It’s a People Thing….Interview by Glynis Fox

Date: 5th Jun '15

When Dawn Barron hit a major crossroads in her life, help came from an unexpected source, inspiring her to take a leap of faith and change direction. Fifteen years later she is using her talents and experience to help medium-to-large businesses to take the plunge and supercharge their fortunes — by tapping into the power of their people.

Dawn, the founder of Human Alchemy, is also loving being a part of the local business

community, at a time when Lincoln's star is definitely rising. In the run-up to the

millennium, the Essex-born businesswoman was living in Nettleham, having followed her

family to Lincolnshire. A single mum to Lewis (then aged eight), she found herself

increasingly torn between holding down a high-powered job and spending time with her

son. Something had to give.

"I was at a crossroads and wrestling with what to do. I was the Employment Policy

Director for GEC, working for a giant corporation which employed 140,000 people

worldwide. I loved my London-based job, which involved some UK and European travel

and the odd trip to America," said Dawn.

"I regularly commuted by train, spending one or two nights in the capital, before rushing

back home again. I wanted to spend more time with Lewis, but I was also committed to my

career."

It was an agonising time, until someone who was helping Dawn to juggle her hectic

lifestyle, made a suggestion. Amazingly, that person was her au-pair. "I believe people

come into your life for different reasons. She certainly wasn't destined to be an au-pair but

she turned out to be my little angel in disguise, when she handed me a copy of The

Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, saying 'read this'.

"That book, which inspired the name of my business, is all about following your dreams. It

had a big impact on me and I soon decided that I was going to go it alone." Convinced that

her health and home life would suffer if she didn't take action, Dawn handed in her notice

and immediately experienced the wave of relief that comes from making a big life decision.

MAKING A BREAK

Naturally, going freelance can be scary, leaving the security of a well-paid, full on career

with a major company – but the Coelho book is also about having courage. "I decided

going freelance could be just as fulfilling and imagined a future with more personal control

and flexibility to spend more time with Lewis. It is very very hard balancing having a

family and a busy job. It pains me to watch our kids struggling with the same issues – 20

years later!"

"I was in my thirties, I had consulting experience and the credibility of having held a senior

position in business, which gave me the self-confidence to make the break. I had just three

months' salary in the bank, but I was absolutely determined to find work within that time.

"I was fortunate that GEC was very supportive and I was offered a fascinating, six-month

project, which helped me get started. I worked with a software business to create a sort of

in-house LinkedIn that enabled GEC people to identify and connect with expert colleagues

worldwide – a breakthrough for the business at that time," said Dawn.

Dawn, whose earlier career path featured buying and merchandising, working for a

merchant bank, life assurance marketing and sales and business consultancy, now needed

to build a portfolio of clients to suit her new lifestyle.

"That background gave me an established business network and it was through a contact

that I learned that SKY was going through a programme of change. I wrote a cheeky note

to the HR director and it paid off. I ended-up working on their transformation project,

helping the leadership team communicate what was happening and involving their people

in the process. This is vital when a firm is making significant changes," said Dawn.

Since then, all Dawn's work has come from referrals. In 2010, husband Paul – a

well-known Lincoln businessman who had been working as Chief Executive for the world

leading air traffic management company NATS, in Southampton – made his own

step-change. He joined Dawn as a Co-Alchemist.

Working with your husband, partner or a close friend can be a brilliant, but risky

experience. Thankfully, it's been a recipe for success for Dawn and Paul, who offer their

expertise – individually or jointly – to national and local businesses.

"We are both about transforming companies and organisations and really passionate about

achieving change through a company's people. We complement each other and our

approach is very aligned," said Dawn.

"What we bring to the table are our different experiences – mine is leadership

development and change management, while Paul brings proven leadership experience and

business acumen."

WHAT MAKES THE ALCHEMY?

When a business contacts Human Alchemy, Dawn and Paul explore what that company

wants to achieve and whether they are a good fit for each other. "When it comes to pricing,

we are acutely aware of local perceptions about the cost of business services.

"Our rates are a fraction of what we would charge nationally, but still represent a

significant investment for a local business and it's the first test of the senior management's

commitment to create a different future. They need to be committed, as they make it

happen, not us," said Dawn.

"Our approach, used with a variety of local firms and organisations such as Rilmac, Gelder

Group, James Dawson and EBP (Education and Business Partnership), is to take the

senior management team off-site and help them to look at their business from a different

perspective and to describe a compelling vision of what it could be.

"We advise how they can take their business or organisation forward, by using their

workforce to transform it, under their leadership. We give them the tools and techniques to

improve their personal leadership and we work alongside them for at least a year.

"What we are really about is professionalising – not corporatising a business. This is so

important for the local businesses we work with. Transformation is about awakening your

people's talent and focusing it on a new future. We get so frustrated when senior managers

are not liberating their workforces. Most people want to do a great job. They need to be

seen as highly-talented people with a lot to offer," said Dawn. "We challenge the leaders,

asking 'when are you going to get your people involved in these changes?' Let them shine!"

A SOUND MOVE

Dawn remains hugely enthusiastic about encouraging companies to bring about change, so

setting-up Human Alchemy was obviously a sound move. "It was the best thing I ever did.

Working for myself is a great way to maintain an independent professional career, without

losing out on what is also hugely important to any parent – having a happy family life,"

she said.

Dawn is equally passionate about helping Lincoln raise its profile as a great place to do

business, to live and to visit. She is particularly thrilled to have assisted Lincoln BIG by

pulling together the sponsors for the exciting Lincoln Barons' Charter Trail, which will

be in place for the start of the city's 800th Anniversary of Magna Carta celebrations, on

June 13.

"This is an excellent example of what can be achieved when you excite and involve the

whole community," said Dawn. "I truly feel that we are on the cusp of an exciting era.

The conversations I have with people around the city, highlights that there is a sense of

pride, a sense of ambition and a willingness to be innovative, to create a brighter future,"

she said.

"Let's keep it up. It's a fabulous opportunity. If we create a compelling vision of what the

future can be for our wonderful city and put the right plans in place, we can deliver it – but

only if we get people engaged."

 Photos by Steve Smailes