Old & new career together

Shadia Al Hili - Various careers to Food Entrepreneur

“There’s no point telling our kids that they can be anything they want, if we show them we’re too scared to be what we want!”  

“In 2016, at the young age of 45, I reached my now or never moment.”

“I’m simply happier when I’m driving my own destiny - not being in the passenger seat of someone else’s dream.”

Overview of earlier career

At the age of 26 after finding herself a newly single mother and struggling to find a job after the Manchester bombing in 1996, Shadia began to sell shoes from the back of her car. Within days realised she was making a profit! 

After doing a basic Women into Business course, she launched the first ever independent shoe store in the famous Affleck’s Palace and from there, onto a stylish clothing unit. 

Five years later, Shadia spotted a gap in the beauty industry. Her Moroccan-born mother had taught her the artistry of threading as a young girl. 18 years ago, the popularity of the Kardashians saw this art trickling across to the UK. 

With zero beauty experience, she saw an ad in a glossy magazine suggesting Harrods 5th floor Beauty department were struggling to find therapists, let alone teachers who knew the art, to meet demand.

She called the Beauty Manager, secured an interview later that week and was employed on the spot! Commuting between both Harrods and the sister company in Harvey Nichols she quickly attracted a high-income, celebrity clientele who were hungry for the latest L.A. craze and would pay £50 for a 15 minute treatment. 

While she appreciated that being employed meant that her employer paid for beauty courses to advance her career, she struggled with restrictive, time-based employment rules and felt her life had become controlled. 

12 months later, even though she felt fearful about taking on sole financial responsibility, Shadia decided she had to take the plunge.  She set up her own beauty business, specialising in threading, with a beauty concession in one of the best hair Salons in Manchester (James Roberts) and shared their red-carpet-loving clientele. 

Her reputation saw her faithful clientele follow her and the business evolved to teaching others the art of threading. 

Once again, she was fully in control of her time. Even though Shadia understood that Saturday was the busiest day for a beauty therapist, she refused to work on Saturdays. Weekends were reserved for her kids - to watch her son swimming or to take her daughter to dance classes. 

The trigger for change? 

“One day I was making Ful madamous - a fava dip which is a favourite staple in the Middle Eastern diet. It was one of the many dishes my parents introduced me to as a kid growing up. 

I made a fleeting comment to my sister wondering why it wasn’t available to buy ready-made.  

Something triggered.

It was a lightbulb moment. 

But, this time it felt different. I truly believed this was my calling in life. With only one problem:I knew NOTHING OF THE FOOD WORLD!

First steps? 

I kept working in my beauty business (3 days a week) so that I could finance and test the new business, Cuzena, from home (2 days a week).  I did that until I couldn’t keep doing both...and stay sane! 

My ex-clients, many of whom had become great friends, implored me not to change career. 

People around me could see that my life was financially settled, so it didn’t make sense to them. I was fully booked everyday, weeks in advance and couldn’t take on new clients.  I was the one-man-band providing for my children and taking them on lovely holidays. So, financially, others didn’t think I should rock the boat.  

It wasn’t about the money. 

I just felt I had more to give. 

I owed it to myself not to stay stagnant just because it was easier. 

I needed to know who I could be. 

I wasn’t done with my life story. 

I knew I had more to give. 

I just didn’t know how I could truly do it or where to start. I knew nobody in the food industry let alone the food world! 

I think other people’s fear of failure can easily influence you and make you want to ‘stay safe”.  It took time to convince myself that I could and should do it.

Then I decided...F*ck it, I’m doing it! What’s the worst that can happen? I could go back to doing brows and waxing fanjitas until I’m 65!....that was the worst thing that could happen...I could always go back! 

In 2016, at the ‘young’ age of 45, I reached my now or never moment. 

I had to know IF I could really introduce this amazing food to the world. 

I re-mortgaged my house and got the cheapest, shared office I could find as a base for the dream to become my reality. 

I’d never owned a laptop. I couldn’t even copy and paste. I’d always been creative but I was not techy! I got free lessons at Google and before long I was in the kitchen, sending emails and dropping samples to deli owners who were potential clients!

Ful madamous was not on the British market. It hadn’t been done but, like everything in my life thus far, that wasn’t enough to deter me!  

I see Madamous, just like Houmous, which was introduced to the mainstream by Waitrose. I’m doing the same with Madamous.  I know that sounds ambitious but if your dreams are not scary then you have to figure out why they are not scary enough! 

Shadia 2 products.png

What Shadia learned?  

  • Dreams will remain dreams until you take action. 

