Career change at 50

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:

Michael Owen - Business Communications to Fashion and Publishing.

“If we live for 1000 months, we will be 83 years old when we die.  When I decided to make my change I had lived about 600 months.”

“We were living a life of shoulds. We were doing what we thought we should. What society suggested we should do. And I wasn’t sure that the work we were doing actually mattered. I was rudderless. And worse than that - purposeless.”

Michael Owen - after he stopped living “a life of shoulds”.

Michael Owen - after he stopped living “a life of shoulds”.

Overview of earlier career

I founded four business communications companies over 15 years or so. Running concurrently, they turned over about £1.25 million, employing 30 people at their peak. I think we were well respected by most people as clever and innovative. We won 70 awards around the world.

The trigger for change?

The companies were doing well. My partner Lisa worked inside the businesses with me. We had nice cars and bought the picturesque 5 bedroom house we’d imagined. It had a nice big garden of course. With one of those gates that opened when you pushed a button. All very showy and, as we soon found out, all rather unnecessary and vacuous too.

We had everything we wanted.

But it was the wrong everything.

Within 6 months, we’d split up.

We were living a life of shoulds. We were doing what we thought we should. What society suggested we should do. And I wasn’t sure that the work we were doing actually mattered. I was rudderless. And worse than that - purposeless.

I had to dig deep to decide whether I was working with the right kind of clients at the Business Communications agencies. Was I really helping them do what they needed to do? Or was I just servicing a million pound overhead?

Lisa and I got back together. And eventually I realised that I wasn’t doing the work that I was supposed to be doing. As I’d got older, I had met more and more people who weren’t doing work that they were supposed to be doing - people who were stuck. And I had become one of them.

What was it that I was born to do?

I had become part of that same problem. I was not doing what I felt I was born to do.

Quite suddenly, at the age of 45, I decided I didn’t want to be part of that problem any more. I wanted to become part of the change instead.

Discovering which direction

I didn’t know how to do work that mattered in the beginning. Or which direction to point at. So I waited.

I closed all my businesses within a year. And spent 3 months or so thinking.

In the far distance past, I was a creator of furniture and an interior designer. In my teens and early twenties.

When I ran the agencies, I ran creative processes and built creative teams.  But I wasn’t being creative at all. I’d become a formulaic business man. And formulas bore me, big time!  I knew I needed to be creative again.

Another catalyst for the direction of change was Claire who lived up the road from me when I was fifteen.  I couldn’t speak to Claire unless I was wearing my special T-shirt.  It had the power to transform my confidence. That was key to my direction change.

I had always wanted to create clothing. But in a world where 70% of all clothing is burnt or buried within a year of it being made, why do we need more clothes?

I understood that what we wear has the power to change how we feel and change what we do.  Certain clothes make us stand taller, walk with more confidence and do amazing things.

I decided to create classic, beautiful, exceptional clothes to help people do amazing things.

A ‘buy less, buy better’ brand.

“Imagine a clothing brand whose purpose was to create confidence in the wearer…” I thought.

And Always Wear Read was created.

Michael “Time is running out. Ours is just a visit. Decide what to do with your remaining months.”

Michael “Time is running out. Ours is just a visit. Decide what to do with your remaining months.”

First steps

I found the best makers who make for the best brands in the world and got them to fall in love with my vision.  

I wanted clothes that would last many, many years. And I wanted to support them with a repair service. They saw me as adventurous and they liked my stories.  These makers make for Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Burberry - and me.

I chose to have red in every item to show off the exceptional craftmanship (it’s easier to see the top edge of a belt polished blood-red and is a nightmare to make) and it’s also the colour which is associated with confidence and the colour that the human eye sees first.

The colour red sat at the heart of our story.

Next Steps

The brand is now worn by Idris Elba and Will.i.am amongst others. Ralf Little owns the Always Wear Red business with Michael.

The brand creates amazing caps, hats, scarves, ties, pocket squares and socks.

Our sock maker makes for the British royal family. The material for our flat caps is woven in Yorkshire, and the caps themselves are hand made in Yorkshire.

Between 2015 and 2018 I mastered many items within the man’s accessories category.

And in 2019 to 2020 I am changing again. Morphing. Into a gender neutral brand that creates only amazing hand knits.

I have found the piece of clothing I love. So from 2020 I am focusing on doing one thing - really well.

What Michael learned?  

  • Lifestyle changes aren’t the end of the world

Lifestyle changes can, in fact, be the start of a new world. A much better one.

We definitely have less stuff.  When we decided to sell the big house we discovered so much stuff that we didn’t need.  I’ve always loved clothes but am not sure I appreciated them as much as I do now. When we were decluttering and getting ready for the move, I found two pairs of the exact same All Saints trousers in the loft that I didn’t even remember buying.

Embarrassing. But true.

  • Always have a crazy, unusual side project.  

It makes other things in your life seem less crazy when you do this.  50odd.com is my crazy project where I promised myself I’d write a decent blog story every day for ten years. From the very day that I was 50. That commitment was definitely a bit crazy but it reframes what “crazy” means and makes me braver in other areas of my life.

50odd.co.uk is so called because, when I started it I was 50. And because I’ve always been odd. Perfect!

  • Time is running out. Ours is just a visit. Decide what to do with your remaining months.

At the heart of 50odd.co.uk is the notion of 1000 months. If we live for 1000 months, we will be 83 years old when we die.  When I decided to make my change I had lived about 600 months. If I was average, I’d have 400 left to live and I had to decide what I wanted to do with those months.

Men live to 80 years in the UK (960 months). Women live to 86 (1032 months).

  • Decide if you are the hero of your story, or if somebody else is.

I chat to lots of people who say that they can’t make a change because they have a mortgage to pay. Or because they like their two or three holidays a year. This is fine. But, mostly, we cannot have things all our way. If we decide to let our landlord or our mortgage provider be the hero of our story then, of course, we can’t be the hero. They are.

I imagine that on some people’s tombstones it will say “Here lies Ben. A man that never realised his true potential because he chose to be led by his mortgage payments.”  Life is short. Lead; or be led.

  • Consider what your children would wish for their Dad

When our daughter Izobel came along two years ago, I found myself wondering what she would want for her Dad in the future. A dad who was living a life of shoulds (and had all the trappings of “success”) or a Dad who was doing work that mattered? To him. And to others. I chose the latter.

