Barry Phillips Meets... Tina McKenziePosted in : Podcasts on 12 February 2018
Born in Belfast, Tina McKenzie failed her 11+ and went on to become a multi-award winning business leader in Northern Ireland. As MD of Staffline, she has led them from a cold start to £40 million turnover in less than four years. In this interview, she talks about how she takes her big decisions in life, reflects on what happened with NI21 and outlines her plans for the future.
Barry: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Barry Phillips Meets. My name is Barry Phillips. And my guest for today is Tina McKenzie. Born in Belfast in 1973, Tina McKenzie failed her 11 plus the attended St. Genovese Skills School and later Ulster University, where she did a degree in philosophy. Age 23, she left Northern Ireland for Britain. Finally returning home in 2013 with a husband, three children, and the CV stuffed full of top management work experience in companies that were both national and international.
Almost immediately, Tina became Chair of NI21, a new cross-community party that gave fresh hope to so many in Northern Ireland, fed up with the tribal politics that we had then and still have today. She resigned on the 22nd of May 2014, half an hour before voting in the European elections. Following a very public falling out between the leader of the party Basil McCrea and the deputy leader John McAllister. This political turmoil seem to do nothing to diminish her impact in the business world. As MD of the Staffline Group in Ireland, Tina has grown the company from a standing start in 2013 to turnover 60 million in less than 4 years.
In 2015, Tina received the outstanding Management and Leadership Award from Women in Business Northern Ireland. The following year, she was appointed European Ambassador for Women's Entrepreneurship Day. In 2017, Tina was named Director of the Year by the Institute of Directors. Most recently, she has been appointed honorary Council of Finland and also been appointed to the board for the Centre for Democracy in Peace Building to the chairmanship of Lord Alderdice. At the end of last year, Tina gave a passionate TEDx talk instalment about the obsession we have here in Northern Ireland with labels and the importance of not judging people by what their parents do or who they are. Tina, welcome to the podcast.
Tina: Thank you, Barry.
Barry: Could I start by asking you to give a brief description of the Staffline Group, how its structured, and what type of work each component of the group does?
Tina: So Staffline is a PLC. It's listed on the [inaudible 00:02:52] stock exchange. It's a near or on, a billion-turnover company. There are 55,000 workers, temporary workers out every day. And primarily the recruitment business focuses on blue collar logistics, supports the food industry. And we're on site with most of our customers, although we have branches all over the country as well. So there's the whole recruitment side of the business, and then there's another side of the business, which is known as PeoplePlus, and that business looks after government contracts.
So, for example, and we run a lot of the work programs across the UK and in Northern Ireland. It's Steps 2 Success. We also have a huge skills business where we want apprenticeship programs. And we also run services for the justice sector in Northern Ireland. That's looking after the visitor centres for our three prisons. And in England it's doing more services for the prisoners as well internally. And so, in a sense, it's two different types of company. One is recruitment and the other one is all about supporting people and programs within society. And ultimately, everything we want to do is find people meaningful work.
Barry: Tina, when you were being considered for the role of MD for the Staffline Group, can you give me an indication of how the conversation went? I'm just curious what the understanding was when you were appointed into that role?
Tina: Well, it was very interesting meeting because it wasn't an interview for the MD of Staffline Group. I wasn't even considering the role. I went to meeting with the CEO and the group MD. I think even at the time she was non-executive director. The company had just purchased a franchise operation call Select Recruitment and I was talking about taking that to Ireland and having maybe six franchises across the island. When I met Andy Hogarth and Diane Martyn, whom I'd known from my previous company, [00:05:00] I was inspired by their journey and in particular his journey from 2001, bringing the company up to 400 million turnover from a standing start practically, and really turning the company around. And they had this billion-pound target. And I knew the industry very well. And I knew what the competitors were doing.
And before I got on the plane to go and see them, I read [its annual 00:05:22] reports. And I was really impressed with how they've navigated the crash in 2007-'08 and how they've come out of it. And I as I listened to him and he talked about his plans to hit the billion, at the bottom of a scrappy notepad he had Ireland written at the bottom of the list, and in brackets, 20 million. So he made a list before he thought where he was going to get as billion from and the very last thing on the list was Ireland, 20 million.
