Impact Factory: the confluence of two disparate journeys into one shared vision.
Robin Chandler was born in Ashford in Kent and life ticked along with his parents and three brothers and a sister. An unexpected detour took his family to Australia and Robin, setting his adventurous stall out pretty early decided to drive a Ford Cortina from London to Perth (including a short drive through the Hindu Kush).
"I couldn't find anyone brave enough to make the trip with me, so my younger brother Nick, only 17, flew back from Oz to come with me: across Europe, through the Middle and the Far East and ending up in Oz in one piece but with a very dusty car."
Now he was a dual citizen and not sure exactly what next. His incisive and logical brain drew him to IT in the days when computers were huge mainframes and lodged in icy air-conditioned rooms and technicians were considered the eccentric creme de la creme.
But something was missing; all that left-brain creativity was producing a right-brain vacuum in need of emotional expression, and clock-punching was never all that attractive anyway. So what more perfect career move than to become an actor. From a safe, assured base, Robin went into one of the least secure professions possible.
Fortunately, Robin had flair as well as talent and in no time carved a 'proper' career as an actor, which, for him, eventually meant heading back to the UK.
As well as three seasons at the Royal National Theatre and one at Chichester, he did enough repertory and regional shows to have sampled just about every decent and indecent Indian restaurant in the land. His mobile face and facility to get into character saw him land 150 commercials and five seasons in Maid Marian and Her Merry Men, where he was completely unrecognisable (aside from his distinctive voice) as the motley character Snooker.
Never content to do just one thing, Robin was also building a parallel career or two. He also set up an actors' agency, Stage Centre Management with four other like-minded people who wanted to feel more in charge of their own career development. He worked successfully with his colleagues for nearly 10 years and built an outstanding reputation and is still going strong.
Working at the Actors Institute, Robin created exciting and unusual acting classes for all levels of ability and also ran career workshops for people who needed to take a long look at their careers and their lives in general.
Not content with all of that, he wanted to expand into the corporate world and became a presentation/speaking coach in the business world. Here he was really developing his exceptional skill in transforming individuals from inarticulate, even wooden presenters into engaging, interesting speakers who others wanted to listen to. He knew there was mileage in all of this but at this point wasn't quite sure where to go with it.
By the time our story begins, Robin knew that personal development was an important, indeed, an essential part of his life and that once again he wanted something else to get his teeth into and change was in the wind.
Jo Ellen Grzyb (some name, eh?) began her life in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of two actors and from a very early age was a rebel with a cause, getting involved in anti-war activities before the age of 12 and civil rights work from her teenage years.
A fascinating mirror to Robin, she is one of five sisters and a brother.
From Boston, she moved to New York City at 14 and had dreams of becoming a writer, went to and left University after a year and got kicked out of her next attempt at higher education (we told you she was a rebel), so that was enough of that. She got married very young and got involved in the back-room side of performing arts.
At the same time, having been encouraged by those who heard her singing in the bathroom, Jo Ellen trained as an opera singer, but life-type things intervened and she never got a career going.
However, she did work for 10 years in Development for the New York City Ballet and then on to the Mannes School of Music. From there she and a former colleague from NYCB set up their own arts fundraising and development company called Spuyten Duyvil Associates (too long a story to go into here), having a great time working with small performing arts organisations.
After a couple of years, Jo Ellen decided she needed a big change in her life. During this time she and her husband (from whom she got that fab name) separated and subsequently divorced (don't worry, there' a happy ending later). Having fallen in love with the UK, she decided to see if her Development work in the arts was transferable and by dint of her exceptional persuasive powers landed a job in a London arts organisation, from which she was sacked within six months for being too American.
"OK, so I was a bit pushy and demanding. It's what I was used to for survival in New York and I hadn't yet learned to temper my behaviour."
Fortunately, another organisation snatched her up and she moved jobs within a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, she found working in the arts in England quite frustrating and decided it was time for another change and chanced into the world of creativity and career workshops, ending up co-incidentally (or not) at the Actors Institute just a couple of years after Robin.
Not only that, she began training as a counsellor/psychotherapist as she has an intelligent and empathetic streak and a real skill in listening to others and helping them shift their lives. While training as a counsellor, she was briefly wooed back to the arts by the London Philharmonic where she helped them raise a tidy sum for their Development Plans and they helped restore her faith in the arts.
Meanwhile, alongside her counselling training, working for the Phil, running workshops and building a practice, Jo Ellen was also participating in loads of personal development workshops. In 1990 one, in particular, was a major turning point: Walking the Path of Power with Denise Linn in the Cascade Mountains of the northwest USA. Vision questing, meditating, sleeping under the stars, laughing uproariously, writing and taking a good long look at where she was and where she wanted to go: she knew that her life had to have a radical re-think.
