A banker quit to become a chef and saw his bank balance drop to $230. Despite burnout and a pandemic, he would never go back.

Juma (second right) at work.
It took Philip Juma seven years to open his first restaurant.

  • Philip Juma left a career in wealth management to follow his passion to showcase Iraqi food.
  • He had no formal training but spent 7 years running pop-up kitchens and working in restaurants.
  • Juma told us about his tough journey and why, despite the pandemic, a 9-5 holds no appeal.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Food has always been part of Philip Juma’s life.

Growing up in London to an Iraqi father and an Irish-English mother, he remembers bringing Iraqi-inspired dishes into school for his friends to try. Food was Juma’s calling, yet he entered the cold, logical world of finance.

He achieved a 2:1 in economics for business from Leeds Metropolitan University, UK, before taking a job in the City, first for a series of wealth management startups, then for UBS.

He was comfortable – earning a salary of around £2,500 (around $3,500) a month aged 24 – but he knew he wasn’t happy.

Working through the 2008 financial crisis took its toll, and food still held a certain fascination.

“I was in a world that just wasn’t aligned with my morals, wasn’t aligned with who I was as a person,” Juma, now 37, told Insider.

He would spend vacations and weekends working shifts in top restaurants, but didn’t feel like he was able to make the jump. He also didn’t want to disappoint his parents.

You convince yourself that this is what people want from you,said Juma of his high-flying finance career.

It took six years to finally make a change.

Juma worked restaurant shifts alongside a consulting gig

He left finance, becoming an account manager at an energy consultancy. It involved fewer hours and meant that he could earn a wage while honing his experience running occasional supper club pop-ups, working freelance as a chef for hire company and covering shifts in restaurants.

To the dismay of his Dad, in 2014 he quit his job in consulting and decided to start cheffing full time – despite being unable to afford cookery school.

“My Dad said: ‘You’re going to quit a well paid job in finance to become a dishwasher?’,” recalls Juma. “It was hard, I hadn’t worked out anything, but knew that I just wanted to put Iraqi food on the map.”

He spent the next seven years in various cookery roles: running pop-up restaurants, cheffing at events, working as a freelance chef, and a stint managing a Lebanese restaurant in London.

A post shared by JUMA (@jumakitchen)

Pursuing his passion meant a serious dent to his finances.

His income dropped from a take-home of roughly £2,500 a month after tax – to taking home around £300 ($500) after he’d cover the staffing, venue, and food costs of his once-monthly pop-up – which would be three days full work.

His income wasn’t always so low, but was inconsistent, based on wedding seasons or on a job-by-job basis.

“It’s very alienating because it makes you ask whether you’ve made the right decision. ‘Of course I should be out for dinner with my friends tonight – but I can’t afford it’,” said Juma.

By the time January 2019 came around he said that he experienced burnout. He had £167 ($230) in his bank account, no savings, and “nothing to show for it.”

Opening at a famous London food market was a breakthrough

But when the doubts crept in, something would generally happen to give him motivation.

Out of the blue, he received a call to train chefs on a Saudi royal yacht. Earlier in his career he’d been offered a column in the Evening Standard newspaper.

Then in mid-2019, he was given the chance to finally make a consistent income. Borough Market, the famed London food market,was looking for new blood. Juma applied, and was accepted.

Borough Market
London’s Borough Market.

Juma Kitchen, his first permanent site, opened in December 2019. It gained momentum, and Juma estimates that he worked between 14- and 16-hour days.

Then COVID-19 emerged, and restaurants had to close their doors.

“Borough was my first opportunity to make a consistent income, and it’s been taken away from me,” said Juma.

He said that he has suffered burnout during the pandemic. Being open on social media about his need to slow down – and the support he received in return helped him find a better balance and learn that it’s okay to step away at times.

Juma Kitchen is open again, but takings are roughly 60% on what they should be. He’s optimistic that when the tourists and office workers return it will “shine”.

In the meantime he’s been able to build his reputation, appearing on the BBC to cook his food, which has received rave reviews, being invited to cook at festivals.

Make the change slowly – don’t jump all in

Despite the challenges, Juma says he would never go back to the stable comfort of a city career, and no longer suffers doubt about his career choice. He says that his parents are very proud.

Nonetheless, he has advice for anyone considering leaving the stability of a full time career: Don’t jump all in straight away.

“Have a mini earner on the side or cut down your hours so you get some income,” he said. “Structure your life so that you’ve still got the safety net that pays all your overheads, but gives you time to pursue what you love.”

“You need to be ready for a level of discomfort that is interrupting what we always think is the norm.”

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3 steps to pivot your professional reputation and explore a new career path

career coaching
A reputation pivot is the shift someone makes when their current career is no longer serving them.

  • Lida Citroën is an personal branding and reputation management specialist.
  • If you feel unsatisfied with your current job or career path, Citroën says it’s never too late to consider a professional change.
  • To pivot your professional reputation, assess your new target employers or clients to determine what skills they’re looking for. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

With the onset of the global health crisis in 2020, many professionals and entrepreneurs were forced to consider doing something different as industries struggled, jobs dwindled, or customers stopped buying. In 2021, many of those industries, jobs, and customers are still reluctant to fully engage, leading professionals to evaluate other long-term options.

The past year has been an opportunity for us to pause and reflect on the course we are on. Do I love my work? Do I like being able to work from home, surrounded by family? Do I need additional schooling to reskill or to upskill my abilities? 

