Career change and job love stories

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  1. "Be open to any opportunity that you hear about, as you never know where it may lead."

    Alice Kan PHOTO

    Let me introduce Alice Kan, a self-confessed manufacturing geek, with a career story that has left me feeling inspired and motivated!  Alice, along with her husband, ran a successful management consultancy business which unfortunately suffered the consequences of Covid-19 and subsequent lockdown.  Through her positive attitude, openness to exploring new opportunities and the many wonderful connections she made through bravely putting herself out there, Alice is now responsible for setting up COVID-19 vaccine manufacture to supply the UK population.  There are so many nuggets of wisdom in this blog, and I'm sure you'll enjoy reading it as much as I did!

    Tell us a little about yourself – who are you besides the job you do?

    I’m Alice Kan and I’m a manufacturing geek!  I studied mechanical engineering with manufacturing at university, and I like to know how things work, but absolutely love working out how to make them work better.  I’m a proud mum of two teenagers who are rapidly becoming people I really want to spend time with, aside from just as their mum.

    What do you do now?

    I’m responsible for setting up COVID-19 vaccine manufacture to supply the UK population.

    What do you love about it?

    It’s a huge challenge with lots of unknowns, but it gives me a huge sense of purpose.  And the collaboration between our team and those from other businesses also involved is incredible.  It feels like a once in a lifetime opportunity to really make a difference and leave a positive legacy.

    What did you do before and how did you end up there?

    Previous to my current role, my husband and I were running our own business, Kan Do Ventures, a management consultancy.  This followed on from a 15-year career in manufacturing pharmaceuticals, which I left to grow our business and have a new challenge.

    Why did you decide to change?

    At the start of lockdown, we lost a number of major contracts that we had been working on for several years, had to furlough staff and look for alternatives due to a significant drop in income.  So I didn’t decide to change, it came through looking for alternatives to ensure we could pay the mortgage and keep our (very hungry) teenagers fed!!

    How did you decide what to do instead?

    To be honest it was a bit of a panic, but someone recommended a week long challenge on LinkedIn run by Helen Pritchard.  So I did that, and part of the challenge is to post regularly, including videos, which was well outside my comfort zone.  As a result of that, I started posting regularly on LinkedIn, and one of my videos had a really good response – I was being brutally honest about losing contracts, needing a job, and being an experienced pharmaceutical engineer (amongst other things) with a passion to make a difference.  I had all sorts of responses from different people, offering help in a huge variety of ways – reviewing my CV, offering different self-employed opportunities, or passing on information about potential roles.  The outcome was hearing about this role through someone who contacted me, and the rest, as they say, is history!

    Where did you start when it came to actually making the change?

    The main thing I did was to try to remain positive and open to new opportunities.  I spoke to people about a wide variety of opportunities – many of which I wouldn’t have considered in a ‘traditional’ job search.  And even though some of the opportunities weren’t right for me, I met some lovely people who generously gave me their time and advice to support in any way they could. 

    How did you actually make the change? (training, finances, learning etc.)

    Persistence and tenacity!  I just kept going – trying to be as visible as possible on LinkedIn, and really believed that there would be someone within my network who would be able to help me find something.  And being open to help from people – I was totally overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers, and as a result, I’d do the same for someone in future.

    What were /are the biggest challenges? (internal and external!)

    It’s hard to know what the biggest challenges are as there are so many!  This project is under the spotlight in so many ways – it’s not often that I’ve had a job that my four-year-old nephew really understands!!  For me the pace as well as the rate of change on this project are the biggest challenges – absolutely everything is urgent as we are trying to compress a process which normally takes years into several months.  But I’ve been overwhelmed by the collaboration and ‘Kan do’ attitude from the people I’m working with, both internally and externally. 

    What advice would you give your younger self?

    Having and sharing your opinion is really important, even if it’s different to the norm.  It’s often through sharing an alternative perspective that you can really make a difference, and improve what is accepted as the status quo.

    How has life changed?

    I’m back working in manufacturing, which is definitely my passion, as I love seeing how things work, always with an aspiration to improve them.

    What do you miss about your previous line of work? 

