Hello and welcome to the Career Success podcast. I’m Jason Connolly. If you’re a regular listen, it’s great to have you back, but if you new, welcome to the show. In this series, every week we speak to the biggest names in business all across the globe. We talk about their career stories, the lessons learned, how they’ve overcome challenges, and what success means to them. We offer practical advice to help you in your career. If you have a passion for business, then this is the podcast for you.
In this episode I’m joined by Stuart Kaye from London. Stuart left school at the tender age of 17 with no A levels and modest GCSE’s throughout secondary school. His entire world revolves around theatre stage lighting, where he was destined to study stage lighting design at college after school. However, a different path took him to a tiny law firm in the West End of London as a junior administrator. It was here that his boss took a shine to him and encouraged to it to study law, which he did all self taught from home distance learning. The only time you ever went to University was to sit the licensed conveyancer exams. Fast forward this quite a few years, and Stewart recently cofounded a boutique property law firm in the City of London, which just started two years ago with himself and his Co director. It’s now employing 20 staff and has plans for national growth, and is doing incredibly well and really well known in the real estate market. Stuart, thanks so much for joining me on this episode of Pleasure. So before we talk about the law firm and what you do in current day, you left school at 17 and in your introduction we mentioned no way levels modest GCSE’s wanna talk us through your early days and how it’s all kind of got up to you being in law. Well I think it was pretty much being in the shadow of my family. They had all achieved rather well in their careers and I think that there was a pressure on them for me being the youngest to follow in their footsteps and I just I don’t know. Maybe I was just a bit lazy. Maybe I didn’t think I’d be. Able to do what they have done and therefore my schooling wasn’t terribly academic. Put it that way. And why was that? Was that because of the school? Or was it the fact you wasn’t? Yeah mate. I don’t wish to speak ill of the school. It wasn’t fantastic and I don’t think they had terribly high aspirations for the students back then. I think now the school is rather good, but I think back then it. Still really churn out students destines for Oxbridge. I had a very similar experience. I went to school, which I recently found that was in the bottom 5 secondary schools in the country. Thankfully it’s no longer here, so you went to this school. You wasn’t necessarily getting kind of invigorated for academia, but you ended up in the law, but your passion at that time was kind of the theatre to tell us a bit about that and how that kind of lead you on this journey took to legal. I don’t recall. How it is I got into stage lighting at school, but I was pretty much running all of the design for all the productions that we put on and then when I was about 1615 sixteen, I was at the local amateur dramatics theatre and then I worked at a couple of much bigger theatres, operating this lighting and it just became an absolute obsession. And that was what I was going to do and I lived breed 8 everything to do with yes, Sir. And it still is a great interest to be now, but back then that will everything revolves around it. Probably that might, I guess, if one were to be in the psychiatrists chair, that might say something about my personality that when there’s something I’m interested in, I go forward a billion per cent. And that’s what I probably did at school to the exclusion of everything else. And I think I was really interested me except theatre, and I think as one’s got older then you tend to get a lot more. Interests of experience and you can use that energy for some good I guess. But back then I was too young to realize that I work when I my first ever job when I left school at 16 years old was performing magic and I was out there performing in theatres. I was out there performing in venues all over the country and it gave me a really good grounding to be able to then get what my first employed job was. A Virgin Atlantic. What? What do you think that? That kind of world that that you know what you did in the theatre, gave you necessarily to go in and get that job in the West End as a junior administrator, ’cause it must have gave you something to be able to secure a role in a sector that you had one. No, you know academia. You didn’t have that you did. You know you didn’t have what a lot of people normally do when they went into law. What was it? Do you think that got you into that law firm? Was it the theatre? Per say? OK? I mean, that’s a really good question. That the truth is probably nothing to do with the theatre. I think it’s all to do with my personality that when I was applying to these colleges to study stage lighting design, why wouldn’t I and the syllabus came through? And I remember this like