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Notes from Last Night: “Wise Career Advice from the Elders”

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And there they were in a row at the front, the three wise men of the corporate world, our panel of three: Andrew Jamieson, James Bagge and Owen Jonathan.

It was the evening of Tuesday, 17th June at Bathtub to Boardroom; the Escape School hosting its first panel of experienced corporate professionals to advise us Escapees as to what they wish they had known when they were 30 years old (and 10 years into their career).

In this informal, interactive, and highly informative session, all were overflowing with years of experience, advice and a keen interest and fascination in the difference between young people and careers today, versus when they were 18 and ‘Uncle Gerry gave them their first job in the bank’.

Andrew Jamieson

Andrew was the first wise man who spoke.

Currently a partner at Purbeck Advisers LLP, Andrew is an entrepreneur who advises start-ups about structure, routes to market and finance. He started his career in stock broking and remained there for 8 years, after which the entrepreneur within him was calling: he moved to Asia and started an investment bank with a mere 14 people which then of course grew rapidly.

After many years he decided to move back to London and start his own business in which he could use his years of knowledge and resources to help start-ups himself, which he specified are non-sector specific.

His main two points of advice for us were the following:

1)    Nobility of purpose is most important – having a good reason behind what you want to do in your career that has a clear benefit/ offering to others

2)    Self-belief – having the freedom to fail, the ability to peel oneself ‘off the tarmac’, because at some stage or another in your career, or in the world of entrepreneurship, ‘you will be road kill’; a slightly more negative connotation, but a realistic one!

James Bagge

James then shared his very interesting and varied career background, starting as a soldier, then barrister, then civil servant, who then joined Norton Rose for the next 20 years.

He reminisced about the early days of work and naivety, and how he had assumed he might get a car when he first started his job at Norton Rose (‘Presumably there’s a car involved?’). He didn’t get the car after all, but a fulfilling and varied career of unpredictability.

His main points of advice were:

1)    Form a ‘pluralist’ occupation – one which is varied and formed from a more diverse spectrum of skills

2)    This supports the premise which many of us relate to as Escapees, which is that we can apply skills learnt in a specific sector and bring value to a role in a new area of expertise

Owen Jonathan

Owen was the third, and last but not least, wise man to share his experience. I appreciated his honesty about his ‘restlessness’ in his career and when asked if he had a plan for his career path, he answered that his career was steered more from a ‘learning what he didn’t want to do’.

His main career moves were driven in this way until he found what he truly enjoyed. He was also a lawyer at Norton Rose, and had a vast career in Asia, also being the CEO of a public newspaper company, then returning to London to be the General Council for PWC. His main advice points were:

1)    When looking at new career angles, make it evident you really want to do something by talking to as many people in that area as possible – human contact is vital.

2)    Look for opportunity – it comes out of unexpected, random places so make your own opportunities.

Although all three men were from similar industries, each of their careers had taken very different paths. However, they had all fine-tuned their broad skills, and become experts in their fields. NONE of them pretended it had all been sunshine and roses.

There are challenges and set backs on any career path and the most important advice to remember is the power of self-belief: to simply pick up and persevere, accept when one might have to face failure, and then move on. Hard to hear, but true.

There are many of us who want to move into different industries but are worried about the way larger corporates box us into categories, and we end up not being able to ‘get off the tramlines’, as Owen put it.

Responses from all of the three wise men were that one CAN apply your skills, a broad range of skills ARE applicable to a new industry that we might love, yet we have to find a way to de-emphasize our sector specific experience, and emphasize how we can add value by bringing our different perspectives to the business.

Final Advice

The session flew by and the last question for our gurus was to sum up a sound bite for us, a last bit of advice for us to take away: what they wish they had known when they were starting out on their extensive and interesting career paths…

Andrew – “Have the freedom to fail.”

James – “Get involved on a board of trustees. Young people can learn so much, and network, but also add a valuable perspective, and ask questions which no one wants to ask.”

Owen – “If you have the mind set to do something different, TAKE THE RISK, you will regret staying where you were.”

This mirrors the old saying: Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Thank you to Andrew, James and Owen for sharing their stories and advice, which we can all apply in different ways to our own story. Here’s to taking on new adventures with open eyes, a humble approach, and the ability to embrace challenges with open arms.


This post was written by Camilla Hibbert.


What is Escape the City all about then?

Frustrated by climbing the corporate ladder, we decided to build a community to help people build meaningful careers doing work that matters – to them and to the world. We help talented people find fulfilling work by making big career changes, building businesses, & going on big adventures. We’d love you to come with us on this journey.

How do you get involved?

1. Job Seeker? Create an Escape Profile to get matched to exciting jobs.

2. Aspiring Career Changer / Entrepreneur? If you’re in London, come and see us at The Escape School.

3. Want to stay in touch? Subscribe to one of our newsletters. Find us on Facebook or @escthecity.

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