  • Find a new tribe

I wouldn’t have made it this far without the help and support of my new, more adventurous and tuned-in tribe. They understand the stresses and strains of being pioneering. Doing things that have not been done before would have been a lonely journey without this new tribe.  

We are all very supportive of each other. For instance when a chap I know, Ben Branson from Seedlip battled to get the first alcohol free spirit into the market, he was bullied by the traditional spirits industry.  He battled on with plenty of behind the scenes support from our tribe of pioneers. He’s now the first non-alcoholic spirit on Virgin Atlantic and many leading bars around the world.

You need a similar tribe to keep you going on the bad days.

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

I don’t always wake up knowing I’ve done the right thing because I understand that I can’t have it all.

Well, not yet I can’t.

I learned how to get good at building a business-to-business brand and got paid well for it. But what I am doing now is different. I’m now learning how to grow a business-to-consumer brand and it takes time. We’re in our fourth year.

But in general, I wake up feeling happier because I am surrounded by the right people. I have some lovely, old friends who live very safe lives. That’s fine. But it’s not for me. I crave creativity.

I needed to find my new, more adventurous tribe who do lovely interesting pioneering things.  They’re a whole different breed. We’re able to keep each other going and pick each other up when things are not going so well.  

I mostly feel excited by the potential of what I do. It could fail or fly. I’m excited because I don’t know what will happen but I’m invigorated by what could happen. I’m kind of enjoying the conclusion being out of my control. The balance of certainty and uncertainty.

And I am glad that I am not a talker. I am a do-er.

When our daughter Izobel came along, I found myself wondering what she would want for her Dad in the future.  A dad who was living a life of shoulds (and had all the trappings of “success”) or a Dad who was doing work that mattered?

When our daughter Izobel came along, I found myself wondering what she would want for her Dad in the future. A dad who was living a life of shoulds (and had all the trappings of “success”) or a Dad who was doing work that mattered?

Regrets?

Yes. Sometimes I would like more things.  For example, I’d love my little girl to have the big garden of our old house to run around in but we sold that and moved into our smaller city centre home.  

But timing is everything. What may be right now was not right then.

I am building. A new future. For me and my family.


Find out more about Michael, his writing and his business:

Angelfysh - Michael still takes on a small number of select brand and marketing projects.

Always Wear Read

His blog - 50odd

Instagram

Facebook

Some other career change stories that you might enjoy:

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:

 

Kelly-Ann Grimes - Hospitality IT COO to PA franchise owner

“I was in my mid-40s and I began to consider how many more years I wanted to or needed to work which led me to think through how I wanted to spend that remaining time.”

“It feels like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders.  I’m in charge of my own destiny and it feels good. I’m enjoying not doing it for others but doing it for myself.”

Overview of earlier career.

Kelly-Ann spent 29 years in the hospitality industry working her way up from junior roles to an Operations Director role for a group of hotels and then COO for a technology business whose clients were in the hospitality industry.

The trigger for change?

“The main trigger occurred after 3 years in my last company, it merged with another business and my position was no longer required.

A few years ago, I’d toyed with the idea of starting my own business, but I had no idea what I wanted to do, and as I didn’t understand what it would take to do it, it felt too risky.  When I left my last company, I re-considered the idea.

I knew I was in my mid-40s and I began to consider how many more years I wanted to/needed to work which led me to think through how I wanted to spend that remaining time.   I knew that I was fed up working 60 hours a week for someone else.  We all work those hours when we are in our 20s and building our career but I had begun to feel like a commodity.  I made the decision - I wanted to work for myself.”

First steps?

“I began to think through what I was good at, what I loved to do and what I could actually do without intensive re-training. 

I discovered that I loved to organise, was great at planning projects and decided that I would really love to be a PA.  I began to do some research and came across a franchise opportunity that would fit really well called Pink Spaghetti.   It was a lightbulb moment.  

They offered head office, marketing and social media support while I would be responsible for finding my own clients.  After meeting with them and doing some more research to understand if my area was available I decided that if I didn’t do it then, that I may never do it.   It was too good of an opportunity to miss.”

What Kelly-Ann learned? 

·         “You need to trust your instincts and believe in yourself.

 ·         Even though everything felt right it certainly wasn’t easy. 

After so many years of working in teams with constant interaction I was surprised to find working alone difficult. That has been a hard adjustment, but I have set my goals to secure enough business to employ someone to work along-side me as soon as I can.

 ·         Networking has always terrified me

I’m not naturally good at talking to strangers.  But, I’ve found networking with other small business owners really good – there is none of that super-competitive corporate stuff going on

It is a very welcoming collaborative environment and even amongst people who do similar things to me, I’ve received offers of support that were so pleasantly unexpected.”

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

“It feels like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders.  I’m in charge of my own destiny and it feels good. I’m enjoying not doing it for others but doing it for myself.

I feel happier at home with my children and husband and more relaxed with my friends.  The kids interact with me more than before (but they are teenagers of course!).  They said I’m not so short with them and grumpy.  Not that I was grumpy all the time of course!  

There are different stresses financially but I’m not as stressed as I was before.  

You get to an age where the financials are not as important as other things.”

Regrets?

“No – definitely not.  It feels like I am doing the right thing.”



Julian Abel - Various Careers to Food Entrepreneur

“We knew that if we didn’t try, we’d always regret it.”

“I might be doing something I love but I’m also working longer hours than I’ve ever worked.”

Julian Abel.jpg

Overview of earlier career:

“I undertook a 4-year apprenticeship in mechanical engineering with the MOD in the early 80’s and loved all the top secret, defence of the realm style projects and stayed for further year before deciding to study my first love at Manchester Polytechnic – Photographic Technology.  Basically, everything else to do with the photographic process other than the arty side. It was all applied and forensic photography, Holography and the chemical interactions between film and developer chemicals – it was fascinating.

Following my graduation in 1989 I became a camera repair technician, combining my love of photography and high precision engineering and after a couple of years became UK service manager for a luxury Japanese camera importer based in Reading.

Julian Abel Camera.JPG

Two years of long distance commuting from Lancashire to Reading, 90+ hour weeks and a growing interest in starting my own company meant that in 1993, I started my own professional photographic equipment repairs company based in Manchester and did that until I sold it in 2000.