So he asked me will I become the MD of Staffline in Ireland and deliver in 5 years to 20 million, to which I laughed, of course, and said, "Well, you know, I'm not looking to do that. I've had my corporate career. I'm probably going to run my own company." And he didn't let me go. So he kept on and within I think 48 hours, I had signed up. So it was not even on my radar. It something I hadn't even considered. But after meeting him and talking with him and Diane Martyn, both of them and the plan, I was bought into the challenge. And I thought then, "Twenty million? No. I was just blow that out of the water. [inaudible 00:06:30].
Barry: Which you did.
Tina: Which we're now on set and doing so, yeah.
Barry: Okay. You're flying back on the plane and you're thinking, "Wow, 20 million." Did you have any idea at that stage how you were going to do it?
Tina: No. Not that all. No. I was actually flying back not really thinking about that. I was just thinking more about, "What am I doing? Am I doing the right thing." I was going to talk to my husband as well. And I knew I liked what I heard, but I had really come to a place where I was going to start my own company. And so that was more the challenge of, "Do I want another ride in a corporate vehicle? Do I want to go again?" And I've done that several times where I've done it for big companies, and I decided, "I'm going to do for me this time." But there's something about corporate life and big companies that I love. I love that being part of something bigger and the whole big machine of it. So I probably deep down knew I'm probably going to do it.
Barry: You've done it by both organic growth and acquisition. Could you give an indication of how you planned it? What was [inaudible 00:07:37]?
Tina: So the older you get, well, I don't know, but I know the older I get the more I realize that, you know, when I was younger, we had all these strategic plans. With everything planned out to the T. We talked about the market. We talked about the size of the market. We talked about what the competitors had. We talked out what made us is unique, what our value add was?
And with all of those plans, you don't necessarily get the results because anyone can open a textbook or do some market research. And the older I get the more I realized that actually, you know, we do need to plan, but what's going to make the difference is us being nimble and reacting to opportunity. And I think the difference for us and what we've achieved and maybe what some others haven't in the market is that we went out looking for opportunities, but also when we spotted them, we've taken risks, and we've moved really quickly.
And if your plan is too fixed, you actually don't do that. And so therefore, I'm more flexible than I've ever been. I have a new plan to get us to 250 million. We're going to hit the 100 probably in the next 18 months. And then my new plan is 250 and I have a fair idea of where we can get it from. And that, again, is more organic growth and potentially another acquisition.
But ultimately, if I wrote it down for you, it will probably look different in five years' time. So I'm [voluntary] relaxed about that. Because who knows? I didn't know Brexit would happen. You didn't know. You know, who knew we'd be set without a government for a year again here in Northern Ireland. And, you know, all these things happen that just completely can throw your plans out the window.
Barry: Tina, when we last met, we went for a cup of tea. It was at the Titanic Hotel. We started off, I asked you, "How are things?" like you do at the beginning of the meeting. And I can't remember your exact words, but I got the impression you were a bit bored. Okay? And you said something to me. It was something like, "By the way did I tell you I'm just in the throes of trying to buy a multinational company?" Now, you didn't mention any names or any details but, you know, multinational companies are not cheap. And like assumed at the time, we were talking [00:10:00] many millions of pounds in terms of a price tag.
But you said it like it was something that almost like a, by the way, remark, you know, something like you do on a Friday afternoon before you go home. After this I came away and I thought there's something about the size of your thinking which is different to most other people's and possibly even most other entrepreneurs. You just seem to think so much bigger than everybody else. And as I'm asking you this, you're looking a little bit surprised. I think my first question to you is, are you aware that your thinking is bigger, different to most of the entrepreneurs?
Tina: Yeah, maybe because when we look around entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland, you know, we've got a lot of people who are very successful running only one company or in one sector and have stayed within that. And you're right. I do get incredibly bored really quickly and it's one of my weaknesses actually. But in terms of size, it depends on what you're used to, I suppose. So for example, being lucky enough to be part of a billion-pound company [inaudible 00:11:18]. But also before that, I was part of a company that is near on 20 billion turnover international. So when I come home here and started this company with two people. And I think in the first year, we turned over one and a half million, but we lost 200,000 minds.
