S3E10 The From Homelessness to World Rally Cars Edition Penny Mallory
James chats with Penny Mallory, who was the first and only woman to drive a world rally car. She knows how to compete and how to beat the odds. And also knows top performance requires even more than sacrifice and maximum commitment. It takes heart, insight, and the courage to keep going and the refusal to quit.
As a leading authority on mental toughness. She’s perfected the art of psychologically powered performance. Her innovative, challenging and transformational insight into how and why developing confidence, resilience, commitment, and focus is critical in today’s business environment.
James Nathan 0:54 Hello and welcome to The Only One Business Show with me your host James Nathan and in the studio today, a guest who if you’re a motorsport fan or a TV fan, you’re going to know her as the first and only woman to drive a world rally car. She knows how to compete and how to beat the odds. And also knows top performance requires even more than sacrifice and maximum commitment. It takes heart, insight, and the courage to keep going and the refusal to quit. She gets it because she’s lived it. As a leading authority on mental toughness. She’s perfected the art of psychologically powered performance. Her innovative, challenging and transformational insight into how and why developing confidence, resilience, commitment, and focus is critical in today’s business environment. As a child, she saw alcoholism and mental illness destroy her family fleeing home at 14, homeless, fending for herself on the London streets. Her life couldn’t have been more dangerous or more bleak, yet an inner strength and self belief and enabled her to take control of her future. She made the impossible possible and has since dedicated her life to helping others do the same. Really lovely to welcome Penny Mallory. Penny hi, how are you?
Penny Mallory 2:11 Hi, James. I’m fine. I am bearing up.
James Nathan 2:15 It’s, it’s a funny world we’re in at the moment. And as we’re recording this, UK has gone into lockdown. So when we come to air in, I don’t know, three or four weeks time, I’m really hoping Penny that the world will look a little bit brighter.
Penny Mallory 2:29 Well, we don’t know what what lies ahead. But what I do know is that there’s lots we can all do to take advantage and opportunity in this weird time. And I think you know, part of my passion really is finding opportunity in a crisis, finding, seeing challenges as opportunities rather than threats. That’s for me what’s exciting.
James Nathan 2:55 Well our timing couldn’t even will couldn’t be more perfect. Give us a bit of your history and your story Penny because you’ve…. the World Rally starts very exciting but it started in a very bleak place for you didn’t it?
Penny Mallory 3:07 Well, it’s a funny story. I grew up in a kind of slightly, well, massively dysfunctional family. My Mum was a manic depressive and an alcoholic. And I spent most of my childhood in psychiatric hospitals and behaving very weirdly. And I didn’t take it very well. Well, emotionally shut down. But anyway, by the age of 14, my Dad had disappeared and I decided just to get out, I couldn’t deal with it anymore. So I left and stayed with a friend’s family for a while and then I went to London, but it took a bit of a turn for the worse. I ended up in homeless hostels for a couple of years, sofa surfing and heroin addict boyfriend and all that sort of stuff. So life wasn’t looking great. But I’d always had a dream in my head that I wanted to be a rally driver and sort of when when the chips were really down and I was deciding whether or not I wanted to carry on with life I thought I’d just get in a rally car first. Because I’d always wanted to do it and thank goodness I did because it totally changed the course of my life.
James Nathan 4:09 But how did you get from sofa surfing to rally cars?
Penny Mallory 4:14 Oh gosh. Well, I didn’t have any money. So I borrowed some money from the bank. In those days, there were bank managers sat across a desk. So when I said I need I need some money for a car. I was lying. It was a rally car. But I borrowed, begged and stole whatever I could to drive rally cars, so I ended up with a debt that actually cost me 14 years to pay off. Yeah, I didn’t care about money. I just wanted to drive.
James Nathan 4:45 But what was it about you that could get you out of that, that situation that you’re in when you were homeless? How did you….. Was there a moment where you thought enoughs enough or did you just have that sort of inter grit to push through.