I then had three years working for the company that bought me out, doing similar work. That was an unmitigated disaster. My wife and I had made a little money on the house we bought years ago, sold it, paid off the mortgage and bought and renovated houses for a while.”

The trigger for change:

“Both my wife and I have always loved food. Real food. Home-cooked. I’d been on various courses over the years learning to cook but I was certainly not a chef. We often discussed the generation of children of the 80s and 90s who’d never been taught to cook and were now parents. Parents who used pre-prepared food that was often really high in fat, salt and preservatives because there were no healthy and affordable alternatives.

We talked about some of the prepared sauces we saw on the market and just knew we could do it better. We had an itch to try to prove that pre-prepared food could be made with real ingredients that tasted great but without all the rubbish, the minimum of ingredients but with the maximum taste.

We knew that if we didn’t try, we’d always regret it. So, we took the plunge.“

Karen Walker 2 Nowt.JPG

First steps:

“After we’d decided on the brand name, we asked a corporate lawyer friend to have a look at it and she asked for opinions around her office. The resounding opinion was that Nowt Poncy was the freshest brand name that they’d seen in a decade and highly recommended we trademark it.

So we did.

We thought that we would trademark into two areas related to food but on the advice of our trademark attorney, ended up in eleven areas such as clothing, accommodation, insurance, telecommunications and a few more. Essentially, a high quality product without all the bull****.

We started small by creating just one product, our premium Tomato and Basil Sauce without all the nasties that other commercially-made sauces are made with, closely followed by our Curry Sauce that’s nothing like the curries you find in a UK curry house.  

Then we took it back to our roots at Manchester Metropolitan University, to their food science department to check whether they thought we were crazy or not. They didn’t. They were fantastically supportive and helped us get started by recommending a lab to help with shelf-life testing and other necessary food industry tests like nutritionals and of course labelling that was suitable for trading standards approval.

That kicked off an intense learning journey over that first year that blew our minds. Packaging, hygiene standards, labelling, bottling, testing, brands, trademarks, marketing, legals, distribution, retailing ……. the list goes on.

We knew nothing at that point but had to know everything to even enter the market.

We’ve since branched out into our other sauces and been stocked in major retailers. Additionally, we have a growing e-commerce presence and our sugar claims have recently been validated by the internationally recognised Sugarwise.org.”

What Julian learned:

·         “We can’t do everything well, but we had to do everything until we were big enough to get specialists to help us.

Everything is a steep learning curve but social media learning has been harder than other areas simply because is wasn’t something we grew up with. We are beginning to get some specialist help with that now which is a relief. 

Having to be knowledgeable on operations, marketing, sales and distribution at the same time is a stretch which is why Karen now deals with Ops, finance and customer services.

 ·         I might be doing something I love but I’m also working longer hours than I’ve ever worked.

We have a grand plan but at the moment we are in the depths of brand building.

We knew we had great products but we didn’t know anything else and the sheer size of the food business means we needed to learn so much. That takes time. You need plenty of energy, boundless enthusiasm and a thick skin to help keep negativity at bay.

You also need to be mentally fit. Our vision for the brand is much wider than just food but this is way beyond our skillsets at the moment and at some stage we will need someone to help us create the path forward.

·          Finding the right business support is key

Some days we feel like we are swimming in a sea full of sharks and we’re so far from the shore that we need to paddle much faster than we feel capable of.

That’s when finding people who can nudge you along your business journey becomes so important. People who are helping for the sake of helping, not just to line their own pockets.  We’ve come across both types but it soon becomes obvious which ones are ready to come on the long-haul journey with you.

·          Changing careers in your 50s can be really exhausting.

No one told us about the financial black hole of the food industry. There was so much to learn and we needed to learn it all if we wanted to be successful.

We sometimes joke we wish we had done this twenty years ago because it really is exhausting.

I know mid 50’s is no age but the physical and mental demands of starting and running a food company with all the margins, deals, logistics and physical manufacturing of the products as well as deliveries is a huge challenge every day.

·         You can’t do it half-heartedly

If you believe in the service or the product that you offer you have no other choice but to JUST DO IT

·          Small or large, being in business can be stressful. Sharing the downs as well as the ups is freeing and can give others reassurance.

I went to a business event recently with some really impressive CEOs in the food industry and was asked to speak for a few minutes about our brand and our journey.

I was so honest about some of my worries, my hopes and my fears that a few of these uber successes of the food world chatted to me privately at the end. They told me that they wake up worrying about exactly the same things as I do, just on a bigger scale. That was so reassuring as they seemed so confident and so successful.

The truth is, we’re all worried about where the next sales will come from.”   

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

Julian Abel 2.JPG

“We have definitely done the right thing!

Every day we are waking up to our new selves. We are loving creating and growing the Nowt Poncy brand one mouth at a time.

It’s fantastic when we watch people taste our products for the first time.  Their eyes sort of pop open with the ‘My God, it tastes homemade - it’s real food’ feeling.

We’ve become brand freaks. Obsessed by what other brands do well or badly. I will hang around in supermarket isles watching which brands people go for and asking them why they chose it. Price? Branding? Offers? It’s a fascinating subject.

Karen is forever saying “will you come on” as I pick up products and pull their labelling apart.”

Any regrets?

“None at all!  We would have had many more regrets if we hadn’t done it. If we were sitting in our dotage, we would have been having one of those recurring if-only conversations. There are huge highs and equally huge lows but we are moving forward, albeit slowly and carefully.

We face daily challenges and have to find ways around them but giving up is just not an option. Challenges are what being self-employed is all about and if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

Find out more about Julian, and his wife Karen’s, business The Nowt Poncy Food Company:

Website: www.nowtponcy.co.uk

Twitter:@nowtponcy

Instagram:@nowtponcy

Facebook:@nowtponcy

Linkedin: nowtponcy



Karen Walker - Head Teacher to Food Entrepreneur

“We just had the feeling that it was a now or never moment. That we’d regret in our old age if we didn’t do it. So, we did it.”

Karen Walker and Julian Abel

Overview of earlier career.

“I graduated from teacher training in 1988 and taught in mainstream schools for 10 years.   After that I joined the special educational needs sector and worked with children with learning difficulties and additional needs and felt like I was doing joyful work. 