And it felt to me, like, you know, I was playing with peanuts. You know, it was very small, it was very tiny. It's like come back to day one again, ground zero again on your career when you're starting from scratch. And that was the challenge I guess. Most people would never do that. They would never go to a big corporate job and then go back in a corporate and start and build the company again. And I wanted that challenge. But yeah, if you're used to big numbers and you know how to do it, then it isn't a big deal really because you look at all the deals that go on. There are simply transactional deals. It's like buying a house. It's like, you know, once you've done it once, you know how to do it. Probably every time you do it you get better at is as well.
Barry: So your big thinking has come from being amongst big thinkers?
Tina: I think so. I think so. Yeah. And being part of bigger businesses. If you've never been part of something big, you assume it's different. Actually, you know, if you've been part of the biggest, you see some best practices. And equally, you can also see some of the worst because the bigger they get, the more inefficient they can become and the lazier sometimes they can become too.
Barry: I want to ask you about not big thinking now but big decisions. When you take a big decision in your company or possibly in your personal life, but really just focusing on business, what's the process? What's the before the decision and what's the after? I mean, how much consultation or asking or thinking which you do before a big decision, and how much reflection would you do afterwards when and after?
Tina: Well, and that's about people a lot and a lot more than most people would ever believe. You know, if there's a situation with a person in the company that maybe isn't working it or you know, it's no longer in the right seat, I think a lot because I'm very aware that I'm responsible for the journey they have in the company I'm leading. And if someone has exited the company or is exiting, then it troubles me. And, you know, my husband will tell you it's been a few instances where I'll have sleepless nights worrying about the person and they probably never in a million years even believe that it's even on my radar. So that's why I spend . . . that might surprise people in the company.
Barry: Do you speak with other people in your company, or do you kind of prefer two, three around you?
Tina: Yeah, well, normally I speak to lots of people. So my management style is that I talk to everyone. I know everyone. I think I nearly know everyone. And as I go through your morning, afternoon going through officers, I'll chat. I'll go to the kitchen and have lunch sometimes. I don't have a lot of time but I sometimes will just go to the kitchen just to sit and hear what's going on with everyone and catch up with people. I go around the offices. I travel a lot. I talk to individuals. I do it one on one. And just a sanity check what I'm hearing at the top on the grind to make sure because I think that also you can pick up quite a lot from what people don't say body language. And I usually know, and sometimes I'm able to say to some too much as I'm very annoying to them, I'm usually able to point out to some of my directors things that are coming down the line that they haven't seen simply by being in their business and talking to the people.
Barry: And once your decision is out [00:15:00] and you've taken the decision to exclude somebody out or appoint somebody or, you know, acquire a company or something, would you go back to it and try and learn the lessons from that decision or ask yourself, "Was that a good one? Was that a bad one?" And perhaps, you know, with a view to help you take decisions better in the future? Or do you kind of think, "No, that's done. Nothing I can do about it?" On to the next thing.
Tina: I don't really overanalyse things too much in that sense. I know if I've done or we've done something that was . . . I mean, we do. We make mistakes all the time. And when we do, you know, we largely definitely, as a team, we're all very close, and we're very open, and I'm very honest, and direct with people. And we all know that, you know, when we screwed up and we have those conversations and we need to learn from them equally. I'm not afraid of reversing. One of the criticisms I used to get, not so much now, but when my team first started working with me as you change your mind too much. And I used to worry a little bit that they thought, you know, "Does that mean they think I'm not a good manager, a good leader?"
And now I realize, no, you have to be confident to change your mind a lot. And I will change my mind as many times as it takes me to get it right. Or if it's wrong, I'll change my mind to get it right. And I'm comfortable about myself. I did worry about that they used to say that. And then no one can see the bigger picture here for me in terms of all the companies and what we've got going on. So therefore, sometimes I need to make decisions and they don't always know why I did it. But luckily, the team that I've got and the journey we've been on, they understand, they look back, and they all say actually, you know, "Look, some of those decisions we didn't know where you're coming from at all."
