How a late decision paid handsome dividends
WILD GEESE:Paul Lofus, Industrial pyschologist
His journey began in Ballina, Co Mayo, back in the swinging sixties. Fresh out of secondary school with few prospects, Loftus half-heartedly attended a few interviews “to keep the parents happy”, before packing his bags and heading for London. “A lot of people in my class emigrated,” he says. “It was almost the natural thing to do.”
In London, he stumbled into the insurance business, working as a “junior clerk, a dogsbody”. Little did he know he would remain in the insurance business on both sides of the Atlantic for the best part of a decade, a first career that would see him working as an underwriter, an account executive and a broker, before finding his true calling.
After four years in London, he joined his brother in Montreal, Canada, on the hunch that he would be able to find similar, but better-paid employment. No stranger to travel, he was pretty confident about the move. The summer before, he and his friends had all quit work, bought a car and driven around the continent. “We were young single guys, just like in the Cliff Richard films,” he says.
The move paid off. Our “bachelor boy” soon got settled into the North American lifestyle. The beer was more expensive, but clothes and rent were reasonably priced. He noted that people seemed to work harder than in London – there were no extended lunches down the pub and lengthy tea breaks. More importantly, he was struck by the absence of a class divide. “Back in the UK, there were four different prices down the cinema but, in Canada, I could sit where I wanted for one price,” he says.
He didn’t waste any time making contacts, mainly through Montreal’s expat rugby, hurling and Gaelic football clubs. Socialising with his fellow sportsmen, most of whom had college degrees, was a revelation. It was here that Loftus realised he could aim higher in life. “The experience stimulated a lot of curiosity,” he says. Moreover, those rugby contacts would pay off further down the line, bringing him one crucial step closer to achieving his career dreams.
Within a year, Loftus had returned to Ireland to take a business degree at University College Dublin. Three, years on, he returned to Canada to expand his horizons further. For five years, he took a degree course in psychology at Montreal’s Concordia University by night, while slogging away in the insurance industry by day. By this point, he was becoming aware that his interests lay somewhere between business and psychology. He followed up his second degree with a master’s in industrial psychology at Lamar University in Texas, writing a thesis on US multinationals in Ireland.
By now in his mid-30s, he was eager to make the break from insurance. Here, the rugby contacts came good, giving him a foot in the door at the Bank of Montreal. He started out in recruitment, but it was a random opportunity to run a seminar that gave him his “Aha!” moment, a sudden awareness that his true place wasn’t at a desk, but on the stage: “I realised I was a people person, that public speaking was my forte.” Secure in his new-found conviction, he swiftly manoeuvred his way into training and development.
The move to self-employment came four years later, in 1984, when the bank proposed a move to Toronto. Reluctant to leave Montreal, Loftus decided to go it alone. A shrewd operator, he managed to make the bank his first client in the process. He also laid the foundations of his future success, joining a host of management organisations and seizing every opportunity to get himself known, developing a parallel journalistic career writing for trade magazines and presenting a cable television programme – the Montreal Irish Show. “By this time, I understood the big wide world. I knew I had to get out there,” he says.
For the past 25 years, Loftus has delivered seminars across North America, in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, on themes as varied as time management, dealing with the media and intercultural relations. Along the way, he never forgot his beginnings, targeting some of his programmes at lower-ranking administration staff. “I know what it’s like to be at the bottom of the heap,” he says. His freelance career not only brought professional satisfaction, it also enabled him to find love: with a conference organiser in Indonesia, now his wife of 15 years.
His experiences, even in those early, aimless years in London, have brought him where he is today. “I was late in deciding what I really wanted to do, but my development was continuous after I left secondary school,” he says. He is happy in Canada, but misses home. “I think the people is what I miss most, the atmosphere, the stories, the jokes . . . ”