Giles’s story so far:
From the love of nature to studying business
I was born during the summer of 1972, in Oxfordshire, UK, and from an early age I have experienced a highly-sensitised empathic inter-relationality with human and non-human life. Only with hind-sight now, when looking back can I sense a theme throughout my life of exploring ‘right relation’: right-relation with self, with others and with nature/life. It is a continuing journey of exploration for me, full of trials, learnings, tensions and metamorphoses.
As a child I would ask endless questions about how the world worked, and specifically about nature, and have long felt a special bond with nature. The orthodox view of nature as ‘red in tooth and claw’ never rung true for me. From as early as I can remember, I instinctively felt there were far richer dynamics at play.
At school, I became a passionate social-environmentalist upon learning that activities like animal testing, factory farming, widespread deforestation, child labour, etc. were rife within our so-called ‘civilisation’. Many of these topics – which I became passionate about– were patently absent from the discussions of the day. Whilst I was seeking to go into Environmental Science at University, my parents persuaded me that business was a better path. With hind-sight, this was an important turning point, as the business experience I was destined to gain during the decades ahead would put me in good stead for the socio-economic transformation work I felt compelled to make-good on.
After a ‘year-off’ working at the ICC Yacht Club in Devon, I attended City University’s CASS Business School in London, gaining a BSc in Property, Valuation and Finance (including modules on Law, Economics, and a final dissertation on Intelligent Buildings). I went on to work for three years as a Chartered Surveyor in London gaining my professional qualifications with The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. During these formative years, I learnt the inner workings of the legal, securitisation, asset and facility management systems that underpin our socio-economic model. I was fortunate to work alongside some very astute Investment Managers, Barristers and Fund Managers, as well as wealthy property investors. Living and working in London was quite a different experience for the nature-loving lad I was, and while earning my professional qualifications during the day, I spent my evenings completing a two-year part-time MSc in Business Systems Analysis and Design at CASS Business School. This interest in business systems, spurred me into joining KPMG in 1997 as a management consultant. I thought this would be a great way to get to grips with business and the corporate system so dominant in our society.
From Management Consultant to Global Sustainability Director
Over the many busy business years that followed, I worked with organizations of all sectors and sizes, and in different countries. After a few years, I became a specialist in project managing business transformational change. Soon I was running large teams of people and managing multi-million pound projects. Over the years, I received all sorts of world-class training in a great variety of management practices such as Business Process Improvement, PRINCE, Change Management, World Class Strategy and Leadership Development. I was fortunate to be appointed on to KPMG’s Global Leadership programme. There is no doubt about it in my mind, KPMG was a first-class employer for me, the people I worked with were highly intelligent and delivery excellence was important for everyone. These many years at KPMG formed an important backbone of delivery excellence that I would rely upon in future years.
In 2003, I became Practice Head of the Customer Relationship Management business transformation practice. I was no longer running change programmes for client organizations, but running a business unit with responsibility for P&L ownership, HR for the Practice staff I led, along with strategy, operations, sales and marketing. This gave me first hand leadership experience in a fast-moving, complex and highly demanding environment. When KPMG Consulting was purchased in the UK and Netherlands by Atos Origin, I was invited on to Atos’s GOLD Leadership programme for senior leaders. As I write this, I realize there is a real chance that it can all sound like I was cruising with ease. It was not like that. I was being challenged at every level, growing shed-loads, embracing failings and successes, and am eternally grateful for those around me, up and down the hierarchy, who helped me during these busy and often stressful years.
While on the ‘outside’ my life was ‘successful’ with a career nicely laid out ahead of me, on the ‘inside’ I knew I had to start making good on the promise I made to myself way back in my teenage years, to help contribute to a civilisation that respected life and that saw the cruel exploitation of life – whether it be sweat-shops, child-slavery, bullying, soul-sapping organizational cultures, factory farming or animal testing – as outright unacceptable. I was increasingly asking myself, ‘when’. When is the right time for me to stop learning about the current system and start helping transform it?
In early 2006, I watched a David Attenborough BBC nature programme where he seemed to speak directly to the inner-tension I was holding. He said the time was ‘now’ to change humanity’s prevalent way of behaving, as it is wreaking havoc on Earth. This was the sign I needed. I started to try and live my purpose through my work from that moment on; no looking back. I soon realised this was easier said than done! Trying to change the prevalent business mindset from the inside out is not for the faint-hearted; I was on a steep learning curve, and would need more than pure passion to aid me.
First, I started to change the strategy of the Practice I ran so that we focused on working with purpose-led organisations, and specifically NGOs. In the months that followed, we engaged with some really interesting charities, including the likes of WWF and Greenpeace. It soon dawned on me that many charities seemed to be suffering from the same habituations and myopia that other less-purposeful for-profit organizations suffered from – infighting, political backstabbing, hierarchy, soul-sapping culture, Machiavellian behaviour. It dawned on me that the problem we face is a deep one, one of human consciousness.
Einstein’s insight - we can’t change today’s problems with the same level of consciousness that created them - came home to me as clear-as-day. I sensed a root problem: a consciousness or worldview that came to believe we are separate from nature; that we are separate competing egos struggling for life in a dog-eat-dog mechanistic world. I could see that it was this mechanistic mind-set - and the structures and systems it propagates - that was undermining our humanity and the fabric of life on Earth.
