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November 24, 2010

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Coaching from the comfort of home

Australian Bronwyn Bowery-Ireland, with her Shanghai-based online organization, trains everyone from business executives to housewives to be the best they can be. Clients usually start out with a specific goal but along the way they become more "self-aware." Sam Riley reports.

One would never guess that Australian Bronwyn Bowery-Ireland educates thousands of people from around the globe from her living room.

But the executive coach is the founder of the International Coach Academy, an online organization that trains more than 5,000 aspiring coaches in 90 countries.

Based in Shanghai but with trainers and students around the world, Bowery-Ireland decided to launch her organization in China in 2005 because she saw a massive potential market both for professional coaches and coaching.

"Coaching is a great change tool and I thought where is the place with the greatest growth and where there is rapid change, and it was China," Bowery-Ireland says.

Operating from Shanghai, her organization runs more than 100 "virtual classes" a week taught by 60 trainers located across the Asia-Pacific region, North America, Europe and India.

Bowery-Ireland sees massive potential for coaching, which she describes as someone who works with a client to help them achieve their best.

Unlike a trainer or mentor who passes on their own knowledge, a coach uses a number of techniques, such as questioning and high-level listening skills to help a client arrive at their own answers.

"Like a coach in a footy team, a coach can't get out of their roles and play the game for you but they can help you perform at your best," Bowery-Ireland says.

A highly regarded executive coach who has worked with some of Australia's biggest companies, Bowery-Ireland says executives often seek coaching to deal with a specific problem in their business.

This typically starts as a business focused issue such as dealing with staff or achieving performance targets but often shifts to a more personal focus.

"There are few executives that say 'I want to be more self-aware' but what coaching predominately does is to make you more self-aware," she says.

"So they have much more of a business focus but on the journey of coaching they get to self-awareness."

Coaching is done almost exclusively over the phone, with Bowery-Ireland saying this method has several advantages over face-to-face meetings.

"We talk to people on a mobile phone, and it can make for quite an intense moment and I have to really listen.

"There is also big time anonymity and clients say things on the phone that they wouldn't say face-to-face," she says.

Bowery-Ireland receives coaching herself from a coach based in New York and she credits the weekly one-hour sessions for helping her stay focused, which increases her productivity.

Bowery-Ireland started her work life far from the high-powered environments of corporate boardrooms, working with troubled youth as the assistant manager of a youth hostel in Melbourne's Footscray suburb.

The hostel provided accommodation to wards of the state and handling youth who, in some cases may be violent, provided a steep learning curve.

"It was good training and I had to toughen up pretty fast," she says. "You had to learn pretty fast and to be street smart."

She went on to complete a bachelor of education and briefly taught at high school before seeing an opportunity in adult education.

"There was a massive gap in the market where adults in education were treated like they were dumb or children," she says.

Stints in delivering training for a number of different companies in industries as diverse as manufacturing to retail eventually led to her moving from training staff to eventually training management.

It was not until 2001 that she decided to build a coaching academy, which she built from a studio in her family's property in rural Victoria.

Shanghai was the last stop on a fact finding tour of China to see if she could pursue coaching here.

She says she knew as soon as she left Hongqiao International Airport that this was where she wanted to be based.

But it wasn't until 2007 that the family made the move to Shanghai, with her husband Steve working in the IT side of the business.

In Shanghai, she has a number of expat wives as students, with training in coaching offering a path to a new career and business that they can take anywhere in the world.

Her Chinese language syllabus is the first accredited course of its type in the world and the academy has plans to expand its operations, with plans to build content in a number of languages including Hindi, Spanish, Portuguese and French.

Bronwyn Bowery-Ireland

Nationality: Australian

Profession: Learning and development

Age: Okay, I have a bit of a hangup about age, hate being judged by it - probably need some coaching around this.


Self-description: Positive, adventurous, curious.

Favorite place: M1NT restaurant and the former French concession.

Strangest sight: A man on a bicycle carrying a full-size refrigerator on one side and a TV and microwave on the other - trying to get the balance right so he could ride along.

Motto for life: Be curious, see possibilities, live with passion and taste life.

Worst experience: I was in a taxi once with a female driver and a guy nearly ran into us. He then proceeded to abuse the woman and then tried to reach through the window to physically attack her. I was sitting with my children in the back seat, ready to jump out and confront him but worried about the driver taking off with my kids in the back.

How to improve Shanghai: Move away from trying to get that thing out of your throat and leaving it on the street. (spitting)

Advice to newcomers: Come to Shanghai with an open mind and don't compare or judge the city by your own country or culture. It's different and if you do this you will be able to see all the amazing things around you.


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