Though running career workshops was great fun, she wasn't her own boss and she wasn't making a whole lot of money either. "I thought, well, I'm not making much money now, so I may as well start my own business and possibly still not make much money but I'll be the one calling the shots. I'll be walking my own path of power myself."
Having made the decision, the first person she saw on her return at the Institute was Robin. They knew each other casually, had participated in the odd workshop together but had never really talked about the 'deep' stuff. Jo Ellen announced that she was planning to hand in her resignation the following day and going it alone.
Robin leapt at her words and asked if she would consider having a partner. "The more the merrier, but with or without anyone else, I'm ready to start my own thing." At the beginning of this venture, there was a third partner but he left within a year of the company being formed moving on to other climes.
You're doing this during a recession?
Jo Ellen and Robin weren't and still aren't people to let much grass grow under their tootsies and within a couple of weeks, they gathered a group of very smart, creative friends together in Robin's basement kitchen for a brainstorming session and voila! Impact Factory was born (with special thanks to Dinah Lloyd for our wonderful name).
Conceived towards the end of 1990 and formed in 1991 during a recession, they knew the risk was worth taking. Right from the beginning, even though they hadn't really worked with each other professionally before, their values and vision dovetailed beautifully. They discovered that each of them had been putting in similar bits and pieces to their respective workshops that added up to a new approach to the kind of programmes they wanted to offer.
They also wanted this wonderful personal development work to be accessible to the corporate world and they focused on how to shape their 'offer' so that it answered the unique needs of the business sector while still maintaining the ethos of their new partnership.
Nearly 20 years ago when interpersonal skills training was kind of in its infancy most courses tended to point out what people weren't doing well or what was wrong and then tried to 'fix' it. Many a Presentation course had people feeling humiliated and de-skilled because someone would point a camera at them, video them stammering and uming and ahing and then tell them to stand still, not jiggle the change in their pockets, stop waving their arms around and stop saying er.
Hey, wait a minute! We know that some companies still run their training programmes that way.
Well, not Impact Factory. Robin and Jo Ellen knew that a gentler, less intrusive, yet dynamic and energetic approach to people's professional development could make a significant difference to how people felt no matter what the subject.
Their departure point was looking at what already worked about people and building from there. This can still cause a raised eyebrow or two, "Does this mean you're not going to deal with problems?" is a frequent question that hasn't changed over the two decades the company has been operating.
Much of Impact Factory's work raises an eyebrow or two and that's fine with the Founding Directors, who merged their two areas of expertise acting and psychotherapy to create a unique body of work that they call Professional Personal Development.
Nearly 20 years on, though expanded and developed, their vision and ethos remain true: training should be relevant, immediately usable, fun, energetic, empathetic, tailored to the people in the room, flexible, in-depth, inspiring.
The psychotherapy side of things is about understanding the feelings that people have when they have to raise their game, handle tricky situations or enter into unknown and potentially uncomfortable territory.
The drama side is about creating accessible and sustainable behaviour changes that are necessary when taking on board new skills, regaining or expanding confidence and developing good practice.
Together they create a powerful and engaging approach to training that works.
Impact Factory started modestly (actually, it started in a basement office in Primrose Hill only big enough for one desk, one computer and two chairs) but always had a big vision, always wanted its work and everything surrounding it to be of the highest professional level. The Impact Factory brand isn't about delivering perfect training, but rather it's about integrity and delivering the training that's needed on the day.
Now Impact Factory has a suite of training rooms in the prestigious and accessible Business Design Centre in Islington, London, has a fantastic and exhilarating group of trainers and Home Team members who keep our vision fresh and our ethos vibrant, a range of work both tailored and public courses from Assertiveness to Writing Winning Tenders and of course a lot more than one computer, two chairs and a desk.
Impact Factory runs
personalised One-to-One Executive Coaching
for anyone interested in
Personal Impact and People Skills
“Over the years I have attended plenty of trainings and seminars. This is the first time that I can honestly say that I felt I could put the skills to use right away, and I have done to great effect!"...
Mark Anderson - Head of Marketing Company - Go-Ahead Group plc
"Great course. The trainers were amazingly knowledgeable and insightful and complement each other. I really enjoyed the dynamic of the lovely people I met".
Karen Nicholson - Group Communication Investment Manager - Grand Union Housing
"I have been able to practise many of the things we learnt on the day. Understanding the different approaches people tend to take has allowed us to move some conversations forward."
Isabel Llewellyn - Head of Partnerships - Hostelling International
Freephone: 0808 1234 909
Training Course Accreditation
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This accredited course is suitable for corporate and public sector Continuing Professional Development Plans and Portfolios.