“Told that talking about my struggles would make me uninvestable and look weak. Now I’m on the mission to change that!” – Amber Coster
We at BoxHuman are passionate about highlighting and celebrating inspiring humans; especially the ones who are inspiring, helping, and bringing light to the world. We do this to rebalance some of the negative messages we often hear, see, and receive daily. We met up quickly with one of these amazing individuals…
Hi Amber, it’s great to meet you. Without wasting any precious time let’s start by getting to know you. Can you please tell me a little bit about you?
I’m Amber. Founder of Balpro, Shout crisis text line volunteer, Chiswick’s number 1 fan. I’ve got an [arguably unhealthy] habit of helping people and off-the-chart empathy levels, a dry sense of humour, I “run for my life”, like to microwave my Ben&Jerry’s and I once danced for (and met) the Queen.
What a brilliant intro Amber, thank you! I was told that you are a founder and entrepreneur. Can you please tell us what is your business called and what’s it all about?
I founded Balpro Ltd with a mission to make business better. The name was born from “The Balance Project” but I wanted to create something truly unique – and inclusive company name. I believe it’s impossible to drive business growth without balancing the needs of employees. The days of the “Wolf of Wall Street” mentality are coming to an end (in every way!). To be able to drive sustainable business growth, we need a more employee-centric approach.
I work with corporates to assess how they are performing, holistically. We look at their performance results but we also assess their employee happiness and wellness, diversity, and inclusion. We additionally look at how equipped managers are to have real conversations with their teams, approaches to flexible working, how “bought-in” to the company mission and vision employees are, why that matters, and so on. There’s no one size fits all solution, but by working through this balanced assessment, we get to know the changes a corporate needs to create a safe and supportive environment, where employees can thrive and so can business.
What an incredibly inspiring business and something that is needed. Thank you for sharing that. In your own words can you tell us why you began your new business journey what inspired you to do this?
I joined a tech startup back in 2013 and helped take it from $100m valuation to $3.7bn acquisition, then through M&A integration. The acquisition made software M&A records and we worked relentlessly to earn that accolade.
It was a six and a half year journey where I quickly went from marketing foot soldier to regional CMO, and then, later on, took a holistic business role as regional COO. I loved it, it was my greatest love affair, but looking back I realise that I was almost suffering from some kind of corporate Stockholm syndrome – I’d fallen in love with my capture.
Approx five years into my role, I suffered burnout which manifested itself in a total mental and physical breakdown. I took two weeks off work and didn’t manage to return for six months. I was unable to walk for long periods or even walk properly, I couldn’t think clearly, concentration was impossible. I suffered extreme chronic fatigue, migraines, nausea, and loss of appetite, anxiety, and depression. For a chunk of these six months, I felt like I was doing little more than surviving.
I returned to “the day job” and saw things differently. I started speaking up about my mental health and realised others in and outside of the industry were suffering, daily, with very little support from their employers. The rose-tinted glasses were off! I realised I’d been wearing ‘sacrifice’ as a badge of honour, and in fact, there was no honour in that.
To leave a more positive legacy, I launched wellness programs internally to better support the team there but knew that for me, this wasn’t enough.
In June 2019 I left my [perfect-on-paper] corporate job to pursue the mission of making business better. Welcome, Balpro!
Wow, your story so far is very inspiring. Most people do not have the confidence to talk about the struggles so for you to turn yours into a business is incredibly inspiring. Can you please kindly tell us what you’ve learned from your own personal journey so far and what others should learn from it?
One of the most important things that I’ve learned is to listen to my body. I felt “sick and tired” long before my body and mind shut down, but I thought that I was some kind of human-robot and that eventually, that would pass. My body was telling me something was wrong, but I refused to listen. I took my health for granted which is something I’ll never do again. I now look after myself and my health like it’s a full-time job, knowing that it’s absolutely necessary to rest, to be kind, to pull back, and to take my foot off the gas. I have a different approach to exercise, to sleep, to socialising, even the way that I think is different now. It has taken a lot of training and a lot of discipline, but I’m now healthier and more productive than I’ve ever been to.
I’ve also learned that sacrifice does not equal success. Many motivational speakers will tell you the power of rising at 5.30 and accomplishing things that the weak won’t do because they’re still sleeping. This kind of management is not useful or sustainable. I’ve learned that kindness, compassion, and empathy are far more powerful management tools.
That’s some great and insightful advice. I’ve certainly made some great notes, so thank you. After hearing about the amazing work you and your business is doing, I think it’s a good time to start my next set of questions. To kick start these questions off I thought it would be good to ‘fire’ some BoxHuman Inspire business questions your way. So without further ado, let’s go…
1) Can you please tell us your five top expert tips you would say to someone who wants to operate their business better to grow more? What should or shouldn’t they do?
