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David Straker

(painting by Heledd Straker) .

I grew up literally in my parents' business. We lived over the shop which my mother ran, and next to my father's printing works, where he printed the local newspaper. Although the days of hot metal are long gone, I still remember climbing amongst the machinery (when it was turned off!) and wondering how it all worked. My father was amazingly tolerant of my endless bashing bits of metal and wood into models. 

In my early teens, I turned on to electronic engineering and eventually did my first degree in the subject. From this, I defined myself as an engineer: a person who understands how things work; a person who can fix and improve things; a person who balances a deep theoretical understanding with practical action.

Electronics as a career wasn't to last that long. After a year, my fiancée (later my wife) decided to go back to University to study teaching, and I went with her (long story). I enjoyed teaching, and it brought out a second layer of how I still define myself: someone who loves to help other people understand and succeed. The pay and prospects were dismal, however, so I skipped back to engineering, this time in software. Whilst having fun as a games programmer, I got an itch to learn more about the businesses in which I was working, so I did a masters' degree in management. It was a great awakening to the bigger world of business and the 'how does it work' question took on a much larger scope.

After a couple of small-company management jobs, I found myself in the darling of the business schools in the 1980s: Hewlett Packard. In that fertile environment I went from software engineering to software quality to engineering management to business quality to product marketing to work in HR to business consultancy to program management. I also moved from a product division to the national sales, marketing and service organisation and then to global acquisitions management in the Agilent spin-off.

One of the most intense periods in HP was working as a 'consultant's consultant' in the sales, marketing and service organization--a role which I loved, as I had a very broad brief, learned hugely and worked to help the company stay right up at the leading edge. We won several global internal excellence awards and also won the UK Business Excellence award in 1997. After that I was an assessor for the award for nine years. It was hard work but amazing learning as you dig deep into organizations which are striving for excellence. Later, I became an OGC Gateway assessor for the UK Government, which also looked at organisational excellence.

I have a 'head in the clouds, feet on the ground' philosophy, as I like to understand deep theory and also to reconcile this with the messy realities of daily life. I kept grounded in several ways, for example by working closely with HR managers, where the sometimes-alarming events of people's lives had to be handled with reliable care. I also ran the HP support ISO9000 system, where I moved auditing from being a 'show me your procedures' approach to a dialogue around 'what can we do that is really useful?'

After HP, I worked in Agilent Technologies, first leading an international Innovation Team and then managing acquisitions and divestitures for the global Workplace Services organisation. I hadn't worked in this area before, which gave me another excellent challenge. In short, I made it work through clarifying processes and intensive communication. When acquisitions slowed, I worked in some big change programs. It was similar stuff: global teams, innovation, people, costs, benefits and so on.

When Agilent's business turned (and kept going) downwards, I was eventually offered the 'Queen's shilling' in 2002. Although it's still a great company, I was happy to go. I had been wondering about going independent for many years and this was the nudge I needed. Being made redundant used to be a stigma, but these days is a more of a 'red badge of courage', an indication that you are prepared to live at the edge. So I started my own consultancy, hooked up with friends and with a larger consultancy (the excellent Oakland Consulting) and spent nearly two years consulting and teaching, mostly in Airbus, but also in engagements with GNER, Roche, Leeds University Business School and the police.

And then an opportunity to work at the national level appeared at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. And so I was back in education, a subject I have always loved, and was able to contribute nationally. After supporting and then managing a change programme, I worked on process quality and knowledge transition for a move to Coventry in 2010 -- just in time for a new government to close the organisation. I took early retirement and went back to independent consulting and writing.

Along the way I passed my fourth post-graduate course, this time for an M.Sc. in Psychology. I also qualified in psychometric testing (including MBTI and 16PF). Starting in 2002, I developed my most successful website, changingminds.org. With over 7000 pages, it is the biggest in the world on a very common concern and gets many hits. I still write about a page a day, the research for which keeps me constantly reading.

In all this, the 'understanding' question has led me to read constantly and I now have a library more than a house, with over 2200 books on a wide range of business and psychology topics. Coupled with my wife's many books, I guess it makes us a very bibliophilic household. I have vented my creativity into writing and have had seven books published, on subjects ranging from computer programming through problem solving and quality to invention and persuasion.

Which speedy skating over many years bring us to the present, where I am still happily married to the same woman, with two fine children (the portrait above is by my daughter) and a couple crazy dogs (child substitutes -- yes, I know). We moved from Berkshire amongst the trees and leaves, to the Welsh countryside, amid fields and mountains, back to our roots and Abergavenny, where I grew up. Locally, I'm now the chairman of the village hall committee, programme secretary of the photography club, tech guy for Probus and consult with a county pollination action group. Further afield, I'm a mentor for Business Wales and am on the board of the Chartered Quality Institute.  I also walk, garden, build, photograph and write. And I do occasional pieces of consulting work that come my way.

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