How I got where I am today: Graham Findlay
Published: 10 Apr 2015
What did you want to be when you were young?
Other than the usual of being a star striker for the Dons, I can’t really remember but always loved driving, so a long distance lorry driver probably.
What are the main career stepping stones you have taken?
When I left school with three ‘O’ grades at 15, I was fortunate to get an apprenticeship at Herd and Mackenzie’s shipyard in Buckie as a plater/welder. Four years on, I was able to get a job at McAlpine Humberoak in Inverurie. From there I had a nine month job at Dauntless Engineering in Banff. I had just finished there when I was diagnosed as having the eye condition Retinitis Pigmentosa, which leads to significant sight loss and blindness.
To cut a long story short, I was able to get a two-year fixed term contract with the then Grampian Society for the Blind (GSB) as a social work assistant, thanks to the then CEO Jon Bailey, who in many ways was ahead of his time. I did further training, including training as a social worker, management training and later I was GSB’s first senior social worker.
After 10 years with GSB I left and joined an up and coming charity Turning Point Scotland (TPS), as their regional manager for the north. At TPS we had some great times and developed a wide range of services, some of which are still around today, for people who had mental health problems or learning difficulties, or Huntington’s disease, or problems associated with addiction, or homelessness. I was there for six years and TPS turnover grew locally from £500,000 to £3.2m in that time.
However, GSB were looking for a new chief executive and I applied for the post and after two interviews was appointed. Initially this was a difficult move but has been well worth it. GSB went on to support people who are deaf and hard of hearing as well as those who are blind or partially sighted. We are now North East Sensory Services, (NESS). I have been here now for almost 10 years and the organisation has grown four-fold in that time.
Anything you would do differently?
Probably not. NESS is a great place to work and I am grateful to have the opportunity to be their chief executive.
Are you scared of making mistakes?
No. I think that if someone does something with the best intentions and is coming from a positive value base then a mistake is just that, so no.
Not giving people the chance to prove what they can do. So many people who have a sensory loss have so much to give and sometimes only need a chance or a bit of encouragement to achieve their potential.
Who's been your greatest influence?
My dad without doubt. He talks so much sense and I only wish I had listened to him a bit more when I was younger. Also, Jon Bailey my first CEO at GSB as he gave me the opportunity.
What advice have you ignored?
When I was first diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, someone who has the same condition as me said “Forget about working no one will give you a job”. Glad I ignored that one!
Best achievement so far?
Having my lovely wife and three kids.
I only look forward so I don’t spend time looking back. People should never be afraid of making mistakes as long as their intentions are good.
What do you want to achieve in the rest of your career?
To still be in a role where my employer can have the influence to change people’s lives positively.
What's your idea of the perfect retirement?
As a family we have travelled to America on numerous occasions. I love the can do attitude of Americans and have some great friends there. Any perfect retirement would involve the USA and my family. Also, somewhere hot in the States!
Is the “career for life" a thing of the past?
No, absolutely not. If your career is about influencing the lives of people then it can’t be.
What have you actively tried to avoid in your career?
Nothing I can think of. Getting on with people and ‘influencers’ is vital in developing your organisation.
What would your autobiography be called?
How about, Seeing It My Way!
What would you name some of the chapters?
As a Dons fan, Stand Free would need to be one of them! Others after my wife and kids, when they arrived in my life that was defining moments.
What's the best way to motivate others?
Showing people what can be achieved with a bit of support.
Your favourite stress-buster?
Following the Dons, going to the gym, and a pint in the Scotia on a Friday.
What's your best career advice?
With the right support you can do anything you want, just do it.
Is there any day in your career you would like to live again?
I think the day NESS got the call from Moray Council to say we were appointed as Scotland’s first full joint sensory service provider that changed everything.
Is there a time in your career you miss most?
No. Now is a great time as there is so much going on. We are on influential groups in Scotland and across Britain. I am proud to represent NESS all over the UK now, so this I am enjoying every minute.
What's your dream job?:
It’s still the main striker for the Dons, but I would settle for AFC manager or chairman!