Many people dream of leaving the office behind and pursuing something more fulfilling. But what happens when you actually do it? From an engineer-turned-carpenter to an accountant-cum-beekeeper, we meet six people who handed in their notice and reshaped their lives.
Former job: CEO
Current job: Artist, photographer and film-maker
Now able to: Indulge his creative side
After studying philosophy and failing to get into art school, German-born Philipp Humm opted for a career in business. He quickly rose to the upper echelons of corporate culture: vice-president of Amazon Europe, then ceo of T-Mobile US and finally ceo of Vodafone Europe based in London. It was during this last posting that his artistic proclivities came to the fore. He visited galleries and started painting and drawing, even sketching colleagues during board meetings. “The human figure is inspiring,” he says. “It’s a fun exercise.”
Humm soon found himself working a 60-hour week while spending another 40 or so creating art. It became untenable so, in 2015, he left his job. He started taking art classes in London and Florence before settling in his London home-cum-studio near Hampstead Heath. Since then Humm has painted, sculpted, taken photographs and even ventured into filmmaking, with a feature-length movie version of Goethe’s play Faust.
Although Humm is at the beginning of his artistic career, he has had solo exhibitions at the Saatchi and Riflemaker galleries in London. “As a CEO you have lots of freedom but it’s not the same,” he says. “Being an artist is more about doing something you are really burning to do.”
Humm’s former colleagues treat him with a mixture of bewilderment and admiration. “Most top managers toy with the thought of breaking out,” he says. “But they don’t, partly because they don’t know what to break out to and partly because they value status symbols associated to their position too highly.” Now, while Humm’s new salary is different, his work ethic remains the same: “Whatever you do, either do it with passion or don’t do it at all.”
Former job: Project manager
Current job: Baker
Now able to: Enjoy art as a spectator
At first glance, Ruth Barry’s shop in Berlin’s Mitte looks like it might sell paintings. With its largely bare walls and understated furnishings, the serene feel is akin to that of a gallery. But when you look closer, the elegant displays of bread, cakes and cookies reveal that it is, in fact, a bakery. While Barry preps her ingredients at the back of the shop customers pop in for a fresh loaf or a slice of Scottish gingerbread. It’s a fitting blend given that she once worked in the commercial art world. “In designing the bakery I acknowledged the path that my life had followed up to that point,” she says.
Barry studied sculpture at the Edinburgh College of Art before going on to work as a museum educator for the Guggenheim in New York and then in London as a project manager at the UK’s Counter Editions, which produces special editions of contemporary art. “I was working with some amazing artists but began to miss making things,” she says. When she thought about how she was spending her spare time, she realised that she was baking a lot. Ready for a change, she left her job in 2012. “In the art industry, I didn’t enjoy being part of the machine,” she says. “Leaving it, I was stepping away from the parts I found oppressive to my creativity.”
Inspired by Christophe Vasseur, who worked in the fashion industry before becoming a baker, Barry served as an apprentice at his Paris bakery, Du Pain et des Idées. “I was drawn to his journey, feeling that it somehow mirrors mine,” she says. She founded Black Isle Bakery, named after a peninsula in her native Scotland, as a catering business in London before deciding that Berlin was a more fitting location. Berlin-based architects Atheorem designed the shop and she settled in for the long haul. “Producing something that people eat to nourish their bodies or for pleasure feels very good to me,” says Barry. “It felt that I was being kind to myself.”
The work requires both creativity and patience: some dough ferments for 48 hours and she tests recipes repeatedly. The pace has intensified as the bakery has built up its reputation – it now employs six people – but she still enjoys it. “Building something from nothing and watching it blossom is wonderful.”
Former job: Accountant
Current job: Beekeeper
Now able to: Get her hands dirty
Some 250km northwest of Montréal, among hills and fields of wildflowers, is Miels d’Anicet: an apiary that’s home to some 70 million bees and, arguably, Canada’s best honey. It was founded in 2000 by Anicet Desrochers, who took over more than 100 hives operated by his father, a longtime mead-maker. Then in 2002, the business got a boost in the form of a new owner: Desrochers’ new partner, Anne-Virginie Schmidt (pictured right with Desrochers). The pair met and fell in love 18 years ago when Schmidt was an accountant at auditing firm kpmg. She decided to quit and move north from Montréal to learn beekeeping. “I wasn’t happy,” says Schmidt. “I was part of different businesses, learning different processes, but my hands weren’t on the product.”