I moved up through the ranks to Deputy Head Teacher and absolutely loved that job.  I enjoyed supporting the goals of the Headteacher.  It was a joy.

But all that changed.”   

The trigger for change?

“I was encouraged to apply for a Headteacher role in a special school.  I had no intention of going for it because I didn’t really want to be a Headteacher but I buckled under the pressure of other people’s faith in my abilities and agreed I’d go to the interview. 

Even preparing for the interview, which was a 2 day assessment process, was painful.  I did well and was offered the job.  That’s when the trouble started.

There were so many problems.  I couldn’t make the changes I wanted to and didn’t have the support I needed.  I tried in every way possible to make it work, to the extent that it made me ill.  I was working every waking moment.  With no down time.  Feeling very, very stressed.  In the end, I left the position, but it had taken a great toll on my health.

One of the saddest things is that I knew deep down that the role was not for me but having accepted it, I worked unbelievably hard to do my best to improve the school.

After I left, I went straight home and got into my bed and pretty much stayed there for 6 weeks.  Julian cared for me every minute.  I emerged slowly and continued to rebuild myself slowly. The recovery process was a long and hard one and took well over 18 months.” 

First steps?

“Christmas was approaching and since our household was living on one salary, we were economising.  We decided to spend some time making a really simple tomato and basil sauce, bottling it, wrapping a couple up in pretty gift wrap and hand-crafting little labels to give to friends and neighbours instead of presents.  

We gave one of these little packages to our local butcher. He tasted it and said if we could make more, he could sell them.   We did and then began to think more seriously about the idea of setting up a food company, selling similar simple, tasty, healthy natural sauces for people who are time poor but don’t want to eat pre-packed sauces with lots of nasties.

After long discussions, we just had the feeling that it was a now or never moment.  That we’d regret in our old age if we didn’t do it.  So, we did it.   We created our Now’t Poncy brand and began to figure out how to create a food company from scratch.”

What Karen has learned? 

·         “It’s a marathon not a sprint.  Julian said that to me recently and it’s true.  We’re trying to pace ourselves and our expectations.

·         You need to be prepared to live on a shoe-string given the investment required to start a food business.    Even though we had savings and I had a lump sum from my pension we still needed more money.  The company is a bit of a money pit.  It swallows up money like you have no idea!  2 years in we’ve stopped needing to put in lumps of cash from savings and using sales to purchase ingredients, but we are still experiencing the lean years where every penny was going towards our dream.

·         If you can get a part-time job while you are building the business up, do.  In the beginning Julian encouraged me to help out a friend in his business a couple of days a week, just to help me get back some of my old confidence.  I’m still working there which has been great for lots of reasons, not least to have a little regular cash coming in.

·         You need a huge amount of energy and drive to launch a food business.  We only recently reached the turning point, 2 years from starting.   Rather than going out there every day pushing the business, people are now starting to come to us.  We now feel really connected within the food industry but that has taken time and a great deal of effort – primarily from Julian – to put us on the map.

·         It takes time to build a business.   At the minute we are probably working 6 days and week and on day 7 we don’t work but we think, talk and plan for a few hours of that day.   It is definitely not a 9-5 job, but we love it.   We were brought up by strong parents who taught us to do what it takes and to work hard to achieve your goals.   We know that if we put in the time and effort, we will reap the rewards.

·         You need to know yourself.  I love supporting Julian.  He works so hard and it’s good to be able to take some of the responsibility from him. I love splitting the responsibility with someone rather than holding it all in my hands.   I am more comfortable in this situation.

·         You need to be willing to learn and ask for advice.  We’ve learned so much about everything from manufacturing, labelling, jarring, sales, marketing, accounts, etc., but social media has been one of the trickiest to learn.  We’re at a stage now where we need extra help.  We’ve begun to utilise the skills of younger associates, people who can help us market to the younger generation and who understand the way in which they interact with social media.

·         Having a fantastic partner beside me to work on this business and go on this life journey with has made it all so much more enjoyable.   We used to be ships that passed in the night – I’d either be working or sleeping.  Now, not only do we spend our free time together, we spend a great deal of our work time together too.  We never ever thought we’d be working together but we work incredibly well together.  We don’t have children so our focus is each other and the business.

·         Knowing what I’ve been through, I have to prioritise down time.   If not, my brain goes into shock and then I can’t work smartly and nothing gets done.   As long as I get some down-time regularly, I feel re-generated and raring to go.

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

“It feels incredible to be working on our business with Julian all day.  We have such a great partnership.  I couldn’t do this without him – I have so much appreciation for his talents, his driving force.  

We’ve just taken on a little office space which was offered to us by a friend a few weeks ago.   We have a marvellous start to the morning where we get up, have breakfast, do about an hour of work from home and then go to the office to kick start the rest of the day. Working outside the house, but still being together is fantastic.”

Regrets?

I shouldn’t have taken the Headteacher’s job.  I knew before I went to the interview that it wasn’t for me.  But everyone else had such faith in me.  I should have listened to my instincts.

My only regret about setting up Nowt Poncy is that we didn’t do it in our 30s.  Some days I really feel every one of my 56 years!  But I suppose if we had done it in our 30s we’d have more energy but we also wouldn’t have all the life experience of dealing with lots of different people and different situations.  That has helped us considerably.  

If you think about it like that it’s a positive.  We’ve got experience instead of energy – it probably all balances out!


Find out more about Karen and her husband’s, business The Nowt Poncy Food Company:

Website: www.nowtponcy.co.uk

Twitter:@nowtponcy

Instagram:@nowtponcy

Facebook:@nowtponcy

Linkedin: nowtponcy

Lindsay Cornelissen - Corporate banking to wine entrepreneur

“I felt like I'd been in the industry so long that I was on repeat.”

“Someone asked me what my Plan B was, and I didn’t have one which seemed crazy! I needed to take control and create one. ”

“Every Monday night for 15 months I would traipse out of the office at 6.30pm armed with my tasting glasses. The first night of that course, I felt a little intimidated. But I learned to have more faith in myself.

Overview of earlier career.

