Elizabeth Draper - Film Business Executive to Gluten-free Baker

At the age of 48, Elizabeth was made redundant.  Oddly redundancy, gave her the permission to stop trying to make things fit her old identity and to attempt to use her other passion to do more fulfilling work.

“I can now do what I want to do, not what is expected of me. I could stop tidying up my CV which had begun to look less linear and less focussed as I lost faith in my old career. It was liberating.”

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Overview of earlier career

Elizabeth’s career began when she joined a small art house film distributor.  Over the years she moved to other small independent distributors where she gained experience in sales, marketing and buying.  She enjoyed the privileges of a life travelling all over the globe to attend film festivals to acquire new films for her companies.  In the later stages of her career Elizabeth grew to one of the most senior Executives in the independent film industry.

The trigger for change

A feeling of career discomfort had been rumbling under the surface for probably 5 or 6 years.  Elizabeth described it “something was telling me that my future was no longer here – part of me needed to do something else”.   Rather than making a giant leap into the unknown Elizabeth threw herself into consulting for a few years to see if she could quiet the career discomfort voice in her head by learning slightly different niches of the broader film industry or companies located around the fringes of the industry to understand if she could find more fulfilling work.

In one of those steps, she became an expert in the digital transmission of other art forms into cinema which was interesting but ultimately at the age of 48, Elizabeth was made redundant.  Oddly redundancy, gave her the permission to stop trying to make things fit her old identity and to attempt to use her other passion to do more fulfilling work. “I can now do what I want to do, not what is expected of me.  I could stop tidying up my CV which had begun to look less linear and less focussed as I lost faith in my old career.  It was liberating.”

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First steps?

The first steps were “baby steps”.  Elizabeth felt that she needed to brush off all ego and any desires she had to keep her previous organisational and financial status to allow her to do something that loved and to start at the bottom of a new industry.  Her first passion had been cinema and her other big passion is baking.   She started “where everyone starts” by baking in her tiny home kitchen and taking the results to a variety of street markets in London.   She began testing her bakes in Brick Lane Market to “understand if people liked my baking, if they would buy my bakes and how much they might buy.”   

When Elizabeth heard that Greenwich Waterstones would be opening the new Café W, she camped outside until she created an opportunity to meet with decision-makers on baked goods.  She offered to be their gluten-free baked products supplier.   “It took 8 months of badgering/negotiation/opening doors before they agreed to sell my cakes.”  It has been a huge success and now Elizabeth has been taken on as a main supplier for all Café Ws across the Waterstones chain.   

What Elizabeth learned?

“I had learned many things in my previous career that were crucial to the success of my new career.  My tenacity, my persuasive power, my negotiation skills all have taken me business to where it is today.”

“Over those eight months of trying to tie down a deal with Waterstones, I continued to attend street markets, sold to other independent cafes, learned about packaging, pricing, delivery and building a wholesaling business from my home kitchen.  I spent every penny of savings I had accumulated to be able to succeed.”  She describes having unwavering belief even in days where she was working 18hr days that if she couldn’t make it work, no-one could.”

What Elizabeth would do differently if she had to do it all again?

“I had all of these skills and understood the financial principles of business but in my old career I had always had the support of great finance strategists and accountants.  I wrongly thought I could do it all.  If I had to do it all again, I would definitely employ a partner whose financial skills complemented my operations, sales and marketing skills.  I would encourage others considering this move to find a trusted advisor who can help with investment and cash flow planning whilst you focus on the business.”

Elizabeth hinted that her previous career success had given her a certain status and identity which was difficult to walk away from - “If I had been less concerned about losing my identity as a successful senior executive in the film industry,  I’d have been much happier long ago.”

How it feels on the days when she knows she has made the right decision?

“I feel free. It’s liberating. Even on the days when I have financial headaches and a tonne of deadlines, I feel free.  I have confidence that I am walking on the right path and that whatever is thrown at me, I can handle.   I know that there is nothing else that I should be doing right now.”

“My close friends tell me that they are glad to see me doing this as I look so much happier.”   Not everyone thinks this though – about half of my old colleagues who see me selling in Berwick Street market in SoHo - the hub of the film industry – avoid catching my eye as I now no longer fit with their image of success.  The other half are delighted to see me, buy a box of cakes and say the board will be delighted to know where they came from.”

Any regrets?

“Not a regret so much but I do wish I had started earlier.  Those 5/6 years when I was doing consulting work in my old industry could have been more valuably spent doing more fulfilling work here.   Whilst I am not physically perhaps as strong as some of my younger competitors, I have gained so many skills from my previous career that they may not have.  Experience counts.” 

Check out Elizabeth's beautiful bakes here: http://elizabethdbakes.co.uk/