Corporate Escape Artists

Corporate Escape Story — From BP Exec to Renewable Energy Leader

June 22nd, 2010

Written by Pamela Skillings

This is a fascinating corporate escape story from Fast Company.

Cynthia Warner was the head of global refining for British Petroleum and a 28-year oil industry veteran. She left BP in 2008 to become president of Sapphire Energy, a company working  to produce renewable “green crude” from algae grown in open pools in the New Mexico desert.

Read Cynthia Warner’s career change story.

From CEO to Part-Time Teacher

May 9th, 2010

Written by Pamela Skillings

Everybody loves a good rags to riches story, but you don’t often see a riches to rags tale with a happy ending.

That’s why a recent article by CNN Money contributor Josh Hyatt caught my eye last week. The piece is about Gary Buslik, who left his successful alarm company to go back to school at age 50 to become a literature professor.

Today, Buslik makes just $13,500 per year as a part-time teacher and author, but says, “I’ve never regretted my decision.”  The man loves literature more than loot.

How can you follow a similar path to pursue your passion? Well, it helps if you can build and sell a multimillion dollar company before switching to that lower-paying job. Buslik also offers some other tips to career changers — he recommends conservative investments and frugal living.

So, yeah, Buslik obviously had some advantages. Most of us don’t have a seven-figure safety net when we switch careers. However, Buslik took risks just the same. He risked leaving his comfort zone as a 50-year-old company CEO and long-time rich guy to become a student again in a classroom full of 23-year-olds.  And I’m sure all of the other big alarm biz players made jokes about ol’ Gary not being able to hack the high-pressure life.

You often hear wealthy people pontificate about how money isn’t important. But you don’t see many of them selling their companies to live on less than $15K/year for love of Shakespeare.

For this, Gary Buslik, I salute you.

Time for a Career Break? Your Sabbatical Guide

November 3rd, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

stepssabbaticalperuHave you ever fantasized about quitting your job to travel the world? Maybe you don’t have to wait until retirement to experience the joys of the wanderer’s life.

I wrote about the benefits of career breaks in Escape from Corporate America and I recently had the opportunity to meet some experts on the subject of how to take a successful sabbatical.

Corporate escape artist Sherry Ott and her partners run a fantastic web site called Briefcase to Backpack — it includes valuable advice on asking for and planning a sabbatical and inspiring stories from people who have taken career breaks.

Before trekking off to Nepal on her latest jaunt, Sherry asked me to provide some advice for corporate types who are thinking about taking a career break. Check out the articles on how to know when it’s time for a career break and the very real benefits of taking a break before changing jobs.

You should also check out the Briefcase to Backpack tips on planning your career break — you’ll find everything from destination advice to packing guidelines and more.

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Career Advice from Walt Disney

September 21st, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

Mickey Mouse
Image by J.E.S. via Flickr

“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

“If you can dream it, you can do it. Always remember that this whole thing was started with a dream and a mouse.”

– Walt Disney

The young Walt Disney’s first business went bankrupt, but he didn’t give up on his dreams.

After returning to Kansas City after a stint as an ambulance driver during World War 1, Disney worked as a draftsman and inker in commercial art studios before starting his own small studio with a partner. The two made short advertising films for local businesses with a second-hand camera while working on their animation passion projects on the side.

Unfortunately, the company ran out of money after  a deal with a New York film distributor went sour and Walt was forced to declare bankruptcy  in 1923.

Despite this blow to the ego, Walt packed up his latest unfinished animation project and moved to California to mooch $250 from his brother Roy and set up shop with him in their uncle’s garage. Soon they were generating some  cash flow from producing short animated featurettes for Hollywood.

In 1928, Walt came up with the idea for Mickey Mouse. Mickey’s first film appearance in Steamboat Willie (1928) was a sensation. However, due to the costs of producing animated films, the business was “continuously in peril” for years.

Eventually, the money started rolling in. However, Disney went on to risk it all several times over the course of his career. He credited his early failure with giving him the strength to take big risks, which paid off in big rewards over the course of Disney’s very big career.

So if you have big talent and a big dream, but have been kicked in the teeth by the current economy, remember Disney’s advice. That kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you and if you can dream it, you can do it.

Read more about the life and career of Walt Disney.

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Daring Tales of Corporate Escape — Sherry Ott, World Traveler

August 10th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

sheryottboatHave you ever dreamed about ditching the daily grind to start a new life on the other side of the planet? Sherry Ott was living the Sex in the City lifestyle as an IT executive in New York, but gave it all up to travel the globe and pursue her passions.