Now she oversees 1,500 beehives that can produce upwards of 70,000kg of honey a year. Unlike mass-produced honey, which is pasteurised and thus loses some of its flavour, Miels d’Anicet produces a raw crystallised version. With no commercial farms nearby, the bees have a diverse range of wildflowers to keep them busy, adding depth to the honey’s taste. “My goal was to develop a culture around honey in Québec because the favourite product here is maple syrup,” says Schmidt. It worked: some of Montréal’s best restaurants now use Miels d’Anicet honey.
Desrochers’ initial focus with the project wasn’t on harvesting honey, it was tackling the decline of the global bee population. (Miels d’Anicet is now Canada’s largest queen-bee breeder.) As a result, Schmidt’s business background has been key to the farm’s success. She handles marketing, finances and sales, and has also developed a honey-based line of skincare products and other attractions designed to mitigate the business’s inherent risks: a long winter can seriously dent honey production, for instance.
Today, Miels d’Anicet is buzzing. Despite its remote location, the farm receives more than 20,000 visitors during the summer alone. “People from all over the province come to visit us,” says Schmidt. While the demands of the job are significant, she says that she is still happier than when she was stuck in an office. “This is a perfect lifestyle for us.”
Former job: City hotel manager
Current job: Rural hotel owner
Now able to: Start the day with a horse ride
“I’ve always had one foot in the city and one in the countryside,” says Édouard Daehn as he sips an allongé in his favourite café in Paris’s 16th arrondissement. The 40-year-old hotelier has just dropped his three sons off at school and will shortly hop on his motorbike and head 50km south of Paris to Bonnelles village, where he runs Le Barn, a 73-room rural retreat.
Daehn, who grew up between Martinique and France, knew that full-time city life would never be for him. After graduating from Switzerland’s famous hospitality management school, the École hôtelière de Lausanne, in 2002, Daehn worked in Lyon’s Paul Bocuse restaurant, then as f&b manager at the Peninsula Beijing. Following this he spent many years managing several Paris hotels, including Arvor, which he went on to buy in 2019.
But the pressures of the job meant that he was stuck in the city most of the time; he needed a change of scene. In 2014 he started planning his own hotel. Finally, in 2018, he and business partner William Kriegel opened Le Barn, a getaway in the heart of the Rambouillet Forest with outdoor hot tubs, horses, biking trails and more. “I wanted to create a place that I could escape to from Paris with my family on weekends and share with other urban dwellers,” he says. The success of the business – which generated a turnover of €5m in its first year – speaks to many people’s yearning for a gentler pace of life amid nature. He and Kriegel now lead a team of 50 in-house and 10 external staff.
The move has allowed Daehn to lead a different life both professionally and privately. Le Barn has become a second home for Daehn’s family – including his basset hound Clark – and allowed him to spend more time with them. On top of the usual management duties, Daehn’s days now involve horse riding, developing seasonally changing menus and planning workshops on subjects such as cheese-making. “Le Barn has helped me live more consciously,” he says.
Former jobs: Account executive at a marketing agency and engineer
Resigned: 2019 and 2016
Current jobs: Running a carpentry company
Now have time to: Cook dinner
Kim Heeju and Lee Sanggyu’s favourite meal is mak-guksu (buckwheat noodles), a speciality of Gangwon province where they now live. The married couple relocated from Seoul to Yang Yang on South Korea’s east coast and their biggest lifestyle change has been the chance to have dinner together. The pair, both in their thirties, had lived in the capital since their late teens but after two decades of the bali bali (“hurry hurry”) work culture they are now enjoying a slower pace.
Yang Yang has become popular in recent years as a weekend surf destination for stressed Seoulites. Lee and Kim came in search of calmer waters. They fell in love with the beach town during a weekend trip a few years earlier and decided to buy an apartment and rent a woodshop in the countryside nearby. As both had grown up in small rural towns they “longed to live close to the beach”, says Kim.
The seed of the idea was planted in 2016 when Kim, formerly an account executive at a marketing agency, noticed that her engineer husband was increasingly anxious about work. Following the stress-related death of a close friend, Kim suggested that Lee try something different, such as woodwork.
After resigning in 2016, Lee spent two years studying the carpentry trade before moving to Yang Yang in 2018 and setting up furniture-making business Daoom.
Kim quit her job to follow in 2019 and help out the business. Lee fashions cabinets and other items out of walnut, maple and black cherry, while Kim manages sales and marketing from the adjoining office and works as a freelance editor. Daoom launched officially at the beginning of this year.
Some habits are hard to kick: Lee still works six days a week but he is happier now that he is his own boss; the pastoral office views help too. Downing tools at 18.00 also means that Lee now has time to cook. His signature dish? Tteok-bokki, or spicy stir-fried rice cakes. After dinner, the couple walk along the beach. “No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to do something you like,” says Lee. “It’s worth taking a risk to be happy.”