Ed Haddon – Coach, Leader, Entrepreneur.

Interview   –   20 October 2023

Ed operates as a coach, entrepreneur and investor combining over 20 years of practical experience of SME's, analytical experience from Harvard and Bain, and people skills from training with The Coaching Academy and a Psychology degree. He started Haddon Coaching in 2011 to focus on helping others maximise their impact and loves working with Founders and their senior teams to grow people led businesses whilst living fulfilling lives outside of work. Ed is currently Executive Chairman of Adventure Experience, a company he founded in 2010. He’s also has made 17 private investments since 2000 with 7 exits. His recent book, The Modern Maverick sets out a roadmap for a different way forward – a way that combines purpose with profit. It is this combination of entrepreneur, leader, coach and investor that we are excited to explore.  

We would love to start off by hearing about your own journey.

So I guess my career arc is probably relevant here. I left Oxford not knowing what I wanted to do. Consulting was very exciting, I really enjoyed the strategy side of it, but did not enjoy the lifestyle and craved autonomy and balance. I went to do an MBA at Harvard which was fantastic. As I had always thought, if you're someone who craves autonomy and craves independence, the entrepreneurial world is alluring so I helped set up a business called Quintessentially which I really enjoyed  for a period. Then after about four or five years trying to find the right role it dawned on me that it is quite hard. There’s this ‘square’ of advisor – investor – entrepreneur – operator and I realised that I didn't have the attention to detail and innate management skills to be a really good operator. I'd always had this plan of being an investor so, I joined a friend from Bain and we did four or five deals together which went pretty well. And then in 2008, I had this meltdown. I had some financial freedom, not total, but some. My dad had sadly died and that was a difficult time. But also, I realised that I’d been too close to the pitch when I was an operator and I'd been too far away from the pitch as an investor. I think of it like a stadium, I knew I was in the right stadium, but I tried being the centre forward -wasn't any good at that. I tried going up to the owner's box - way too far away.  So, I had some coaching and it did really change my life. It made me realise you're in the right stadium, but not in the right position and eventually I realised that I was better as an advisor. That outside advisor position when well done is very powerful and so I qualified as a life coach thinking, “I really want to help people like me who do their first couple of jobs and then somewhere in their 30s, 40s, or even 50s have a wobble”. Some people call it midlife crisis, I don't think that's helpful. But whatever it is, you have this wobble of “I'm not sure”. I think you as head-hunters do have a really amazing role in this and a lot of what you do at Moloney Search is really brilliant, part coaching, part careers. So, I started business as a life coach and was still on a couple of Boards from my investments.  While a qualified life coach, I remember Tom Byng who’d just started Byron rang up and said “will you come and coach me?”. And I said, “Tom, I'm not a business coach”. And he's said, “Of course you are. You've been a consultant, you're now a life coach… you're a business coach”. And fast forward 11 years, that's where we are now!

You pointed out that people start thinking about coaching around the age of 35 or perhaps later on. But do you think there is such a thing as being too junior for coaching or do you think we should be looking to start it earlier?

I've had a number of young people and actually their parents say, “gosh, please, will you do a course for the early 20s”. Think about it, in upper sixth, it’s what university do I choose? Graduating university, what's my first job. And I do think now your 20s are a bit different to when I was graduating in 1994; the “job for life” concept had already gone. But it's now gone even more extreme. People will try four or five different things in their 20s, and jump around and there's no stigma attached to that. And I think that's amazing. But at some point in that, it strikes me that you need a way of evaluating. You need a framework and a way of saying, “ok, I feel happier here but why and I think that's really hard to do on your own. I think the joy and the power of coaching is asking those searching questions and forcing people to stop and evaluate so they’re not just going around in circles. Executive coaching does seem to be very much focused on those later in their career and the 20 something cohort, are probably a bit junior for their business to pay for a coach. It might not be one-to-one coaching but I think it's really helpful to have coaching when you're younger even if it's small groups or workshops or reading books.

When you're coaching people and helping them work out what they enjoy and what they're good at, is there a sense of “good” leadership that you're trying to get people to aspire to and more broadly, what does good leadership mean to you as a coach?

It’s an interesting question and I think it's sort of a bigger question. Firstly, what is leadership? I think maybe I'll answer that in two ways because there’s leadership of your own life and then leadership, within the business context. One of the key ideas in The Modern Maverick is around moving from being a passenger to a pilot in your own life. I went to Bain and didn't really know what I wanted to do. It wasn’t until my MBA that I thought, hang on a minute, you work out what you want to do and what you're best at and then go and find that job. And I think that's what leads to this wobble in your 30s, 40s, 50s because you've just said yes to a couple of things because they sounded good. We talk a lot in the book about a definition of success, and “what does success mean to me” and people often adopt this generic definition that success is money, success is a medal, success is fame and it's very hollow. I think the first thing is leadership in your own life and that leads to being able to lead a team better.  I look at some of the poor leaders and often their lives are just a bit of a mess; they're low EQ with low self-awareness. They might get away with it by ruling with an element of fear, or leading by sheer hard work and flogging their teams and that can work in the short term. But, if you're going to be a sustainable long term, brilliant leader, you've got to have your own house in order. Then you can turn to others and be interested in others and develop others.

