Last week we talked about how to use The Invisible Mentor interviews to get the most from them. Please refer to How to Use Interviews for Self-Improvement and Another Way to Use Interviews for Self Improvement. As I was writing those blog posts, it suddenly occurred to me that the interviews I present here are really workshops that you attend nearly every week, for your professional development.
Christina Ioannidis – Your Invisible Mentor
Henry Ford once said, “Failure is the only opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”
Christina’s first business aqua failed and she had to start over from scratch. I’m very impressed with Christina because she spoke openly and candidly about what she went through when her first business failed. As a society, especially in the West, we are socialized not to talk about failure, but the biggest lessons and learnings come from failure as you will see in the interview. At the end of Part One of the interview (or workshop) you’ll:
- Get incredible insights into a passionate woman who failed forward to success
- Learn about what can happen when you have too much stress in your life
- See a linchpin in action. Remember a few of the characteristics of a linchpin are to be ahead of the curve and anticipate the needs of your clients and customers before they do, and give it to them. Please see Review of Linchpin by Seth Godin
- Learn that you have to be clear and honest with people when you ask them to mentor you. The same thing applies when you contact someone in your networks. Please refer to Review of The Skinny on Networking by Jim Randel
Avil Beckford: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Christina Ioannidis: I am a Greek-Venezuelan who lives in London. My passion in life is to support other people and inspire individuals to do what they are passionate about, and that’s what I do on a professional and daily basis. I am the founder and CEO of Aquitude.
Avil Beckford: What’s a typical day like for you?
Christina Ioannidis: I don’t really have a typical day. A typical day might look like, get up in the morning, go to the gym or run. Afterwards I have breakfast, then either I leave the house and go for meetings usually back-to-back, followed by my training courses, or I stay in the office and work around building or designing the courses that I deliver. In the evenings, practically 90 percent of the time I am networking or going out to networking events.
Avil Beckford: How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
Christina Ioannidis: I think I motivate myself by thinking about how I’m going to break the market, or how I’m going to make something out of nothing. My motivation is knowing that I’ve started something completely new and that it’s going to be successful, so I motivate myself by having a goal and seeing whether or not I get there.
Avil Beckford: If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
Christina Ioannidis: Henry Ford once said, “Failure is the only opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”
I started my life from scratch again when I lost my business. If I were to start again as a youngster in my career, what I would do very differently would be to not expect other people to recognize my achievements, but to always be positive about what I have done myself and tell others about it, and network like crazy. When I lost my jobs and my businesses, I naturally networked but I didn’t realize that I had to do it 10 times more than I had originally done it. If I were starting my professional life again or my companies again, I would probably have a little bit more cash in the bank. To start something it always takes a lot longer to make money out of it than one thinks.
Avil Beckford: What’s the most important business or other discovery you’ve made in the past year?
Christina Ioannidis: Technology! For me, in the past year I’ve realized how important technology is for businesses. Even though I worked in technology 10 years ago I took it for granted how important it was to help people build connections. Social media and social networks have enabled people to get together via technology. The other product that we use, virtual conferencing is another piece of technology that is so powerful to bring people together. So for me, I think this has been the one single most powerful kind of enlightenment around how you can bring people globally together in one virtual physical space. And technology can do that.
Avil Beckford: What’s one of the biggest advances in your industry over the past five years?
Christina Ioannidis: The credit crunch. While the credit crunch has been a big crisis for everyone because everyone was affected in some way, the good thing is that it has brought questioning of everything, all the foundation of business. I actually think that this is going to help us advance faster to create better businesses even though we have taken a step back economically.
Avil Beckford: What are the three threats to your business, your success, and how are you handling them?
Christina Ioannidis: Self-doubt: I’m not a naturally doubtful person as you’ve probably gathered. I’m a high risk-taker, go crazy do kind of person. But my biggest risk would be falling prey to self-doubt, to start wondering if I can do things, which I have done in the past due to stress. Just before I lost my previous business, I suffered from depression quite badly because of stress. I don’t have any issues, but because of stress I was depressed, and what’s amazing is that I woke up one day and said, “Stop crying! You’re not going to achieve anything by crying. The only one who is going to get you out of the mess you’re in is yourself and that’s it.” My biggest threat would be if that happened again, which is not likely to.
To my business, as I’ve learned the biggest threat is doing stuff too quickly and spending too much money. My biggest mistake in a previous entrepreneurial endeavor was taking on too much financial risk. I don’t think that will happen again because I’m a little bit more intelligent now.
