“I had no real interest in working for a large multinational, whose bottom line was making a profit for shareholders.”
From Pig Breeder to Charity CEO
What was your role in your old job?
I ran a pig breeding company in Vietnam. We were a UK company and brought in by the Vietnamese government to turn around the quality of pork. I initially went to Vietnam to supervise the construction of a farm and train Vietnamese staff to run it - that took 2 years, living remotely. Then I continued responsibility of the farm, as well as sales and marketing across Indo-China. This included setting up business plans and then small farms with local farmers
What is/are your new role(s)?
I have set up and run a social enterprise in London. I recruit, train and support employees who are or have been homeless and we provide a shoe care and car cleaning service into the city. Half my time is spent recruiting, training and mentoring homeless people and the other half running a small business, business development and customer care to our 40 clients (mostly investment banks and law firms).
Why did you change?
After four years in Vietnam, I was keen to return to UK as I didn't want to be a lifelong expat. There were a lot of positive elements to my role in Nam - being there and getting to understand a country from a rural point of view and particularly helping small farmers set up viable businesses and improve their lives. But these were personal job satisfactions, and I had no real interest in working for a large multinational, whose bottom line was making a profit for shareholders. Following this experience and having travelled home, I wasn't really sure what to do, but didn't see myself in a regular desk job. Initially I became involved with a sports charity set up by a friend, that ran a football for the homeless. From there it was a natural jump to bring together my business and homeless sector skills.
Are you happy with the change?
Yes - although I have to say my previous job was pretty good! I find the concept of running a business with both financial and social aims really exciting, and also like working between different sectors. Although day to day work can be difficult and sometimes depressing, over time we have seen many homeless people achieve fantastic outcomes which is very rewarding.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
I miss Vietnam, but not the industry I was in.
How did you go about making the change?
After selling the agricultural business to the Vietnamese government, I accepted redundancy which was good as I knew I wanted to change sector and this gave me a push (as well as funds to travel home very slowly). Initially, having witnessed extreme poverty in Vietnam and other areas of the world, I was interested in development. However, I also wanted to return to the UK, so when a friend in London started a homeless charity, I did some voluntary work with them and then started to work as their national development manager.
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
Although I has a lot of self-belief and resilience, knowing that I'd find something I loved eventually, I still had to go through a few months of unemployment. In this period I was offered other jobs, but I wasn't prepared to settle for anything unless I was passionate about it.
What help did you get?
I found that most people enjoy talking about their jobs/careers and many were willing to meet up to chat about their career paths. Ultimately I believed in myself and didn't receive much conventional help.
What have you learnt in the process?
Life's too short to do something you thought may have been a good idea aged 18, and then don't enjoy. People always laugh when I tell them I used to be a farmer and now work with homeless people, but there are plenty of transferable skills that I've used in both roles and it seems very natural to me.
What do you wish you'd done differently?
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
Do your reseach and go for it!
What lessons could you take from Simon's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.