Leaving a safe career in finance in London to selling his home and investing all the proceeds in developing a doll company back in his home county of Donegal, Ian Harkin’s career path wasn’t a traditional route. Now, over 5 years later since launching Lottie where he spotted a gap in the market for a doll focused on empowering boys and girls, the dolls, inspired by ideas sent to them by kids are selling in over 30 countries. Lottie Dolls have a book publishing deal with Penguin, apps on the Azoomee platform, a magazine launching this year and one of its dolls even visited the international space station as part of Tim Peakes mission. Ian’s initial risk on investing his life savings is really starting to pay off.
Can leadership be taught? If so, how?
I believe so, there are personality types that are more suited to leadership but if put in the situation I believe anyone can. There are opportunities from a young age whether it’s from participation in sports or other organised clubs like the girl guides or scouts, there are roles whether formally adopted or for the fact that no one else is willing to do it, you put your hand up and volunteer to make sure it happens. When you do step up there are so many people willing to help or provide advice. There has to be a willingness to want to learn, put in the effort and lead by example.
When you are filling a leadership role in your organisation what qualities do you look for from candidates?
From a CV perspective I guess I’m looking for experience within a given field and seeing career progression, some of the roles we have are quite specialised and at leadership level it’s not necessary to have that in-depth knowledge but that they can manage people and workload. Generally I will look at extracurricular activities and I would be influenced by someone who actively volunteers in their community. I look for loyalty too, if someone is changing jobs every year, I would question that but on the flip side I would expect them to be looking to progress in roles at least every 4 years.
If you had to leave your organisation for 1 year what would you ask of your team and what advice would you give them?
Our team both past and present have built up our brand values over the past 5 years, take care of that voice and continue building what we have created. Things will go wrong, it’s never a straight path, look after our staff and customers first and foremost.
What are you doing today to make sure your organisation will be relevant in 10 years time?
We attend all of the major shows worldwide and receive all of the industry news, as a brand we have focused on a non-technical product but we do provide content and support on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths. We partner up with organisations, adult and kids’ experts in these fields to provide this content.
What leaders outside your own organisation do you admire and why?
We partner up on specific products, our Stargazer doll (inspired by Abigale from Canada), we partnered with the European Space Agency and Irish Astronaut Dr Niamh Shaw. Niamh through her work with SFI and Blackrock Castle is inspiring kids around Ireland with her story on her ambition to travel to Mars one day. There is no such thing as impossible dreams and that’s what inspirational leaders do, they break everything down and take lots and lots of small steps every day and never give up.
Two of the girls that inspired Lottie dolls, Allie and Taylor, were voted by Teen Vogue last year as #21under21, they have amazing leadership qualities at 11 and 13 years of age, encouraging others, fundraising, empathy, community spirit, ambition, fun, family, at such a young age they have cracked the important things in life and are leading by example.
What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
I find twitter to be really good, I’d definitely follow @minniemelange, @robotmakergirl, @dr_niamh-shaw, @astrobrightstar, we love our film maker @_elena, one of so many inspiring people we met through @inspirefesthq that I would be here listing accounts for days! Check out Inspirefest, held in Dublin each year, I can’t sing its praises enough, if you can’t make it check out their videos online from previous years, so many inspiring leaders to learn from.