it was yesterday and we talked a long time ago and I still remember this syllabus being incredibly technical and still to this day I can’t wire a plug. But I’m very creative and I just thought this is not going to work for me and then my mother, who is a rather strong character, carted me off to the local career service. There were these two brothers, strong women, my mother and the careers officer. They sat me down and then this this rather stern careers Officer said to my mother, and I was I was. I was sitting there. I wasn’t involved in this conversation at all. They were completely mapping out my future and this careers Officer said to my mother so we can see it too. And my mother said, oh, but he’s very interested in in stage lighting, but it’s not so keen on going to college. So the careers Officer said, well, let’s forget that. What else can we do with them? So they had a look at all of these postcards. Kind of all of these jobs. And the one thing that I have been fairly good as is being confident and being good with people, and I said, well, why don’t we get him something client facing and there was this job going in this tiny little law firm. So Martins Lane and there’s probably about 10 people in the entire firm and it was to be receptionist administrator post Clark everything. And I remember going for the interview and just getting on with everybody there and I. During the interview, I think he must have lasted about an hour and then towards the end of the interview the interviewer, that’s going to everybody. So going up and down this flight of stairs meeting the senior partner, the secretaries and this was the first proper job interview I’ve ever been on and we just got on famously. And I was there for quite a few years, working my way up. But I think the thing that they saw in me was that I would be a grafter and I would work hard and I. Ideas, and that’s what I wear. My obsession transferred from the theatre to do. Not necessary law but to office life. How old was you there when you went into the legal for the first time 1717 years old? So wow yeah wow. Tell me if you think that I’m wrong but I. I’m guessing being in that kind of fear to environment where people are somewhat, you know, a lot of the time. Extraverts are very sociable. I I’m guessing as a young person you learn a multitude of kind of transferable skills. In communication and this. That and the other and all those kind of skills associated with being in that environment, I’m guessing that you know that must have been somewhat how you develop those skills to get along with people any kind of person which you know still doing good said for the law firm. I don’t know. I mean I, I really couldn’t say if I’m honest. I think with my personality I’m a fairly good listener. I love watching. I love observing. I love to what I sometimes call centre when I go to. I fully should say this, but when I go to networking events, I love to throw the grenade and stand back and see the reaction. I’d like to just observe people and certainly I mean not necessarily often, but anywhere where you have to mix with colleagues and you have to deal with clients and other professionals, it is very interesting to just watch and listen. Other people I’ve always found that fascinated with life. That’s probably why I like watching programs like Question Time. It’s just to watch the conversation. And how people? Certainly colleagues interact with other colleagues. So now in my current firm, which I’ve always done in all my firms, but certainly in particular with my current firm, I like watching colleagues interact with other colleagues. It’s very it’s very, very interesting. It sounds to me like you’ve got kind of a passion for emotional intelligence. Listening to people, being able to kind of read the psychology of situations, and that that was something that’s always kind of appealed to you. Yeah, yeah, I sort of always. I think this is something against something I probably got from my. Mother who used to work in charity shops and she was she just enjoyed being around people and I think with me. But then when I go to networking events you put me in a room with strangers are going to everybody that I guess that’s possibly a little bit of the there. The theatrical background coming out sort of being on stage and maybe underestimating just what the theatre you know gave you at that young age. And I think it may be sometimes when you step back you kind of think actually where have I got those attributes? From but you know it is very interesting now at this stage of life being the employer rather than the employee, and you must insert in your career. You’ll get to experience this a billion times more than I will candidates going to firms and not really knowing how they will get on with the employer. Because everyone has a different personality and some people would be a lot more competent sometimes too competent than others and a lot of people would be very shy, incredibly nervous, and So what? I always try to do. Whenever I’m interviewing anybody is to just have a conversation. I