Rewarding Futures

School’s Out… and Life Lessons are in

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In addition to my Vana role, I’ve been approached to moonlight as a speaker...

But my clients aren’t seasoned corporate audiences sitting in hotel function suites. They are 11-year-old children about to embark on the next stage of their educational journey, and for whom the world is truly their oyster.

So what do you say to a group who make the millennial generation look positively middle-aged?

As schools around the country close their doors for the Summer, this was the challenge in front of me when I was recently invited to speak at my children’s end-of-year presentation.

Talking with people about their life and career aspirations is core to what we do, and both Jo White (my Vana co-Director) and I have done it for many years. But to have this conversation with a group of 11-year-olds is a different proposition altogether. Of course you have to consider factors like language and words, but these are bright digitally-savvy young people who have been exposed to more information than any generation that has gone before. So how leave them with something they’ll remember?

Even for a 5-minute speech, I felt the immense weight of responsibility on my shoulders.

Fortunately however this is a road well-travelled, and there’s no shortage of inspirational material out there. Two particular sources resonated with me the most.

The first - ‘wear sunscreen’ - will be familiar to many. It has become the archetypal leavers speech although its origins are hypothetical, first appearing as an essay in the Chicago Tribune in 1997. It went viral, even more so when Baz Luhrmann set the words to music two years later as ‘Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’.

Maybe slightly less well-known but no less powerful is comedian Tim Minchin’s address to University of Western Australia graduates at a ceremony in 2013. In contrast to ‘Sunscreen’s’ eclectic collection of musings, Tim’s irreverent speech was structured around 9 ‘life lessons’.

I tried to take the best elements of each and transfer these to my school, the words still relevant despite having been originally intended for older audiences. For the record, the 8 life lessons I shared with them were;

  • You Don’t Have To Have A Dream - put your head down and work with pride on whatever’s in front of you… because you never know where you might end up.
  • Don’t Seek Happiness – it’ll find you - think of happiness like a feather; the more you chase it, the more it escapes you so just be yourself.
  • Help others – and don’t be afraid to ask for it - look out for people who are less fortunate than you. In return, you’ll be amazed at how much help is out there – but only if you ask for it.
  • Stay Healthy - use your body and mind every way you can, and don't be afraid of what other people think because it's the greatest thing you'll ever own.
  • Be a teacher - rejoice in what you learn, and remember – however old you become, you never forget a good teacher.
  • Define Yourself By What You Love - celebrate what you love, be it art, music, maths or sport. And be for things - not just against what you don’t like.
  • Don’t exist. Live - there is only one sensible thing to do with life, and that is fill it.
  • And above all, friendship - Friendship is a value intrinsic value to my children’s school so I wanted to emphasise this in particular. Friends will be alongside you when life is at its happiest – and saddest. They’ll celebrate your victories, and pick you up when you’re down. So you need to care and look out for them as you would a prized possession.

Standing before this group, I felt honoured but scared. Parents, teachers and children are not my regular (corporate) audience nor was this my usual subject matter. But what carried me was a sense of immense pride in my children and their friends, as I’m sure any parent reading this would appreciate. There has been much learning and experience for us all throughout the six year journey that has just concluded.

With England’s recent World Cup journey there’s been no shortage of heroes and role models for our children, but I hope my words also found a place with our future sportsmen and women (plus those budding marine biologists, chefs and neuro-surgeons also looking back at me). Not that I’m considering a career change any time soon, but it was a great experience - I just hope it was for those young people aswell!

It also made me realise that whatever stage you’re at in your career or life you’re never too old to benefit from this kind of wisdom. When I made this presentation I considered the parents in the room also – myself included. The focus of the assembly was about the children, but all of us in that hall had been on this same voyage of discovery – and we all go on to the next chapter. I genuinely believe the 8 points shared with my audience are relevant to all ages, and there’s no harm in stopping and thinking about these for a moment – even if school has long been out.


And with that, happy holidays. Both Jo and myself will be taking a break at some point in the coming weeks, but Vana Resourcing remains extremely busy so no doubt we’ll talk soon.

I’ve worked with the team at Vana on many occasions over the years, engaging them to hire senior talent in a number of businesses. Both Debbie and Jo offer great insight and expertise, but above all they deliver results. I would happily recommend their services.

Scott Fishburn, HR Director, DFS

“Debbie and Jo are high-integrity recruiters who take time to understand organisational needs; commercial and cultural. VANA have worked in partnership with us a number of times, enabling us to secure some excellent senior HR hires.”

John Burgess, Head of Talent & Leadership Development, AXA Group

“I have worked with Debbie both as a candidate having introduced me to ING Direct and Invensys, and as a client supporting me with key hires in both organisations and more recently at DAS.  Both Debbie and Jo are exceptionally well networked, I trust their judgement completely and would highly recommend Vana.”

Kate Banks, ‎Group Director of HR & Legal Services at DAS UK Group

'Debbie and Jo are first class headhunters of HR talent. They take the time to fully understand the brief and culture of the organisation before suggesting any candidates for opportunities. Thank you Vana for sourcing quality hires for my team.'

Helen Norris, Head of HR - Nationwide Building Society

I have worked with Debbie both in the search for talent and also as a candidate, in both situations Debbie has been faultlessly professional. Debbie builds strong relationships exploring briefs to ensure she has a deep understanding of what the business and candidate need, allowing her to deliver a real match.

