Tell us about your career…Brian Willlman

I have an unusual background, more eclectic than many, but my passion has always been the development of others. I started my career in 1979 in an English state school teaching 14- to 18-year-olds. This proved to be excellent experience in handling ‘classroom dynamics’. I had to succeed in capturing and holding the attention of a class of disaffected adolescents. The school was in a low-income working class area and many of the pupils were not interested in education.

One of my earliest success stories was teaching economics to a very bright young man who is currently a UK government minister. Another of my former pupils is now a successful online entrepreneur.

How long did you teach in schools for?

After six years in schools, I was put in charge of business and social science public examinations at the UK’s largest exam board. It was a fascinating time, as the assessment system for 16-year-olds was being completely overhauled. It was a major case study in how to lead change when you have very little control over the end user.

Brian WillmanHow did you make the transition into the private sector?

I was lucky enough to meet an inspiring man, Gareth Jones, who co-authored Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? We worked together at the exam board and he suggested that I do a part-time MBA at London Business School. I had no idea what an MBA was and had never heard of LBS but I applied and was accepted. In 1987 I joined an amazing class of 60 people from diverse backgrounds spanning the private, public and not-for-profit sectors and for the next three years we studied, learnt, presented and socialised together. As an experience, it built my confidence and lifted my sights regarding future possibilities. I also learnt useful skills in finance, strategy, marketing, etc.

At the end of my course, I joined a small but dynamic training organisation that evolved from the Industrial Society and this served as an apprenticeship in management development.

Brian WillmanWhen did People Dynamics start?

In 1993 I felt I had sufficient experience and contacts to branch out on my own. I accrued some great clients early on, including the editorial department of The Financial Times, and I also began to work with London Business School’s Centre for Management Development, the executive development branch of the School. This started with coaching but quickly led to designing and overseeing programmes in a Programme Director function and later teaching leadership on these programmes. I was working alongside some of the most talented people in the world, such as Emeritus Professor John Hunt, who at the time was pioneering the use of 360-degree feedback.  Another wonderful colleague was Rob Goffee who is Gareth Jones’ co-author.

One of my early projects involved running the first global senior leadership programme for WPP, now the world leader in marketing communications services. Martin Sorrell, WPP Chief Executive, credits us with successfully incorporating 360-degree feedback into the organisation.

Brian WillmanAny other major career landmarks?

Apart from a two-year spell as Training Director at Gemini Consulting in the late 1990s, I have continued to split my time more or less equally between my own clients and those of LBS. In the last decade, I was heavily involved in very large and successful global programmes through my affiliation with LBS. I really enjoyed getting to know these organisations in depth.

I ran the three-day Leadership Module on London Business School’s Accelerated Development Programme and taught the prestigious Essentials of Leadership open programme. I was also a Teaching Fellow in the Faculty of Organisational Behaviour from 2000-03 and in the two years that I was eligible for the School’s Teaching Awards, I finished in the top three for participant ratings.

Over the years I’ve had some really interesting experiences, including carrying out negotiation skills training for active participants in the early stages of the Northern Ireland peace process and advising businesses in post-revolution Egypt.

Brian WillmanAnd outside work?

In 2005 I volunteered in Salvador, northern Brazil, to work in an orphanage, which was a challenging but wonderful development opportunity. One of my beliefs about development is that you don’t learn unless you encounter things that give you pause for thought and make you feel a little uncomfortable. That was certainly a demanding experience.

In 2007 I discovered I had a rare autoimmune condition that was difficult to diagnose and nearly finished me off. That was most enlightening.

I was a member of the Trust responsible for the new Rose of Kingston Theatre, which opened in early 2008. It is modelled on Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre and boasted Sir Peter Hall as Artistic Director before he became Director Emeritus.

I am also heavily involved in my local football club Brentford FC, who play in the English third division. I mentored the Chief Executive at one point.

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