What’s unique about the service that you provide?
Christina Ioannidis: Precisely because it’s a service and it’s all about how you make people feel. The uniqueness is the delivery. I tend to deliver most of the content, and the associates that I have, are chosen on how good they are at making people feel positive about themselves. Whatever I do with either of my businesses, whether it’s consulting to a company, or coaching someone, they have to leave in a better condition than when they came in contact with us. The way the service is delivered, we are always making sure that our clients are happy and feel good about themselves.
The use of technology: We are always using cutting edge technology to deliver something that no one else has done.
Ideas: One thing I do quite naturally now is to always think about what could be a commercial proposition that would be beneficial for our customers. A lot of companies become complacent and they don’t do that. Once they have got a client, they just deliver the same-old, same-old. For me it’s always about being ahead of the curve and thinking ahead about what that client might need.
Avil Beckford: What do you observe most people in your field doing badly that you think you do well?
Christina Ioannidis: A lot of people in my field go in and talk using very big words, make big presentations, charge a lot of money, but ultimately the business doesn’t actually change, it’s fundamentally the same. The client has just paid them loads of money for a big presentation and long words. What we do, and what I like doing, is talking through the “crap” and saying it as it is, and being effective in that way. The way we work is about being realistic and always measuring what we do with concrete feedback and adapting the product or service to the strategy based on that feedback. A lot of companies don`t necessarily do that.
Avil Beckford: Describe a major business or other challenge you had and how you resolved it.
Christina Ioannidis: There is no bigger challenge than what I went through with aqua. (This will make an interesting story for you and your readers. The day I setup my first entrepreneurial venture, the exact date, was the date I met my future husband, so there was an omen there, and we got married this year, on exactly the same date by chance, so some things are meant to happen.)
When I setup aqua in 2003, I was venturing into something completely unknown to me, and I was following my heart, blindly following my heart. And, I wasn’t listening to anyone, and I thought anyone who had any criticisms to what I was offering, just didn’t understand me, and didn’t understand the business, so I pursued creating it, growing it, going crazy taking out a retail outlet in Mayfair, taking out the risk which I personally signed for. Anyone in business will tell you that’s a no-no. But I was also convinced that it was going to work, I didn’t see any stumbling blocks, I just went for it.
After we had been trading in the premises for a year I was consequently told that the business was trading insolvently. Basically I couldn’t afford to pay all the suppliers that I had, and I was forced to close it, and consequently lose the business. I started to realize the big mistakes that I made along the way.
My big mistake was that I was too confident and thought the people who weren’t understanding the service, and were criticizing me, simply didn’t understand what I was trying to do. But they were giving me hints of what I was doing wrong, but I refused to listen to them.
Avil Beckford: What lessons did you learn in the process?
Christina Ioannidis: Lesson number one: Listen, you have two ears and one mouth, and that’s for a reason. Try and read between the lines even if you do not like what people are telling you.
Lesson number two: Beware of very extreme risks because there are other implications that come with it. When your business is declared insolvent, the directors of the business are automatically – because that’s the way the rules are in the UK – investigated for fraud, which makes sense, and I understand it from the England Revenue perspective. But when you’ve just lost everything, and then you are investigated personally, all your bank statements for the past three years, and you have to say where monies came from and where they went, and you are so emotionally destroyed, let’s say it’s just very difficult to manage that. So be aware of the implications of what you are getting yourself into. This is one of the romances of entrepreneurship, people think it’s so romantic being the director of a business, but you have legal responsibilities. I could have gone to jail if I had been told that I was trading insolvently and carried on trading. I didn’t know that.
These have been my biggest failures and my biggest learnings.
Avil Beckford: Tell me about your big break and who gave you.
Christina Ioannidis: I’ve worked very hard to get to where I’ve wanted to be, but I think my biggest break came from someone I met while I had my previous business. We met me at a networking event, and we really liked each other. She was another professional woman and was inspired by what I was doing. She entrusted me to do a program for women around impact and gravitas (about being feminine but also professional) in business. I did a course for her female staff and it was a life line for me because I still had that retail outlet at the time, and that was significant amount of money that helped the business for a long time. She gave me a major break! She became a stakeholder to the business and was always coming to events and supporting me in any way that she could – as a customer and client.
