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Helping CEOs become the leaders they want to be

Jamie Ramsden

29 April 2016

MBA alumnus Jamie Ramsden talks about how Lancaster helped him become a top global leadership guru. 

The screensaver on Jamie Ramsden’s computer has a quote reading “The only purpose of coaching is to change the world”. The excitement of that prospect is what makes him get up in the morning.

These are not idle words. The clients Jamie works with to make the best of themselves and optimise their decision making include senior executives from Coca Cola, GE, PwC, Xerox, Chrysler, Hershey, Sanofi, the US Army, Coach, Caudalie and Senior government officials, based all over the world.

As he explains: “If I can help one of them make a change or shift in the way that they look at things, it could have an effect on thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people.”

Now based outside Charlotte, North Carolina, this expert in global leadership - who graduated from Lancaster University with an MBA with Distinction in 2001 and went on to become a company chief executive whilst still in his early 30s - is excited to have hoisted his life into a new gear.

He says: “I do not want to be the CEO on their third divorce and second heart attack. I want to live a full and meaningful life.”

In launching Adastra Consulting in 2015, he has dedicated himself full-time to helping others to become the CEOs they want to be, rather than continuing to be one himself. He also takes a certain delight in revealing that his coaching model is based on the one he developed for his thesis on global leadership at Lancaster University Management School, for which he won the John Wiley Student of the Year Award.

Jamie is now also able to satisfy his hunger to improve the world, whilst still putting his wife Jean and their four children first. He is clear that he would not have been in a position to have taken this move to rebalance his life without Lancaster. It gave him both his CEO position and the confidence to make his business a success, without which he would be unable to attract the calibre of clients that come to him.

Born and brought up in Devon - where his folk musician parents Mike and Sylvia Ramsden had settled after a successful career with their band The Silkie - the newly-married Jamie came to Lancaster University in 2001 to do his MBA the year after his sister JoJo had done the same course.

He had left Liverpool University with a BA French degree and spent four years in France, living in a vineyard and working for a French business. He had then moved to California, where he worked for a manufacturer of performance fluid transfer systems, Goodridge Ltd and met his wife, Jean.

One of his top motivations to uproot from the USA was Lancaster’s high diversity rating. He wanted to be surrounded by executives from around the globe - Africa, Eastern Europe, the Americas and Asia - and he was. He was also attracted by the university’s reputation for research excellence. He says: “I wanted to explore and learn and get every last drop out of the experience and I did.”

Academically he loved the group work, working with up to seven people from all over the world, carrying out individual research, bringing it back to be discussed and combining it with other people’s findings to reach a conclusion. This allowed him to see the world with new eyes. 

At LUMS, Jamie was exposed to the Double Loop Learning model (a system developed by American academic Chris Argyris who he met by coincidence during the course), which involves goal setting modified by practice feedback. He thrived under it.

His thesis was focused on leadership and the impact that the modern fast-moving world has on traits and behaviours of those at the helm. He also chaired the university’s Student Leadership Committee, which gave him additional insight.

Away from lectures, playing with the MBA football team was his social highlight, followed by beers in the bar. He also loved the international social evenings where Indian students danced and made delicacies, the Chinese students sang local songs and their national anthem and Jamie entertained with modern English rock/pop songs on his guitar.

He went back to the States with his wife to write his thesis on leadership for which he read over 100 leadership books and carried out interviews with senior executives on their philosophies. He also discovered that his former employer, Goodridge, was struggling to manage rapid growth with resulting poor product quality and delivery, low staff engagement, and customers on the brink of leaving.

With the latest concepts of leadership at his finger tips and the confidence he had gained from doing his MBA still fresh in his mind, he soon persuaded Goodridge to allow him to assume a leadership role - and eventually as chief executive.

Firm and decisive action was needed. Under Jamie’s leadership he and his senior colleagues turned the company around, transforming the bleak losses into profitable and sustainable growth. This required changes in the company structure, building morale among the 200+ staff and the introduction of LEAN manufacturing methodologies to improve efficiency and customer satisfaction. After this Jamie was part of the small global leadership team that steered Goodridge’s sale to private-equity in 2013. 

Through all these changes Jamie found himself questioning how much was enough, how much did he need and where did he need to be to do it. The answer was to follow his passion for leadership and coaching, ignited many years before at Lancaster, by setting up Adastra on his own.

His typical working week is divided into two types of day. Monday and Friday are ‘call days’ when he speaks by phone or Skype to 4-5 clients, each of whom is a senior executive in a company in the USA, Africa or the Far East,  for an hour apiece. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are his ‘delivery days’ for client visits, executive interviews and face-to-face meetings which take him all over the US and Canada.

His newly balanced life means that he can also play his guitar and piano between clients, make time for football and his daily walks in the woods and whenever possible pick up his children from school. This is what allows him to model the integrated lifestyle that he encourages within his high-flying clients.

He chuckles as he reveals that his coaching model is based on the one he developed for his thesis on global leadership at Lancaster. He says: “It’s about allowing people to see things with fresh eyes. I have always wanted to have a big impact on the world. It is not about ego or money; it’s about wanting to make the world a better place”