When you take action the road opens up to you. You must take action and those daily steps will take you closer to whatever you want. 

  • Don’t fear failure - learn from it instead.  

So what if you fall flat on your face? Get up! Next time you’ll know to put your hands down first! And you’ll never have to live with the regret of not trying.

  • You have to believe it’s possible and not be deterred just because it’s difficult. 

There was a time when you couldn’t read this line. You were probably pushed to invest time to learn to read. That’s a clear example that your ability improves only when you put the time in. You cannot undo your ability to read - it’s yours forever. 

Growth in any area is success and that is yours forever!  

  • People say ‘if it was easy everyone would do it’. I think that’s such BS!

If it was ‘guaranteed’ everyone would do it. There are millions of people that work hard for years in jobs they hate - which is far from easy but a monthly wage is guaranteed!

That’s the difference between those who choose to walk their own path. It’s not guaranteed to work or be successful.  

The success for me lies in your ability to take action even if success is not guaranteed..

  • Beware the employment trap.

Employers see your value and ensure they tie you in with ‘golden handcuffs’ or more training. You see it as personal growth, they see you as a commodity who can deliver more in the same hours!  

Either way you’re now invested too and legally bound to stay for a period of time, even if your not happy! It's a trap!

Choosing when and how you work is...priceless!’

  • Know your worth. 

Believe me, if you set your own rules or boundaries, your customers will adhere to them

In the beauty business, I knew my worth. I never worked on Saturdays even though it was the busiest day. 

I never lost a client because they made time to fit into my schedule.  Even if I did lose a treatment fee, it certainly wasn’t measurable against the quality time I gained ensuring family time at weekends was not compromised. 

  • A pay cheque to me is as addictive as crack but we accept it like sugar!  It grips you for years and convinces you that you can’t do without it. But, you can drop the habit! 

The security of a monthly cheque is truly addictive. 

The comfort of a regular monthly pay packet creates a false sense of security. Worse still, you just do your job and go home without knowing how great you are. Or what you’d be actually capable of achieving if you gave it everything! 

People are so fearful of losing their stability they convince themselves they’re better off.  Even though they are largely controlled 5 days a week with time restrictions: when they start; when they eat; and when they are “allowed” to go home.  To me that’s an open f*ckin prison!

  • Becoming self-paid is exhilaratingly addictive. 

Once you’re ‘self paid’ you’ll never want anyone to pay you again…they won’t be able to afford you! 

You get to control and choose how you spend your day. 

You work hard but on your own terms. 

  • Don’t try to reinvent yourself. 

Be authentically you or the mask will slip. It’s ok if you don’t know everything in your new field - you don’t have to! Life is a learning process.

  • The only reason we don’t follow our ambitions, ideas or dreams is because of FEAR.   

It’s so easy to think about what we could lose that most people never consider what they could gain. 

I read a lot. I get inspired by people who have the courage or tenacity to travel a path less travelled. I know, it’s scary but necessary, if you want to do something amazing!

In building Cuzena, I knew it had to be different. I wasn’t going to be a one-man-band this time. I want to create a legacy brand, to build something incredible, to make a difference employ people and be the best example I could be to the two people I love most, my children Eilsel and Zena.

  • Why not me? 

Sometimes, women especially, talk themselves out of their best ideas.  

For instance, if no one in the market is doing what you want to do, we can think that there must be a good reason that no-one has done it and conclude that there is no point of trying.  That’s just fear of failure talking. 

  • I’ve trained myself not to be afraid but I work at it every day. 

I’m as scared as everyone else but I start every day getting my head in the best place to perform and to reduce my fear. 

I always start with gratitude for my health and the health of my family. I use powerful affirmations, meditation, journalling, exercise and gratitude to help me. 

I also pretend I’m living my last day as often as possible. It pushes me beyond my fears of rejection. On the days when life gets too hectic to practise, I’m less productive.   

  • Grow a pair! 

Accept that failure is part of the journey. Getting up after every fall allows us to grow and get better.  I’ve experienced lots of failures in front of many and plenty of “I told you so” moments. 

But the only opinions that matter to me are from the two people I brought into this world. I am their example.  There’s no point telling them they can be anything they want if I’m too scared to be what I want! 

  • Some days are bloody tough!

The road is full of tough setbacks, knockbacks and many lonely hours! However you control your own time and to me that’s everything. You owe it to yourself not to live a life of regret, wondering ‘what if’ had you just had the courage to try!

  • The glory moments happen in the dark.   

The reality of owning a business is that you work harder and longer hours than most people do in jobs. You don’t have a boss to congratulate you when you do something well (or remind you that you missed a target!)  But it’s all worth it. 

