From corporate professional to running a not-for-profit business

With our focus on transitions this issue we interviewed four different professionals to share their real life experiences, as they transitioned from their successful Corporate roles. We interview Michelle Weston on her shift from Corporate Life in finance to now working with us at ECC as CEO of the Good Business Initiative, our not-for-profit organisation.

Michelle Weston- Transitions

Last January, I left the corporate world and within 6-7 months I was working with ECC to set up and run the Good Business Initiative. GBI is ECC’s not for profit organisation that works with organisations to help them unlock potential and improve their positive impact on society. We aim to help organisations contribute to solving a range of social issues around the theme of inequality.

To be frank, I hadn’t expected to end up doing this job. I imagined I would be going into something established, instead I have found myself helping set something up from scratch. Even though I have thoroughly enjoyed it so far, the transition has been bigger than I anticipated, both in my working and personal life.

1. What have you found most interesting/enjoyable about the transition?

From a work perspective, the best part of this transition is simply the fact that I now love what I am now doing. I love working with ECC, I love setting up GBI, I love the programmes we’re launching. It’s not just that I don’t have the Sunday night feeling dreading work, I look forward to going to work so for someone of my age- it’s brilliant!

At home, although I work hard, I get to have dinner with my kids most nights. I don’t spend days on end travelling anymore and I am much more involved in their lives. This was one of the most important things to me when I moved careers.

2. Conversely, what do you find harder as you transition?

In terms of the challenges at work, the not-for-profit sector operates very differently. It’s a lot slower, it’s a lot clunkier and comes with very different challenges. I have also been surprised at the lack of collaboration in the sector, as it is far less than I would have expected.

At home there have been unintended changes and consequences, and some of these I just would never have thought of. Financially, we always knew there would be a change. I was the main breadwinner for years, and now my partner works full time and she now earns more than me.

The biggest shift has been in our working patterns. For a long time, I worked (some might say), more than full time and she worked part time. Now we are both in full time jobs. So, I see more of the children, but she sees a bit less of the children. We have more stuff that we’re trying to get done in a small amount of time at the end of the day. So really, we’re busier – but it’s a better busier. I enjoy what I am doing, being with the kids and the overall positive change.

For my partner, she’s now busier on a day to day basis. For 13-14 years we operated in the same way with our roles being fairly ‘set’. All of those roles got upended. Everything we had been used to; all of our routines all had to change. I didn’t anticipate any of that, and nor did she.

3. What’s the biggest lesson you have learnt so far since starting this transition?

I think the biggest lesson that I’ve learnt is that it’s very easy to focus on the big changes that you’re looking forward to and that you can identify (like the financial ones) but I really underestimated all of the small changes at home and at work. All the little changes I didn’t plan for, and we didn’t talk about them before!

4. In what ways do you approach your career differently now, to how you did when you first started out? 

If I were to go back and go through the transitions all over again, I think I’d do a lot more visualisation on how’s it’s actually going to look once everything has changed. What would it look like? What might not be going so well? What should I anticipate?

 5. Who has had the most positive influence on your career or on your approach to work, and what did they teach you? 

At different points in my career, different people have been particularly influential. I would like to think I am the sort of person who picks up pieces here and there, who listens to lots of people and reads and takes on information I think is useful. I don’t think there’s been one singular person that’s been influential. I actually think it can be a dangerous thing to look to one person’s approach at any one time because so many things can be shifting; the context, what’s going on for you at the time, what’s going on for them at the time, etc. Someone can be particularly helpful for one part of your career but may not be helpful for another part of your career.

What I’ve found particularly important is to have a few people around me that I can talk to, bounce ideas off and importantly learn from. Almost like a personal board of advisers which will change as you move through your career.  That’s probably why people find executive coaching so helpful, because when you are at work, it can be difficult to find someone whose opinion is completely objective!

Michelle Weston works with the leadership team to establish ECC’s long-term strategy. In addition, she is leads ECC’s not for profit organisation, the Good Business Initiative, working with organisations to help them contribute to solving social and ethical issues.

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