But, oh, my goodness, since they've gone on their journey and to go for more of the business they really get that. So you just have to trust in yourself, even if others around you of questioning your style, or the way . . . as long as you know what you're doing is ultimately right to the company, you've got to do it. That involves people, processes, anything. I mean, I've had to make some decisions and some choices that I rather would not have had to make, but I made them, and I made them quick because it was right for the company. And if you heard the company first, you have the ability to look after people.
Barry: Just taking you slightly out of the business arena into the political world to NI21 and the decision to join with John McAllister and Basil McCrea, before you decided to do that because that was a big thing for you, and it was a big new step into a new arena, what sort of thinking did you do? What was the sort of run up to sort of saying, "Okay, I want to do this. I'm going to go for this?"
Tina: Well, like most things that I do, there's many huge big thinking. I'm not a big planner as such, but, I mean, again, I react from my gut. I'm very much an emotional person. You know, I'm probably more emotional intelligence than academia. And I knew the coming home and looking around and I had three small children, they were very young at the time in 2013, and I knew that was going on was wrong. We were very, very divided. We had these flag protests. I felt very lucky and privileged to have been on the journey I was on, you know, having great careers and living in great places and having wonderful holidays. And that's all right to a point.
But underneath that kind of lifestyle there, was why are we here? What do we [inaudible 00:18:46]? I'm very much a Northern Irish girl. I'm very passionate about this place. And I knew from the journey I've been on, it shaped who I was living in Anderson's time in the '70s and '80s and, you know, that that is deep within you in your DNA about who you are and what you are, and what are we here for anyway?
And I felt like at that stage, you know, I just turned 40, and I felt like I should be doing something. I can't just sit and criticize these politicians. They only know what they know. You know, and it's [inaudible 00:19:20]. You're already know what you know when you're here. When you get out and your experience other things, you know, you see things maybe and slightly maybe different types of solutions, different types about seeing things, and you see how small this place is.
It's really much of a fishbowl it is. And then more importantly, we see what these children are being exposed to. And so I was very keen that my children went to a mixed school and they had diversity as well. Not just mixed about religion, lots of different children from different places because to be rich is to have an open mind. And I felt that it was time for me to give something back to this place. And that's why I went and got involved. I couldn't go one way or the other [00:20:00] way. And I didn't see that Alliance at the time could do because it felt like to me I had lot of with people in Alliance. It felt like to me that that was kind of in their part of the whole structure over the years. I felt like we needed something new, something fresh, something different. And I genuinely believed that this vehicle could potentially achieve it.
Barry: Everybody listening will know what happened and never really got off the ground. And when something like that happens, you take a view in terms of what happened at the time. And then perhaps a few months afterwards, perhaps with the new changes. And then over time, it might change again. How do you look back on that? [inaudible 00:20:44]
Tina: Initially, it was terrible. It was absolutely terrible and for lots of different reasons. And I know you say everybody knows what happened. What happened, actually, I think there's only a few people that really know what happened because it was so intense, you know, with so many things that impacted the decisions that were made over the last weeks of the party. But initially, I was probably hurt. I was a bit scared, you know, a bit frightened.
Barry: Scared of . . .
Tina: I was frightened of what I had done in terms of I asked people to come along. I hosted gatherings, and I asked people to believe in this. I asked people to follow me and believe me, and I felt like I wasn't able to deliver on the promise, which was that we would have a good vehicle. I was the chair of the party. And, you know, looking back now I have a completely different view. But at the time, I felt like I had failed. And, you know, and I was very, very . . . it was like a loss, so I was very hurt and very sad for all the people that had joined and had seen something and all the young people. I still have people today coming up talking about it.
And so that then changed, I guess, probably it took about a year, year and a half later, as you get farther away from events and you look back, and I realized that looking back, I couldn't watch things for a long time. And then I went back and I immediately on the day that I was out of the party, I shut down my social media, Facebook, Twitter, everything. I couldn't read any of it. And, you know, I'm a bigger stronger person because of it. Because, you know, if I was ever in that situation, again, I could handle it way better.
And I thought I had done . . . I was proud of the fact that I thought I'd taken the right call at the right time and with the executive and they followed me in terms of this is done. This vehicle is poisoned and it won't be able to deliver for people. So I know I did the right thing. But it still didn't make me feel like maybe I'd let people down and let myself down. And I wasn't really used to failing, you know? It wasn't used to, not just failing, but failing so spectacularly publicly, you know.