Self employment empowers you in every facet of your life. It speaks volumes that you are a person who had the courage to act which shows belief in yourself. 

If you can go to work everyday, you better believe you’ll show up for yourself everyday with gusto!

On the days you just don’t have the resolve that's ok too, because we are human and sometimes life just gets in the way...your A game will come back.  

  • It’s about the journey not the destination. 

I set out to put Ful Madamous (the fava beans dip) on the map and available to the mainstream. I have succeeded in doing that. 

Our first big launch was in Whole foods and then Selfridges. We have many independents in the pipeline since getting a national distributor listing.

We’re in talks with a major retailer which is kind of unbelievable really.  

I just got my first unshared office and have employed three people for the first time. 

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

It feels right! Satisfying. It’s motivating having no one to answer to.  

I love the freedom of not being controlled. 

I feel like I owe it to myself to see how far I can go. 

I’m simply happier when I’m driving my own destiny - not being in the passenger seat of someone else’s dream. 

It has stopped being about now and is about building something for the future.

Regrets?

None!

I wish I’d gone for it sooner, although I’ve reached a time in my life when I believe everything happens for a reason. 

I truly believed we arrived at the right time - people want to go back to healthy eating, there’s a rise in veganism and plant based eating there’s so much understanding of the benefits of eating pulses etc perhaps the stars were aligned for me to launch Cuzena. 

If you’d like to find out more about Shadia and her business Cuzena, contact her here:

Buy their goodies:

Stockists: Whole foods, As Nature Intended, Selfridges, Marigold, Cotswold Fayre.

Twitter: @cuzenabrand

Instagram: @cuzenabrand

Facebook: @cuzena


Other career change stories you might like:

Drew Boyd - Airforce to Marketing to Academic Career

“Never let a year go by without developing your professional career or personal career. There are so many individuals I have seen or met who have not lived by this life rule.  When they reach their mid-50s, they are dead-men walking because they haven’t stayed relevant.  They have stayed safe.”

“I’m 64 and technically retired but if I did retire, what would I do?  I look at my 89-year old mother who is still running a successful business and think…that will be me.”

Drew Boyd - Something tells me this chapter of his career is unlikely to be his last.

Drew Boyd - Something tells me this chapter of his career is unlikely to be his last.

Earlier career

Drew has had several diverse successful careers, initially working his way up to the rank of Captain in US Airforce in the nuclear missile division and later in strategic war planning but he knew long-term his career would be elsewhere. 

On leaving, he took up a position within United Airlines where he was the youngest sales manager leading a team who were all much older than him.  Ten years into this chapter of his career, after completing his MBA he was deciding whether to become a function or an industry specialist when he was head-hunted to join Johnson & Johnson in their…wait for it…gynaecology market development area.  Even though he had known nothing about that area of specialism, Drew flourished there for 17years becoming an expert in systematic creativity before retiring for a short time.

His trigger for change

Shortly after he left J&J, Drew received a call from the Dean of a small college in Chicago asking him to head up their new marketing faculty.  After one semester he received extremely positive reviews from his students and decided to begin the fourth chapter of his career as a full-time professor. Today he now spreads innovation across an entire university campus.

Drew’s first steps:

“The first step towards the current chapter of my career began with an openness some time ago to new opportunities. When I was asked to do some teaching after my MBA, I had a young family and said yes to some extra work on the side.  I continued moon-lighting and teaching on and off in one way or another throughout the rest of my career as I truly enjoyed the feeling of sharing ideas”  

What Drew learned about career change:

·         Lean into things that you are sure that you can’t do.

This is where growth happens.

 ·        Careers have to be driven with intention, but we also need to layer in some opportunistic meandering.

By that I mean that we need to say “yes” to doing jobs that others are not willing to do, to take some risks that others might not wish to and to put our hand up for roles that we are certain that we do not know how to do…yet. This adds that extra something to a career that leads to growth and relevance in both the short and the long term.

·         Never let a year go by without developing your professional career or personal career.

There are so many individuals I have seen or met who have not lived by this life rule.  When they reach their mid-50s, they are dead-men walking because they haven’t stayed relevant.  They have stayed safe. 

·         Managing your career means managing your relevance.

I made clear choices throughout my career to put my hand up early for projects, to get in on the ground level and to get out before their peak and before I got stuck. I see lots of people staying too long on projects where they might have done great work but they get stuck and this impacts their futures.

