Jeannette Linfoot knows the meaning of success. Hugely successful in her own right, she has had executive board roles at Thomas Cook, First Choice, TUI and Saga – where she was CEO of the PLC’s tour operating division. It’s through combining her corporate executive experience with her current entrepreneurial business portfolio, that Jeannette says she’s learned the true meaning of the word.
Last month, she spared time from her busy schedule to catch up with Howgate Sable partner and head of aviation, Nick Irving, to discuss what she’s learned since becoming a board advisor, mentor, property investor and host of her very own podcast – Brave, Bold, Brilliant – for which she interviews some of the most accomplished business leaders from the boardroom tables of big international businesses to the dining room tables of entrepreneurial start-ups.
Nick Irving: We first met in the world of travel but now you spend your days advising, investing and interviewing business leaders. You must have all the secrets, so tell us – what are the key drivers behind success?
Jeannette Linfoot: There are a few things that always crop up – no matter the size of business, sector or story behind just how these leaders climbed to the top.
A lot of it comes down to mindset and self-belief. Everyone has their own gremlins and insecurities, like imposter syndrome, for example. Those things never go away, no matter how successful you are – you just find a way to manage them.
Then there’s having a strong purpose and knowing exactly what you want from life – in business, your career, for your family. A lot of people aren’t clear on that and since I’ve been mentoring, I’ve realised how common this is. Often, there’s a life-changing event that makes people stop and think, or they simply get a bit longer in the tooth and realise they want a change. This shouldn’t be the case though and the really successful people know what they want and where they’re going.
Approach to failure is another big one. We are indoctrinated from a young age about winning and competition. Of course, there will always be winners and losers – that’s just life and business – but it’s presented to us as young children that failure is bad and this is fundamentally wrong. Successful people see failure as a gift and an opportunity to learn. In the US, there’s more of an approach to seeing failure as a positive – more of a ‘give it a go’ attitude that the UK could learn a lot from.
Finally, it’s the people you surround yourself with – mentors, coaches, your peer group. Sadly, sometimes you can find that the people who are closest to you can be the least supportive. Often it’s your family or friends that can be the naysayers. Success is about being able to ignore the naysayers, limit the amount of time you spend with negative people or block out the noise. It’s important to surround yourself with individuals that are more positive, encouraging and will support you in achieving your dreams so you fulfil your true potential. This takes real skill!
NI: Brilliant insight, thank you! What tends to be the reason people seek out a mentor?
JL: Successful people work hard on themselves – it’s all part of the journey. They’re self-aware and proactively develop their character so that they’re in the best shape possible. I help rationalise the voices in their head, the stories they tell themselves and make it easier to visualise what they want. Once this is clear, all they need to do is take action – keep going regardless of the hurdles and failures. It comes down to mindset, clear focus and action.
Nick Irving: I know from my own experience with clients that something major like the pandemic has the power to impact focus. How are you helping clients navigate this and who will survive?
JL: There are more successful businesses set up during a recession or depression than there are during normal times. It all comes down to creativity and determination. Survival though, does partly come down to money – as crude as it sounds.
Businesses that can conserve cash will survive. Large businesses fall into two camps – they either have liquidity, have managed to refinance and had strong balance sheets anyway to help them weather the storm. Then there are the larger organisations that are less able to raise finances and have legacy systems and an outdated customer proposition. It’s at times like these that they become their own worst enemy. They’re not small enough to be agile and therefore, in a more difficult position.
We are seeing significant structural change across all sectors and this isn’t all negative. As the saying goes, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ – businesses have had to change or die. It’s as simple as that.
There’s evolutionary change and revolutionary change – most businesses tend to evolve over time, which isn’t a bad thing as it might be appropriate to operate that way, but since the pandemic, we are seeing more revolution. If you have a burning platform, you have nothing to lose so you may as well go for it. A lot of the innovation that we’ve seen emerge over the last 12 months would never have happened if it wasn’t for the pandemic and that’s so exciting.