Penny Mallory 5:00 I think if I’m honest, and I didn’t know this at the time, but I know now reflecting back the adversity that I’d experienced was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was such a blessing because I didn’t realise I had built my bounce back ability, my confidence, my focus and determination when I was going through crazy childhood, that was just nuts. I didn’t realise I was building the most amazing sort of building blocks for my life, where if I set my eyes on something, my sights on something, I will not stop until I get it. I built all that completely unbeknown to me. So when I got in a rally car and thought, oh my god, I want to be a champion. This is amazing. The best thing I’ve ever done in my whole life. Then it was sort of natural to me to just to dig deep and get creative and innovative, find ways of getting sponsorship and a team and a car and I was just super resourceful because I trained myself to be for, you know, all the years leading up to it. So I was in a really good position. So I actually think the adversity that I experienced was the best thing that ever happened to me.
James Nathan 6:15 Why are there not more female racing drivers?
Penny Mallory 6:19 There are lots of female racing drivers. You just don’t know about them. Because the races You see, there’s a small grid of people and most of them are in lower championships that aren’t maybe televised. So there’s loads and loads of female drivers out there. Do you know what motorsport is the least sexist sport I’ve ever come across. There are no events that women can’t enter. There’s no restrictions. They couldn’t be more welcoming and inclusive. So in terms of the top top level, I would say that there’s very few men that get to the top and because there’s fewer women in it anyway, the challenge of getting a woman to the top with the money, the funding the talent, the skill, all that stuff that you know you’re talking about grains of sand on a beach. Millions of people want to do it.
James Nathan 7:10 You know I should have rephrased my question as why are there more women in the top flight of motor sport? I mean I’ve because I look at it…. I’ve just been reading Alan Jones biography, autobiography and I absolutely love Formula One and motorbikes. If you talk to me for long enough Penny, I can bore you to tears with anything with two wheels. But you look at it and think, well, there’s no physical reason why it shouldn’t exist.
Penny Mallory 7:34 It’s hard to reach that level. And it’s obviously going to be hard for women just statistically, so I’m not sure that we’ll ever see a competitive woman. There’s only a handful of cars on the grid. You know, the chances of a woman getting one of those is so slim. So there will be a degree of physicality because the G Forces they pull are so enormous but you know, women can train to be as as physically strong as a man.
James Nathan 8:03 They’re not all that big either are they most most drivers?
Penny Mallory 8:07 No, they are tiny their necks are enormous. Have you ever noticed the width of their necks, you can train for that stuff, but I think it’s a statistics game. There’s, there’s just not enough women out there that are good enough. There aren’t enough men out there that are good enough. So you know, there’s only 20 spots on the grid.
James Nathan 8:29 Yep, there’s 20 spots on the grid. And if you’ve got enough money, you can have one. Which always disappoints me enormously when you look at that and think, well, if my dad’s a Canadian businessman, I get to I get to drive for Williams. Which can’t be right, but I’m going to digress a bit for a minute.
Penny Mallory 8:48 Unfortunately in motorsport you know, the deeper pockets the higher up you’ll go. And that’s just the nature of the beast. But you know, there’s no, there’s no satisfaction in coming last in everything is there?
James Nathan 8:58 Oh, gosh, no, absolutely not. So when did you first drive a world rally car? When was that?
Penny Mallory 9:05 Oh gosh, it would have been in 1999. It’s so long ago. So I was making forward for a long, long time because I’ve driven forwards all my rally career for 12 years. And I didn’t want to leave the sport without having just an experience of the top level and I they just said no, they said no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. And I kept on, kept on, kept on and they said, okay, if you want to go in the world rally car, you got to be in Carlisle tomorrow, two o’clock. And we’ll put you in a Ford Focus. And there was no way anybody could get to Carlisle for two o’clock…. I was filming a TV show at the time. Anyway, I managed….. I did, I got a helicopter to take me from London to Carlisle and got in a world rally car the next day. And of course, I think, I think honestly, the team were expecting me to just not be able to do it. And I could and they will Okay, you can you can have a drive
James Nathan 10:02 Wow
Penny Mallory 10:04 So I got to drive it. It was phenomenal. I’ll never ever forget that day as long as I live it was the most exciting thing ever. It’s just the best piece of kit I will ever ever get to drive.