·          Work hard to be on the life-boat

If your business needed to be re-started tomorrow, would you be one of the chosen few that would be on the life-boat?  The only way that you get to be on the life-boat is if you have continually stayed relevant. 

Your functional expertise isn’t enough to keep you highly relevant or crucial.   If you stay stuck in Supply Chain or Finance or any other functional area, it’s simply not enough.  You have to constantly learn and that involves being outside of your comfort zone.  You have to be continually learning and evolving into that crucial member of the life-boat.   It’s a choice. 

·          Surround yourself with a small group of valued advisors – your own board of directors.

You need a confirmed inner circle throughout your career. These people offer you their valuable counsel and are interested in your valuable counsel in return. They can be colleagues, mentors, specialists, family members or neighbours but they have your back and offer valuable opinions.”

·         If career is important, never stop renewing yourself, learning and growing

Learning and growing is exactly how to move on from a transition period. For instance, I spent 5 weeks in Ottawa with one of the world’s foremost guitar makers, learning how to make a guitar.  I’ve now designed a creativity experiment around teaching students how to make their own acoustic guitars.”

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

“I feel just great!

No two days are the same. I get up, my feet hit the ground and I throw myself at whatever diverse challenges are in that day.

I’m 64 and technically retired but if I did retire, what would I do?  I look at my 89-year old mother who is still running a successful business and think…that will be me.”

Regrets?

“None at all!” 

 Find out more about Drew by checking out his new book – So, You want to be a Professor and his first book Inside the Box at:

www.drewboyd.com

Other career change stories you might enjoy:

 

Andy Eaton - International FD to owning high-growth accounting firm

“I love my work now. I learned that I am never going to retire. I’m going to be carried out in a box."

"In my previous career we were all just looking up through the branches at that dead wood in their 50s. At a certain level you just had to sit still staring up at them, waiting for them to fall off. I’m on a different path now."

Career overview:

Trained within PWC in London then moved into industry with Smith Kline Beecham as it was then.  Spent decades moving up the ranks of mostly internationally listed Pharmaceutical, FMCG and latterly engineering companies.  Started a small consultancy business selling to mostly American client-base which collapsed after the September 11 disaster.  Returned to Finance Director roles within corporates and private-equity owned businesses. 

What triggered a change?

Andy described a gradual erosion of work enjoyment over quite a few years. 

In his earlier career “I would generally move on when I realised the work was less interesting.  I realised that between 1993 and 2015 I had spent 40-60% of my time travelling globally.  In the height of the mergers and acquisitions trend, I found myself regularly scanning the newspapers to see if we were in talks to be acquired. In short, I was having less and less control over my destiny.”

“I was 49 when I finally realised that even though I had always been fairly good at securing new jobs I was sitting in front of Managing Directors in interviews and just not connecting with them.  I got feedback that I was too expensive or that I was too opinionated but I had a feeling that I was maybe too old, too grumpy and perhaps not mouldable.  

I got the sense that these MDs wanted change but they just wanted someone to make their change happen, not make the best change happen.”

A final wake-up call arrived when Andy realised that the role of the CFO had changed from commercially supporting and enabling business change to governance, share price protection and endless board presentations. 

“At the ripe old age of 49 I made a decision that I wanted something different.”

First steps?

I got out a piece of paper and a pen and wrote down absolutely every job I could do that didn’t require a qualification I didn’t already possess.  The list included publican, taxi driver, letting agent and about 30-40 bonkers job titles. 

At the bottom of the list I wrote Accountant. I didn’t love book-keeping, I’d never worked in a small business but I did know book-keeping and accounting and thought that maybe I could do it in a different way.”

“I started to research the market asking friends who had their own businesses how they did their accounts, what more they’d like, how much they pay for their services etc.”

Then I decided to go for it.  I changed my LinkedIn profile, set up a company and found my first customer. I had no idea how much to charge but we worked it out together.  I then realised that I needed to get my network moving within the right circles but totally different circles than I had operated in for all of my career.  I joined a BNI network (www.bni.co.uk) which didn’t have an accountant.  I told everyone I met what I was doing and even found a new client in my gym.  Each customer has referred new clients to me.  Now, just over 2 years later, my own client base is the main source of my new clients.”

What did you learn during that process?

“In the first year, I did a 2 day a week contract which helped me make it through financially while doing some intensive personal learning.  I’d had a 3 decade career in finance but this was a different kind of financial work.”

I learned that the business model had to be scalable to make it successful so I worked on different business model ideas.