When I lost that business, she became the first client of acquitude, so she brought me into Accenture, the company she was working for, to do some training. She is one of the most important people on the planet to me because she gave me those breaks.
Avil Beckford: Describe one of your biggest failures. What lessons did you learn, and how did it contribute to a greater success?
Christina Ioannidis: See answer above about losing my business.
Avil Beckford: What has been your biggest disappointment in your life – and what are you doing to prevent its reoccurrence?
Christina Ioannidis: My biggest disappointment in life has come from other people. I have fallen out a number of times with individuals in business because I’m the type of person who will take risks, and there is so much glamour associated with what I tend to get involved in, that other people love to come on board. However, when push comes to shove, if I’ve taken all the risks, it means that I’m also the one who is going to lose everything. In the past, what I’ve found is that, what a lot of people happen to do – and I’ve lost friends over this – is to come in and say they’ll do something. I pay them and then I don’t get what is expected, and this has been true on a number of occasions. My learning has been – and that’s why I do what I do now in terms of communications with other people, and helping them to build good relationships with their colleagues and teams – is to always make sure you have an agreement up front with your expectations and their expectations. And a lot of it has to do with personality type because we project our personalities on to other people, and we expect other people to behave as we would. Everyone does that so we need to understand them even more than we understand ourselves, so we know how they are thinking. I think that this is my biggest learning.
Avil Beckford: What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life?
Christina Ioannidis: My toughest decision is what I am going through now, and it’s a personal decision. I find business decisions are easier to make than my personal ones. My toughest decision is where to live because my parents are live in Greece, I live in London, but I am married to an Australian man, so we have three very distinct geographies that we could be in but I don’t want to be too far from my parents because they are now at an elderly age. This is my hardest decision at the moment. I probably spend more time thinking about this than anything else.
Avil Beckford: What are three events that helped to shape your life?
Christina Ioannidis: My grandmother and in knowing her. My grandmother was the epitome of femininity and intelligence. She was a poor Venezuelan woman, absolutely beautiful who brought up magnificent daughters on her own. And that’s why I admired her! She did some things that most would not be able to do. And not only that, she was very advanced for her time. She grew up at the beginning of the 20th century and did a lot of cutting edge things. Women were not liberated then, and even though her social environment was restricted, she did so much, and both of her daughters became internationally renowned in their fields. My mother became an international pianist, performing globally, and my aunt won the national award for microbiology for science in Venezuela. So both of them became eminencies in their fields, and they are women. That’s why I feel so much passion about supporting women, and I think it comes from her. She fed this to my mother who is my second biggest inspiration. My mother travelled the whole world in the sixties. At 16 she went to live in New York for five years in a row, then she went to Vienna and to Italy where she met a Greek man, my father. She lived in Greece and was practically the first Venezuelan living in Greece, so she was always living in very different environments, but adapting to them.
It was a momentous time when my grandmother passed away in 2003. And the way she passed away, I’m convinced it was her wish for me to start aqua. I’m convinced it was her wish that I would do jewelry because she passionately loved jewelry. I think that’s what got me into my entrepreneurial journey. Her death shocked me so much, that if my career was going straight, it bounced me to the right.
The name of my businesses aquitude (present) and aqua, which I lost is significant. My grandmother’s initials were AQ. If you ever saw the logo of the first company, the a and the q were very pronounced and the u and a were much smaller. I always keep a and q in my company names. Now it’s aquitude and I want people to have her attitude in life.
I couldn’t have done what I’m doing if I hadn’t been made redundant. The first I was made redundant, I managed better than I did the second time because Nortel Networks was a fabulous company to work for, they were very good. The person who made me redundant told me in very nice terms in a very nice way. I felt bad that the company was suffering, but I knew that I would find something else. But the second redundancy was bad because they treated us very badly. I left feeling bitter and I hated that, which was worse for me because I was in a bad state of mind.
Avil Beckford: What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Christina Ioannidis: I’m very proud of what I did with aqua. I still have people who were clients say to me, “You should do it again,” and my response, “Yes, but not with my money.” It was a beautiful shop and the service was great, the designers were fantastic. Yes there were a lot of challenges, but I am very proud of how I created that experience out of nothing.
Avil Beckford: How did mentors influence your life?