Lindsay “fell into a graduate scheme in the City after university” not knowing exactly what she wanted to do but she was drawn towards a career in finance.  She moved companies a few times to widen her experience and “to keep moving up the ladder” and spent 18 years with her last employer with her final position as MD and Head of UK Corporate Clients.

The trigger for change?

Lindsay described her need for change as a “slow burn” rather than one trigger.  

She loved the client relationship side of her work and whilst she enjoyed managing teams, Lindsay realised that as her career had progressed she’d moved further away from the element that she “really loved doing” - looking after her customers and negotiating deals. 

“I had become restless as I’d been doing the same thing for a while and when the financial crisis happened, it forced me to take a step back and look at where my career was heading

I realised that I had progressed as far as I wanted to in banking.  I felt that I was moving further and further away from clients which was the part that I really loved.”

A late-evening conversation with colleagues in 2008 prompted some deeper thought on Lindsay’s longer-term career.  They were discussing the tv coverage of the Lehman’s crash where people were filmed leaving the Lehman’s office with their belongings in card-board boxes.

“Someone asked me what my Plan B was, and I didn’t have one which seemed crazy!

I needed to take control and create one.”

First steps?

“Over the years, my love of good wine had grown, and I was lucky enough to have tasted some lovely wines when entertaining my corporate clients - wines that I would rarely have had the opportunity to taste in other circumstances. 

We sometimes held wine tastings for clients where a wine expert would join us to talk about the wine.  It was at one of those talks that I had a lightbulb moment and thought ‘I want to do that!

I had always been interested in wine and my husband and I had done some basic evening courses in 1990s for fun.  I decided to take the next level of exam, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust's Diploma which is considered equivalent to a degree and a stepping stone to the Master of Wine qualification. 

So I went back to night school though I still didn’t have a "grand plan" and at that point I also didn’t even have much confidence that I could actually do it.

Every Monday night for 15 months I would traipse out of the office at 6.30pm armed with my tasting glasses. 

The first night of that course, with over 50% of the attendees being from the wine trade, I felt a little intimidated but I learned to have more faith in myself.   

We did a blind tasting and there was huge debate about one particular wine.  I had a really strong feeling that it was one particular grape, but others felt differently.  That night I learned to trust my judgement as I was correct even in the face of stiff competition from those who were more experienced.”   


What Lindsay learned?

In 2011, I’d completed my diploma and still wasn't sure how or if I was going to use it professionally.

But the banking industry, in dire need of stability, was faced with increasing legislation and regulation to say nothing about the general animosity towards that world.  

The thought of a completely different challenge became increasingly appealing and I began to ask myself if I was in the right place?

When another restructuring was announced at work 18 months later in 2013, I felt like I'd been in the industry so long that I was on repeat. It seemed to be the right time to take the opportunity to leave although I still had no clear plan. But that plan evolved over the next 12 months.

I researched the wine industry in general and thought long and hard about whether and how to set up my own wine business.

I re-engineered my CV and  applied for a couple of jobs in the industry but as I had no wine trade experience my expectations remained low.  I did however get selected for an interview to be the number 2 to a wine entrepreneur. 

Whilst I didn’t get that job, during the interview I was able to quiz the owner on how he had set up his business and took away some pointers to help me with my own business idea. 

Over those 12 months my thoughts and research developed. I went to wine trade fairs and met so many people in the industry who were helpful when they found out I was thinking of setting up a wine business – much more helpful that my old cut-throat world would have ever been.  

I spent so much time listening to other people’s stories in the industry that when I was ready to activate a business plan it was credible, well-researched and convincing enough to secure me a start-up grant.  

Whilst I am evolving the business all the time, I have stuck to that original business idea - a wine e-commerce business combining great wine and great customer service.”

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

“I would have learned more about marketing the business on-line well before I launched the business (SEO, Social Media, Press, PR, Podcasts etc) though I'm not sure when I would have found the time to do it!

It would have been helpful in the early days especially when the website was being developed.  I’m learning it now as I go along but it takes time so I wish I had prioritised it earlier.”

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

“Every day I know I made the right decision. I partly feel relief but mainly freedom.  Whilst I enjoyed working in my last organisation, I feel liberated from the bubble of that world, from the commute and from the structure. 

My former life was very City-focussed.  Now I spend every day learning something totally new. I am enjoying the freedom of a new world out there.

If I don’t want to work one morning I don’t have to.  It’s not in my personality type not to but I like having the freedom of choice.   

I enjoy meeting other entrepreneurs and small business owners too; they form a great support network.

I keep in touch with my old colleagues and meet for coffee or lunch occasionally.  Listening to them, I know the business cycle never truly changes and I feel some relief that I’m not still in that cycle.

That's not to say I don't miss the "large corporate world" altogether and I'm looking to fill that gap with NED positions where I can contribute some of the benefit of my experiences and have the best of both worlds."

 Any regrets?

“What's to regret? I work with wine!”

Learn more about Lindsay and her business:

Wines With Attitude saves busy wine lovers time by seeking out truly exceptional wines from around the world that do not disappoint. Lindsay loves helping consumers feel more confident in their wine choices through her blog posts (https://www.wineswithattitude.co.uk/blog) and through educational & fun wine-tastings for corporate events and private parties.

Email: hello@wineswithattitude.co.uk

Website: https://www.wineswithattitude.co.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wineswithattitude

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wineswithattitude/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/wineattitudes

Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/company/wines-with-attitude/

 

Duncan Haddrell - Senior Finance Executive to Distribution Business Owner

“It feels easy...but scary because now I hold in my hands the mortgages of 10 employees - not just my own.   I don’t hold that responsibility lightly.  It’s huge.  That’s the difference.  If I cock it up, the impact is huge.  But, the opportunity is also huge.”

“Being conscientious, working hard and being good at something sometimes doesn’t really get you where you want to be.  I sort of just lost faith in corporate life.”

Duncan Hadrell.png

Career overview

A twenty-year career in senior finance positions including Group Finance Director and Non-Executive Director Positions within both public and private businesses.

What triggered your career change/career re-design?

“Lots of things.  I should have done it years ago.  But, I went through the public school system and ended up towing the line and doing as was expected in my career progressing from trainee, management accountant, Financial Controller to Finance Director. 

Until the point where I looked up and realised that the people above me were not there because they were worked harder than me or were better than me.