just want to try and see what the people are gonna be like, not necessarily under pressure, but with me. I’m going to get on with them or we get. Are we going to work well together and some because everybody is very different and some people who might be the shyest most nervous of people could actually be the best type of person for the job. So I think if we are all able to adapt little bit and give people patience. Adjust time and then they will. I hope, flourish, but maybe that’s too simplistic philosophy, but it seems to work well for me. No, I actually totally agree with you. I think interviewing and will kind of come on to you and kind of how you identify certain skill sets in a bit, but I think interviewing is an art form. A lot of people aren’t very good in it and to bring the best out in someone. My belief is you have the interviewer has to do that. That’s the interviewer that creates that environment for someone to bring themselves to someone to showcase just how good they are. And I think a lot of the problem when I don’t think lawyers are necessarily, and I know I’m generalizing here. I don’t think they’re always great. Interview isn’t bringing out those soft skills because it is the interviewer, but leads the interview. And it’s an art form in itself, and a lot of people interview who have never had interview training. And, you know, without going off on a tangent here, it’s about open questions. It’s about allowing someone. To demonstrate what they do, and you know a lot of people naturally ask closed questions you know, do you work hard? But of course someone is going to say yes, but if you were to say to someone, tell me about your attitude to work, that’s giving them the platform to then talk. So tell me about how you’ve gone from being this administrator to opening up a loaf of what was that journey like to you about how long have you got that? That’s a very short question that requires a 7 hour answer. 88 probably does, as everyone without people of this podcast whose answers are, you know, there could be 5 hours but walk us along that journey here. Quick time we want to, we want to feel what it was like for you. It’s been stages. I mean, let me be absolutely honest that when I was that 17 year old child at the law firm, first ever job, I never thought ever that I would one day be the owner of an offer. But I mean, if you have said to be back, then one day Stewart. You alone are. Look at all family in the City of London. I set your start raving mad. You sent me two years ago. It still say you’re bad, but you know what I’ve always done is and this is something I say to a lot of people. Certain interview if I think that they’re not necessarily the right person, but what I say to people is that whatever it is that you do, do it well, and more importantly than that, do it because you want to do it. Do it well and do it because you want to do it. And this is something a philosophy that always lived by. But when I was that little kid working on reception, I would get in before the senior partner. I get into the office at 7:00 AM, sometimes 6:30. I’d be there last one there, why, why, why should I need to stay there that late? Because I just wanted to do the very best and I wanted to put in the effort. So then after year I’ve got promotion, promotion out of reception. Was it because you were wanting to prove yourself or with no was it you wanted to prove yourself to others or prove yourself to yourself or no none of that. Never have really had that. Wanted to prove anything what it’s all boiled down to a desire to do the very best that I can. I couldn’t be academic. I couldn’t be a great day students, but what I could do was that which I wanted to do, I did well. So then when I got the opportunity to become junior Secretary to the partners, I was I was amazing and I was a fast typist. I got in before that partner arrived I. Out stayed late out sometimes come to the weekend to catch up on work. I would. I would never ask for overtime and that’s kind of where I just put in the effort because I wanted to do it well. And then I got promoted to senior Secretary and then soon after that my then boss said to me Stewart study the law and I said you’re crazy or ridiculous. I can’t be a lawyer, he said student study the law and I did so we found a route which was to do distance learning and it took. Quite a few years and with a few gaps and then eventually I became a licensed conveyancer, but I didn’t stop there. So even when I was a very, very junior trainee licensed conveyancer I just put in the effort I put in the hours because I wanted to do well. And then I found myself getting introduces. I’m now as I was getting introducers of work when I was a trainee and I still got some of those from way back then. So even now today I just now it’s not just wanted to do well but I want. Other people to do well I have to do I have to give back which the bosses that I’ve had over the years, some of whom experience really important and which I’m sure will come onto. But having a good boss is actually as important as having a bad boss