Sherry took a career break to re-evaluate her life and see the world. Today, three years later, she’s a teacher, photographer, and writer based in Vietnam. She’s also a blogger who  started a website to help other corporate casualties plan career breaks to recharge their batteries and/or explore new directions.

If you’re a nomad at heart or just feeling stuck in a rut, Sherry’s story might just inspire you to start packing your bags.

1) Tell us a little bit about your corporate career path.
I worked in IT Management positions for 14 years.  It was a career that I kind of  fell into thanks to timing and a few good breaks.  I studied accounting and business (MBA), then took an accounting job when I graduated in 1992 (yes, I’m old) .  Thanks to timing, I ended up doing computer training work since I was the only person at my company who had any familiarity with PC’s, networks, and Windows 3.1 (remember – it was 1992).  Hence, my IT career was launched.

I moved from job to job, state to state; always climbing the corporate ladder.  More responsibility, better titles, more money…more headaches.  Soon I was a in a senior leadership position at a large international retailer in New York City, running a department of project managers, analysts, and developers.  Everything a fashionista career girl would ever want — right?  I had the Sex in the City lifestyle; career, social life, free samples, money, a great apartment, and no one to think about but myself.

2) What made you decide to change careers?
As my career responsibilities grew, so did my stress and unhappiness.  I looked back at my career and wondered “How did I end up here? “   I enjoyed using technology, but I didn’t LOVE bits and bytes.  At the same time, the IT world was changing so fast that I never felt I could keep up with it, which left me feeling completely insecure in my own abilities.  No one wants to go to work in a high-powered job feeling insecure — it’s a recipe for disaster.

Looking back, I realize that I  was investing all of my emotions and time in my job because I really had no where else to put it.  It’s not that I ever wanted to be married or have kids.  However, like many single people, I developed a disproportionate attachment to my job as I didn’t have any other place to put my passion.  The problem is that a job never loves you back — it’s an unhealthy relationship.

So I was 36 years old, living a life most people would want, and I was completely burned out.  The stress was no longer worth the salary. read more…

Hypnotize with Your Words — Learn Persuasive Writing Skills

July 2nd, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

Learning how to write to persuade can really pay off in the business world. Your writing can sell a product or service, score you a job interview, justify a promotion or raise, establish credibility with a client or boss, motivate a difficult employee, or win support for your cause.

In the current hyper-competitive business environment, persuasive writing skills are more valuable than ever before. That’s why I worked with the American Management Association (AMA) to develop a live 90-minute webinar that teaches the 12 proven techniques for writing persuasively.

The webinar will take place on August 6th from 1-2:30 pm and we have worked hard to pack it with valuable information and exercises that will help anyone be more effective at work — even if writing isn’t a major part of your job. In fact, persuasive writing is an essential skill for managers (write convincing emails and performance reviews), entrepreneurs (write winning proposals and pitches), and career changers and job hunters (write brilliant resumes and cover letters).

Sign up now if you’re interested in learning how to convince, inspire, and influence with your writing. The email just went out the the AMA database and spots are filling up, so I wanted to give everybody here a heads-up now. Learn more about the course.

Scott Jordan — SeV Founder on Escaping from Corporate America

June 30th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

Scott Jordan is the founder and CEO of SCOTTEVEST/SeV, the company behind the gadget-friendly clothing line that has earned rave reviews from everyone from The New York Times to Matthew McConaughey. SeV’s vests, jackets, and pants include hidden pockets to hold all of your technology devices and conceal and manage the wires — perfect for tech geeks on the go (including Steve Wozniak, who is on SeV’s advisory board).

But back in the 1990’s, Scott Jordan was a miserable corporate lawyer with a wild idea and no experience in clothing design or manufacturing. He took a a risk and walked away from a lucrative and predictable career path to start SeV and pursue his dream.

In this clip from a 2000 episode of Radical Sabbatical (the late and lamented program that ran briefly on the Fine Living Network), Scott shares his escape story and offers a glimpse into his life as a new entrepreneur.

read more…

From Lehman Brothers to Taxi Driver — Laid Off in Las Vegas

June 17th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

vegas-taxicabWhen I hailed a taxi on the Las Vegas strip last week, I never expected to find a former Lehman Brothers broker behind the wheel. His greeting: “I hope you’re not one of those liberals.” I am, but he didn’t hold it against me for long.

Let’s call my driver Jack. Jack was an up-and-comer with Lehman Brothers for years and worked for the firm in New York, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. When he agreed to pack up his life to transfer to the Las Vegas office, he never expected that the firm would implode and leave him stranded without a job in Sin City.