Ian Marchant, Retail HRD, Greene King plc

Candidate experience is really important to me in recruitment, because that is someone's first experience of an organisation - your organisation. As I see it, the recruiter is part of YOUR brand and their actions impact on YOUR reputation when they act for you. The candidate remembers the experience of applying for a job and not always the recruiter involved.

My experience as a candidate of Jo's was exceptional. Jo kept me informed at every stage, questions were anticipated and I always knew where the process was. Also, Jo was present as a person and not as a remote handler. This shows me that any candidate that Jo places would be treated in exactly the way I'd want them to be. I recommend her without hesitation.

Geraldine Buckland, Director of People, Bristol Water

Debbie and Jo are great recruiters of HR talent; they have successfully worked on a number of key senior hires for us both in the UK and internationally.

Jonathan Wright, Group HRD, Murphy Group

Debbie has recently supported me in securing my first HRD role. Her observations and feedback were very insightful and assisted me greatly in navigating the recruitment process and learning about the company and environment I'll be stepping into. Totally dependable, unbiased and a good judge of character, I would highly recommend her to act on your behalf with prospective employers. I haven't worked with Debbie yet as the employer but wouldn't hesitate to do this if the need arises.

Anita Calverley, HR Director, Yeo Valley Farms

The thing about Vana Resourcing is that Debbie and Jo actually care – about you as a person, your career and your business. Yes they deliver great candidates and opportunities but they make sure that the fit / opportunity is right, challenging both sides in a positive way when needed. They’ve supported my career for the last 10 years, including introducing me to my current HRD role, and I have no hesitation that they will be my first point of call for future candidates and opportunities.

Suzie Noble, Chief People Officer, Brightside

“I have worked with Debbie and Jo several times, they stand out from the crowd as a sourcer of talent and when managing you as a candidate, I simply haven't worked with anyone better. Commercial, thorough, expert and with a sense of integrity that means you are only ever recommended to organisations that suit you - and as a hirer you only get talent that works for your organisation. As a hiring organisation, working with a partner like Vana is simply irreplaceable.”

Head of OD, Vodafone

Debbie brings accurate and current insight on HR Talent. Her ability to recognise top people in their field and actively nurture relationships over a long period of time sets her apart from her peers. Debbie is refreshingly honest , she keeps confidences and is not afraid to challenge both candidates and hiring Executives to ensure the right outcome for all parties. I would have no hesitation in recommending Debbie or Vana Resourcing for a critical HR hire.

Barbara Duffy, International HR Director leading on Talent, L&D, Resourcing,OD

“Debbie introduced me to OVO Energy, and she not only found me the right role, but an organisation whose ethos matched my values.  I have since worked with Vana to recruit almost my entire senior HR team! From HRBP's to a Reward Lead and most recently a HR Director. Vana really understand the importance of culture fit."

Kim Atherton, Chief People Officer, OVO Energy

I have worked with Vana Resourcing for a number of years representing me in my own search and as a client. Debbie and Jo are professional and efficient but unusually for this sector, genuinely caring about both client and candidate experience in equal measure.

Jonathan Edge, HR Director UK & Ireland at Ideal Standard International BVBA

“Jo is highly professional, knowledgeable and proactive. It’s not often that a recruitment consultant really interviews you in the same way a prospective employer would.”

Simon Amesbury, SuperGroup plc

What a refreshing delight to work with a commercial partner who understood my business, had national and regional awareness, a handle on the market, an effortless connection with candidates and could tolerate my Everest-like expectations.

I will continue to work with Debbie and Jo again on my incessant drive to solve the talent conundrum of the coming years.

Keep up the great work, you are a credit to the industry.


Stephen Robson, HR Director, Global O&Supply Chain at Kingfisher plc

"The team and I have worked with Jo now on a number of occasions for various recruitment assignments. I have always found Jo to be consultative and considered in her approach but above all honest and straight forward! She has a great understanding of her market place and is always at the end of the line to offer insight and market knowledge. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Vana and look forward to our continued relationship."

Resourcing Partner, Nationwide Building Society, Resourcing Partner, Nationwide Building Society

I've known Jo for a number of years and worked with her as a client and candidate. What's great about working with Jo is that you're guaranteed an honest perspective and terrific insight to the market. She nurtures her relationships in a natural and engaging way: put simply - she knows her stuff!

Marie Aitken, Chief People Officer

I initially engaged Debbie to undertake a search for a Head of OD. She is consultative in style, and took time to gain a comprehensive insight into our organisational culture and HR journey, delivering an excellent shortlist of candidates and a super hire. The feedback from our candidates on their engagement with VANA has been equally positive. Jo and Debbie has since supported me with several other senior hires within the People organisation at RLG, and we enjoy an effective working partnership.

People & Corporate Affairs Director, Royal London Group

“I have worked with Debbie as both candidate and client. In both contexts I have found her to be super-efficient, thorough and a pleasure to do business with. She listens really well, responds quickly and is flexible to evolving demands. Debbie is up there in my top 3 recruiters.”

Sue Round, Head of Talent and Organisational Effectiveness, BP

I have worked with Debbie and Jo for many years as a candidate looking for opportunities and a manager looking for talent.  I have always been impressed by how Vana strive to ensure that there is the best fit in terms of candidate values and company culture.

Sarah King, Head of HR, Triodos Bank