From executive to artisan?

Three executives who left a lucrative career to join a skilled trade have shared their tips and stories with Insead’s Knowledge website. From white-collar job to restaurateur, winemaker or landscape architect.


Who hasn’t dreamed of leaving a 60-hour-job to open up a quaint B&B? Whilst this might be the typical cliché according to Insead’s knowledge website, it does happen that executives change careers into skilled trades whilst putting their acquired business knowledge to good use at the same time.

Insead introduced three executives that have turned from investment banker to restaurateur, from general manager to vigneron and from equity analyst to landscape architect.

Laila from the Philippines was a successful banker, first at JP Morgan, then Deutsche Bank who decided to switch over to the food industry. After many rejections she started an apprenticeship in San Sebastián in Spain and later on returned to Asia, where she secured a job at a top Japanese restaurant in Singapore. After that she oversaw a New York gourmet food retailer that opened an outlet in Singapore and worked for chef and restaurateur Joël Robuchon. She returned to Spain to deepen her technical proficiency in the culinary arts and did a master’s in hospitality management at EADA Business School. During her studies, she noticed a gap in the market of pop-up restaurants and opened “Hawker 45” as the final project of her master’s.

Jean-Frédéric from France started out as a general manager and later on became a vigneron. After an international management career that took him to Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Switzerland and a key role in a healthcare company, he became interested in wine after an evening in Paris. The first deal that he found looked promising, but the complex contract took almost two years to draft, during which time, Jean-Frédéric travelled once a fortnight to the vineyard to learn the business. He eventually lost the business deal but managed to buy a different vineyard. Despite a difficult start Jean-Frédéric’s wine business is now thriving, also because he knows just too well how to run a profitable business.

Iona from Scotland changed from equity analyst to landscape architect. After a junior role on the trading floor at Goldman Sachs, she joined another bank, selling European equities. But then flowers and plants attracted Iona, and she secured a part-time job at the Chelsea Physic Garden. She sold her house and most of her other assets for a new education in landscape architecture. After starting with some small projects for friends, Iona set up her own business.

Insead’s Knowledge website collected the tips that these executives shared for a fresh start in a completely different industry:

  • Follow your instincts.
  • Do not worry about making mistakes, as they are essential to success.
  • If you are unclear about what you want to do, look back over your life for clues.
  • Take the time to explore and experiment as much as possible, to reduce risks and confirm your new vocation.
  • Accept that there will be intense learning involved.
  • Leverage the competencies and skills you acquired in your former career.
  • A sense of humility will be your friend as you start from zero.