Christina Ioannidis: Big time. First of all, going back to your question about my biggest break, I didn’t know about mentors in the formal sense when I was starting my career. When I started my first job, I was in a very high profile international graduate program for a company called Allied Domecq Spirits. Only Mexicans or Spanish people know about this brand Domecq. Domecq was the biggest spirits company that came out of Mexico, and they had all the sherries in Spain as well. It was owned by a very prominent Latin family, and a British Distillery bought the business and it became Allied Domecq.
I worked for them in a fantastic graduate training program, where they spent millions of dollars on us. They took us on helicopter rides to Wales and to meetings in Hungary and just traveling the planet as graduates.
One of the stakeholders in the graduate program, who was a European president, asked to meet with everyone of the graduates, and I was the last one to meet with him because I was living in Spain at the time and I had to go to the UK to meet him. When I met him, I asked if he would be my mentor. I was 25 at the time. This guy is at the top of the business, so it takes a little bit of guts, and I am that way. I was thinking that the worse thing that could happen is that he would say no. He was delighted, he smiled and said, “I’m so happy that you asked me, of course I would be delighted.”
He became my mentor, and we agreed that it was going to be an informal conversation, an email here and there, nothing too formal, no hours spent because the guy was busy. He was very instructive in me moving from Spain from sales, then financial and then move me into marketing in Greece. Now there is one thing that Greeks do beautifully, and that’s to have fun. I worked in Athens as a result of him proposing it.
This is a great example of what a mentor can do, and even though we think they won’t have the time, they make the time because they are people and they want to help people. They will help you if you are honest about what you want from them. I had told him I would like him to be there for me as a sounding board, and if there was anything interesting happening in the company that he thought I could embrace I would be happy to consider it. I was very keen.
He was a very important mentor, and ever since I have had my career, I have always had individuals, and they may not have known this, but they were actually my mentor without the formal M. They are the people who I would call up and say I’m doing this, what do you think? and most of the time I didn’t listen, and that’s why the first business didn’t quite work out. They’ve been there, and now I have a range of people who I call my Board of Directors, or my mentoring mesh of individuals, and each one plays an instructive role. I have been quite strategic in who I choose because I know they could be sponsors in those areas I’m interested in and likely to be critical to shape my advancement either for the business or for myself.
Avil Beckford: What’s one core message you received from your mentors?
Christina Ioannidis: I tend to be someone who is very spontaneous. I am Greek-Venezuelan and I love life. A consistent message was the need to question a bit more, to analyze a bit more before acting. I’m the kind of person who will come up with a brilliant idea, I’m convinced it’s going to work, I go out and start working and I don’t stop talking to people about it without actually having dotted the “i’s” and cross the “t’s”. So if someone asked me a question that I didn’t know the answer to, obviously I haven’t thought things through, so that’s something that came out consistently. So now I’m a little bit more focused on how I put stuff on the table, or actually tell people about it.
Avil Beckford: As an Invisible Mentor, what is one piece of advice that you would give to readers?
Christina Ioannidis: Be strategic! Always think through what you want, and how you want others to help you, so they don’t become your crutch. A lot of people think that a mentor is a crutch, is someone they can call up twice a month and run all their problems and let them make a decision. A mentor is not that. A mentor is someone who will enlighten you with a perspective to your problem, but you ultimately have to be the person who makes the decision. And that’s why being strategic is important because if you think about what they can offer you in terms of advice, and it’s targeted, then they will definitely help you to make a better decision.
How can you use this information? What do you have to add to the conversation? Let’s keep the conversation flowing, please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Many readers read this blog from other sites, so why don’t you pop over to The Invisible Mentor and subscribe (top on the right hand side) by email or RSS Feed.
About Christina Ioannidis:
Christina Ioannidis (www.christinaioannidis.com) is an international speaker, consultant and seasoned entrepreneur.
A Venezuelan – Greek, she is the founder and CEO of Aquitude (www.aquitude.com) , a leading Organizational, People and Market Development consultancy. Aquitude’s client list include FTSE 100 companies such as Shell, Barclays, Accenture, Mercer, Detica , PA Consulting, among others.
Christina is also sought-after speaker and she delivers interactive and engaging keynotes at conferences worldwide. She is a thought leader in the subjects of gender-savvy leadership and talent management, employee and customer engagement, effective product development and marketing, as well as innovation and intrapreneurship. She has been invited to comment on Sky News, The Sunday Times, The Observer, The Evening Standard, The Guardian, among others.
Christina is the author of “Your Loss: How to Win Back Your Female Talent” (www.yourlossbook.com).