And then people wanted to have a go, and media wanted to have a go, and everybody wanted to have a go, because it's all good fun in realms of politics. But a year and a half, two years down the line, I look back and I realized other parties did things differently because we came on the scene, so that was a good thing. The language changed with some other parties, especially in the [centre ground 00:23:26]. And they also became a lot more aware quite quickly of the social media campaigns we were doing, how we were getting all the young people, and they started to do things slightly different. I equally got, I think, 11,000 votes for the first time I ever stood for election, you know, was an MVP. So I beat the conservatives and had the trauma of the previous week [inaudible 00:23:50] that happened.
You know, when I was on par with the Greens, I would have beaten the Greens as well. I mean these are parties that have been around forever and not a long, long time. So I realized I should feel really proud that in the space of 18 months I achieved a lot. And I learned a lot. And then on top of all of that, I got to meet politicians in a different way across the parties. I got to speak to some of the leaders. I got to meet people in my day-to-day life, I never would have met, and people knew my name. And I didn't think that was of any value because I felt like that they thought I was a twit, when, in fact, now when I look back, it's funny. One of the best things that happened to me, in fact, you know.
Barry: Okay. That was going to be I suppose my next question. Do you think in 30 years' time you might look at this as your favourite failure that you've . . .
Tina: Yeah, it already is.
Barry: It is.
Tina: It already is. You know, I'm already tired of what I did, I'm proud of who . . . and I'm more comfortable with who I am. I'm definitely more confident with dealing with any politician in terms of, you know, it is once you're in that bubble, you understand the different way of looking at things than it's Joe public. You're outside that bubble. [00:25:00] I've had benefit of being in both camps.
Barry: Tina, I want to ask you a question about your output, if you like, because this really fascinates me. You are an MD of a huge company certainly by Northern Ireland standards. You're a mother of three quite young children. You have many other roles. It seems every time I meet you I'm having to congratulate you for appointment to another role of some description. So I'm very curious in terms of how you do this. So could you just give me an indication, just briefly and roughly, of how you put a week, for example, a working week. How do you do that? What does that look like?
Tina: Well, I'm much better at it now than say five or five, six years ago. I used to plan my week all around the business and I didn't put anything in for me. And when I mean me, I mean anytime to do anything, just for me. And what's changed I guess over the last number of years is that well, first of all, I trust my team. I trust the managing directors that work for me, and I know that they'll call me if they need me.
And I don't micromanage. You know, I know a lot of what goes on in my companies. But I do not micromanage even to the point where I'll let some people fail to learn the lesson, even if it hurts us a little bit. And so that means that, that gives me time to be strategic, it gives me time to have meetings and talk to people outside of the day-to-day running of the business.
And it also more recently, I think in the last few years more, I gave myself time that I never used to do. So for example, I go to the gym, and I really need to go to the gym because I put on so much weight sitting in cars driving, and I didn't really even think about health, and I was never really sick, but I was definitely putting on quite a bit of weight.
So I go to the gym and I used to feel guilty about doing a thing like that. I do not feel that at all now. I learned my lesson that if you give yourself time and you look after yourself, you're much better in your business anyway. And then the other things that come along were I did a European ambassador for a year for Women's Entrepreneurship. I gave it a only a year. I said I was going to do it but it was only for a year. Now a lot of people that do that stay on and do it year in and year out. I did for a year and I gave a lot. You know, I managed and organized and recruited the countries across Europe, the ambassadors got to know those people. We ran, I think, 35 events in a year, and I was happy to do that. And I learned a lot from it.
So if I'm not going to get something from some . . . You know, if I'm not going to learn something, then I'm probably not going to do it. So being involved with Lord Alderdice and Jeffrey Donaldson and Eva Grosman and Liam Maskey is on the board there as well, you know, it's a good group of people that are very disparate views. I'm interested in people. I always have been. It's probably why I'm good at recruitment. I'm interested in looking at how they think together as a group, how they act individually, and how they come together as an organization, and anything that's going to be around peace in Northern Ireland, and real peace.