Many professionals and entrepreneurs may have a change of heart about their career, find themselves uninspired by their workmates, or find their skills irrelevant to their current work or the market. This, in turn, leads them to evaluate their path forward and make changes.

For these individuals, a new career path brings hope, possibility, and enthusiasm but the inevitable question emerges: Am I completely starting over? When shifting your work, attention, and reputation to a new direction, a reputation pivot can ensure great success.

What is a reputation pivot?

A reputation pivot describes the shift someone makes when their current reputation and career are no longer desirable or feasible, and they want to take the positive assets of their reputation with them to do something very different.

For example, the doctor who seeks to become a children’s book author, the venture capitalist who sets out to become a motivational speaker, the sales professional who launches a food-truck business, or the college football coach who becomes an actor.

When facing a shift, it’s critical to bring forward the qualities, characteristics, and reputation successes that are positive, memorable, and valuable, and, at the same time, shed the aspects of one’s reputation that don’t serve the new audience.

How to pivot

Here’s an example of a reputation pivot: Bruce loved being a popular restaurant owner in his vibrant college town. Each school year, the area was buzzing with young people eager to partake of his varied menu of American cuisine with a Latin influence. They sat at his bar, running up large bar tabs, and dined in his restaurant, which always stayed open late to accommodate their youthful stamina.

When the global health crisis hit, he had to navigate the new restrictions and keep his business running. With fewer college students on campus and seating availability shrinking due to distancing restrictions, Bruce wondered whether his future was in the restaurant business after all.

In talking through what he loved about his work, Bruce acknowledged it was interacting with “his kids,” as he called them. He often had long, heartfelt conversations with them at the bar or dining area. He even joked that some saw him as their “Dad” away from home. This gave him pride, as he’d never had children of his own.

Bruce believed his passion was working with young adults. He wasn’t personally inspired to become a social worker, therapist, or counselor, but helping young people venture into entrepreneurship excited him. “Being an investor means you’re their guide. I can share my experience as a business owner – the successes and failures – and support them through the financial, emotional, and business challenges and opportunities,” Bruce said.

After selling his restaurant, he gathered other investors who had similar passions and more experience in the industry. They launched a small boutique firm, catering to emerging entrepreneurs in specific markets. Bruce marketed his reputation and brand as “Dad” to the young entrepreneurs. His website showed images of him with former students celebrating birthdays and graduations. His LinkedIn profile and online review sites were flooded with kind sentiments from his former patrons, some of whom had now come to him for investment guidance.

Bruce leveraged his reputation as a caring, empathetic, and talented business owner who related to, and had the respect, of young people. He was not focused on investing in hospitality ventures because that brought up painful memories. Many of his contacts from the restaurant and bar business dropped off his priority list, and were replaced by fellow investors, youth advisers, and counselors, and college entrepreneur programs who all referred potential candidates to Bruce. 

Here are three main steps for pivoting, and how Bruce employed them.

1. Inventory current reputation assets 

For Bruce, he started by examining what was working: He knew how to bond with young people, gaining their respect and confidence quickly. He enjoyed being around them, hearing their stories of college challenges and offering support when needed. He was also a well-respected business owner in the area. His restaurant had been a staple in the community for 20-plus years and he was known for being generous (supporting many fundraising efforts), friendly, and insightful. He’d started many food crazes before they became national trends, earning him respect as a visionary entrepreneur.

Bruce was also smart about money. When economic times were tough, he pared down his menu to keep staff employed. When he was forced to shut down indoor dining, he invested in systems to make outdoor dining more comfortable before many of his competitors had done so. When the time came, he was able to sell his equipment and real estate for a handsome sum, even though the nation was still struggling to return to regular restaurant operations.

2. Assess the target audience

For Bruce, the target audience he’d served (literally) for so long was the same group he’d be working with next. He was no longer looking to offer a dining experience to college kids away from home but would now be seeking college-aged entrepreneurs and inventors whom he could invest in and help nurture to business growth.

While he felt he knew the audience, he still had a lot to learn. Bruce created spreadsheets of what he knew, what he didn’t know, and where he could get the needed insights into his target audience.

3. Decide which reputation assets to leverage and which to shed 

Early on, Bruce knew he wanted to retain the camaraderie, support, and father-figure style he’d enjoyed in the restaurant. That wouldn’t change. But he now wanted them to respect his business acumen, self-discipline, structures, and protocols for investment viability. He also knew that some of the casualness he’d tolerated before, which at times bordered on disrespect, would need to stop. This was a new, serious business and he was not in the hospitality space any longer.

With a clear understanding of how he wanted to be positioned (reputational goals), an assessment of his target audience’s needs and desires, and a positioning plan for growing his reputation in this new direction, he was ready to venture out. Bruce kept a close eye on how his value was perceived by his core target audience – the young entrepreneurs – as well as his business partners, the investment community, the media, and the local community. As his business grows, Bruce feels empowered to use the available levers he’s developed to course correct, learn, and scale his offer, and enhance his reputation.

Is 2021 the year for you to pivot?

Have you reflected on your career and realized that what you’ve been doing is no longer inspiring, fulfilling, or meaningful personally or professionally? Pivoting takes thought and strategy, but the time might be perfect for what you can offer. Following the steps above will help you to evaluate your goals and get where you truly want to go, rather than maintaining the path you’re on.

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