2) What three things should a company focus on to achieve hyper-growth quickly but sustainably?
I believe these things are intrinsically linked so the below tips work for both questions.
1. Be clear on your mission and values: These can be overlooked as corporate BS, but they can be used to create a real following. People want to be a part of something bigger, they want purpose, it’s a companies’ responsibility to provide this. For example, if that’s an exit (IPO, M&A) be bold about this, and let people know what’s in it for them.
2. Provide opportunities for mastery: Ambitious people want to continuously learn, develop, and feel like they’re doing a great job. Clear expectations, goals, and celebrations make people feel useful which is a huge motivator, as is knowing there is another level that you can help them reach.
3. Know your people: Actually, listen to them, recognise that they’re human and unique. It’s only then that you’ll know when to push someone and when to pull them back. Often this means providing great management training, very often high performers are promoted to people manager positions but given no training in how to interact and lead a team.
4. Kindness and compassion create loyalty: Recruitment and training are expensive, looking after your existing staff is far more economically efficient. Invest in them and work to continuously retain your existing workforce, the return on this investment is far greater than the costs of recycling a stream of new recruits.
5. Flexible working works: Trusting employees to work when works for them is the best way to accomplish tasks in the most productive ways. Empower your people to work to when their minds and bodies are most switched on, forcing people to sit at a desk for 50+ hours a week drives presenteeism, low morale, and poor results.
Wow, some great inspiring answers and awesome advice! Thank you for taking the time to share those professional and expert tips! Let’s keep the positive vibes flowing with some more Inspire questions…
1) Tell us one thing that makes you smile?
2) What inspires you to be you daily and why?
3) What is your favourite quote and why?
Smile! It’s a toss-up between my husband, Aaron, who supports me through thick and thin and is always able to goof around and take the heat out of any situation AND (drum roll) @JohnLewis who is not John Lewis the shop on twitter. That account (and @soverybritish) are my go to’s for procrastination when I’d like a smirk – they’re the only reason I still have twitter.
Inspires daily: A friend of mine, Jess Robson, set up a community called Run Talk Run which provides a safe space for people to meet up and do a 5k run in a safe and supportive environment. In a few years, it’s grown to 80 runs around the world, is free of charge and is accessible to all paces (sometimes the groups walk!). Her determination to keep this going is a daily inspiration for me. The group is full of mental health warriors, put simply, the most beautiful people.
My favourite quote has to be…
“No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness” Aristotle.
When I was at my lowest point I learned that so many of the greats have had serious battles with their mental health and simultaneously crushed it. Steve Jobs changed the face of computing, Nadiya Hussain, British TV chef, author and television presenter has been open about suffering from acute anxiety and panic attacks and Abraham Lincoln worked to end slavery. This quote perfectly encapsulates that.
4) If there was one positive thing you would say to someone to inspire and empower them what would it be and why?
5) Knowing you are a mental health advocate what inspires you to do this and why?
Empower: I’m scared too. I struggle too. I feel broken too. It may be a daily battle, but the battle is worth it, so let’s both keep fighting this fight, because there’s joy and hope to be had, and it’s often when least expected.
MH Advocate: When I was at my most unwell I didn’t know if I would ever “recover”. I knew survival would be a fight. The one silver lining I held on to was should I be able to get well enough to support others one day, I knew what that low feels like, and I felt a desire and responsibility to help lift a little piece of that heavy load. Nobody should go through that hell alone, but many do.
Your courage, strength, openness, and determination is very inspiring. It is such an honour to be able to highlight humans like you. What’s next? What future goals do you want to achieve and why? And…to finish off our Inspire questions can you tell me in three words how would you describe yourself?
I’d love to grow Balpro into a Global organisation that is the “go-to” for creating aspirational corporate cultures, and I’d love to it be cool to “make business better”. There’s still such a stigma around providing support in the workplace, it would be a great achievement for this to be celebrated as much as a record deal is, and of course, for people to understand the two go hand in hand.
Three words: “Gives a shit” or “I really care”
And lastly…A BoxHuman is an empowered individual. They will not be defined by society’s labels. They show the better qualities of humankind, such as strength, kindness, and inspiration. Can you please tell us what makes you a BoxHuman?
I’m unapologetically honest about my journey. I’ve been told talking about my struggles could make people less likely to invest in me, that it will make me look weak, this has only spurred me on. Whilst that kind of stigma exists we have a big job to be done!
“Thank you, Amber.”
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