Being conscientious, working hard and being good at something sometimes doesn’t really get you where you want to be.

 I sort of just lost faith in corporate life.

After 20 years of working my socks off for the benefit of others, I reflected and realised that I was being neither valued nor appreciated.   

As well as managing the challenges of reporting and trying to make a difference to organisations’ current operations, I’d been trying to convince people for years about the benefits of long term planning. But businesses didn’t want or value the long-term focus.  Frustration crept in.  

I think I’ve always wanted my own business and always kept my ear to the ground looking for opportunities.  I often evaluated possible business opportunities that I could both afford and that I believed had long-term mileage as both a product and a business.”

First Steps?

I’d looked at other businesses where the owners were in their 60s and wanting to retire in the near future, but only took a couple as far as the real due diligence process.   

When I found the right one, I knew it very quickly.   It was the easiest purchase ever due to a perfect match between the owners’ ethics, values and desires for the business and my own.    

My long-term goals for the business linked exactly with the sellers’ values.  It was a perfect fit.”

Duncan with Terry Dakin - the previous business owner.

Duncan with Terry Dakin - the previous business owner.

What did you learn during that process?

“I am truly motivated by taking care of a company and the people within it for the long-term.  The last ten years of my career didn’t fit with this deeply-held motivation.

I want and need to be in control of my own destiny and that was also not the case over the last ten years of my finance career.

Stress can be positive and drive people forward but stress caused by poor leadership is negative stress with no upside.  Poor leadership really impacts the people within a business, not just the business.”

 

If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?  

“I would have been able to leave finance work within corporates 10 years ago - I’d learned enough by then.  I’d learned what good and bad leaders look like.  I had experienced so much...enough.

That said, I would have needed a little more financial security to have taken this kind of risk at that time.  

Perhaps the time was right because the time was right?  The opportunity to invest in my future and this business was perfect.   Perhaps I needed to gain more consultancy experience to have a real grasp of how I want to proceed?  Perhaps...!”

 On the days that you know you’ve made the right decision, how do you feel?

“Where would I rather be?  Here.  Without a doubt.  Why? The frustrations of going through the same “I need to change but need more influence to make it happen” cycle within corporates wore me down.  

I’m now in charge of making change but I can’t do it alone.  I listen to the opinions and insights from staff who are the experts.  I understand the big picture landscape and it’s a long-term landscape.  I understand what the right direction is.  

It feels easy...but scary because now I hold in my hands the mortgages of 10 employees - not just my own.   I don’t hold that responsibility lightly.  It’s huge.  That’s the difference.  If I cock it up, the impact is huge.  But, the opportunity is also huge.

I arrive to work knowing what we are going to do that day.  Then we constantly tweak.  It’ll pay off.  We will see the benefits.”

Any regrets?

“None at all!”

 What one piece of advice would you give to anyone re-designing their mid-life career?

“It might not always work out and that might not be due to your efforts, so don’t risk what you can’t afford to lose.”

Duncan now owns International Tiles & Bathrooms - Please have a look at their new web page:-

https://tiles.uk.com/

It is the aim for International Tiles is to become within 5 years the No.1 best for service, produce, quality and customer care and customer satisfaction tile brand throughout the South West of England (Somerset, Dorset, Devon & Cornwall) Tile Industry.

We aim to be the best employee we can. Our staff are valued and it is up to us to make their time here as fulfilling and as rewarding as possible.

While we recognise that being in business is not easy and we will have some difficult times we also want to have some fun.

I am very lucky to have taken over a company with such strong foundations, with a strong and loyal customer base, with experienced and loyal staff and loyal and quality suppliers.




Rob Young - Army Career to Business Career

"I had a strong feeling that if I left at 50 or 55 that I would then be unemployable as I’d appear institutionalised and perhaps even weary.”
"If you are anywhere near 50, you really need to put your back into finding a new job or a new career.  It’s definitely not easy.  You need to attack the situation like you’re climbing a mountain." 

Overview of earlier career.

Left school at 18.  Spent 24 years in the Army as both a solider and an officer.  Resigned his commission at 45.

Trigger for change:

There appeared to be two clear triggers for Rob’s desire for change:

“I felt that I’d had the best from the Army and wanted to give civvy street a crack.  As my daughter was also starting university there was an opportunity for my wife and I to settle down in one country after having been moved all over the world for so many years. 

Also, whilst I had lots of confidence that I could actually do anything with my experience, I also had a strong feeling that if I left at 50 or 55 – which was the traditional break-points from the army – that I would then be unemployable as I’d appear institutionalised and perhaps even weary.”

First steps?

“I didn’t know what kind of work I actually wanted to do but I certainly knew what I didn’t want to do i.e. anything to do with the military, defence sectors or logistics which had been my arena.

I felt so optimistic, like I could do almost anything - unless of course it was highly technical or required specific qualifications.   I had a sense that I was likely to end up in a big corporate in some sort of management role.”

Rob decided to access all the support groups which were available to him as an ex-soldier and officer to help him get settled in civilian life.  One of those was The Officers Association which advertised (for a nominal fee) jobs for companies who were interested in attracting ex-army personnel. 

“I accepted the first job offer I received and worked for a very small company in a logistics position which I hadn’t really wanted but my wife/mentor/coach gave me some great advice that ‘it’d be much easier to find a great job from a position of having a job’.  She was, of course, right.’

A year later, having done some good work and recruited his replacement, Rob moved on to bigger things and kept moving onwards and upwards in a variety of positions.   In different industries, in different roles, in companies with different problems until he found his niche in leadership roles within transforming businesses.   Over the next decade Rob had a whole range of “fantastic”, “interesting”, “challenging” , “angst-filled” and “fun” career moves.  At its height – he had a spell of travelling around Europe with a European billionaire in his private jet acquiring businesses and at its lowest point doing some seasonal work over Christmas at M&S – "and every type of experience in between!" 

What Rob learned?

 Networking is important.”  Rob didn’t expressly recommend networking until I prompted him but our conversation was peppered with references to friends gained through business, connections made through playing sport and connections through old careers and previous jobs.  Networking appears to be something Rob does very naturally.

"Everyone I know who was in the army for a long-time and left accepted the first job they were offered – I think we all knew how important it was to get started.