And real peace to me is children growing up together, not separated by skills or housing, or anything else, and so that I'm passionate. So I'm happy to be involved in that, but it doesn't actually take a lot. I support them but doesn't take a lot of time. And I do other things. Those other things I do right across the board, they help me, and they also help our company because when somebody comes along and says, "Do you know such and such and could you put a call in because I need a meeting with their [organize 00:28:36] or that company. Invariably, there aren't too many that I don't know here, and so it helps the company as well.
Barry: In terms of getting yourself started for maximum impact in a day, how do you do that? How do you, you know, wake up and get the energy levels up so quickly that clearly you need to do? Is it gym work? Is it a cold shower, or is it also coffee? What is your first [inaudible 00:29:05]?
Tina: Well, it's knowing that you have to go to work like everybody else. I guess I'm not one of those kind of San Francisco types that wakens up and is able to go and do mindfulness and all those lovely things in yoga. Maybe when I'm in my 50s I'll do stuff like that. But no, I basically, you know, you said that we live in a busy house. Normally there's a child pulling at the quilt way before you're ready to get up and has a silly question or something. And, you know, I think the question this morning was just a crazy question at like six o'clock this morning.
And so in that environment, you're up, you're showered, you're out. Now, I'm very, very lucky. I'm not like most women who are, "I have a husband who's at home, taking the role of looking after the children and ensuring that everything at home is looked after." So I don't have to . . . I am very lucky. I don't have to worry about was electricity bill paid. Was the telephone bill? Did somebody send that dress [00:30:00] back that came through mail order. First of all, I don't have an interest, and secondly, I don't have the time. So he is amazing and he really looks after everything so that my brain can fully function on this business and any space that I've got, then great, but he makes it happen from a home life point of view.
Barry: Your brain when you take it home in the evening, can you fully switch off your brain? Or does it take you a while to sort of come out of business mode and go back into . . .
Tina: Takes a wee bit of time, and I get chatted out sometimes at dinner. We all sit for dinner every night. And for many years I missed that because I was on the road. So we do that every night, but I will be told off because sometimes I'll just get in from a drive and have to check my emails. I'm sitting at the table, dinner is just arriving, and I'm on the phone, and my kids will tell me off and say, "Get off your phone." And I will go, "Sorry. Sorry. Sorry." And then once you start get to reengage with who you're with and what you're doing, then I switch off. And if something big is going on, then, you know, in the night later on that night, once I've kind of settled the kids and do everything, then I'll get back on the email.
I have a rule in the company, and it might be a bit unusual, but I tell all the managers in the company that the culture of our company is, "I do not want you sending emails to the staff after 6:30 p.m. at night and before 7:00 a.m. in the morning. And I'm really strict about it because so many people get up in the middle of the night and think it's okay to send an email, and they don't realize that phones now, people are getting beeps, get awakened, and they're worried about what the boss is sending them, so invariably, we try not to contact unless it's an emergency. And sometimes things pop up for me, but that's okay.
Barry: And when you're relaxing, is there any guilt in the relaxation? You know.
Tina: Not at all. No, no, not at all.
Barry: So you don't lie into the sun bed in Spain somewhere and thinking, "I should at least be reading a business book here?"
Tina: No. Definitely, not. I do read a lot, and I read a lot business books. I really love them. [inaudible 00:32:00] as most people probably do on the go now. But no, definitely not. My downtime is absolutely my downtime. And I'm not sitting worrying. Unless we're in the middle of a big acquisition or if there's something going on an individual, but generally, no. I don't sweat stuff, definitely.
Barry: Tina, we're coming to that part of the podcast now in which I just got a selection of fairly random questions for you.
Barry: And my first one is this, is there any book, podcast, DVD, or resource that you've come across recently that you feel so passionately about, that you actually give it to other people? And if so, which is it?
Tina: It's a book and it's called "Hillbilly Elegy" and it's by a guy called JD Vance. And this book is amazing. I read and just couldn't put it down. And I have sent it to my boss and a few other people over Christmas. It's a book about a guy who grew up in poverty in the rust belt in America. And his mother was disturbed and didn't have an easy life and some mental health issues and had probably several partners, wives, and he was young, and he had lots of half and step siblings.
