This week for The Career Changers interview, we met Ian Brown, Sales & Marketing Director at Wireless Navitas. Ian started his professional life as a Fitter and Turner apprentice, following his dad path. After getting some clarity on what to do next, he attempted to get a white-collar job as a salesman, motivated by the idea of getting a company car. He went to the interview, wearing a friend’s suit that was about two sizes bigger, but he managed to get the job. That was the beginning of a new life, that would take him to travel the world and explore new cultures. But at some point something changed. Ian learned meditation from a Buddhist monk as a way to deal with Multiple Sclerosis, a condition that he has been living with for the last 23 years. He attempted a first career change, by trying to bring meditation in the UK, but felt that, at that time, the market was not ready for it. It was after that, that he embarked in a new venture and started his own business Wireless Navitas.
What is your educational background?
I hold an ONC in Mechanical Production Engineering.
Which job did you want to do when you were a child? Did you do it?
I wanted to be a soldier, didn’t all young boys back then? No, I never did.
How did you start your professional life?
I became an apprentice Fitter and Turner, the same as my dad. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but my mum and dad thought it would be a good background for me going forwards, which it was. I, on the other hand, didn’t really have a clue, so was happy to go along with it. Looking back, it was a fortunate situation to have a guaranteed job for four years, while I was working out what I wanted to do.
How long did you do this job for, and how was that experience?
I was an apprentice for four years and an Engineer at my first role for a further two years. After that, I moved to another engineering company for a further 12 months. There I had a real blast ‘learning’ lots with boys the same age. The money was good, but the work was repetitive and not really challenging. I realised that I wanted something to tax me mentally.
After that experience, you landed your first white-collar job in sales. How did that happen?
The drive into sales was that I wanted a company car. I had no idea about a white-collar job but thought I would like to try it. I went to only one sales position interview and got the job, with ITW Switches. During the interview, I was wearing my friend’s suit; I didn’t have one. It was about two sizes bigger and when I sat down the shoulders ended up around my ears; I still got the job though.
Later, I asked my boss why he had chosen me, and he answered it was because I had thought about the questions he asked. The answer may not have been right, but they were considered.
Your first job in sales gave you the first opportunity to travel and explore new cultures. Did travelling give you a different perspective of the world?
My first office job was fantastic. They treated me like a trainee, and the women in the office really mothered me. Through this job, I also had my first chance to travel abroad. They gave me a couple of assignments, one in Germany and an exhibition in Milan. This gave me my first taste of travelling and the opportunity to experience different work cultures. Later I worked internationally for a Japanese company, and I was on planes at least twice a week. It was very exciting at the time. I was in my 30’s, but I think its a younger mans game. Now in my 50’s it’s not something I would like to repeat; but the odd business trip abroad is still fun, although being disabled brings its own issues.
At some point, you felt the need to leave the sales world, and you attempted your first career change. You have had Multiple Sclerosis for 23 years, and meditation helped you to deal with this condition.
I never wanted to stay in sales, and I only tried to change career once. Because of my illness, I learned meditation from a Buddhist monk. I felt there was a need in the wellbeing market for meditation, and after all, it was very successful in the USA. UK however is a different animal altogether; it wasn’t ready for it at the time. My sales background gave me a good chance at selling the service, and I knew how to make it work, but people in the UK just weren’t ready to pay for it. I did quite a lot of charity work for anxiety sufferers which was very rewarding but ultimately didn’t pay the bills.
After that attempt you went on creating your own business. How and when did you start thinking about your new project?
Probably around 40. I wanted to be my own boss, and it happened that I stumbled on an energy harvest tech from Enocean. I created a mainstream UK light switch, that is under patent review. I am now addressing my efforts to get into the domestic arena.
My latest venture is designing our own product for the smart home market. It is challenging and exciting and I regularly flying to Munich.
What are the highlights and lowlights of your job?
Being my own boss, I can do as I please. I also enjoy seeing my business growing and products coming to life. The downside is that there are times of inactivity as I wait for others to finish their part of the design process before I can move on to my part.
Why do you think changing a career is a good thing?
You have to keep things fresh, or you endanger of becoming stale.
Has your career been impacted by the coronavirus?
In my position no, we had the chance to refine our products.
Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
I can only tell my own story, which is normal for me; others think I don’t let things stop me. But we are all individual. Because of my illness, I am disabled and I still manage to get my work done using my scooter, which goes all around the world with me, which I think might help people who think a challenge stops them.