I learned that stress comes at you in different ways. I now wake up at 4.30am most mornings worrying about the cash. But I can do something about that – it is somewhat within my control. In my previous world, I would wake-up worrying and working on things where the success of those projects/ideas/plans was outside of my control.  I spent most of my corporate life wondering whether the sword to drop. I know which one I would choose over and over again.

I love my work now. I learned that I am never going to retire. I am going to be carried out in a box.  In my previous career we were all just looking up through the branches at that dead wood in their 50s. At a certain level you just had to sit still staring up at them, waiting for them to fall off. I’m on a different path now.

What would Andy do differently if he had to do it all again?

“I would have worked harder on securing the base level in the short-term so that I could have got to the longer-term vision quicker.

“I always advise my clients to make sure that when they get a degree of success that they don’t buy a new flash car or get distracted by a new business venture. Easily said, tougher to do. I tell them not to get cocky.” 

How does it feel on the days you know you’ve made the right decision?

“A major difference is that I see my kids more. For so many years I left before they went to school and I’d return when they were in bed. Or I would travel the world for 2 weeks at a time.

I know for sure that I’ve made the right decision every Friday at 4pm when I take my 13-year-old to the local pub. I have 2 pints and she has 2 pink lemonades whilst holding court and entertaining the locals on what teacher X has done at school that week. It is a fantastic start to the weekend.

I also never travel on a Sunday night or come home late on a Friday evening. I’m just not grumpy at the weekend anymore.

I don’t miss the futility of big corporates, especially at the higher end. I don’t miss the point-scoring.  I don’t miss the Christians and Lions moments when you spend an age preparing a presentation for the board and travel half-way around the globe only to watch it get pulled apart or worse thrown out because something had changed the whole landscape.

I make my own choices on how I spend my time. I don’t get dragged into pointless meetings. I have control of my working day. I am not beholden to anyone except my fee-paying clients. I really enjoy the flexibility of being at my desk between 8am and 4.30pm, being with the kids for a few hours and working later if I need to.

The business is successful enough that I have had to employ a house-keeper to make sure we all eat and enjoy the quality time as a family.  

Regrets?

“None.” I noticed a slight hesitation and probed Andy for more detail. “I should have done it sooner…but I wasn’t ready and my network wasn’t ready.”

“I should have probably also taken my own advice and not bought the Tesla!  But I did and it is sooo worth it!” (see photo above)

 

 

Liz Wilson - Teacher to Micro-Baker

“Don’t give up the day job.” 

Over time, Liz decided to combine her old and new careers.  “It was very scary but I started to teach bread-making and that’s when I had the sense that it would truly work as a full-time business.”

Liz Wilson

Liz Wilson

Previous career overview

An early career in marketing.  When children arrived, re-trained as a primary school teacher.  In her third career Liz has re-trained as a baker and runs her own very successful micro-bakery.

Trigger for change?

Liz loved teaching but as the children grew up she knew that she wanted to end up doing something in the food industry.  She was a very keen home baker and had always baked cakes and biscuits with the children but was attracted to an advertisement for a course in “how to set up a micro-baking business”. This course “ignited” something within her. 

First steps?

“That course changed me - I became bread-obsessive.  I bought books, googled recipes, baked bread constantly and was determined to make bread successfully – just for me – not as a business idea.  I offered to volunteer in bakeries and cooking schools – just washing up to begin with.  Then over-time we’d get talking about bread and I’d get to help out a bit more in the actual baking.  I learned so much and met such amazing bakers.” 

“When I think about it, all of the people on that initial course were women in transition.  Either women with new children or older children leaving home, women of a certain age.  They had either had enough of something or were at a cross roads and wanted more of something else.  If you ever need to think something through – make some bread.   It’s mindfulness. You have to stay in the moment to knead and it feels great.”

The initial course which Liz joined gave her one-third of the full Bread Angels accreditation and access to a network of micro-bakers across the UK.  “This meant that I could access support from a huge network of people who have done it before.  These bread angels are all over the country and we meet for a drink, share ideas, go on training courses together and offer support to those who need business support.  I’ve met everyone from new friends to professional mentors through that network.”

What Liz discovered?

“The hardest thing was to sell that first loaf.  You can’t test the product.  It was so easy to give it away but friends kept telling me to stop.  I didn’t want the criticism if it wasn’t good enough…if I wasn’t a good enough baker.”  Liz had an unusual brave technique to test her baking confidence – she entered the Home Bread Awards and was delighted to be a runner-up. This raised her confidence to a level that she felt she could sell that first loaf.