And one of his most embarrassing questions, the most embarrassing question when he was young is, if someone asked him, "How many brothers and sisters do you have" And, you know, when you look at family dysfunction these days, and you look at what goes on, especially in areas where there is a lot of poverty, there are mental health issues, you know. Well, we do have issues around drugs and alcohol, and especially in Northern Ireland, I mean, we've got huge issues.
And he tells a story about how he broke through, how he got through the mould. He ended up going to Yale because he had a grandmother who believed in him and encourage him to study, whilst going through all that dysfunction of these different family relationships. He went to Yale, he became such a powerful, successful person, and he's now turned to writing the story.
But he's had some kickback because he describes why there's such an increase in support for people like Trump in America, and also why we're seeing maybe across Europe, this real push for nationalism that people really feel like they've been left behind. Years and years ago, you got people who are really, you know, committed to religion. They had something, maybe a political party. They had something to believe in. And these days, people believe in less and less and less and less, and it's consumerism. If things will happen right away, it's in the instant, it's technology, and therefore people are not as connected as they used to be and that's what he explores. And I just think it's amazing book for all those people who think that there's no hope.
Barry: And what's the name of the book again?
Tina: "Hillbilly Elegy."
Barry: Next question, if you could hang a banner with huge letters on it from the Harland and Wolff cranes for a whole year, what would you put on the banner? What would it say?
Tina: JFDI, that's a joke. Just focus and dare. [00:35:00] Probably, "Stronger Together" because I think in our society, we're stronger together. Across these islands, we're stronger together. Across the world, stronger together. Across Europe, we're stronger together across our families. We're stronger together in our marriages. We're stronger together, you know. It goes right across everything. And so I just think that, you know, anyone flying in, getting the boat out, walking past those, you know, whatever's going on in your life to remember that you're not alone and we're all stronger together as people.
Barry: There are many pieces of business advice out there saying, etc. that are more clever than true. Have you got one that immediately comes to your mind?
Tina: You know, I don't really buy into all those textbooks, sayings, and pictures and, you know, climbing mountains and all that type of stuff. And I think for me, it's about who you are, what you think, knowing yourself is the biggest challenge, knowing why what makes you happy, what makes you tick, what makes you crack. When you're behaving badly, when you know you're doing things that you're not comfortable with yourself, you know, knowing that the environment you're in maybe, maybe that's a signal that something's wrong with what environment you're in. You know, people are in jobs they don't like. They're miserable in companies and, you know, don't set and live out bad, bad energy. Get out and do something about it. So I think I don't really buy into all those expressions here. It works for some people, not really for me, no.
Barry: That's interesting to know. And finally in this section, is there anything that you've purchased Tina, in say, the last 12 months of, I don't know, £50 to 100 that you think have significantly improved your life or have been a huge value to you?
Tina: So I was going to say my battery charger but actually from my mobile phone in my hand bag. It's my Fitbit.
Barry: Oh yeah.
Tina: So, yeah. For the first time on, everyone's been doing it for donkey's. I just got a Fitbit and I'm measuring my steps. So I for the first time I put myself under pressure for steps.
Barry: And is it working for you?
Tina: Yeah, I did 10,000 the other day and probably nothing to most people but for me, I was normally stepping on 4000, 5000 a day. So it's another little signal to me to remember to look after me and stop thinking about everything else, you know, so.
Barry: I just want to take you finally, Tina, to talk about your TEDx talk. I was in the audience in the Stormont waiting for the TEDx talk last year, at the end of last year. And what I saw on stage or felt on stage was a very interesting cocktail of emotions. I saw huge resilience in you, and I think everybody would, you know, say that. Describe Tina in one word, resilient. Steely determination. But also a bit of frustration there a bit of anger as well, but your main message of that TEDx talk, and I'm sure lots of people have seen it, if they haven't they can go and take a look, was that it's unfair to label people, and it's an unhealthy thing to do and we to get over obsession in Northern Ireland with labels.
What else do you think we need to do in Northern Ireland to normalize? Because we have gone through 30 years of conflict and troubles, so you can't expect any people to go through that and come out the other side normal. There's always a transition period, isn't it, back to normality, in terms how we treat each other and how we behave. What do you think we need to do next?
