Dealing with Austerity: Personal Branding – the Next Frontier? – Developing the Brand – Part 3

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The photograph is part of a May Day demonstration in Athens. Whatever you might think of Greece or the Mediterranean countries, I am sure that you will agree that good jobs are hard to find in most countries, especially for the young – Spain has 46% youth unemployment. Whether you are in your twenties, thirties, forties or fifties, I believe that for some people personal branding will help them make a difference.

This is the third of  four related blogs focused on personal branding in times of austerity. 

The first blog introduced my own twenty year old brand “Dr Alf Oldman” and argued that increased personal branding was  perhaps a practical alternative for individuals facing increasing austerity from Governments and commodification of labour and professional services from employers in both the Public and Private sectors.  

Meanwhile, the second blog focused on clarifying the concept of personal branding including:

  • Definition of personal branding
  • Why personal branding matters?
  • Do you have what it takes to build a personal brand?
  • How ambitious are you for your personal brand?
  • So is personal branding right for you?
  • Towards the next frontier?

In the first blog, I mentioned that twenty years ago  I started to build a personal brand called “alf oldman“. In the rest of this blog I shall share my story, including:

  • Reaching and retaining number one status on Google
  • Becoming number one specialist on LinkedIn
  • Ranking number one on Twitter in a specialist area

Obviously for people thinking about developing a personal brand, the timing and context are very different but it is hoped that there might be a few learning points that are transferable. My story is very much a case study and it is perhaps interesting to compare it to the generally recommended Best Practice for developing a personal brand. In my case, I became a specialist following my doctorate but there are other routes to becoming an expert/specialist in your own field.

Before moving on, let’s quickly remind the reader  that according to business guru Tom Peters, there are four basic qualities needed to build a personal brand:

  • Be a great teammate and supportive colleague 
  • Be an exceptional expert at something that has real value ability 
  • Be a broad gauged visionary, a leader, a teacher, a far-sighted “imaginer”, and
  • Be a business person, obsessed with pragmatic outcomes 


Let me introduce myself. I was a teenager in the sixties and my career was launched in the seventies – these were, of course, very different times to today. In the seventies it was possible to launch a career based on education, hard-work and reasonable social skills. There have always been those with privileged educations and social connections for whom doors seem to open magically. In my opinion, whilst there were prejudices at that time, for the average youngster there seemed to be more opportunity compared to today, if he/she wanted to work hard.

Personally, I was fortunate, having qualified as a Chartered Accountant at twenty-two and gaining a Master’s degree in Business by twenty-four. Outside of my professional accountancy training, my first real job was with American Express, where I spent four years and saw much of the World. My career then followed an orthodox route towards Finance Director in major multi-nationals. At the age of thirty-seven, I was the European General Manager of a US multi-national – this lasted until we did not see eye to eye with each other four years later in 1986 – we had a disagreement over the integration of a French acquisition and I took a severance settlement – I was beginning to learn that I had an independent streak. I was living in Paris and decided to return to my native London to re-establish my career. Doing a tour of the major head-hunters, I found that I was not regarded as a General Manager – they saw me as a Finance Director and reminded me that there were lots and lots of Finance Directors on the market. This was an important landmark. I began to feel that I was not understood and being treated like a commodity.

This was 1986 and it was common to see Champagne being consumed in the streets in City district of London from  noon onwards. It was the year of the Big Bang deregulation in the City. These were heady times, with Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister. Despite four years with American Express, the Financial Services industry did not appeal – it seemed far too brash and I struggled to understand how big institutions created value. I still have a bit of a dislike for the Financial Services industry and wish the UK had a Private Sector industry strategy that was less dependent on Financial Services.

In 1986, after not too much thought and a lot of networking, I decided to launch myself as an Independent Management Consultant. My first client came from a former colleague who asked me to conduct a stock-loss investigation in the UK subsidiary of a US multi-national and I quickly identified a fraud which everybody wanted to hush-up. Through my personal network, my second client was also a stock loss investigation but this soon widened into an IT rescue project. At the same time, I had become a tutor as French Grande Ecole  EAP, in Oxford (it’s now part of ESCP). I was following a portfolio career. However, being  familiar with a diet of feast and famine, I saw a recession coming and returned to permanent employment as a Finance Director in a multi-national, until I was made redundant four years later.

At the time of my redundancy, I had just started a Doctor of Business Administration programme – this was 1994 – the Corporate had paid the first year’s fees. I decided to burn my bridges behind me and went to my bank manager and borrowed funds to pay for my doctorate with a second mortgage, without any idea how I was going to earn a living and pay my way. By this time, I had learned that I had three important personal character traits:

  • Personal independence and a low regard for authority – my career was not built on saying “yes” to gratify my boss’s ego
  • High risk profile – I was prepared to take much higher risks than my contemporaries, and
  • I was motivated by “Pure Challenge

During my initial interview for my doctorate, my professor was probing my motivation for embarking on the programme. I remember that he summarized saying “so you want to build a personal brand?” I agreed and never really thought much more about it for the next five years or so.

The three years of my doctorate were some of the most demanding and fulfilling  my life, often managing on four hours sleep a night. Interestingly  I was not motivated by acquiring the cache or status of being called “Dr” like many of my contemporaries. Out of my cohort of twenty-four, I was the first to get my doctorate, quite an achievement in three years, working part-time – the vast majority of my contemporaries fell by the wayside and dropped out.    


After completing my doctorate, I had a developed a new network. I soon combined my old and new networks, set aside days for cold calling and eventually reestablished a career as an independent professional. Not particularly outgoing, I had enormous difficult in answering simple questions about myself, my motivation, direction and aspirations. Part of my network at this time was a young marketer and IT techie, who was developing web sites as a sideline for an income. We built a professional web site together and within a few months scrapped it and started again. The second site still exists today, well over ten years later. From the beginning, we had optimized the site to score number one on Google – and it still scores number one, with very little maintenance or optimization.

The  site was carefully crafted as a marketing proposition. Key design criteria:

  • Simplicity
  • Visually attractive and uncluttered
  • Good quality graphics
  • Punchy style without too many words
  • Focused around thematic “key-words” which represented my market proposition
  • Original content that differentiated my marketing proposition and was not easily copied by my competitors
  • Hyper-linked to original content

The “key-words” were critical in designing the web site for search engine optimization.

As I monitored my search-engine hits, I soon found that search engines were enormous consumers of new and original content and by leveraging hyperlinks, I could drive traffic to my web site. For example, two of  my early articles published on my web site were:

I took the opportunity to republish these articles on multiple sources on the web, for example on

However, it was my publications of books and journal articles, following my doctorate, that seemed to be the magical elixir for search engines. Specialist books published globally and marketed by Amazon were to provide a steady stream of web traffic for many years forward. The brand was born.


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