Be wary of who to take advice from.  Taking advice from too many different perspectives just leaves you confused. Don’t ask friends what they think of your CV. Find experienced hiring managers who know what good looks like and experienced CV designers.  It’s the hardest thing in the world to put together on the easiest subject in the world – you.  At one point, I totally and utterly wasted £5000 employing a company to slightly enhance my CV and tell me some average advice that we all know – get out there and network.  They did it over some very nice lunches in nice restaurants but that was a total waste of cash and time.  

Know thyself.  Self-awareness is a key factor in career change.   For instance, I was fired once from a job and was so surprised that I hadn’t seen it coming.  I took from that that I needed to brush up on my self-awareness.  How you see yourself and how you view your world have an impact on the work you do and the work you could do.

If you are anywhere near 50, you really need to put your back into finding a new job or a new career.  It’s definitely not easy.  You need to attack the situation like you’re climbing a mountain.

Don’t dumb down even if you are desperate.  At one low point, I just couldn’t get a job but really needed a job to pay the mortgage.  I dumbed down my CV, not really lying but certainly not telling the full truth about my previous leadership positions.  I secured a seasonal job at M&S which helped me pay the mortgage.   But, ultimately, I could see nothing but opportunities to improve their operations and logistics and it was difficult not to tell someone.   I knew my expertise would help the business but they didn’t want to know.  I would never have fit in the long-term and would have been seen as a trouble-maker.  The last thing companies need is some over-qualified smart ass when all they actually wanted was someone to do the job the way they wanted it done.  But that was never going to be me.

There are good people in the world who just need a break and it pays to use your talents to help them.  If I have a client who’s in a bit of a fix and can’t pay me my fee for helping them re-design their CV and linkedin profile and coaching them on interviews, I just ask them to pay when they get a role and only if they agree it’s been helpful.  I enjoy helping them because I’ve been there and would have appreciated someone doing the same for me back then.  And have never once not been paid.  Win win."

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

“I wouldn’t have touched the 3rd sector (Not-for-profit organisations including charities).  I wouldn’t ever recommend becoming a trustee of a charity unless there is a deep, deep connection with their goals.   I would have saved myself a great deal of angst.”   Enough said.

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

“Even though I don’t need to work, I love to work.  I love the buzz of winning new business.  I love the thrill of finding the right person for one of my clients.  I love convincing my clients to choose beyond the right person for one job but to choose the person who can help the company grow in the future.   I love choosing to work with a small number of clients who work mostly exclusively with me.  

I do know myself and I know that I love being in charge.  The leadership bit throughout my career has been the most enjoyable parts but I know it’s not for everyone.   It was a real privilege to command in the Army and it has also been a real privilege to lead in the civilian sector.   People rely on you to do what’s right and in most cases they enjoy having someone decisive in charge.   Very few things get done well in a committee.  I always like a committee with an odd number…and the best odd number for me is 1!  I’ve always enjoyed the pain-pleasure experience where the buck stops with me.”

Any regrets?

"Sure there are regrets about investments around the financial crisis that listening to my wife/mentor/coach Mrs Young might have avoided.   But apart from the charity sector experience (see above), I have spent my life looking forward not back – that’s where the opportunity and danger lie."

If you'd like to learn more about Rob and his current business...


Email:  rob@armstrongdenby.com

Web:  www.armstrongdenby.com 

Linkedin:   https://www.linkedin.com/in/justrobyoung/ 

Twitter: @justrobyoung     

 

Ges Ray - Lifetime Banker to Public Speaking Guru

"I am retirement age but the sky is my limit.

Every day when I wake up (although it’s hard to rid yourself entirely of the 40 years of tough Mondays) and feel like I will never be done learning."

Ges Ray - 2.jpg

Overview of earlier career.

“The first 25 years were the epitome of stability; a traditional route from Junior (read making the tea) to Manager with Natwest Bank.  When banking changed radically around the late 1990s, we all had a choice; stay in the bank for heart attacks and early deaths or leave on less than favourable terms – most of us signed the papers before they hit the table!” 

10 years of Business Development/Relationship management roles within a range of SME businesses followed where “instability became the norm”.  The rollercoaster experience of 3 redundancies with minimal or zero redundancy packages with an uncomfortable spell of being on benefits is not one Ges would wish on anybody.

The trigger for change?

There appeared to be three defining triggers for Ges’ change:

“I had secured a career advisor (Peter Wilford) to help me re-shape my career, re-design my CV etc and I sent out hundreds of job applications but of course because I was in my 50s by then, I heard nothing back.  When my career advisor put me through a Myers Briggs test, it was a clarifying moment.  I discovered that I didn’t want to or maybe couldn’t ever work for another boss again.”

“My wife and I found ourselves living in an empty nest after both our daughters had left for university and Lidl opened near my home in Dorking!   Our household bills went through the floor.  These two factors were absolutely key in giving me the confidence to take a risk and give my own business a go. As an ex bank Manager my natural inclination is to be risk averse, but this encouraged me to have a go at starting my own business, even if it meant that we might end up having to eat baked beans for a while and live off my wife’s part-time salary. She supported me so that I could try something new.”

First steps?

“I realised that I had actually had a secondary career in public speaking bubbling beneath the surface throughout my working life. In the late ‘70’s I was ‘encouraged’ into Public Speaking competitions, the training for which meant I would be the one to volunteer to give speeches on Bank training courses, and volunteer to MC at events and to lead workshops both in the bank and when employed in SME’s.  In my private life, I’ve been radio broadcasting, MC’ing events at the Leith Hill Music Festival for many years and was a Sunday school teacher for 30 years – if you can control a bunch of 8 year olds, a room full of adults is a cinch!  Even in my early 20’s I was a British Junior Chamber of Commerce Regional public speaking finalist.  What I didn’t realise was that when I volunteered to do these things, the others in the room visibly sighed with relief.  I was able to do something that others found really difficult.

When I figured out that public speaking could be my ‘something new’, I took the advice of my career advisor and began networking everywhere.

After attending a great deal of networking breakfasts, I’d gained a stone and a half in weight but had also fully formed the idea of what I wanted to do.  Then with the help of that newly-created network I began to be approached for all sorts of public speaking assignments, from keynote speaking at business events to delivering workshops and 1-2-1 sessions to build people’s confidence in public speaking.

