USA Alumni Conference 2017: Session 1

One of the core principals of Flying Start is the pursuit of excellence. So, keeping this in mind the conference aims to build on the continued professional development of the programs graduates as well as strengthening the alumni network even further. To date there are just over 140 who are working across 5 continents in all aspects of the industry.

With this conference being the second alumni conference, it follows on from the inaugural conference in 2015. Back then the theme was ‘Branding and Reputation’, so as it moves Stateside this time round, the theme is ‘Masterclass: People and Power’. The idea was built off feedback from a number of the 51 USA based alumni.

From nine o’clock delegates started arriving at our ideal location here in the heart of downtown Lexington. It didn’t take long before the room was filled with the buzz of excitement. The conference provides the perfect opportunity for old faces to catch up as well as new contacts being made. With the delegates consist of a wide range of graduates from as far back as the inaugural group back in 2005 to as recent as a number of the most recent graduates. It’s a testament to the program’s success that the gap is eleven years and still going strong. Many of today’s delegates have travelled from a variety of locations here in the USA and some even travelling from Europe (Ireland, England and France) to be here with us.

Just after nine thirty, Clodagh Kavanagh got proceeding underway, welcoming and thanking everyone for coming. She highlighted one of the important themes of today, ‘people’. Most importantly, she thanked His Highness Sheikh Mohammed for providing this amazing opportunity that is the Flying Start possible before handing over to our MC for the day, Jocelyn Targett.


Session 1 (Be Your Own Boss) got underway with a discussion with our first speaker Susan Kellogg. She begun describing an attribute of success that crosses all industries and none more so than the equine industry. Having a strong and deep passion for the industry is immensely important as she related how it helps us to persist through the long hours and helps us is becoming resilient to failures and/or the bumps along the road. Some of the points raised included engaging with everything, reinventing oneself and taking the risk in challenging oneself. One point that personally resonated with me was her point of slowing down. Sometime we get caught up in the task at hand, failing to understand how we appear outwardly. She drew comparison between herself and one of the current trainees, having advised him to slow down, relax and enjoy the road, helping towards a more successful process.

Susan broached the topic of leadership, with the team that surrounds you having a big impact of the success or failure of your ventures, she cited the age old saying of being “only as important as your team”. This built on what she mentioned earlier whereby she hires into her weaknesses and requires a level of self-awareness that allows you to acknowledge those weaknesses. Explaining the value in having someone to bounce ideas off of.


When opened to the floor, Darren Fox posed the question of keeping a career fresh by either changing jobs of roles within those positions to which Susan stressed the importance of not ending up with a CV that reflects a career that grass hopped between companies, but rather challenging oneself within roles.

Delegate Jenny Barnett really challenged Susan, when trying to identify what Susan considers to be some of the key points to growth. Once again, the response reverted to the people of the business, “having a team that is open to change” being given the pole position of growth. Interestingly she separated listening to employees from employees being heard.

Unsurprisingly, it was an Irish man, Gerry Duffy, who went off schedule when joining Susan to delve a little deeper as well as getting a giggle out of delegates from his anecdote of his debut in skinny jeans. But on a serious note he reverted to one of Susan’s initial points on passion. Susan explained that her passion comes from an inner drive to win and the passion doesn’t always necessarily have to come from work but can sometime rather come from passions outside a career.

After a session that generated plenty of interest and though provoking questions, the session concluded with Jocelyn regaining his mic from Gerry.