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Mark - finishing up and moving on
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Name: Mark
PhD discipline: Philosophy
Area(s) of work: NGO; university teaching
Year of graduation: 2006
Date of Interview: 24/06/2008

Now Playing: Mark - finishing up and moving on
Mark recollects finishing his PhD, starting a business, relocating to London, and job hunting.

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Did the business that you started give you a clear idea of where you were going to go after the PhD? 

Yeah. The PhD was going to be useful for the business, just having it would be useful because in that field if you're going to be working with organisations, looking at business ethics, looking like you're a doctor who's been academically trained is, significant. So that was going to help but also it was my business that has really formed the direction of the rest of my time since then. It was part of the decision to come to London. If I started my business and started to set up an ethics centre for New Zealand, I would come across as an Auckland academic type whereas if I come back from London after two years I would come back as a London business type and that actually makes a difference in that field. Again it's about questions of prestige which I'm not really into but at the same time that's how it works so it was part of my decision to come over here. There were a whole load of other things going as well which opened up this window of opportunity for a couple of years to be here but that was one of the main ones.

Can you talk about any of the others?

Sure. I was in lots of transition. Finishing my PhD was one of them. Coming out of a relationship and also my mother was, this was probably the key thing, my mother was probably starting to get sick. She's getting on. Basically if I didn't go now I would probably not be able to go for ten years because I'd want to be home to look after her so there was this window of a couple of years that was open now. So all those three or four things came together.

Can we just go back a little bit to the moment at which you're juggling teaching, you've got your PhD on the go and you've started this company. I mean anybody who would hear that would think how does that just come about?  Who influenced you or what influenced you at that moment in your life?

Of starting the company especially? 

Yeah

I'd been working, I'd been having something to do with a thing called the Sustainable Business Network in New Zealand which was basically a group of businesses. It was an organisation formed out of some businesses who wanted to find resources to help business become more sustainable and promote that way of doing business. I was into that because I'd been switched on to the environmental question just before my PhD started. As I was saying before, my feeling of not wanting to have a pure academic career, wanting to be applied and having knowledge around ethics, the idea of applying that to business became quite strong. I think that organisation or just working with them a little bit just gave me the idea that maybe I could do some consulting around that kind of question, around business ethics.

Did you ever consider finishing the PhD and then starting the business?

(Laughing). Yes because there was a huge conflict, you know, which do you do first? The chicken and the egg really. One strategy would be to put all your energy into the PhD and then start the business but the other strategy, well it wasn't so much a strategy, it was more a case that I was really interested in doing it now. I'm much more interested than I am in my waning interest in my PhD which was the kind of thing that once you've been at it a few years you thing you don't want to be doing the same thing for another couple of years. So I ended up deciding to start, do them parallel rather than sequentially and one other reason for that was probably financial in that I knew I could support myself while I was doing my PhD to explore some things around business even if it wasn't going to pay. If I'd finished the PhD and then I was wondering what to do next, to start up a business then and not know whether there's going to be an income stream, would be a lot more difficult. So I wanted to start exploring it while I had an income stream.

What's involved in starting your own business?

I don't know how complicated or how different it is in the UK but from where I was it's very easy to set up a business. You just fill out a few forms and you pay a very small amount of money and suddenly you have a business. It's really strange because growing up you might know someone who has a business who is a big businessman type but really if you're just a sole operator you can either stay a sole operator or you can do what I did which was to form a limited liability company. There are a few things like tax reporting and you have to set up a business cheque account and all that. Really it's quite minimal. In the work I was doing the income stream was very few amounts of figures but quite large in that it was a couple of days consulting or something but I'd only do that every month. If I had to spend lots of time doing the accounts that wouldn't be a problem although I would have got someone in to do it but I didn't have to do that, there wasn't a lot. It's amazingly unscary when you actually come and do it and I didn't really have, apart from a friend who was an accountant, I didn't really have any support. I didn't really know what I was doing when I started it.  It was more a case that I knew I wanted to do this and I had the passion and the motivation to do it. So I guess it's more a case that if you are the kind of person who has an idea and this is your path to it then you're much more likely to find the energy for it. It's not difficult actually; it's not too mystical actually.