It was this series of serendipitous happenchances – strange how these things occur when you are open minded enough to go looking for them – that enabled me to combine the threads of four decades of commercial roles together with a lifetime of experience in public speaking that had been running in parallel, and venture into the world with my new idea”

What Ges learned?

“All the skills I’d learned in my career combined with all the snippets of life experience that I didn’t view as important at the time combined to create something new. 

Nothing in life is wasted if you grab it and make use of it.

Simply being yourself, rather than the person that you feel you ought to be because of your role or title, is important. People buy people. By being yourself, you are the authentic you, and all the more memorable for that.”

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

“Probably nothing.  There’s no real value in what-ifs.  What if I had stayed with the bank?  I might have been dead by now with the stress.  What if I hadn’t been made redundant in the smaller businesses?  I wouldn’t have had to put so much effort into doing something new and I wouldn’t be where I am today.   No.  Nothing.”

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

“Absolutely liberating!  I am retirement age but the sky is my limit.

Every day when I wake up (although it’s hard to rid yourself entirely of the 40 years of tough Mondays) and feel like I will never be done learning.   I try to take advantage of everything I can learn e.g. being a founder Institute of Directors Advance member to take advantage of several evening workshops a month delivered by other experts on their field. There’s always something new.

I feel respected for what I contribute and what I deliver, not my grade, not my job title or my years of service. Also, the reward of building someone’s confidence in public speaking and watching them spread their wings and fly is beyond any salary package.

Opportunities are out there – in fact the opportunities are endless if you are open to them.  For example. I’m collaborating with an overseas university spin-out on a virtual reality public speaking training project, which is really exciting. I’m also being coached in the authoring of a book on public speaking; that’s really really exciting!"

Any regrets?

“I have a couple of financial regrets – I wish I had not been such a loyal, naïve and faithful shareholder in the bank, for example.  I should have had a six-figure retirement fund but I ended up with zero. With 20/20 hindsight, I wish I’d invested my first redundancy package in a few buy-to-let flats but I needed the money at the time to look after my family and anyway, the term “buy-to-let” wasn’t really talked about back then!”

If you’d like to learn more about Ges and his public speaking business…


Email:                    ges.ray@speakinginpublic.info

Web:                    www.speakinginpublic.info

Linkedin:             http://www.linkedin.com/in/gesray

Facebook:           www.facebook.com/SpeakingInPublic

Twitter:               https://twitter.com/gesspeaking  


 

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.”

ElizabethDraperwithCake.jpg

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.”

ElizabethDraperKitchen.jpg

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/

David James - Full-time finance career to flexible contracting

"Freedom is important to me.  The shackles and small print of long-term incentive programs don’t work for me. I want to get paid for doing good work – it’s that simple.”
“I put family first in nearly every time conflict.”
David James - photo taken by his son

David James - photo taken by his son

Career overview:

David qualified as an ACA and had an audit career in London and Budapest with KPMG before realising that partnership was not on the cards for him. He moved to the world of finance within industry and progressed onwards and upwards in large corporates before changing his pattern of work.  He has three children (now 11-16).

What triggered a change?

When David’s youngest child was a baby, David had started in a job that was not working out well.  Even though he worked only 5 miles away from his home, he was rarely able to make it home to put the children to bed.  He was often at work until 8-9pm or even later.   A helpful HR manager advised him to consider contracting work which she thought might be a way he could aim for “that lifestyle choice”.  He mulled the idea over.

First steps?

After he had resigned from that unhappy job in 2007, David was offered a contracting role and found that it fitted with his work and life expectations.  Then, when that ended just as the banking crisis hit, the only work available seemed to be on a contracting basis so he carried on contracting and liked it.

What David learned?

“I enjoyed the freedom.  I was only there because I wanted to be there and because the company had asked me to do a specific piece of work.  I enjoyed being needed and I felt like I was solving problems. I also enjoyed never having to ask anyone’s permission to take a half-day off to go to my children’s school plays when they were in primary school – if it fitted with the client’s needs I would simply say I would be taking some time off and, of course, didn’t charge for that time.”

“I put family first in nearly every time conflict.”

“Day rates were good enough even in 2009 to compare reasonably with permanent work, especially when the taxes on contractors were then noticeably lower, but I hadn’t ruled out the idea of returning to a permanent role until I attended an interview for one.  During that interview, I started to feel claustrophobic as I began to envisage their holiday calendar.   It was at that point that I realised I didn’t want permanent employment, to have my free time rationed and permitted only when it suited an employer, and the idea of running the same annual cycle for the foreseeable future didn’t appeal.”

 Freedom is important to me.  The shackles and small print of long-term incentive programs don’t work for me. I want to get paid for doing good work – it’s that simple.”

Contractors are often treated with more respect than permanent staff. There is no assumption that they own you because clients know you can leave if they behave unreasonably, so they tend to be careful of making unreasonable requests in a way that doesn’t always apply to permanent staff.  Of course, the same lack of permanence means the client can let a contractor go if they are not happy with them, but that is something I can influence by doing a good job.”

“I like the more task-focused work that an interim tends to do.  It is satisfying because I am there to help with a problem and not to be distracted by lots of meetings and internal politics, and every assignment means another achievement on my CV.  I had been concerned that the roles would all require only existing experience and not allow growth, but working in many companies and resolving varied issues has broadened my experience to make me more marketable.”

“It’s important to work out what you enjoy doing and see if that is a niche that would work within your market. I enjoy financial reporting and multi-currency consolidations and there’s a good market for those skills in and around Surrey.  Talking to trusted advisors on positioning yourself to companies was very helpful.  Building long-term relationships with agents who want to get to know you beyond the financial benefit to them has also been crucial to my success.”

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

"I sleep well at night knowing that my experience allows me to walk into all sorts of problems and to figure out a way to solve them.  I see problems as challenges now.”

“Every day I work as a contractor I KNOW I am better off than I was doing a permanent role.”

“Lots of the work I do is within international companies so I get to speak to people all over the world and learn cultural insights that I’d never have known otherwise. I can take the time to get under their skin, which in turn helps me to do better work.”

Regrets?

“No..none.  Even the bad experiences have been part of the path to where I am.“

 

Find out more about David by clicking here or reviewing his linked in profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-james-fca-35363711/