    Running a business with my husband was a real passion – being able to set the direction of the business, explore new opportunities and develop our people – and over the last year, it had really grown and developed, and was on the edge of a real shift.  I’m really missing the team and growing the business, but I’m still keeping in touch with everyone and we have regular catch ups over zoom.

    What hopes do you have for your future?

    To grow a really strong project team who deliver a vaccine that helps the country progress towards the removal of so many of the current restrictions, so that normality can resume.  And to leave a positive legacy in challenging the usual timelines of the pharmaceutical industry through great collaboration.

    What advice would you give to anyone looking to find and pursue a career/job they love?

    Be open to any opportunity that you hear about, as you never know where it may lead.  And even if you don’t think you’re in your perfect job right now, it’s worth reflecting on what you love about it, and try to do more of it. 

    I love sharing resources!  Are there any resources such as books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc. that you'd recommend for people figuring out what they want to do for work and/or getting started?

    The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin is a great book to increase self-awareness, and work out how to achieve what you want through understanding how you respond to internal and external demands.  She also has a great podcast called Happier.

    Start with Why by Simon Sinek (also a podcast) – understanding your why will help identify what you want to do for work. 

    How to Fail by Elizabeth Day (also a podcast) – a great way to succeed better is to understand and learn from failures.

    Where can people find / follow you?

    LinkedIn -



  2. I have always wanted to have my own business, even from a young age.  We used to have a bit of a family 
     joke about what my next business idea would be, as I was constantly coming up with something new! 

    From a 3 year “uni stopgap” in animal welfare, and a brief stint in debt collection, to HR and starting her own product based business (all while raising 3 small children), I’m delighted to introduce Charlie!  Charlie’s story is honest, inspiring and humble.  