It's really good to hear you speak about people having autonomy in their career and having the freedom to decide what really suits them. But what do you think about the rise in big corporations really trying to get people to work for them with “fun” incentives?

So that's a great question because I think it's missing the point of wellbeing. When you ask people, what really matters to them at work, it's not ping pong tables. It's actually not money, weirdly. Money normally comes in at about number five. Number one is feeling that the business has a purpose that you can connect to, and this is especially true for Gen Z. People want to have impact, they want to believe in a mission, they want to be recognised and they want to get on with their colleagues. So, if you think about it, sleeping pods are just an absolutely abhorrent idea and why tracking hours is also such a bad metric. One of the things I really want to write about is why people work so much and give the best of their energy to the company they work for  and for a bunch of invisible shareholders. It's really hard to make changes in your life, but to have a productive workforce, you have to have a very clear mission that you communicate. You have to tell people “if you want to come and help with this, join the company. If it's not aligned with your mission, please don't join the company”. There’s a really interesting idea from Amy Wrzesniewski called “job crafting”. In big corporates, you have to figure out what you're extremely good at, what the company needs, what you're passionate about, and then go to your boss saying, “this is where I would be better”. It's not a completely different job, it’s a version or an evolution of your current job. I think people are really afraid to come forward and say, “this is win-win here - I'd be better at my job and you'd get more out of me”. I really like this idea of job crafting and I think if I was trying to create a great corporate culture, I'd build that into the DNA and that would be quite a cool organization.

You obviously interact a lot with businesses as an investor. How do you choose what to invest in?

I think to be a really good investor you have to have great knowledge of the sector. You have to be able to assess whether a business idea is fundamentally sound. I don't invest in any business I’ve got to know as a coach - I think that's a conflict of interest. One of the reasons I wanted to become a coach is because it involves properly honest conversations and one reason I don't want to be an investor in a business I coach is because that would mean the conversations might be a bit less honest. A lot of founders I coach go on to become investors and we talk a lot about this player-coach-investor role and how if you want to be a bit different and want to be a really active investor then you have to think how you uniquely can help the business, not be just a passive Board member.


And have there been sectors you've particularly enjoyed investor partnership in?

I’ve always been interested in people and I read psychology at university. Quite early on at Bain, I did some really boring stuff in insurance and I did some quite boring stuff in spirits and alcohol and then I did a retail case and it was great and I realised that I really liked trying to help predict and understand human behaviour and what makes people buy and enjoy. And that mirrors my coaching. I do a lot of work in hospitality, in brands and in retail, a bit of tech but really only where it's B2C. I don’t do anything in these “sexy” areas of AI or Biotech because I don't understand it and I just wouldn't be able to coach in it.

I want to go back to this concept of being a Maverick. I'm sure you get asked about this all the time, but what does a Maverick look like? Can you become one? Are you born one? And I suppose, why does it matter!

Good questions. I think everyone has some sense of understanding around the word maverick, and it's broadly positive with a couple of negative things. I think someone would understand a maverick to be courageous and independent, but living a bit differently. I think you also get the negative of a rule breaker or a law breaker. But it's not becoming a cowboy and stealing cattle - which is what the original mavericks were, and the reason why I put this word “modern” in front, is I want to take this really interesting idea of being a bit truer to yourself, really tuning into what you're uniquely good at, being a bit rebellious, living a little outside society - but the modern maverick is about using all of that to do good. And I think it's really important now because a lot of the KPI's we use, whether it's our overall happiness, economic growth, climate change are not moving in the right direction in the world. So it's the idea of a call to action, especially as we become more secular. We lack frameworks about what doing good means or what our purpose should be. So, I'm slowly, gently trying to introduce some ideas and create a framework. Not that these replace religion! That would be very grandiose and I’m not religious myself. But it gives people a framework for things that we’ve lost, around community and gathering and sharing and helping each other - all useful ideas that can help us live our best lives. And then your other question is, are you born one, or do you become one? I obviously believe you can become one because I've written a book about it! I think it's a bit like being an entrepreneur. There are some people who are born more entrepreneurial and they seem to have this natural independence and confidence. We work with a lot of those people, because they've done this without thinking and so we give them a contextualising framework. I think some people are so risk averse and so anxious and it's a big move for them to leave their safe job. But there is this huge group in the middle that are just waiting to have that fire lit in them at that point when they're a bit stuck, I think that group is really exciting. You light the fire in that group and suddenly you've got a big old movement on your hands.

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