Shifting the leadership mind-set from machine to living-systems
In 2008, I started to explore how to best focus on life-affirming behaviour by helping leaders re-connect with ‘nature’ within and around them. I became the first UK Head of Sustainability Solutions in Atos Origin, and in 2010 was promoted to Global Director, with global responsibility for Sustainability Solutions for Atos’s multi-national coverage - it has 120,000 employees in 73 countries and clients spanning the entire global infrastructure, such as Akzo Nobel, Proctor & Gamble, DSM, Siemens, Danone, and the UK National Health Service. During that time I co-founded and ran BCI: Biomimicry for Creative Innovation and developed a ‘firm of the future’ approach for Atos. We ran workshops on Business Inspired by Nature for a host of organisations such as Unilever, Interface, Vodaphone and EDF Energy. In 2011, I was invited to write articles on Business Inspired by Nature for The Guardian’s Sustainable Business network, and in 2012 my first book The Nature of Business was published by Green Books.
The global travel schedule, and many relentless years of corporate consultancy, was having an effect on me. I longed to be free to not just take a sabbatical but actually have a complete life-break, so I could renew my connection with nature in a deep way. Whilst it was tempting to take a year-long sabbatical and then return to the security of a well-paid career in sustainable business, I decided to resign and have a clean break from corporate life in 2012, in part due to the imminent birth of our first daughter Lilly-Belle, and in-part because I knew my soul was crying out for me to go deep, and a year-off would simply not cut-it. Soon, I found myself walking the woods with baby Lilly-Belle strapped to my chest, while my wife Star tried to catch-up on sleep. As I renewed my connection with nature, I also started to write my second book, The Illusion of Separation, a more philosophical undertaking that explores how modern humanity has come to see itself as separate from nature and how this has affected our collective worldview. I wanted to explore - what I knew in my heart was possible - how we human-beings could truly be life-affirming, by tending towards harmony with nature’s wisdom.
During this time I went through what many might call a ‘dark night of the soul’, a metamorphosis. First hand I experienced my own mental mind-traps, my hardwired habituations as I set about a re-wiring, a re-connection at deep and partly unconscious levels. I was learning, time and again, to notice when I was in ‘separation’ and when I was connecting with a deeper ‘beingness’. My body was the laboratory, and as I worked with it, I started to regain the sensitives I had as a child and more. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but I was learning a new trade – a soul-craft of how to live more consciously, more authentically. I knew that whatever work I did from this moment on had to deeply resonate with me at a soul level. This difficult inner journey was key to my outer work of coaching, mentoring and advising leaders as they engage in personal and organizational transformation, with all the mind-traps, inner stuckness, systemic trauma, and self-healing this inevitably involves.
Floris Books published The Illusion of Separation in 2014, just before our second daughter Hazel was born. By that time, I was gingerly starting a kind of ‘return’ journey, from deep-nature connection back into business, initially through guest lecturing and advising a variety of institutions. I had the pleasure of working with many interesting institutions, such as Ashridge Executive Education, Oxford University, Henley Business School, INSEAD, HEC, Hult International, Schumacher College, Exeter University One Planet MBA, The Eden Project, Roffey Park, and more. I soon regained an interest for getting hands-on in business again, engaging directly with companies interested in truly transforming. Then, in 2016, I published Future Fit, a practical leadership book packed full of examples and techniques enabling organizations to become future-fit and life-affirming. These insights were gleaned from advising a great variety of organizations through transformation.
These days, alongside helping Laura with Regenerators, I also Chair The Future Fit Leadership Academy, and have the real pleasure of coaching and advising senior leaders in some fascinating organizations. I also regularly speak at conferences about this emerging new business paradigm, and run deep-dive leadership immersions in nature. I love holding-space in nature for leaders to reconnect with who they truly are, to explore their personal and organizational purpose, to explore their legacy, and to revitalize their leadership and take it to the next-stage. Engaging leaders in multi-layered experiences using multidisciplinary approaches, all while learning from the wisdom of nature, the complexity of living-systems, and the consciousness-shifting modalities of wisdom traditions the world-over – this is my life-purpose. Hundreds of leaders have attended these nature immersions, from all backgrounds whether the likes of Mckinsey and Google or social entrepreneurs and start-ups. For more on these immersions that I run in 60 acres of ancient woodland, with close connections to the international airports of Gatwick and Heathrow visit www.ffla.co and www.leadershipimmersions.com.
Thank you for reading my journey thus far, and I hope we get to meet in person at some point. I never forget that when my first book was published people would always ask me, ‘how many copies have you sold?’ I do not write a book to sell volume, I write to hopefully engage and ignite. A few weeks after The Nature of Business was published in North America, I received an email out-of-the-blue from a lady in Canada. She had recently experienced a nervous breakdown after running a complex fast-growing organization for many years. She wrote a lovely long email basically saying that it was upon her reading my book that she found the courage to reengage with a sense of meaning and purpose in her life. The emails I receive over the years, and the feedback from workshop participants is more than enough to motivate me. I know in my heart I am in service of life and fulfilling my life-work, while having some fun along the way.
To find out more about my advanced leadership development and nature immersion work please visit www.leadershipimmersions.com and also The Future Fit Leadership Academy, my blog can be found at The Nature of Business, and more about my keynote speaking and executive coaching at Giles Hutchins.