Geraldine Butler-Wright

Founder & Chief People Officer, RorCas

1. Who was your favourite teacher at school? What did you learn from that person?

My English teacher, Mr. Matthews, taught me a deep appreciation for the English language. He was also breathtakingly direct, a quality I admire to this day.

2. Do you remember a time when you were happiest as a child? Where were you, who were you with and what were you doing?

Fishing with my father (aka Par) is a cherished memory. I loved having this one-to-one time with Par, talking about everything and anything. You could sense how much he enjoyed how fishing bridged the gap between his childhood in Ireland and having quality time with his own child. The excitement of actually catching a fish was also great too.

3. What habit or behaviour or belief have you recently acquired? Why is it now in your life?

I started hitting the yoga mat when I was pregnant with our daughter. Since then, I’ve found that it has without fail fed my mind, body and soul. It has a beautiful way of turning down the volume on the everyday.

4. What are the three books that you would unhesitatingly recommend to others? Why?

Inspired by Marty Cagan. ​​This is essential reading for anyone in the startup and scale-up world. It is the definitive guide on how to build products that customers actually want, and I’ve found that its core principles also apply very well to developing people programs.

Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord. This book captures the reimagining of HR at Netflix and has had a huge impact on how I have shaped my career in this space.

Zog by Julia Donaldson. One of our children’s favourite books. I love this little dragon’s resilience, loyalty and determination. The female lead, Princess Pearl, is ambitious, clever, and kind—qualities that I admire and that are great for the children to aspire to.

5. If you wrote a ‘user manual for how people should interact with you,what would be the most important point in the manual?

Be open, honest and direct. We can then get on with what needs to be done.

6. What’s one misconception people generally have about you?

People often assume I’m from Southern England because of my accent. In fact, I’m a Geordie and also Irish, of which I’m very proud.

7. What is that thing which is OK to ask you about, but which other people are wary to do so?

I talk a lot about family and not often about my mum. We have been estranged for many years and unlikely to reconcile. I’m at peace with that, and try to pay forward some of our happier memories together to the children. Strawberry picking is one of them.

8. When was the last time you felt like an outsider in a group? What/How did you learn?

When I started my own business, RorCas, suddenly I didn’t have any colleagues. Fortunately, my first client was warm and welcoming, and I also recognised that, like friends being the family you choose, my peers and trusted advisors from over the years became the colleagues I chose to be in my new working life..

9. What is the best purchase you’ve made recently? Why?

My apple watch. Tracking my fitness data has had a huge positive impact on my health. It turns out that I’m mega competitive with myself.

10. What’s your favourite meal? Can you say why?

Having a pizza delivery with my husband on a Friday night to accompany Top of the Pops 2 marks the end of a busy week. It is simple, delicious, and, having grown up in mostly rural areas in the ’80s and ’90s, having a pizza delivered remains super cool.

11. Which fictional villain do you find yourself sympathising with most? Why?

Gollum from Lord of the Rings. The character is such a complex portrayal of the destructive nature of obsession. His inability to break free from the ring’s influence and his yearning for a connection or redemption evokes such sadness.

12. Aside from family & friends, if you could invite any 3 people - living or dead - to your final dinner party before the end of the world, who would they be and why?

Tony Bennett. I love his music, and I was lucky to see him in concert twice. He was an amazing storyteller. I hope that after dinner, he’d share experiences and take requests for a song or two. Incidentally, his MTV Unplugged album is a firm favorite, and any song from that album would make me incredibly happy. Autumn Leaves is beautiful.

Queen Elizabeth I. I was fascinated by the Tudor and Elizabethan era growing up. The clothing initially caught my attention, and then the whole drama of the time was captivating. How wonderful it would be to hear about her experience as a female leader in this period.

Barack Obama. When I worked for the US State Department, I missed his meet-and-greet at the embassy in London. It was easy to be blasé about catching the president on his next visit, given the frequency of VIP visits. We never did get to meet, and I’d like to put that right one day. Perhaps this dinner party is the answer.

13. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received? Who gave it and when?

It was early on in my career, I was up against a tight deadline, a mountain of work seemed to be before me, and I was feeling incredibly overwhelmed. I decided to share my woes with my brother, who is 15 years my senior, and one of the kindest and smartest humans on the planet. He is also a serial entrepreneur, who is no stranger to pressure.

He asked, “Ger, how do you eat an elephant?”.

My response, “Marty, this isn’t the time for a joke!”

“No, seriously, how do you eat an elephant?” he said.

There was a long pause, and he continued “You eat it in small chunks”.

I sighed. We laughed. I got the job done.

To be clear, before the WWF knocks on my door, I am not recommending that you eat elephants. I am recommending that whenever faced with what may seem insurmountable, break it down and crack on. I’ve carried this advice with me throughout my career, used it when the tough gets going, and shared it with others in times of stress. Thank you, Marty.

14. What's a skill that isn’t on your resume, but your former bosses would recognize as one of the reasons you are successful?

Compassion – caring deeply about doing right by people, especially in challenging times. A former boss once called me the company’s Jiminy Cricket for this reason.

15. What’s the one bad quality you wouldn’t mind in a colleague? Why?

Being very emotional. Now whether this is ‘bad’, and how to define ‘very emotional’ is a moot point. I’m fine with big emotions – at least you know exactly where you stand.

16. What role do you find yourself playing when you join a newly formed team? Can you explain why this happens?

The navigator. I tend to help find the path forward, whether from a practical planning perspective or a people perspective. My coaching experience comes in handy.

17. Do you have a secret tip, tool or trick that’s contributed to your success?

Don’t be afraid to say hello to strangers, be curious and do what you say you will.

18. When it comes to our work and industry: what scares you most?

The belief that if you force people back into an office full time it will result in engaged employees who deliver results.

19. If you could add a question for the next person to answer, what would it be?

What, if any, music do you like to listen to when you are working? Why?

20. Who would you recommend to do the next 20 Questions With … ?

Mary McGonnell, Founder of Kayuh and fellow CPO. Mary possesses a wealth of experience in the People world. She exudes such an air of calm that I wish we could bottle and sell.

Thank you to Geraldine Butler-Wright or taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune. Make sure to follow Geraldine on LinkedIn.

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