be sometimes, and they will probably come into this bad. Bosses can be probably more important than a good boss. Yeah, I agree with you and I always say to people, but I think there’s a big difference between having a manager. Now, who wants to really be managed but or what I say to people is there’s a difference between a manager, Anna leader and there’s a difference between training and mentoring the and there’s a big difference between the two. It’s it does sound to me, sure, but throughout your career, it’s been your ability to connect with people even at junior level. APQE at an experience that you were building up those relationships, whether it be internally, whether it being externally with work. Kind of refers match really been a fundamental of kind of what Scott you along your corrects what’s got you into the law firm. It’s walked, Scott you clients. It’s that ability to connect with people I don’t know. I kind of I don’t know I think will be in kind. I wouldn’t use the word ability, I would just use the word personality just where I’ve grown incompetence and that you know so I would sometimes be invited to the senior partners home for Sunday for some. For Sunday lunch I just formed. Relationships and bonds with everybody that I worked for because that was important to me. Not necessarily because I wanted him to like me because I just wanted to. It’s not really been an effort, I think that’s like a talent, no shirt because you’re saying it’s not an ability, but there’s lots of people who don’t have the ability to be able to connect with everyone and kind of find out that common ground with can. It can be taught that a lot of people’s fear of competence can be nerve, so it’s usually the nerves that hold them back. But there are certain tricks that I that I give people probably like the magician in you. There certain tricks you can show people you can show people that the tricks of the trade, that there I think to be shared. I’m sure the magic circle would agree, but no. About these other wouldn’t even call them tricks. I would call them kind of skills that you’ve got in your toolkit, but you’ve picked up along the way for being able to connect and to be able to kind of build repor with people. I talk to people in my business about various skills like mirroring the art to kind of build on a relationship, but tell us a bit more about their skills and what they look like to you. Answer the question with a question what exactly is mirroring? Mirroring is the art to build repor with someone an it’s the art of being able to identify someone’s personality or someone’s let me give you a live example right? Someone’s telling me about themselves and they tell me about themselves, why they want to leave a roll. It you know what their motivations are, what their aspirations are, what they’re unhappy about, and then what I do at the end of that conversation. Or that point of dialogue is I will repeat back to them what they’ve said to me, so I’ll say what’s important to you. Mr Candidate is XY and Z, and this is what your motivation is and the candidate will say to me. Jason, absolutely, you understand me that the art of mirroring is, you know, showing someone that you connect with them on a deeper level and it’s a very powerful art, but you know, tell me about your skills are Stuart. I think it’s just that I like people. And even people that can be a challenge I find fascinating, so I always look forward to interviews ’cause it’s a bit of a. Yeah, it’s the anticipation. Who am I going to be talking to be like exactly the same when I got a brand new client? Who are you? What do you do? What are you buying? What kind of relationship are we? Are we going to have when I go to a networking event somebody I might have seen 100 times or somebody brand new? All of it. Just those social professional interactions. That’s possibly where I think I am. I’m quite good. I’m able to enter other peoples worlds quite easily and it’s just an interest. I have it I think with my particular area of law lends itself well to my personality and that’s possibly why I get through no fault of anybody’s people candidates into my area of law. Where the personality doesn’t suit that area of law, and it’s not their fault. And when I’ve had to, unfortunately, let some team members go over the years. And I say to them, it’s not your fault. It’s the works fault, because certainly my area of law. You have to be. It’s what I always call soft, cuddly, fluffy because you’re dealing with people that are the buying properties. Sometimes for lottery sums of money borrowed sums of money. Mostly there’s an almighty pressure. For the client, and there’s lots of concepts and terminologies they don’t understand, So what they’re doing is they’re putting all their trust in you. You have to put on the mask going to stage the beer performer. You’ve got to be able to carry them. You’ve got to get them to believe in you and what you’re doing and where. A lot of that goes wrong is not necessarily an absence of knowledge of the law, but it’s not being able to relate to the client for whatever reasons. Just to add to that. Where I think I’m just not to blame you in trumpet. I think what I am quite, really interesting. What you’re saying that I think because I work in recruitment and because I’ve been identify of skill sets my that’s what my job is. I identify a skill set I’m identifying yours and a lot of the things that what you are doing is you’re mirroring, adapting yourself to a situation, a person, and that’s really important for building relationships so you know kind of moving things on you now employ. 