Off the ladder and down to business
Anyone made redundant in the recession and wondering what to do next can take inspiration from three ex-professionals who have fulfilled the dream of running their own businesses.
Now: Tango teacher
Kim Schwartz, 33, worked as a corporate solicitor at international firm Norton Rose for four-and-half-years before she took a career break in Argentina to pursue her interest in tango. She returned three years later as a professional dancer and co-founded Tango Movement, a dance school and company, with her business partner David Benitez.
“I was pushed — like the rest of my classmates at Henrietta Barnett school in north London — into academia. The general expectation among my peers was to do sensible careers.
“I told my law firm that I was thinking about going away. Although they couldn’t save my job for me, they encouraged me to get in touch when I was back. I thought I was only going away for six months. I lived for a year-and-half off my savings and after that I got a job as a translator and English teacher to sustain my dance lessons for another year-and-a-half.
“Obviously, the idea of coming back to London and having a successful tango company did appeal to me. I met my business partner-to-be through friends. We shared similar professional values so we decided to make it happen in back in London.
“I have never considered myself as a risk taker. Everything I do, I think about very carefully. Being a lawyer helped with the legal aspects of the business and having the right work ethic. The business has the potential to grow. I am earning just enough to live on but never thought I’d make any money out of this. When you feel you have everything you want, you don’t need as much money. I felt liberated because before I was chained to my desk.
“I don’t think of myself as business minded but when you do something you love, the business side comes naturally. There are aspects of law that I miss — the camaraderie, being able to leave the office at around 6.30pm, having weekends free. Now I do work when everyone else is having fun. I never switch off.” (www.tangomovement.com)
Andy Mellish, 33, was working as an accountant, most recently with Fox’s Biscuits. But he wanted to work for himself and decided to retrain as a plumber. He now runs Andrew Mellish Plumbing and Heating Services Ltd.
“My only ambition was to work for myself. I never liked being told when to work or working longer hours for no extra pay. I also felt like I did not fit in, in a non-Jewish environment.
“I had never considered doing anything like a trade because Jewish boys don’t do that. But I was desperate to go out and do something else. I looked at getting into property, then I thought about going to night school.
“My wife Ruth, who’s a teacher, knew that I was bored with accountancy so she was quite happy that I made the change. We used our savings, but of course Ruth was working and I had a little sideline of singing at simchahs and selling clothes on eBay.
“There were 30 guys on the course, out of which only two are still working. Unless you have a gimmick it is hard to get customers. Some people tried to get apprenticeships but plumbing firms generally do not like people who come through these quick conversion courses. Once I had moved to London from Leeds it was the Jewish angle that proved successful. Around 98 per cent of my customers are Jewish. People trust me because they know someone I know. The possibilities are endless, depending on how good a networker you are. Now I subcontract a team of builders and am more of a project manager. That was my aim from the start and I am earning 25 to 50 per cent more than before. As I was a management accountant, I do quite a bit in terms of analysing my performance — how much money I have earned on jobs, managing cash flow, how much I can expect to pay myself and making sure I can pay the guys.
“I am much happier. In terms of job satisfaction, it’s incomparable.” (www.jewishplumber.co.uk.)
Was: Finance Director
North Londoner Robert Stoutzker, 46, had been working in the City for 20 years. He was director and head of research at WJB Chiltern Corporate Finance. The father-of-two gave up his job to start a gardening business three years ago. He specialises in establishing kitchen gardens with his company, London Edible Gardens.
“The change started in 2000 when we moved house. We had a garden but it was a mess. I hired a gardener who did a complete botch job and charged a fortune. I had always been interested in gardening and said: ‘I’m going to do it myself.’ Friends who saw the results started asking me to help with theirs and so the thought of doing it professionally evolved.
“It was a calculated career change. I could not afford to fail. I thought it would bring salary benefits and a better quality of life. I am not yet commanding the salary I was on before but I am building up the business.
“My wife stood by me from day one. She thought if I wanted to do something that makes me happy I should. Having been in finance so long, I could manage the change with a bit of prudent planning. My wife and I didn’t have to make a huge sacrifice in terms of lifestyle.
“I do everything from maintaining vegetables and fruit and teaching people to plant. I didn’t get out of the City with the knowledge that everything was going to go pear-shaped there. I did it because I wanted to make a change.” (www.londonediblegardens.com)
Get a new working life
Catherine Roan, managing director of careershifters.org, a website providing advice for those looking for a change in direction, says: “Many people are turning redundancy into an opportunity and choosing to retrain for a career they have always wanted to do, instead of returning to a job that was making them unhappy.”
● Identify what excites and interests you.
● Research your options thoroughly. Find out what careers actually involve — and whether they match — the interests you have identified.
● Keep focused. There may be times when things get tough and when you question why you are making the change, but it will be worth it in the end.