One piece of advice she has for those thinking of a midlife career change is “Don’t give up the day job.”  Liz remained working part-time as a teacher in her local primary school but on her days off she kept learning her new craft, practicing hundreds of recipes, personally delivering her bread to the doors of customers.  She then received an unexpected boost of a little bit of local PR started to grow the business organically. 

Over time, Liz decided to combine her old and new careers.  “It was very scary but I started to teach bread-making and that’s when I had the sense that it would truly work as a full-time business.”

She owes her success in this new part of her business model to a combination of her old career and her stage of life.  “I wouldn’t have been as good at teaching bread-making if I had not had all of my teaching training and years of life experience.”

“I knew nothing about business but I very purposefully began to learn things and attended all sorts of training.  I even got a bursary to do a 1.5 day training course at the School of Artisan Food I started to do tutorials and webinars on everything from accounting, to social media marketing, packaging, PR and photography for food.  If you really care about what you are making, it’s very easy to want to learn everything that relates to it.”

What she would do differently?

“Support from others is key. There is so much free support for new businesses out there through seminars/information/networking events.  It’s fantastic.   I was never confident about selling me and getting people to buy into me but I’ve appreciated that I am part of the story behind my bread.”

“I’ve learned so much through networking and talking to people in similar situations.  I’ve bartered bread for services at these events.  You never know who will come into your life at these events and how you might be able to help each other.  You’ve got to try to be the best you can. I put a lot of pressure on myself to try to the best I can all the time.”

“I even teach others how to set up their own micro-bakeries now. Micro-baking is very attractive to women because it starts at home and can be fit around jobs and family.”

“The media presents entrepreneurship as a young person’s game – it’s not.  When you are creating something that you care about, you want it make it the best it can be for your customers.  If you don’t know how to do every bit of that – it’s so easy to learn.”

“Have a go – you just never know what could happen.”

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

“Everywhere I go, people ask me ‘what’s next?’ There’s so much pressure to grow. I could have my own bakery which would be open 9-5 but being bigger give me anymore?  I’m not entirely sure why I would do that.  I have a great, profitable business.  I deliver to my customers sometime in the afternoon so there’s no time pressure.  I walk downstairs to work.  I can have a day off when I want to.  I feel blessed.  Most days I think - am I really doing this AND getting paid for it?  

“There is magic in the process.  I feel joyful.   I love teaching people to bake – it can be transformational.  Baking comes from the heart.  I love bringing joy into other people’s lives.  Baking is a slow form of therapy. I’ve got a lot to lose if I took the next step.”

“I sometimes have to forget my age when I walk into these networking events as lots of people appear much younger.  I have to forget my perception of my age.  But, bread doesn’t care what age you are.  I forget my age when I’m working.”

Regrets?

“Not one!”

 

 

Kate Gregory - Aerospace & Defence career to Gin Distilling

"We made sure that the risk of failure would not impact us financially.  Zero financial risk.”

"Part-time was the only way that we could have done this as we both have children and mortgages. Our investment was in time and effort."

Kate Gregory - Outside her Gin Distillery in Dorking

Kate Gregory - Outside her Gin Distillery in Dorking

Overview of earlier career.

Early career in the defence & aerospace sectors.  First job at the MOD found Kate accumulating more time flying simulated combat sorties than most RAF pilots, whilst evaluating future systems. Worked her way through the ranks at MOD before moving through the ranks within a private company and ultimately leading international innovation projects - initially based in France and currently in UK. Three young children (7, 5, 5)

The trigger for change?

Kate engineered her return to UK after 5 years in the headquarters in France but found that interesting roles at her level were far and few between. So she continued to perform in her old role from UK.   When her children started school she was constrained by the assignments she could accept while still making the school run. She felt frustrated by not being able to find interesting roles from which to have an impact on the business. 

The trigger:  There was an exact moment.  She remembers traveling to a board meeting in Paris. While driving to the airport, she was listening to a radio show discussing the current global gin renaissance and micro-distilleries. She felt a flutter of entrepreneurial excitement and in an instant knew she would start up a micro-distillery.   Kate called her good friend Helen to invite her to join her in becoming part-time gin distillers. By the time she had got on the plane, she’d also researched how to make gin, had assessed the market opportunity and mocked up a rough business plan.

First steps?

Together, Helen and Kate agreed their mission “to make the finest gin on the planet”. They did a little more research into the market and financial viability and decided to take the time and effort to create an ultra-premium gin.  They assessed feasibility in terms of time, effort, split of skills, accessibility of gin making equipment and agreed their plan of attack : “we can do this” if we start on a very small scale and grow in line with demand and our readiness.  The Gin Kitchen was born in Kate’s kitchen and launched in November 2016  http://gin.kitchen

We invested the money that we would usually spend on gin to fund purchases (a still, the pure alcohol base and botanicals) and tested recipes for months. ‘We didn’t want to rely solely on our own judgement’.  They invited a big group of gin-loving mums over for blind tasting sessions and watched what happened.  The bottles of their hand-crafted summer and winter gins were sipped dry whilst bottles with other premium gin brands were left. “That’s the moment we knew that this would work”.