NI: Turning your role as mentor on its head for a moment, what would you tell your younger self?
JL: Believe in yourself. A lot of successful people had nothing to start with and with belief you can absolutely achieve anything. I’d tell myself to drop the imposter syndrome! Even now after all these years, it pops in for me from time to time. It’s really common – 70% of people have it – but it’s not rational. People tell themselves success is down to luck, but it’s not. It’s down to self belief, having a clear purpose, grit and hard work. Also, I’d remind myself not to sweat the small stuff. Pick the things that are really important to put your energy and focus into those.
NI: Any advice for businesses struggling to see through the fog?
JL: Know your customer inside out – live and breathe to genuinely serve them. So often, businesses think they have this nailed but it’s about holding a mirror up and really challenging themselves. Question what their compelling offer is and what problem they’re solving – only from this comes true innovation. Oh, and always over deliver! Delight and surprise and you’ll go far.
NI: What was the catalyst for departing travel industry for pastures new?
Jeannette Linfoot: I’m still involved in the travel industry through the board advisory and mergers & acquisitions work I do, but after 25 years of running large travel businesses, I decided that it was time for me to create more freedom, flexibility and choice for myself, which led me to creating a portfolio of my own businesses. I loved my time in the corporate world running big international teams across all my different roles, and when I reached my mid-forties, I decided I wanted to be more in control of my own destiny and create passive and multiple income streams.
Whilst always Ioved my jobs, I’d spent 20 years exchanging my time for money and it was time for a change. When you boil it down, that’s what work is! Even in a very senior role, you’re essentially doing the same thing – there are just bigger numbers involved.
NI: How is life different now?
JL: These days, I’m using all the insight and knowledge I’ve gained during my time at the boardroom table to help others. I’m a board advisor within the travel and leisure industry (I couldn’t totally leave it behind!) where I support with strategy and transformation, as well as M&A. Obviously when Covid hit, the sector ground to a halt. Three big deals I was working on were put on the backburner and at this stage, it was all about pivoting. It’s a cliché but I always try to see the positive in a situation and this is what inspired me to set-up my mentoring business and launch my podcast, Brave, Bold, Brilliant.
NI: Congratulations on the launch. Was it a natural move and how did you get the ball rolling?
JL: Absolutely. I’ve been mentoring people for 30 years. I’m good at it and I know I can add value so I thought ‘why not formalise this?’. I put myself out there on social media, which was massively out of my comfort zone – but it’s paid off!
Working in the corporate world, you have to be so careful with social media – especially if you’re the director of a listed business. There’s so much at risk. I forced myself to break down the barriers I’d built up over the years around using social media and launched the business purely through this.
Gradually, people started approaching me for help and now I have a portfolio of mentees that I support with transforming their businesses, careers and personal lives. It’s all about transformation and growth!
NI: And just in case you weren’t already busy enough, you started podcasting! Tell us about that.
JL: The podcast is something I am incredibly passionate about. It’s such an accessible, easy way to learn and be inspired. You can listen to podcasts while you’re working, driving, cleaning the house – whatever! There are around 1.9 million in the world and we’re already in the top 2.5% globally from a standing start, which is incredible.
NI: Extremely impressive! How did you come up with the name?
JL: I believe every single person has greatness within them, but 90% of people don’t embrace it. I’m totally fascinated by successful people and how they overcome challenges, bounce back from failure and create opportunities. People often look at successful people and think ‘it’s alright for them, they’ve got it all’. What they don’t see is that successful people will have failed their way to success – failed hundreds of times but they keep going, changing and adapting.
In order to fulfil potential, you have to be brave – take a deep breath and throw yourself in. You also need to be bold – make an impact and stand out from your competitors. Brilliant – this is when everything aligns. And there we have it – Brave, Bold, Brilliant. There’s a lot we can learn from each other by hearing one another’s stories and I’ve learned so much over the nine months we’ve been live. It’s been a pleasure.