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Why I Walked Away From The Corporate World

I was 24 when I decided to take the jump. I had been working in brand development for InterContinental Hotels Group for four years across the UK and Europe and also held senior positions at Redefine BDL Hotels.

Back in 2012, I lost my dad to cancer. He founded BDL Management, which now owns and manages some of the biggest hotel brands in the UK, and he taught me pretty much everything I know about business – including to grab an opportunity whenever possible.

So I did and now at 26, I own and run three main businesses with a wide portfolio of other interests – two of these are with my brother, Daniel. These include Maki, a challenger brand to high-street sushi stores, the boutique Parliament House Hotel in Edinburgh and my newest venture, GIG, which matches shift-working millennials with businesses of all sizes to find work within minutes.

It’s easy to say now in hindsight but ditching the corporate life is the best thing I ever did. I knew that from day one. That’s one of the key bits of advice I would offer to anyone else thinking about making the jump: don’t look back. Don’t regret it after 24 hours. Focus on the future and what you believe you can achieve. Obviously it’s not without its difficulties. There are times when I don’t sleep, there’s certainly not any of the perceived glamour. It is a huge amount of hard work and effort but the rewards are there for you and for the people around you.

When I first started in the hotel industry I was washing dishes and cooking in the kitchen. That gave me a great grounding because I knew the business from the bottom up. It’s the same when you’re an entrepreneur, you have to get your hands dirty. That helps when you get knocked down time and again. Your resilience and insight kicks in.

Indeed, self belief is key. You will always face sceptics and easier roads to take. But being an entrepreneur is about walking the difficult path, not taking the easy option. You need a healthy dose of scepticism yourself too. I will always question the norm rather than simply abiding by it. But it is important to remember that being an entrepreneur is not really a job description with set skills, it’s a mentality and it takes drive and courage to go it alone.

“If you're thinking about taking the plunge, remember this. Make sure you're doing it because you love it. If you don't love it, it's never going to be fun."

Leaving the corporate world means I finally have the responsibility I desired and in start-ups even the interns have more responsibility than some high level corporate folk.

This is one real difference. You have to – and should always – listen to everyone around you. There’s no boss in that top-down sense barking orders, thinking they know best or causing a slowdown in approvals that prevent moving forward.

Naturally there are downsides. You let go of the security blanket of a regular monthly wage; you use up all of your savings – and often more – to fund your hopes and dreams. All the while though, you have a belief that one day it will all come back and be multiplied many times.

For some though, that never happens. It is a huge risk and not everyone will succeed. You always have to have that at the back of your mind. Quitting can sometimes be a mistake, especially if it comes just before you’ve reached your goal, but it can also be self-defeating to keep going full steam ahead racking up the failures.

Weirdly, it’s the lack of security you have though that drives you on, especially when you fail. Failing is good, but you have to learn from it. You have to pivot your ideas, react fast, change your ways of doing things as soon as you realise something isn’t working. Only then can you achieve long-term and stable success.

That’s why it is important to realise you don’t know everything and you can’t do everything. And never ever dwell on past mistakes. Focus on what you can do better NOW and use the bad decisions to make future good ones.

If you’re currently on the corporate treadmill, it might be time to get off. Do you have a burning ambition or idea? Is there a better way of doing things in your industry that you truly believe will be game-changing? If so, don’t just think about it, do something about it.

I can’t promise it will be easy. It won’t. You will likely fail early and fail hard. But then you have to get back on the horse. You won’t be the first and certainly won’t be the last.

The UK is a relatively easy place to start a businesses and it supports young businesses and appreciates the contributions they make to the overall economy. I think people forget just how innovative this country is.

But if you’re thinking about taking the plunge, remember this. Make sure you’re doing it because you love it. If you don’t love it, it’s never going to be fun and when it’s fun you can take the blows, enjoy the successes and have an equally interesting and fulfilling life both professionally and socially.

Antony Woodcock is Managing Director of GIG. 

Originally posted on Virgin Entrepreneur here.


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