They launched The Gin Kitchen in a Red Bar in Dorking, Surrey, where Kate lives, with a cocktail designed specifically for the event “the Woodcock” (http://gin.kitchen/images/woodcocks.jpg) and very quickly were stocked in 3 bars and 2 local shops.  When those sold out and they wanted to order more, “we had yet another confidence boost”.  More and more venues came on board as “people seemed to be really passionate about the gins and the word spread".  The market reaction was so strong and their confidence so high that they took a bottle into Fortnum and Mason’s and asked to speak to their spirits buyer.  He loved both of their gins so much that he offered them “Spirit of the Month” twice in 2017.  They couldn’t accept the first offer as they simply weren’t able to make the stock fast enough but happily accepted the offer of a later date.  Dancing Dragontail exceeded Fortnum and Mason’s expectations and stocks had to be replenished twice after selling out over the course of May 2017.   Bear in mind The Gin Kitchen had only launched in November 2016.

What Kate learned?

“Having an awesome business partner with complementary personality and skills has been key.  It’s not just great to have someone to share the workload with, it’s really good fun when something brilliant happens and we can share the glory.  In a partnership two heads are better than one.”

“In the extreme uncertainty of start-ups you could spend months trying to reduce risk without increasing chances of success.  I love making decisions – in minutes rather than after 6 months of risk assessment, by trusting my intuition and then working through any difficulties.”

“A great deal can happen with an idea, 2 jerry cans of base alcohol, a still and some juniper.”

“I am creative.  I used to spend hours drawing every night when I was a child so I was very keen to design the label for our new winter gin.  When the time came to design our summer gin label, I realised that my talents didn’t extend to water colour so we asked our friend Helen Sweeting to paint a butterfly garden for us. I adored the professional results and was excited about commissioning the design of our new Absinthe from an amazing local tattoo artist and I think it's perfect. 

“Part-time was the only way that we could have done this as we both have children and mortgages.  Our investment was in time and effort.  We spent evenings and week-ends trialling recipes, navigating all the regulations, distilling, bottle-labelling and delivering stock to customers.   We still do but we have some extra help now.

“Grow at the rate that you can afford to grow.  We were limited in the amount of gin we could produce by the amount of ingredients that we could afford and could only buy more when we had sold our stock, and been paid.”

“Our attitude and our growth model in the beginning meant that even if this turned out to be an elaborate hobby and we were left with 80 bottles of fabulous gin that only we loved – that would have been fine. We probably only spent the amount we would have spent on gin in that period anyway!  We made sure that the risk of failure would not impact us financially.  Zero financial risk.”

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

“I wouldn’t change anything. But if I could go back in time, I would have started The Gin Kitchen two years earlier to catch more of the earlier upsurge in interest in gin.  We are tracking so well, it’s hard to imagine it being better but we would have even faster traction – I’m not complaining at all though.”

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

“It feels great being creative all day.  Being involved in everything from gin distilling, label design, launch planning, marketing, operations and delivery all involve creativity.  Even the seemingly “boring” elements like risk assessment or designing processes behind 5* food hygiene ratings etc. feels creative. There is a level of care required in every activity if we are to continue to aim towards creating the finest gin in the world.”

“I sort of hope that my children catch a little of the entrepreneurial spirit.  The twins are too young but my 7 year old was playing war games with a big group of friends recently. He had organized a team of boys to collect spent nerf and he had set up a shop selling them.”  I think that entrepreneurial spirit might have seeped in already!

“We feel happy, proud and confident in what we have produced and we are having such a lot of fun along the way. “

Any regrets?

“None - every aspect of this has been fun.”

 

6 months later after our interview Kate got in touch to tell me that The Gin Kitchen has now grown to a size where she has been able to move full-time into the business leaving her old career behind.  When I asked how she was finding the new shift she replied  "I'm loving every minute." 

Click here for more stories of individuals in their 40s, 50s and beyond who have changed careers successfully.
 

 


Find out more about Kate and Helen's Gin Kitchen by checking out their website and following them on social media. 

http://gin.kitchen   @theginkitchen

Kate Gregory Absinthe launch invite.jpg

Anil Saggi - Leaving behind a successful career in giant corporations to join a start-up with huge potential

"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. “

Anil Saggi 2.png

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 gained earlier in his career. 