James Nathan 10:15 I can absolutely imagine I did some work years and years ago for pro drive. And so when we’re talking about 2000 and they had the the WRC cars for Subaru being built there at the time, and I got to put my head through the door of one….. there were three in the room and one of them was going to an Arab shake who fancied one and the other two are going to be raced. They were quite incredible things. Sitting in a bed set, hidden your hands 15, 14/15 years old. And in a helicopter up to Carlisle to drive a world rally car that is an amazing difference in life, isn’t it?
Penny Mallory 10:54 Well, it is. I never had my head in my hands though James to be honest because I never saw what was going on around me as anything other than a bit of an adventure. I knew I was going to be okay. I knew. I mean, I did have really down days don’t get me wrong, but I was happy. I was looking after myself. I didn’t have to look after my Mum anymore. I didn’t have to answer to anybody, I was in charge of my own destiny, which is something I’ve always held really importantly, you know, to me, it’s so important that I have control over my life. So I was excited that you know, everything was up for grabs for me. And yes, it wasn’t going my way. But I would…. I was always a survivor. I have to say I had hit rock bottom just before I got into rally car, but that changed everything. It was almost what I’ve been waiting for. And I don’t quite know what would have happened to me had I not found that rally school that day. It doesn’t bear thinking about really but I’m just glad I did.
James Nathan 12:01 What is it about, about that kind of mindset that? What? So let me rephrase my question, how much does our environment affect the way we behave do you think?
Penny Mallory 12:11 It depends what you read, I can only go but what what I see and what I experience and I think it’s massive, massively important. And I could ask you the same thing. How do you think your environments shaped you, your kids, your wife in, you know, the people around you? It’s, it’s, it’s massively important. Some of its genetics, some of its environment, but I believe most of its environment.
James Nathan 12:40 Okay. I’m surprised that you said that actually, because I can understand how much environment does affect people but, or are we talking about the environment that we make for ourselves rather than a physical environment.
Penny Mallory 12:54 And well both I think, the emotional and physical environment I grew up in an environment where you know, it was just messed up, it was so messed up. I knew in my head that it was messed up and better at the sooner I got out the better I feel, you know, better off I’d be. But, you know, I’ve worked with lots of young offenders and the environments that they grow up in, it’s hardly surprising, you know, in their mid 20s they’ve spent most of their life in institutions, young offenders or grown up prison and their environment has completely shaped them. I mean, some people are lucky that they will always see opportunity. And, and I was one of those. But I personally I think I think environment is is just nearly all about, you know, we build our personalities the way we react and cope and manage based on our experience of life.
James Nathan 13:57 And is it the same in business?
Penny Mallory 14:01 Yeah, I think so. I mean, I I have always struggled to find a defining line between professional and personal because, you know, I know we do operate slightly differently in those environments, but ultimately, we’re the same person. And if you have a set of values and you have a clear purpose in life and you know, it’s really hard to cut one off and separate them but I think in business the more you can see opportunity and you know, now is a time more than we’ve ever, ever known where we need to look for opportunity, not threat and the mindset of people right now is, it’s sort of volatile because people can go one way or the other and I just want to work with as many people as I can to keep them buoyant and keep them hopeful, resourceful, and keep energy going because I think you know, everyone’s housebound is potentially everyone’s energy will drop and their momentum will fall off. And that’s what worries me How long is it going to take for some will get back up to speed? I think we’ve all been living a different lifestyle for months.
James Nathan 15:13 There’s lots and lots of good that I really do hope comes out of the world we’re living at the moment. I also am very fear for the amount of bad that can come from, you know, the isolation the mental issues, mental health issues that can come out of this if we don’t look after ourselves, and, you know, getting out and exercising and doing those things just to change your environment. You know, massively important. What can people do though, if people you know, you talk about developing confidence and resilience. In fact, it’s really interesting the core values of my business are confidence, resilience, teamwork and fun. Sorry, confidence, resilience, commitment, teamwork, and reading your intro confidence, resilience and commitment and focus. How can we develop those? How can we strengthen those kinds of personal skills.
