In post-corporate lives, many of us ease our way into self-employment via consulting. That was not the path taken by Karin Eurell. Following her abrupt departure from banking, Karin and her partner pooled their skills to create and develop a new business concept. Within four-months they launched their startup Doctours, and were taking bookings in week one. I know many talented people, but I can't think of a more focused and determined individual who has so successfully (and speedily) transferred their corporate talent and skills into profitable self-employment.
What’s your job exactly?
I’m a co-founder of Doctours. We arrange for Australian medical professionals and students to travel to developing countries to do volunteer work or a medical elective. The health organisations we work with are based in Nepal, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Timor Leste, Tanzania, Namibia and Ecuador.
What do you love about your job?
The variety! Being a small company means that I have a hand in everything: marketing, finance, site inspections, strategy, client liaison. I have a real role in shaping the company. I like the autonomy and flexibility to do my own hours, and I enjoy working from home. I also like that I’m helping doctors make a difference and do good work overseas. All of these things make my job feel very satisfying.
Where did you previously work?
I worked in international banking for 25 years as a senior manager in Sydney and London. I managed teams of people that analysed and approve risks. I seemed to spend a lot of time in meetings with colleagues, staff, international bosses, and cross-departments. Working in global banking means you’re on call 24/7 – so it wasn't uncommon for me to be doing 2am conference calls.
Why did you change your career?
There was a major restructure at the bank I worked for and I was given a very generous payout. My partner was in the throes of selling his business and we were keen to start a new one together – we had a few ideas, and agreed on Doctours, which we launched in March 2012.
What was your first ever job?
When I was 15 I babysat for family friends and earned $1 an hour, and after midnight I got an extra dollar and I thought I was rich. My first proper job was clerk-typist – an excellent introduction to the ways of the office world, but within eight months I was ready for more challenging opportunities, to earn more and move up the ladder, so I moved on.
Can you remember what your child-self wanted to be ‘when you grew up’?
My childhood dream was to be an air hostess. In senior high school I wanted to work in a lab or in pharmaceuticals. Work experience cured me of that. When I finished school I went overseas as an exchange student which gave me the travel bug and I decided that I needed get a job that earned real money and involved travel.
What have you studied?
I did a Bachelor of Business majoring in accounting and finance. Then I did an executive MBA. Since starting Doctours I’ve done lots of on-line training and webinars. They’re free and relevant and I can be particular, based on the of study I need. I also go to conferences and seminars.
What makes you choose what you study or learn?
Generally it’s about a specific area I want to get better at – say marketing or social media, which aren’t in my background. I look out courses pitched at small business, and for people who want to grow their business. So I then seek out courses and trainers on the same wavelength, that are going to help me achieve my business goals.
Have you got future career ambitions?
I really want to grow Doctours to be a global organisation with a network of offices across the UK and North America, where we can recruit more volunteers. Then at some point I will hand over the business to someone, and think about starting another small business. I’m also really clear that I don’t want to return to banking.
What’s your work schedule?
9-7 most weekdays but there’s a lot of flexibility built into that so that I can get out for lunch or training. If there’s a project I’m working on where I really can’t have interruptions, such as MYOB, I’ll work on the weekends.
What do you wear to work?
Generally shorts or jeans. Sometimes shoes! My home-office grooming effort is putting on earrings and lip-gloss. If I meet with clients, it will be smart jeans and a jacket. When I’m doing overseas site inspections it's smart casual.
Are clothes important in the workplace?
I mostly working online and from home. The type of customers we're working with, who want to travel in developing countries, clothing becomes less important. Relaxed dress is the standard in the travel industry working in developing countries. However first impressions still count so grooming remains important.
What is your standout proudest career moment?
I guess launching my own business and watching it grow. It’s not a moment – or rather, it’s a very long moment – but I look at what we’ve set up with Doctours and I’m proud.
If you had the possibility to go back and change anything in your career, would you?
That’s such a hard question – I really don’t like to look back with regret, I prefer to see mistakes from the past as learning experiences. The reality is you can’t change things and for me it’s not beneficial to think about rewinding the clock, but important to know I’ll do better next time.
Is there anyone whose career you really admire?
Hilary Clinton has worked so hard and has put herself right out there, whilst being constantly criticised and dealing with personal and professional setbacks. Publicly, she remains positive and just keeps going.
Do you have a mentor?
I like to bounce ideas off a whole range of people across my circle of family and friends. I don’t have a formal arrangement with anyone at the moment however it is definitely something that would be beneficial in our environment.
What’s it like working with your partner?
It's been great because we have complimentary backgrounds and can pool ideas.
How do you unwind?
I love to go for a walk and I like to have a little drinkie. I enjoy yoga, catching up with people and having a laugh.
What is the toughest thing about launching and starting a new business?
Worrying about cash flow. While nothing in life is secure or safe, in a small business you don’t have the buffer of a regular salary or the payouts that you expect in banking – that’s probably been the hardest thing.
What do you want to do next in your career?
I want to enter into strategic alliances that will allow Doctours to grow into a bigger and better service. Globally.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing your current job?
That’s so tough. My focus is on Doctours and I think to do it justice I need to focus 100% on it and my vision for growth.
What do you want more of in your career right now?
I’d like to have a team of people and focused on different parts of the business to free up my time to set up new programs in more countries – that would be ideal.
And less of?
What do you think the biggest fail a company can have with its employees?
In banking there used to be a lot of work involved in getting proposals approved and in some cases they needed to be supported by up to 12 people – that bureaucracy was slow and cumbersome and meant people lacked real accountability. It’s damaging to employee morale and sense of purpose when they need to spend so much time duplicating efforts and sitting in meetings.
What is the one word you would use to describe yourself as a child?
If you knew me really well, you’d know …
That I am shy but totally committed to my career.
What kind of impact do you think you have on the people you work with?
People provide us with feedback all the time telling us they’ve had the most amazing experiences, met wonderful people and enjoyed new and challenging experiences. The most common word used to describe their adventure is ‘amazing’, and they are genuinely grateful that we’ve given them that opportunity.
How do you behave when you’re stressed out?
I get very quiet and direct; I put my head down and get really focused on the tasks.
What are you like when you’re relaxed?
It’s pretty obvious when I’m relaxed, you can see it - I kick back and just live in the moment.
Other than work, what do you love about your life right now?
My work gives me the flexibility to be able to do things that are important to me. I’m part of the local Rotary Club and involved with community activities that are worthwhile and give me the chance to meet wonderful, caring people. I’m also involved with Sailability, taking people with a disability out sailing on Sundays. I feel a lot less stressed now compared with my days in banking.
If you enjoyed reading about Karin's career, here's a link for more interviews from people who love their work.