20 staff with your Co director. You’ve got plans for National Grove to tell me what? What do you think makes a good leader? Stewart of a business? If you’re if you’re passionate about what you do, you enjoy what you do and it helps if you’re good at what you do that can rub off on other people and that can motivate others to hopefully aspire to reach the level that I’ve reached. I’m still. I’m still on my. I’m on my journey. I’m still on my ascent and there’s still a lot that I want to achieve, and I think the fun thing is getting people on that journey with you. I know one thing I can’t stand, I can’t stand people to call me the boss or anything. I don’t like that at all. I like to be Stewart or my colleague. I think if you’re not saying that we’re the same that there are different levels of hierarchy, but I think everyone feels that they are part of the team. Nobody is above anybody. That’s certainly something that I learned from previous bosses that I just absolutely adored them and still do. I think that’s something there’s definitely rubbed off on me where we’re trying to do is you don’t just bark orders at people, but what you’re trying to do is you trying to persuade them to do that, which you’re asking them to do. Sometimes they might disagree with you. Yeah, I like that a lot as well, so why do you disagree with me? Tell me you know, OK, I see you got a point there. There clearly exercising their brain. But I think if you say it’s gotta be my way. Or the highway, then, are those really the kind of people that you want to dictator like is it? Yeah you, I’ve worked for plenty of people like that and I that’s been probably where I said earlier. The bad bosses have been most influential on me. Because, I said if I ever got into a position of authority, I will remember those people vividly and not be like them. And that’s been a great lesson. Don’t be as bad as they were because they did not inspire. They don’t get the best out of you, but I’m afraid. This is something you’re going. I’m sure you encountered a lot. A lot of people in power for authority or responsibility. They’re not trained how to be managers, they just have so clever. I’m a lawyer, I’m wonderful. I parcelled exams and I’ve now got this law firm do as I say, but they’re not taught the soft people skills. I wish some of them were, but that’s just life, isn’t it? It is and I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. I think that. You need to keep the dressing room on sides and I think that if you’re going to be a business but you know kind of says this is what you must do, this is how you’ve got to do it with no explanation as to the logic of why someone’s gotta do it, then you’re not gonna bring the best out in that person. That. You need to. The best way to get the best out of people is for them to be motivated. Wanna do it? If you’re just going to hit them with the figures, they can hit them with numerous KP eyes. That’s yes, you might get results from that, but you’re not bringing. I believe you’re not bringing the best out in that person. What advice would you give to someone Stewart, who perhaps once we get a lot of people who listen to this podcast who wants to go into legal, legal is their passion, but you know they’re not there yet. I’m not yet in a law firm they haven’t yet taken that first drives, and obviously your background in itself was one of you kind of came into legal through a very different path. It wasn’t one of unorthodox, yeah, unorthodox, yeah? But you know, sometimes that’s the best way, I think in life is, you’ve got life experience. You’ve done something else. You’ve got something to offer a law firm. So your journey. Your story is really interesting, but what advice would you maybe give to people who are currently maybe going through an? It’s a difficult time, but I think we need to acknowledge that it. But what advice would you give to people who maybe want to break into the legal sector? How to get in? What would you know your advice be now? Being someone who’s highly successful owning this law firm? What I think is important is to ask yourself the question, why do I want to go into law? Because when you are in law, you’re not really practicing all areas of law. We tend to become a specialist. Unless you’re like a GP, you’re working on High Street and you’re dealing with all areas of law, and maybe it’s not even what do particularly find interesting in life. You might find books interesting. Yeah, might find aviation interesting. You might find cars interesting. You might find computers