Penny Mallory 16:09 And it’s an experiential thing. I work with people to build all of those things. And for every person, it’s slightly different. And ultimately, nobody achieves anything on their own. You know, it doesn’t matter where you look on what you look at. Nobody’s achieved anything on their own people around us matter, building relationships with people, and looking out for people, having each other’s backs. This is absolutely fundamental to somebody’s success. And I think when you start to emotionally retreat with yourself, you’re at real danger. You’ve got to stay in contact with people, you’ve got to stay linked with people. People ultimately, are everything. But you can build resilience and confidence by trying things That you ordinarily wouldn’t, because you’ll need some evidence in your little bag to prove to yourself that you can do this stuff. So I set people… well we discussed experiences that they would normally move away from, and we urge them to move towards and depending on the person and the issues, it will change. But you know, we’re all stuck with the joint genes we’re born with, but we can all develop confidence, resilience, focus, commitment, these are all things that are absolutely not fixed.
James Nathan 17:35 So what is mental toughness when you talk about that?
Penny Mallory 17:39 The academics will say the academics will say that the definition of mental toughness is the ability to cope with the stress, the pressure and the challenges of life. And it’s a bounce back ability. It’s our ability to face danger, threat and get on with it anyway, you know, When stuff is chucked at us, we can still move forward. We’re not crushed by it, we don’t crumble under it. We just pick ourselves back up and keep going. That’s mental toughness.
James Nathan 18:12 So that feeds into what we were talking about there in terms of confidence and resilience. But what I’m wondering and I’m struggling with a little bit is sitting here now I’m looking out the window. I can’t leave my home for more than once a day. There’s a few things I can do in terms of getting in touch with people but how, what can I what little things could I start to do that will help me just grow that toughness a bit?
Penny Mallory 18:37 Well, I would I would have to sit and ask you what things you tend to avoid where you I mean, I could do a mental toughness assessment on you. And it would tell me. You would, you’d answer 48 questions and it spit out a report and it would show your your areas of mental sensitivity because it’s not weakness or your and the other end of the spectrum is mental toughness, that would actually show me. Ask the areas for you to develop. And so it’s a great starting point. But we’d sit and talk about, you know what, what things if you’re absolutely honest with yourself, do you think that are your weaknesses? What where would you think? Where would you like to develop? What do you think you ought to develop? What would this useful? And then we just start working on those things. And but it always starts, well, it is always just a big conversation.
James Nathan 19:26 Okay. And it starts with a whole lot of reality checking, I guess, where am I and what, you know, where am I now?
Penny Mallory 19:35 Exactly. And people being brutally honest with themselves, which quite often they’re not. Brutally honest and really open and transparent, and, and really up for it. If you’re not really up for it, you’re going to cover things up. And that’s not enormously helpful if you’re looking to develop really important life skills. So I do require people to that I work with to be brutally honest and open.
James Nathan 20:00 I talked with Lis Cashin last week and I went on the podcast last week but it will be a few weeks ago where this goes to air and she was talking about sort of a starting point in all of this is to accept the situation you’re in. Would you agree with that?
Penny Mallory 20:18 Well, I would really because seeing things as they really are as part of, its part of the point but also seeing things how you would like them to be goal setting, the moving towards a new place is equally as important. Where am I now? What is actually going on now? And where do I want to be? And what do I need to do to get there? What do I need to develop? What do I need to lose, drop? What do I, you know, it is about where I am now, but it’s also about where am I going? I’m… I used to so a lot of counselling and now I’m a coach. I always think counselling sort of looking backwards over your life and talking about what happened, which is very useful for some people but coaching, you know, where are you going? is probably more important than what’s gone behind.
James Nathan: In your experience that you’ve worked with leaders in so many immediately we start to quote the company’s Coca Cola and Waitrose, Tesco and Telefonica and Sony, I mean, it goes on and on and on. With that experience of that the leaders that you work with, do they have a clear vision all the time? Or do they have to work on it and develop it?
Penny Mallory 21:33: I’m really shocked at how often they don’t have a clear vision. And even more than that, even if they do have one, they don’t communicate it to people. So there’s plenty of people going out with these big organisations and they’re not really quite sure what the point is, what is it they’re actually trying to move towards what is, what is the goal and I think lots and lots of businesses and leaders are very guilty of, of, even if they’ve clarified their goal and mission, they just forget to communicate it, and they don’t communicate it regularly. You know, everyone needs to be told stuff over and over and over for it to sink in. So that’s what I see an awful lot. I also see, which is a little bit disheartening. You know, the purpose, the values, the mission, the statements that organisations make, which just don’t make any sense at all, they’ve tried to cram in every interesting word, you know, the current word, and it doesn’t actually mean anything to anyone. There’s no emotional buy in from people. So they’re just kind of wrong. That’s that’s the mission statement but it doesn’t mean anything to me. I don’t know why, or how I could contribute to that.
