"Putting your career on auto-pilot doesn't serve anyone well. Just because you are on a path doesn't mean it's the right path."“Don’t burn through your funds as this erodes opportunity for change. If doing something different is what you really want but you don’t exactly have a plan yet, downsize your financial expectations to give you that future freedom to choose when you do have a plan. “
Overview of earlier career.
University of Nottingham – studied Economics with French. Several summer internships within consultancies, but chose investment banking like most of his class. After 5 years and looking for change, took an MBA at Wharton, followed by McKinsey and a range of other big businesses such as Novartis and GSK. Worked and lived in various locations including: London, New York, Paris, Switzerland and Stockholm, Married with three children. Open University qualifications in chemistry and human biology, and Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA).
The trigger for change?
Before Anil’s 40th birthday, he began to reflect for the first time on his long-term career. He attributes this thoughtful period to the added responsibilities of being a Dad combined with the approach of a big birthday. Historically, he’d simply focused on enjoying each opportunity, progressing onwards and upwards while doing what he believed to be “the right things to be successful”. On reflection, he’d realised that he’d never actually questioned whether or not he was on “the right successful path” but has since recognised the existence of a fear of stepping “off the path”.
Anil admits to being interested in lots of different areas which prodded him throughout his life to continually challenge himself in different directions and to be “constantly learning new stuff”. For example, his interest in science found him taking on extra chemistry and human biology studies while working. This “new stuff” didn’t really sit “on the path” but just kept fuelling his need to learn.
He had begun to have early “small cog in a big wheel” feelings but took no action as he was on a well-trodden career path to country leadership within his company. This career focus, at that time, still excited him.
In his spare time, whilst at Novartis, Anil offered his Regional MD a piece of analysis on a new joint venture business that was to be set up. He offered it at the time with zero expectations, just wanting to utilise some of the market analysis skills from earlier in his career.
6 months later, he was offered a new position to lead the integration of the joint venture which allowed him the rare experience of setting up a ‘new start-up’ business within a big corporate. This was the first role where he felt crucial to the success of a business and realised what a big impact he could have. He wanted that feeling to continue.
At the end of his integration role within GSK, Anil’s career mindset was changed forever. After experiencing how much of a direct, tangible impact his decision making could have, the standard corporate career path no longer held an attraction. He wanted more of that type of exposure where fast, decentralised decision-making was encouraged and felt that was not available in standard corporate roles.
Anil simply couldn’t go back “onto the old path”. The P&L management rather than P&L ownership and the endless raft of meetings held no sway with him any longer. He had tasted the freedom of a start-up.
He began his research into start-ups and young companies which might be attracted to him. He applied for a few positions which he felt would fit his skill-set. When he came across the Werlabs (medical technology company that provides customers with health analysis via blood testing) advertisement, he didn’t hesitate to apply. The role was geographically perfect for Anil and his family, the role itself was exciting and would utilise his skills and the sector was both related to his experience and his extra studies.
Anil also had researched the anticipated cultural differences by talking to others in similar young businesses. One of those major cultural differences is undoubtedly the structure of benefits packages. Start-ups expect the individual to hold more financial risk than any big corporate would ever expect. Armed with this knowledge it was fortuitous that he and his family had made a decision about a year ago to buy a smaller home rather than rent their house which meant they could afford to take some risk on the package without too much pain.
What Anil learned?
Research is important. Figuring out which young companies were growing and trying to match his skills to those they required became a big research project for Anil. He recognises that his last 2 years within GSK provided him with unusually attractive experience for start-ups and that his attitude to that experience meant that he understood the culture shift between a corporate and a start-up. This is often a huge concern for young businesses when they consider applicants for their leadership team who have only worked in big corporates. This experience certainly lowered his risk profile as a prospective key part of a young business.
What he would do differently if he had to do it all again?
Anil appreciates that it may appear that all of his stars had aligned when he was offered his new role with Werlabs (right sector, right location, a package that he could afford to live on, within a young high-growth company with a great cultural fit). That said, he created his own luck by offering his expertise in the form of that market analysis almost 3 years earlier, which positioned him favourably when an integration lead was required for the new business within GSK. Perhaps not hiding your talents under a bushel can create opportunities where you do not believe they exist or do not expect them appear?
“Identify your fear. Financial fear stops people taking risks on financial packages. My wife and I dealt with this fear upfront. Our concerns were vastly reduced when we started to openly talk about our financial situation. When we understood exactly what we needed to earn to cover our minimum monthly outgoings, we took steps to allow us the freedom to consider moving to a smaller business because we knew that they would structure their financial packages differently. We talked openly about what could happen if it all failed and at what stages we would draw a line and re-design again. The fear has disappeared and been replaced with opportunity and back-up plans.”
“Big corporations offer a safety net and that can make some people lazy about their careers – which is dangerous. If there is no safety net, it forces people to be more entrepreneurial about their careers and their work.”
“Live life on the budget you give yourself to make sure you don’t rely on the safety net that working in big corporations allows. Don’t burn through your funds as this erodes opportunity for change. If doing something different is what you really want but you don’t exactly have a plan yet, downsize your financial expectations to give you that future freedom to choose when you do have a plan. “
“You have to open up to your partner, friend or someone you trust. They can plant a seed of change within you or you within them. Once you understand what it is you want – changing becomes the most natural thing. But it requires a supportive family. ”
“It appears that the only way to avoid the career shock in your 30s/40s or beyond is to keep asking yourself ‘are my skills still applicable?’ and ‘where else could my skills be applied to great benefit?”
“Putting our career on auto-pilot doesn’t serve anyone well. Just because you are on a path doesn’t mean it is the right path.”
“The time is right. Never before has there been such opportunity to be an old intern, to learn coding- even if you’ve no idea about it today, or to re-train to be anything is massive, it’s insane!”
How it feels on the days when Anil knows he has made the right decision?
“I feel so lucky. I love being part of a company where every big decision is made by something like 10 people. I totally love working in an industry and a company that excites me.”
Werlabs is Swedish health tech company helping people to focus on preventative healthcare through blood testing. By monitoring over time, people are empowered to intervene before major chronic disorders such as diabetes occur. Werlabs was founded in 2014 and launched in the UK this past June, working with NHS laboratories in London, Manchester and soon across the country. Visit www.werlabs.co.uk to learn more.