Can you tell me about coming towards the end of your PhD and how you developed your business and what happened subsequently?

OK. I think I had about six months to go, or that was my guess. I'll tell you this story. I had a friend, one of these friends you have who manages to talk you into things that you later regret. He basically got me to sign this little contract to say that if I hadn't finished it by, I think it was May or June, something like that, in 2006 then I had to give him 500 New Zealand dollars and I would only get it back if I'd finished the PhD. To sweeten the deal, to make it harder on me if I didn't finish it, we thought about what we could give the money to that we really hate. We decided that we would give it to our most hated New Zealand political party which I won't name. So that was a real motivation and I actually got it in with about two days to spare and in the last little bit I was really working hard because I wanted to. I wanted the money but I also wanted to avoid the shame of being permanently on their list of campaign supporters. So it was a bit of a rush to finish and I put a few other things aside to do that and did the minimal amount on my business. Also I think my work with my NGO was coming to an end about that time so suddenly I had a space to do it, so I pushed that really hard. But during that time I think, that last six months was when I decided that I would go to Britain. I can't remember exactly when that was but at the time I wanted to set up my business. I wanted to set up the business properly and make my business, from my own little business into a New Zealand ethics centre. Then I had the idea that I really should do this Britain thing, partially as a path to coming back and setting up the centre but also because it just felt like the right thing to do. For lots of reasons it felt like I wanted to go and see, so I started applying for a few jobs that I found on a website e-mailing list and just before I left, two days before I left, I saw this job advertised and I looked at it and thought that its profile is exactly me. They wanted someone with a strong academic background but an entrepreneurial bit so project management as well and also someone who had done some work in the developing world and it was all things that I'd done and all coming together on this. I applied just at the last second, having applied for a few things before that I knew weren't really quite me and I was getting a little bit depressed about the possible job prospects because it is quite competitive here.

So can you tell me about some of the jobs that you got shortlisted for and what the interviews were like?

OK. Well first of all I applied for a lot of things, actually it's not so much applying for actual jobs, I found the organisations that I thought were really what I wanted to be doing and I got their web contacts and e-mailed them. Mostly they completely ignored me and occasionally they would say something like 'Come over and let's talk about it.'  While I was in New Zealand it was really hard because most of them would say, 'Oh we need to be able to interview you.' So I couldn't apply for things until I was just about to leave anyway. When I landed here I had about three things I was going to explore with some companies including the one that I'm working for now but the interview for this one was quite early on in the piece. It was only about a week after I arrived so by the time I'd got over jet lag I was ready to go and I looked at their website and I got more and more excited about it actually. I was thinking it was really amazing because I had resigned myself to the thought that if nothing came up in the field I wanted, which was around business and ethics, corporate social responsibility, if nothing came up there I would be happy, well not happy but at least I would work in a cafe for six months if I really needed to. But I went to this job interview and it was the first one I went to. I walked into the building, went and saw the interviewer and we just chatted for an hour about what I'd done and what the job was and the more and more we talked it seemed that this is exactly what I wanted. This is much better than any of the opportunities that I'd looked at in other places and I was so, so keen. It was one of those things where you don't want to be too keen in case you don't get it and I was assessing my chances all the time. On the one hand feeling really quite confident about this. It was strange that I felt confident about it but I did. And then I said to him, 'What are your next steps?'  He said that he'd interviewed lots and lots of people. We delayed the cut off date and my heart sank a little bit because I thought I'd got my application in before the cut off date. I was thinking that maybe he was just interviewing me out of courtesy. The next thing he said to me was 'Well I want to offer you the job' and I almost fell off my seat. I got offered that at the interview, it was startling and also he started talking about salaries and pension plans and all that kind of thing and I just wasn't hearing any of that. I was trying not to burst into tears. I was so, so happy because it really did fit me very well and I think he saw that fit as well. We were obviously delighted to have each other and there was a really nice feeling of feeling like you'd walked into the right place. Just landed on my feet.

What was the job going to involve?

What was it going to involve?  It was to direct a programme of integrity and ethics training for public servants in developing nations especially. Because we're an anti-corruption organisation, we're looking for what are the key ways to improve the integrity of service delivery of business etc. in the developing world. One of our programmes is around ethics and competence training for public servants.

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