Our Leadership Team: Pauline Houston

Working year-round, our leadership team of five are passionate and driven about surfacing the brightest and best ideas from across sectors to a global audience, in the hope of bringing about tangible change. We’ve already introduced you to our founder and curator in the last blog, so in today’s piece we talk to another member of the leadership team Pauline Houston, our Lead of Partnerships.

TEDxGlasgow Partners

Tell us a bit about your background

I always wanted to be a fashion buyer, but at the time it was a very tough career path to gain a step in the door to. I naively thought if I got the skills to be a buyer I could then move into fashion at a later date. So after my business studies degree I started out working as a buyer for an international company that designed, built and manufactured cryogenic gas plants (yes, I know… no need to say anything or laugh too heartily!).

So I changed tact and went headlong into the business world negotiating high value, international IT and Telecommunications deals. Working for a multinational company allowed me to develop a wide range of skills by moving around business functions, taking on roles way outside my comfort zone and then realising, after a number of sleepless months, anything is do-able.

I have managed P&L’s and teams bigger than some independent companies. I have won various awards but the best and most prestigious to me was the BT CEO Team Award for Excellence. By bringing together a team of people who didn’t know one another, by working relentlessly together we made a massive contribution to the company achieving its financial results that year. We did it respectfully and inclusively – not a trademark of the 1990’s.

I am an avid traveller, so I committed myself to working internationally. I spent the next five years working as an independent consultant in the Middle East and Africa before moving to Malaysia. In Malaysia I did the best work of my life to date. I worked with refugee children from Myanmar (ex-Burma). Children who had walked thousands of miles from Myanmar, through Thailand and into Malaysia in the hope of a better life. I taught them how to learn with fun, but they taught me so much more.

My current focus is on growing TEDxGlasgow.

How did you hear about TEDxGlasgow?

I heard about TED through Coursera, the online education platform. TEDxGlasgow was through a friend (who is also a friend of our curator Gurjit). I was living in Malaysia at the time when I was asked if I’d be interested in helping out TEDxGlasgow, as I was soon to be returning home. The previous Partner Lead was due to leave Glasgow to work with refugees in Jordan, thus creating a big gap in the volunteer team. Oddly enough, I was returning from working with refugees in Malaysia and so it felt like serendipity.

How did you get involved in TEDxGlasgow?

My friend introduced me by email to Gurjit. I really wasn’t sure about the role as it wasn’t something I had done before, so I was a bit luke-warm in my approach to begin with. Gurjit, of course, bombarded me with meeting invites, which were somewhat impossible based on the fact that I was still in KL and he was in Glasgow. But, by the time I got back to Scotland Gurjit had managed to secure a meeting.

By the time I got home from said meeting my mailbox was already full of homework and so that was the beginning. I met the rest of the team a few weeks later and it all came together. And, that was nearly 2 years ago now.

Tell us a little about your role

I lead on securing funding and in-kind partners to allow TEDxGlasgow to function. We are incredibly lucky to have superb support from big and small companies. Some of our partners have been with us since day one, but every year we need to add to the community. I am very lucky to have some brilliant partners to work with, who really understand our vision.

Signing partners is just one aspect of the role, you have to find them first and this is where I work closely with our Curator, Gurjit. We invest a lot of time researching and meeting businesses to see if there is a link and a sharing of values.

I also manage the relationship with the partners during the year. I keep them up-to-date with our plans, obtain their input and invite them to the other events we run. As the big annual event approaches I work with the partners to get them ready for their role on the day and help them to get the most from their experience with us.

What is your favourite TED/TEDxTalk?

I have so many favourites. There are some that I love, then fall out of love with, then go back to them and take a breath at how poignant the message is once again. I do have some enduring favourites though.

My all time favourite is a golden oldie TED talk. Ken Robinson on schools killing creativity. Everything about this talk is fabulous. The self-deprecating delivery of an ex-teacher now immersed in righting the wrongs of the education system in the USA. The sharp analysis of the historical merits of the Western education system that now does children a disservice. The captivating story-telling of children deemed ‘numpties’, because they learned differently, who went on to immense success. This is an all-time great talk in my eyes.

I also love Brene Brown’s TEDx talk on vulnerability and wholeheartedness. She combines science, philosophy and rawness.

Then there is Simon Sinek on how great leaders inspire – ‘What is your Why’.

Of course, a major highlight of a talk for me was one from our very own 2016 TEDxGlasgow from Laura Beveridge. Her talk left the entire audience reaching for tissues through tears of compassion for a woman who is challenging the children’s care system to do a much better job than they did for her.

What is the biggest challenge in your TEDx role?

Acquiring and retaining partners is always a fairly relentless task, but there are two major challenges in this role. One is to constantly find the right new partners to provide funding to support us, but who also align with our ethics, values and vision. The second is finding the the right way to express the value of TEDx, so that it makes a valid connection. It is brilliant when a new partner really understands and buys into the ROI – Return On Ideas!

Any final thoughts?

Our Partners, audience, speakers and volunteers on the day could not provide a more gratifying reason for the hours the TEDxGlasgow team put in to make it all happen. I think the authenticity of our approach resonates and we see genuine enjoyment and inspiration coming back. I love it.

  • Written by Cat Leaver
  • Posted on January, 13 2017

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