interesting. But you want to do law then what you do is you pluck that particular area of life into laws like, well, I want to be an IP lawyer. I want to be on to be a litigator. I want to be I do it, but I think it’s important to have a particular interest and then to find that space within law because probably a lot of people will do a law degree for reasons that they just they feel it’s important to have a law degree. They don’t necessarily want to be a lawyer, but those. Other people that do want to be a lawyer? What type of lawyer do you want to be? And many people will probably just as I do encounter this a lot and when I’m hiring paralegals there they will say, well, you know I just want to get my I just want to get my foot in the door with a law firm or to get some experience. I had started my training contract yet I don’t really know which area will I want to practice yet. For me that just feels a little bit reactive. That feels a little bit late. Surely if you aren’t used agent to be asking those questions at that stage. Yeah, I think I think because clearly if you’ve got a law degree, you’re pretty clever because I have a degree, so neither have I. I don’t know I think just to find yourself some particular area of law that you’re really interested in. But then again, with somebody like me. I just by accident got into conveyancing. It just so happens that I was working as a secretary to my boss who was a condenser and then that’s just the I just got the bug from that and so now I I couldn’t even conceive of doing any other area of law. I mean my brother was a prosecutor. But there’s no more I could have done. What he has done to what he could have done, what I do. So that’s just where I don’t know if that is the question. What was the question? Yeah, I know I, I take from that. The question was what advice would you give to someone who’s maybe Junior in law and you know, once the kind of break into the sector and what I’m taking from what you said is ultimately to really give thought to one what it is you wanna do yet? But you know, take what it is you want to actually do. Think about it carefully. Then once you’ve actually kind of come to some level of understanding on what you want to do. You want to think about how it is you’re going to apply yourself and then kind of push forward. That’s what I’m taking from what you kind of said. No, I think because I think again to, not necessarily. Sometimes it’s good to separate the academia from the personality and to say, well, what will lend my personality well to that particular area of employment. And so maybe a brain surgeon wouldn’t necessarily want to be a pilot, so. I think sometimes it is important to just look at the things that you particularly know. You are good at, and that certainly something so many areas of law you don’t need to be engaged with people. If it is an academic area of law. So I think it is important to just look at the basics. One of the things that you particularly find interesting. What could you do well and how can we merge the two things together kind of fleshing out those skills that you might have? What’s your talents? What you know kind of builds upon. OK, our time is nearly at an end. So insightful, it’s been interesting, however, on you know one last bit of advice I ask you for is, you know, we’ve got people out there who listen to this show who are entrepreneurial. They want to start a business? What would be the one key bit of business advice you would give to someone who’s maybe considering starting up their own business to really be an expert in that which you are opening up so that I wouldn’t? If you’re not yet? Then to do a lot of research so when we set up our firm, there’s a lot of things that we had to learn very, very quickly, and very importantly to have modest expectations. Don’t go in with grand plans to be a millionaire within day one doesn’t work like that. You have to if you could. If you have very, very modest aspirations, and that’s what we did with our business planning very modest aspirations. Then it makes it easier to meet those targets and then you feel a sense of satisfaction and then you can go on to the next level and the next level. Don’t start with the bar so high. Set yourself a very low bar because then it makes it far easier to jump over. That’s what I would say and I think what I take from that is, you know if you’re going to start a business, make sure you’ve done your due diligence. You understand one the area you want to kind of being. You’ve researched it properly, you understand it, and make sure that. I think you might articulate it makes, so you’re driving a car with a steering wheel, so you’ve got some kind of level of direction. Stewart, thank you so much for joining this website has been interesting. It’s been insightful. It’s been great to hear your story. Bless you. Thank you. I enjoyed it. If you want to find out more about Stuart Kaye You can go to his company website which is Adams Kaye, that was Stuart Kaye, I’m Jason Connolly. This is the career success podcast, until next time goodbye.