Switching careers is not always an easy decision, but often it is born out of necessity. After spending five years in the teaching profession, David Spieler switched careers to become his own boss – chief executive officer of Earthworks Pottery – and later, owner of the Flower Forest. In the following interview, Spieler speaks about his choices along the way and shares insights on entrepreneurship.
Q: What was your career of choice growing up?
A: I actually wanted to be an astronaut. I saw the moon landing and wanted to go far. I also dreamt of becoming a biologist and finding a cure for cancer. I felt if I was going to dream, I should dream big.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to become a teacher instead?
A: I was pursuing goals at university but the cancer research methods involved areas related to animals – which I did not like. I found that finding a cure for cancer was not going to be easy, so I changed course and returned home. I heard about a teaching job at The Alexandra School, applied, and got it. I taught biology, guidance and integrated science.
Q: Did you find satisfaction in teaching?
A: Absolutely! It is an honourable profession where you meet a broad spectrum of interesting young people. It is also an interactive and highly respectable profession. I thoroughly enjoyed my three teaching stints and five years of teaching.
Q: Was the switch to pottery and managing a business a hard one for you?
A: Very hard! After securing a good teaching job, like the third one at Harrison College [where I was educated], there was no reason to leave. I was set up for life with a well paying job that gave me three holidays a year. However, pottery was a family business. My mother was managing Earthworks with two staff members, one of whom was my best friend, and the demand for her works was growing.
She offered me a partnership from the onset. It was a tough career change – the biggest decision I’ve ever made. However, being empowered to teach A Levels at Harrison College and to nurture future great Barbadian minds was fascinating, but I wanted more in terms of perceived future job satisfaction. After five years, the interaction with students suddenly was not enough.
After a year of thinking about the switch I asked for long leave and later resigned. Even though the switch meant working longer hours, it was not long before I was able to get a reasonable salary. It was all about taking a risk and knowing I could come up empty-handed. As luck and hard work would have it, all went according to plan.
Q: Did switching careers bring with it the need for formal training?
A: As a teacher with qualifications in biology, chemistry and physics, my background allowed me to improve the pottery production process. Everything I’ve learnt in business ethically, I’ve learnt from my mom – Goldie Spieler. Among other things, I learnt about budgeting cash flow and that when you give someone your word, you should keep it. I also learnt how to be a good listener, strive to give the best customer service; and to be honest.
Q: Along with Earthworks Pottery you are also the owner of Flowers Forest; what are the challenges of managing two businesses?
A: I cannot be in two places at the same time, so delegating and managing are important. Time spent travelling is another factor. This means that planning in advance is vital. I have to foresee what people are doing and monitor progress to ensure the best outcome simultaneously. To manage two tourist attractions is a great achievement, but it’s also a big challenge and I’m still learning how to cope.
Q: Would you encourage more people to become entrepreneurs?
A: Of course! This is the way forward for Barbados. You can no longer wait for someone to create a job for you. To become your own boss, you should have a business plan based on what you want to do, and implement it in such a way that it has the ability to make money. Organizations such as the Enterprise Growth Fund, Barbados Youth Business Trust, Barbados Investment Development Corporation, and the Caribbean Export Development Agency are willing to help entrepreneurs.
Q: What advice would you give to people switching careers?
A: Age should be taken into consideration. As you age, you have less energy – so you must be realistic about career switches. If you are in a secure, well paying job, it’s not advisable to switch without carefully taking future possibilities into consideration. Remember, switching careers is about taking risks. You must also be prepared to work long hours if necessary. Other than that, eat, live and dream your goals. Keep going tirelessly onwards and upwards!