James Nathan 22:46 It’s a different thing. It’s a difficult thing, though, isn’t it? Because I’ve been working with with lots of businesses, I often start at that point with them and say, oh, you know, let’s…. especially when we’re looking at who they’re going to be recruiting into their businesses. You know, often you see these words on a wall and you think, where the hell did they come from? And if you ask them their answers, oh, that was just given to us. You know, the bottom there’s no buy in from the, from the people because it doesn’t mean anything.
Penny Mallory 23:12 That’s exactly right. There’s no emotional link in this. They, you’re right, they just see a little speech bubble on the wall with some interesting words in it. But it means absolutely nothing to them. And I think it’s such a missed opportunity, if you can really get people to buy in. Really get them enthused to following your vision that, to create this future that doesn’t yet exist. If you could really enthuse people to come on board with that you would have such an impact. But I think there’s such a missed opportunity with so many organisations to do that.
James Nathan 23:43 Isn’t that the key to leadership, being able to draw people to…. to buy people into your vision and then take them with you on the journey?
Penny Mallory 23:50 Entirely? Yeah. And I think a lot of leaders don’t see that necessarily as their primary role. And but for me, you know, it’s Once you’ve got people bought in, you can do anything with anyone. You know, if you’ve got them on side, you’ve only got one thing as a leader, and that’s followers. And if you if they’re not following you then what are going to do?
James Nathan 24:13 Well you’re a manager then aren’t you?
Penny Mallory 24:15 Yeah, it’s just a missed opportunity for me and that’s what I love working on that stuff with people.
James Nathan 24:22 And it’s something that… do you find people really enjoying working on it too. Is that something that they they find easy or difficult or you know?
Penny Mallory 24:31 It does come down to the emotion if it feels…. if you feel like you belong, you feel like you’re with a group of people that are like minded, you know, you’re all in it together. People do get terribly excited. It’s, you know, we love to be part of something interesting and innovative and different and challenging. Human beings love a challenge. They love to work together and you know, you bring all those things together and it becomes quite powerful. I just wish I saw more of it. I do see it. And when I do see it, it just thrills me. It’s so obvious when it’s working well, and the leader is absolutely got everybody following him like a Pied Piper. It’s, it’s an amazing thing to see. It just doesn’t happen as often as I would like.
James Nathan 25:18 Well, there’d be better businesses about if they did, I guess. But you’ve been some of these names. Some of these businesses that you worked with or are working with are quite phenomenal setups and got a very long way they must have had some of that at some point.
Penny Mallory 25:31 Well, I guess they have and people come and people go and missions come and missions go and the world changes and turns but you know, right now, the leaders that have done that good work up front, you know, before this Corona thing. These are the organisations that are going to come out on top because the people are so emotionally bought into that leader and that mission. They will be completely absolutely up for grabs to do whatever they’re told they will be there. Those are the businesses that are going to probably come out on top, the ones where the people matter the most. And that’s always been in a policy of that organisation. They’re going to be the really, the really strong ones.
James Nathan 26:13 I was talking to a friend this morning, who runs a clothing shop. And he caters to the kind of older generation. Obviously at the moment that’s a hell of a business to be, and he’s having a really tight time, like almost everybody is. And he was talking about the days when, before he worked in that industry, where people just try to make as much money out of each other as they could. And now people are understanding that actually, it’s about the relationships you build and the business that’s built around that that will see you through. And for kind of what you’re saying there, I guess is that, you know, businesses who really truly look after people, who think about their people will become bigger and better and stronger and more resilient as a business in total, and the others will hopefully disappear.