    What do you do now? 
    I am currently on maternity leave from my job as an HR Administrator at a University.  I have also recently started my own business selling baby changing bags which I have designed myself. 
    What do you love about it? 
    With my HR jobI love working within a small and friendly team doing a role which I 
    am familiar with and isn’t overly challenging.   
    In my own business I absolutely love the flexibility of working for myself (although 
    doing this around 3 children does have its own challenges!). I enjoy engaging with other 
    parents and small businesses and selling a product that I really love and have worked 
    hard on. I get out what I put in and I like to have that motivation and challenge. 
    What did you do before?  
     After finishing university I needed to start earning money quickly and so got a stop 
    gap job at Dogs Trust until I was able to find something that I wanted to do long 
    term. However, I loved the job and 3 years later I was still there. I then got to a 
    point where I really wanted a career that I could progress in and so got a job at a 
    debt collection agency to gain some office/call work experience.  
    Why did you decide to change?  
    I hated the role so much and after 6 months I was ready to look for another job 
    but fortunately I secured a 3 month secondment in the admin team which I enjoyed 
    much more. It was then that the option to take a role in their HR team came about.  
    How did you decide what to do instead? 
    I had already decided that I wanted to pursue a career in HR (I felt it suited my skill set 
    and I liked the idea that you could progress) and had started a home learning 
    course in HR. I loved this job so much. It was so varied, helping others and building 
    really good relationships. The employer put me through my level 7 CIPD. 
    But I was then made redundant whilst on maternity leave. I then got a part-time 
    job at a university in the HR team But I hadn't realised how expensive childcare 
    was and it was becoming apparent that with those costs, I wasn’t making enough money. 
    In hindsight I also think I went back to work too soon (after 5 months) and ended up with 
    post natal depression. It was at that point I realised that it was more important for me to 
    be with my daughter and not be under financial stress than pursuing my HR career - as 
    for me I felt like that could wait.  
    I got a night job at a supermarket. It worked perfectly (although I was shattered as the 
    hours were 10pm-7am). Once my daughter was entitled to get some free hours at 
    nursery I went back to the university where I’d been working previously, and that’s 
    where I am now, though currently on maternity leave. 
    Why did you decide to start your own business? 
    I have always wanted to have my own business. We used to have a bit of a family joke 
    about what my next business idea would be, as I was constantly coming up with 
    something new!   
    I know that I will never do very well for myself if I am working for a business, my own 
    self doubt prevents me from moving up the career ladder and I fear 
    applying for promotions etc.  But I also think that having children massively 
    changed my priorities. I want to be around them and watch them growing up, 
    and as long as I am earning enough money to live comfortably, I would much rather put 
    my office career on hold for that to happen.  
    The idea to design baby changing bags came about after I had struggled to 
    find a changing bag that I felt to be stylish and practical. I thought it was definitely 
    something there was a demand for.  It just so happened that it all timed perfectly to 
    launch whilst on maternity leave. 
    We’d love to know more about your journey from then to now!  
    My journey to setting up my own business has been a long one...4 years to be 
    precise. This was due to several things: 
    1)A lack of experience.  I have had to teach myself a lot along the 
    way. I ended up getting a business coach which was what I needed to 
    really take the final step 
     2)Finding a factory – this took over a year. I contacted well over 50 factories 
    in the UK but just couldn’t find anywhere that could cater for my small quantities  
    at a price that was affordable. I also spent 4 months thinking a factory were 
    making my designs only to find that they had just been messing me around 
    (perhaps due to my obvious lack of experience I feel people think they don't 
    have to take you seriously sometimes).  So, I had to think of other options and 
    after a lot of research into staff welfare and quality, decided to use a factory in 
    China, who are able to produce the small quantities I needed at the high standard 
    I was looking for (which comes at a price).  
    3)Personal issues - life did get in the way. I went through postnatal depression 
    and a break up and that just completely took over. I just couldn’t face anything 
    else. But then I decided that this was the time more than ever that I 
    needed to get going so that I could become financially independent. I am pleased 
    to say we are now back together and we have since had twins! 
    How has life changed? 
    I am on maternity leave and the business is still quite new, however, I can definitely see 
    that it will offer me so much more time with the children. I can work my business 
    totally around my lifestyle. It does mean that evening time is my work time and 
    sometimes I can still be working at 11pm when really I should be getting some sleep in 
    (the twins have me up at 5am with 2 or 3 wakes in between).  That's the downside to 
    having your own business I guess, you can't switch off. 
    I often get asked how an earth I manage to run a business around 3 young children, but 
    honestly I think the business has saved my mental health. Having suffered from post 
    natal depression after giving birth to my first, I really feel like having the business this 
    time round has given me something to focus on. I am naturally a worrier and an over 
    thinker so if I end up with too much time on my hands then I can get myself very anxious 
    and stressed. I have had a lot of issues in my personal life to deal with in the 7 months 
    since the twins have come along and I feel like if I hadn’t had the business to distract 
    me, I could easily have ended up in a similar situation I found myself in after my first was 
    I have requested a 12 month career break from my HR job at the University, mainly 
    because the cost of childcare for 2 (3 in the school holidays) would leave me out of 
    pocket each month. I enjoy the job, but not enough to be making no money! By the time 
    I would then be due to return the twins would be entitled to 15 hours free childcare 
    which makes all the difference. I am excited that this then gives me a further 12 months 
    to focus on my business and to be able to enjoy extra quality time with the children.   
     What do you want for your future?  
     To be financially comfortable and able to run my business from home. My 
    thoughts might change as the business evolves, but right now I don't want to 
    have to employ people or rent premises. I want to be able to do it all from 
    home by myself (although I would love to see my bags in a store one day!) For 
    me a happy life is a successful life. 
    What advice would you give to anyone looking to find and pursue a career or job they 
    I know it’s cliché but really just do it!  
    Life is too short to be in a job you don’t like or doesn’t fulfil you. 
    We spend such a lot of our life working, it's important you are doing something you love. 
    After doing a job that I hated I would never put myself in that position again. I wish I 
    had set up my own business years ago and often wonder where I would be 
    now if I had.  But then I probably wasn't ready then, and the jobs I have done instead 
    have given me the skills and confidence I have needed to do this now. 
    Where can people find you, follow your story and check out your beautiful products? 
    You can find me on Instagram @jessie_bear_blue where I try to mix up business 
    and family life to give a little insight into the behind the scenes. I also have a