Tina: I think for the generations that are in there, I guess 50, 60, 70s, and older, I think those people are probably on the later stages of their life and can't undo [00:39:00] some of what they've been through and experienced when they were adults in the '70s and '80s. But for my generation when we were children then and I think it's really our responsibility to ensure that we don't ally the strong feelings of that older regeneration and a lot of them are still politicians, to dictate how they let our lives to this next generation coming up. So I think that's our role, this generation's role. We've seen it as children. We experienced with the children. So we've got a responsibility to ensure our kids have as much of a normal life as possible. And I think that, that starts at a no-nonsense approach of, you know, looking at our education system.
You know, really, how do we make it the best, best, best education system for our children? And at the same time, how do we turn it around 360? Because at the same time, we need to make it for all the children, you know. And I know as a [00:40:00] child growing up, I went to what people will say pretty average schools. As you said I failed my level class, I went to a secondary school where they said I shouldn't do A levels. I should do typing. You know, I didn't do very well in my [GCSEs 00:40:11]. I was working most nights so I didn't even study to be honest.
But those schools where those children are going, the children going to secondary schools, have a much higher chance of failing than the children going to the grammar schools. And that's genuinely in my heart, I don't believe that's because those children are better, definitely not. You know, in the grammar school, they're getting maybe a better education, maybe more focused on academia but they're also getting the feeling that they can do it because we're already labelled as failed going into secondary school that you can't. And it's unusual to break through that.
Barry: Did you feel labelled?
Tina: Oh absolutely. I always thought I was . . . as a kid, I just thought that I was pretty not really smart but smart enough. And not getting to the school that I wanted go to, and getting a fail, you know, getting the fit, it was a G with my day, it was the first time that you get it as a child, you get that, "No, you're not good enough." And I went to in and, you know, sometimes that can make it really resilient, you know.
Barry: Well, that was really my next question to you. Do you think not only fail gave you that steely determination to succeed? You think it was that the first got you to think about [inaudible 00:41:22] so you could prove to people . . .
Tina: No, because I was too young and that's the thing about doing it to children at 11. It doesn't even give you that because it just gives you a negative feeling. And it gives other children a superior feeling sometimes, not all. But no, I think I actually . . . I failed quite a lot in my GCSEs, that really shocked me. Okay, I didn't do any work. What did I expect? I just thought they knew I was smart and like, and they would like to listen now. I may have always been more confident than talented. So, and within getting that failure, I have a teacher who was very kind to me [00:42:00] and allowed me to do A levels at the same time. I repeated my GCSEs and did A levels and saying yeah, and achieved. And I achieved because I put the work in and every failure I've had, including my life at 21, has definitely, definitely helped me become either more successful or a better person, definitely, yeah.
Barry: So from failure to success, Tina, when you get in your box at the end of your life and you look back on what it is that you've achieved, what do you think success will have look like to you? What does it mean, success?
Tina: I would like, when I'm in my box, my kids to be really proud. I would like them to look back and talk about me in a way that's kind and that's, you know, "Wasn't she good? Didn't she do good things?" And I wanted to help them feel like they're special and they could achieve and do whatever they want to do. So for me success is about making them really proud and also having the ability to have the freedom, financial freedom, and the time, the freedom and the time, to really help other people. You know, to have said that, not too shout about it, but to have had the ability to help my family and others in a way where people will look back and will have done more because of me, not less.
Barry: Tina, I'm sure we could talk for at least another hour and more but I really do and with huge reluctance have to wrap it up there. Can I just finish by asking how can people find you? Can we find you on LinkedIn, Twitter?
Tina: Yeah, I'm on the line off. I got over my social media ban after like six months. And so I'm on LinkedIn as Tina Mackenzie. I'm also on Twitter as @Tina Mackenz without the i and e, @Tina Mackenz. So they can find me that way, absolutely if they want to.
Barry: Tina it's . . .
Tina: Tell them not to look at Wikipedia though because it starts pretty negative.
Barry: Okay. Tina, it's been a real pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much.
Tina: Lovely speaking to you. Barry, thank you.
Barry: Thank you.
The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.