6 months later, he was offered a new position, by that same MD, to lead integration of the joint venture. This 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.

First steps?

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 my skills to those became a big research project for me.

  • 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.”

Any regrets?

"None."

 

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.

 

Martine Robins - International HR Director to local HR Franchise owner

“I think I should have made the leap sooner. I felt that now might be my last chance - not to start a business because you can always do that - but to start a business that you can grow into something that is sustainable - this is my focus.”

Martine Roberts.png

Overview of earlier career.

A 3 decade career within international technology, engineering and manufacturing corporates.  Two daughters (now teenagers) who grew up with a mum who commuted across Europe constantly.

Trigger for change?

Martine felt that corporate life had changed dramatically in that it seemed to her that political goals had begun to over-shadow people goals - which is where her passion lies.  Also, her rapidly approaching 50th birthday had prompted deep reflection across all areas of life.  Her conclusion from this reflection was that she needed to take control of her career and indeed her fitness.  All the travelling had taken its toll on her body so she embarked on a very successful personal fitness transformation involving numerous HIIT sessions a week and a simultaneous career overhaul.

First steps?

Martine began researching the local competitor market for independent HR businesses and discovered that the market appeared fairly saturated.  She made the personal decision that being truly independent (i.e. a sole trader in a competitive market) was too risky.  She then began a detailed investigation into a franchise opportunity which would offer a little more support in terms of marketing/websites etc but would still allow her to run her own business in line with her own values – this was a non-negotiable element of her new career choice. She found The HR Dept that ticked all the right boxes.

What Martine discovered?

A key discovery for Martine during her career reflections was that she had “missed learning new things” and she also felt that she had “become a little detached from HR on the ground” and missed that connection.   Her mantra had always been that HR should “educate and communicate” so she designed her business in a way that she gets to work with individuals who realise they need AND want her help and advice.  To be able to do this gives her great satisfaction.  

What she would do differently?

I think I should have made the leap sooner.  I had toyed with the idea when the girls were younger but discounted it for various reasons.  It felt too uncertain."

“We can talk ourselves out of doing these things very easily.  What-ifs can be very off-putting” especially if we only consider the negative possibilities.   

“I felt that now might be my last chance - not to start a business because you can always do that - but to start a business that you can grow into something that is sustainable - this is my focus.” 

I look back now and imagine how much bigger and better my business would be if I had started it then. However, not being one to look back but only looking forward, I realised that the sooner I started my business the sooner I would start to realise my goal and be able to work to my own agenda.”

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

“When a client who has recognised that they needed help, takes my advice and experiences a positive outcome and then thanks me, I wish I could bottle that feeling and sprinkle it around the world!” 

“I feel like I am helping people who need my help and those people also appreciate what I do.  It gives me great satisfaction. It’s a win win.”

Regrets?

Martine admitted that she does miss the big benefits package but this also acts as a motivator to want to succeed in her own business.  More importantly, knowing “the positive effect on her ‘work/life’ balance has been priceless”.  This is borne out by the story of a conversation with her eldest daughter who mentioned that she loves Mum working from home.  Martine explained that her business was in growth phase and when that young business is big enough she would expand into premises away from the home office.  Her daughter pleaded “Promise me you will not go back to constant travelling”.  “No fancy benefits package will ever compensate me for the time I am having with my children since starting my own business. As well as having help local businesses.”


Martine Robins – The HR Department, Woking

Martine Robins is an HR expert gained from many years in corporate HR.  In 2016, she decided to set up her own company offering support and advice to SMEs in Woking and surrounding areas of Addlestone, West/East Horsley, Ripley, Lightwater and Byfleet.

Previously, Martine worked in the Woking area for nearly ten years and wanted to get back to working with local business owners who had a plan and a vision but not necessarily the resources to help put their people strategies in place.  Being able to use her knowledge and skills to help local businesses is where Martine looks to add real value.  She does this in a practical and flexible way so business owners get the support they really need for their business.

Martine is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD).

Contact Martine:  The HR Dept, Woking

-        martine.robins@hrdept.co.uk(Email)

-        01483 603001 or 07392 311318 (Telephone)

-        www.hrdept.co.uk/licensees/woking (Webpage)

-        www.Twitter.com/Martine_HR (Twitter)

-        www.facebook.com/MartineRobinsHR (Facebook)

-        www.linkedin.com/in/martine-robins-fcipd-09a90a1/ (Linked In)