Penny Mallory 26:59 Exactly that, I mean, ultimately, it’s…. we’ve been through the 80s haven’t we when it was all greed and money and look what it did for us, and hopefully now we’ve all realised that it’s actually…. this is success is about building relationships with people, feeling energised, feeling enthused, focused, committed, you know, it’s exciting when you’re focused and committed. It’s really rewarding and people love it. And I’m really happy that you know, we’ve turned a tide and people are recognising that it’s all about people.
James Nathan 27:33 You are related to a very famous man, aren’t you? So, do you think being related to George Mallory that you know, who I’m sure most people know is the first man to conquer Mount Everest. Is that, Is that blood part of your makeup that makes you so strong to drive forward or is that just something that’s a really interesting thing to know about you?
Penny Mallory 27:59 Well, I don’t know, George Mallory was my was on my grandfather’s side. I think he was a cousin or something. So it’s a little bit removed. But I always thought you know, I wonder if George Mallory’s was in my family, do I have those adventurous genes? So I tried to, well I didn’t I try to, I conquered two of the world’s Seven Summits sort of in his honour, but I was sick of mountains after that, absolutely sick of them but you know, he was the first man to conquer Everest, but Edmund Hillary is the one that’s gone down in history for doing it. But let me just tell you an interesting story. When George Mallory was at Basecamp in 1924, I think it was. He said, I’m going to take a picture of my wife Ruth with me and I’m going to leave it on the summit. And I don’t quite know why he was carrying a wallet in 1924 at Basecamp of Everest.
James Nathan 28:53 There weren’t many shops there were there?
Penny Mallory 28:55 Well he also had a pipe and apparently they ate Foie Grad pate and they read Shakespeare after dinner and they dressed in tweed of all things. And they went up and he never came back down and his body was found 75 years later by Conrad Anker, a famous American mountaineer and Conrad went over his body, I talked to Conrad about this. He took all George’s personal items but there was no wallet. No, no there was a wallet they found the wallet inside his chest, his jacket but there was no photo of Ruth in there. So that’s all I needed to know that he actually he did make it to the summit and he was found dead just below the summit.
James Nathan 29:13 Goodness me I mean, we you look at people who climb, people like you’ve done you know, climb ridiculous mountains. I say ridiculous because nothing of the world made me want to do that. But I’m very, very…. I have massive respect to people who do but they do it with some pretty substantial climbing equipment. These guys did it in tweed and a pair of shoes, just crazy.
Penny Mallory 29:40 Yeah. I mean, if you look at some of the photographs and you think how on earth and the oxygen tanks they used it was the equivalent of carrying a teenager on your back in weight. You know how they did it? I just don’t know. So, my respect, I mean, I didn’t enjoy climbing mountains. I have to be honest with you. It’s really scary every day you think you’ll die. And there’s no one there to come and help you when the weather turns. It’s a very, very dangerous and scary thing to do. And I don’t ever want to do it again. I put everything on eBay sold it.
James Nathan 30:36 Much better off driving a very fast car round some lovely forests.
Penny Mallory 30:40 Yeah, and I don’t even get to do that anymore. I just get to talk about it now. I have been James, extraordinarily fortunate to have done some amazing things. And you know, I’ve worked all over the world and had an absolute ball. And that’s because of my mental toughness. That’s because I had developed it through adversity. So I know one of the things that I’m… I guess I’m passionate about saying is that it doesn’t matter what’s happened to you and actually what has happened to you could stand you in the best stead possible. So it doesn’t matter where you come from all it matters is where you’re going.
James Nathan 31:21 Well, that’s sounds like a very good time for me to ask you the big question. Penny, what one thing, what’s your big thing your golden nugget, your piece of advice that people can take to do now to do something different in their business today that will make it benefit today and better for the years to come? Would that be?
Penny Mallory 31:42 I’m gonna have to default to people. Having a really clear vision, a really clear vision and I don’t mean nonsense, silly, topical words, I mean a really clear vision of what you want to achieve. Getting a great, great bunch of people around you telling them and sharing with them, infusing them with that vision because ultimately you can’t do anything on your own you, you’re going to rely on people. So forging incredible relationships with extraordinary people. For me, you can’t go wrong. That is that is the key to success.
James Nathan 32:15 Fantastic Penny, thank you so much. It’s been such a great time chatting with you.
Penny Mallory 32:19 It’s an absolute pleasure, James.