You see, Jack invested in Las Vegas real estate and is unwilling to walk away and take a loss on his home. But there aren’t many financial services jobs to be had in Las Vegas. Not that Jack isn’t flexible. He recently traveled to San Francisco for an interview with a major international bank and met with a condescending 30-year-old manager (Jack is a well-seasoned 50-ish). Don’t call us, we’ll call you. But they never did.

So Jack spends his days driving a taxi around Las Vegas. It’s not so much that he’s desperate for the cash. Luckily, his wife is still bringing home a regular paycheck. No, Jack became a taxi driver because he couldn’t stand sitting at home in his depreciating Las Vegas home and thinking about the job market and how he got screwed over by Corporate America.

It’s better to have the distractions of Vegas traffic, talkative tourists, and slow-moving construction workers. “She’s pulling in six figures just to stand there holding that sign,” he grumbles after beeping, cursing, and exchanging hand signals with a sluggish woman in an orange vest.

Jack’s a pretty good cabbie and an even better story teller. But he doesn’t want to do this forever.

In between shifts, Jack is keeping an eye out for promising job listings (they are few and far between) and waiting for a break.

In the meantime, if you hail a cab in Las Vegas, you might find yourself accused of liberal leanings by a gruff, bearded, former Lehman Brothers broker. He will get you to the airport on time and even help you with your bags. Tip generously.

Raise a Toast with Pink Slip Lemonade

June 3rd, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings


Today marks the one-year anniversary of my book launch party for Escape from Corporate America.  I would have totally missed marking the occasion if the lovely Sherrill St. Germain hadn’t reminded me.

Sherrill was my go-to financial planning expert for Escape and she wrote a lovely post about the party and the book today on her great new blog, The Career Change Financial Planner.  She brought back some fond memories of a fabulous party (mojitos, Soho House, and lots of fun people) and an amazing year of media appearances, speaking gigs around the country, and lots of other cool new experiences. Thanks to everyone who has supported me during the ride. You’re all on the invite list for the next party.

Sherrill has also used her blog to designate June as Pink Slip Lemonade month. Check out her post about turning layoff lemons into pink slip lemonade. Sherrill sure has a way with words for a finance geek, doesn’t she? : )

Now I’m off to try to complete my monstrous to-do list before I jet off to Vegas for a week.  It’s a work-related trip that will hopefully include some time for fun too.  I promise to come back with lots of good stories. It will be my first vacation in a while (okay, it’s a working vacation, but still…) and I’m ready to kick back by the pool and maybe eat some faux French food at the faux Eiffel Tower.

Here’s to a year of celebrating Escape from Corporate America and more than five years of celebrating my actual escape from Corporate America (about a year before I wrote this post and started this blog)! Tonight, I’ll raise a toast of pink slip lemonade with Absolut Citron to celebrate.

Escape Fantasy #17 — Become A Bartender

May 22nd, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

tomcruisecocktail“Maybe I should quit the rat race and get a job tending bar on the beach in Mexico.”

I hear variations on this fantasy all the time — especially from corporate refugees under 35. From a cramped cubicle in Corporate America, the life of a bartender can seem pretty sweet and carefree. Especially if you’ve just watched a late-night TBS screening of Tom Cruise in Cocktail.

And if you happen to be between jobs right now and looking to make a few bucks, you might be thinking that you could do worse than get paid to make cocktails.

This thought might have occurred to you while crying into your beer and watching your favorite barkeep work the crowd and pocket plenty of large bills and phone numbers.

At a hot club, you could earn $1,000 in a single night behind the bar.

So let’s look at the realities of that bartending fantasy. Is it really possible for a corporate escapee to make a living behind the bar? Are you cut out for the bartending life?

I asked Rocco Romito, experienced bartender and founder of bartending job site, to share some expert advice for aspiring bartenders:

Pam: Is bartending a good way to make money during a recession?

Rocco: Bartending is a great way for someone to make extra cash during a recession. People normally drink more than usual during two types of situations in life. When you’re celebrating something, there is almost always liquor involved.

Unfortunately (or fortunately for us bartenders) , people also drink excessively when they are depressed.  Every night, there are people out there  drowning their sorrows in cocktails after losing a job, leaving a relationship, or just having a bad day.  I think we’ve all been in this boat at one time or another. The way our economy is right now, I’d say this is happening even more than in times past.

Pam: What kind of training/experience do you need to get a bartending job?

Rocco: A lot  depends on where you want to work. There really is no minimum experience required to get a job as a bartender. You can go a long way with a great  personality and people skills. read more…