a fairly junior level and she wanted to keep PDSi for more senior people because we have credibility at that level. Talk about a crucial moment! In one moment I went from sad to feeling really proud and, more importantly, getting a very useful piece of feedback.  

  1. What about your business matters most deeply to you? How does it engage your values?

I love the work I get to do. Really. I’m often embarrassed by just how much. Knowing that we’re often the first call people make when they have a particular problem is humbling and being trusted by some very clever, experienced and highly skilled people makes me feel useful and as though I have a purpose.  I love the fact that I get to do what I think is the right thing and don’t have to check with anyone. It’s exhilarating.

  1. Who is the entrepreneur you admire most right now? Why does s/he inspire you?

Wow. There are so many fantastic entrepreneurs out there. Recently I heard of a woman in Malawi who came up with an invention that stops girls missing school every month. Trinitas was looking for funding to build production of reusable and affordable sanitary pads so that girls who are menstruating don’t have to stay home out of embarrassment because they aren’t protected. Amazing work and I’m hoping I can help her as we’re now in touch on Facebook.

  1. As a child, who was your role model?

Again, I’ve been very lucky and I’ve had different role models for different aspects of my life. But I would have to say my mother was a great role model. When I was little she worked very hard to instil a good work ethic and I saw how she would decide what was important and then go for it no matter what. I learned about resilience watching her and my father move house and leave behind friends every few years and, in particular, when I was about 7 and our house burned down just before Christmas. My mother always got on with things but with kindness and a straightforward desire to make things better that I admire.

  1. What’s the best and the worst thing about being a female founder?

Like I say, it’s all good. It’s exhilarating. Although sometimes it can be a little lonely as no-one cares as much as you do. But that’s not a female thing – that’s just about being the founder.

  1. What was the best advice you ever received, and from whom?

I seem to be talking about my family a lot which is weird when you consider I left home at 17 and didn’t live in Ireland again after that but I always remember the response my father had when I called him to tell him that I had fallen in love with Japan at the age of 21 and would be spending 3 years there instead of the 1 I had promised before returning to a “proper career”. My father said: “Well, Dawn, you should do what makes you happy. That’s what success is.  Not winning the rat race. If you win the rat race you’re a rat – and who wants to be a rat?”