Why I Left My Investment Banking Job to Join the Family Business

Kate Began Family Business

Sometimes pride gets in the way of logical decisions. Sometimes society tells you one thing when your heart tells you another. Sometimes the right decision isn’t the easy decision. But ultimately, chasing your dreams and ensuring your happiness are the most important things you can do.

Growing up, my entire life revolved around one goal: to own my own business—actually, to own multiple businesses. I had big dreams as a child, and while others laughed and nodded their heads indulgently, I smiled knowing that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. My inspiration and drive came from my dad who started a manufacturing company, Polycase, two years before I was born.

Between having a family business and my passion for entrepreneurship, attending Babson College was an easy decision. After seeking advice from several business professionals, they recommended beginning my career in investment banking and ultimately entering private equity; if I wanted to own businesses, it was essential to learn how to value, buy, and sell them.

So my end goals were set, and my plan was in place. I concentrated in computational mathematical finance and graduated with high honors in the top 10 of my class. I secured a job in investment banking and during my first year began interviewing for private equity positions. Everything was going perfectly. There was only one problem: I wasn’t happy.

I was living my dream, yet nothing felt right. Was it simply because I wasn’t at my end goal? After all, investment banking was only a vehicle to get me where I thought I wanted to be. Yet something was still off.

During an interview, someone asked about a business I ran during college. Immediately I lit up, and my passion for entrepreneurship was evident. He looked at me and half-jokingly said, “If you’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur, why are you working in investment banking?” It was like I hit a brick wall. Suddenly, something that I had been working toward for years made no sense, and the unease I had been feeling for months intensified.

Taking a step back, it became clear that analyzing businesses to determine if they were quality investments was not my passion. What had been lacking was the strategic and problem-solving side of business that drove my desire to be an entrepreneur.

Determining the root cause of my unhappiness led me to re-evaluate my next steps. Society, corporate America, my paychecks, and the cautious part of my brain were telling me to finish my two years in investment banking and see how I felt. I had worked my whole life to get here; I was on the path to a successful career and making money. My only argument against staying the course was that “I wasn’t happy.” No matter how logical the arguments were, I ultimately knew I needed to leave and pursue my dreams.

I quit my job in investment banking and moved from downtown Boston back to Cleveland, Ohio, to work for our family business. Polycase designs and manufactures a proprietary line of plastic and metal enclosures to house different types of electronics.

I was hesitant to work for our family company because it meant giving up my dream of starting a business. However, it didn’t take long to realize that I could set aside my pride, because even though my dad founded the company, I could still be an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship has a number of definitions. To me, an entrepreneur is someone who sees opportunity where other people might not. An entrepreneur is someone who embraces challenges and is fueled by solving problems.

So, while I may not be finding opportunities to start businesses, I am finding opportunities to grow one. Working at a manufacturing company probably doesn’t seem very glamourous, but I love everything about it. It’s not the product that fuels my excitement; it’s the challenge of inventing new ways to grow, creating new processes and staying ahead of the competition.

For me, there is no such thing as a “typical” day. Our business provides the opportunity to wear a variety of hats: from operations to finance, engineering, sales, and marketing. Problems often arise that require a broad skill set and quick decision making.

In one instance, something as simple as a broken shipping scale could have resulted in confusion and late shipments. While others focused solely on fixing the scale, my mind raced to the implications of downtime in the shipping department. The sales team needed to prioritize expedited orders, a temporary solution for weighing products was necessary, and a contingency plan for further delays was implemented. Ultimately, quick thinking minimized any disruption to operations and maintained customer satisfaction.

These types of situations make for a fast-paced environment that keeps me engaged and fulfills my need for problem solving.

Looking back, my greatest fear in leaving the path I so carefully planned was the possibility of regretting my decision. Two years later, I can happily say it was the best decision I ever made. Sometimes it’s more important to listen to yourself than others. Seeking advice can be helpful, but ultimately you need to know what excites you and listen to your heart.

Posted in Entrepreneurial Leadership

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