Drastic career changes can be very rewarding

Through my 25-year long career, I have worked for tech companies, internet companies, startups, even diplomatic missions, trade offices, two marketing agencies and, for a few exciting months, as a university lecturer. 

In one way or another, all of these positions had to do with marketing: getting the word out, whether it is about a brand, a new enterprise, a country, or teaching the very same to eager students. From storytelling to digital marketing, from branding to brand management – somehow it was always connected. 

I worked primarily in the industrial sector: machinery, semiconductors, nanotechnology, and later on moved into IT, software, artificial intelligence and machine learning. Again, it seem to me like a gradual, organic progression.

When I left my last position at a leading tech marketing agency in Taipei, I was thus for a while looking for a similar job in a related industry. Something hands-on, something technical, something B2B, something in my comfort zone. It was not to be. Earlier this year I received a phone call from a headhunter asking me if I new anything about luxury interior design. 

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I have no clue about design. I don’t know my Gap from my Gucci. I may be able to recognise egregiously bad taste, but that’s about it. And yet, there and then, on the phone I said. “Not really, but I’m interested.” Long story short, I went for an interview. 

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Changing careers is risky but rewarding

And for another interview. And another one. First the HR Director, then the Managing Director, and finally the founder and principal designer of the company. I passed all the tests, completed a writing assignment, and had a long Zoom meeting. And then I thought: what am I doing? I am out of my depth here. I know nothing about this industry. 

Nothing, absolutely nothing, had prepared me for this stint in one of the world’s leading interior design companies.  I am not talking about any designer. We are talking about one of the very big names in luxury design – hospitality, residences, spas, and so on. We are talking – drumroll – about the masters of experiential luxury, the Hong Kong based designer duo Ed Ng and Terence Ngan. If you know anything about luxury design, your jaw has dropped by now. 

You may not have heard of them if you are not a member of the glitterati or a designer yourself, but I can guarantee you will be impressed by their work. In March 2019, they won the prestigious Ahead Award for their work at the Four Seasons Kuala Lumpur: the Yun House restaurant and the even more spectacular Bar Trigona. (https://www.fourseasons.com/kualalumpur/)

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They also did the absolutely fantastic Mei Ume at the Four Seasons Ten Trinity Square in London (https://www.meiume.com), a spectacular Michelin restaurant. Their design draws on the rich history of the place: the Port of London Authority is a heritage building where traders from the Far East used to unload their wares such as silk and tea.

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Now, I haven’t suddenly become a designer; I am in charge of global business development, which in the case of such an accomplished design firm means mostly evaluating whether a project is worth pursuing. It’s a lot of work keeping up with a global elite of luxury developers and private clients. 

But whereas before I dealt with purchasing managers, salespeople, the C-suite of humdrum B2B companies, and the odd F&B manager or hotel director, I now suddenly find myself thrown into a world of subtle beauty and fine nuances, of understated elegance and a global world of luxury design. I am talking about experiential luxury and ceiling heights, about rattan and marble textures, about spaces and locality. One of the most inspiring projects AB Concept has completed must be the Paper Moon Giardino in Milan:

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The AB Concept (Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ab_concept, Website: abconcept.net ) teams in Hong Kong, Taipei and Bangkok design luxury hotels, restaurants, residences and commercial properties world-wide. It is an amazing company. It lives and breathes good design. Even the office space looks like straight out of Architectural Digest: spacious, elegant, beautiful. Some evenings I don’t really feel like going home to my own apartment because our office is so beautiful.

Yet at the same time, the people working here are down-to-earth, friendly, and truly passionate about what they are doing. 

Changing industries is a luxury and a privilege 

The new job is a break with my career as a B2B influencer in the machinery, healthcare, and semiconductor markets. My interests in AI, machine learning, blockchain, and the future of work are suddenly taking a backseat to things like resort hotels, 5-star restaurants, and Salone di Milano and Montenapoleone. A new Instagram account (https://www.instagram.com/mhiesboeck) is replacing my 60k+ strong Twitter presence (http://www.twitter.com/mhiesboeck); I no longer teach digital marketing but have become a student of shapes, forms, patterns, and the art of understated elegance.  

If you are ever in Hong Kong, you must stop by the former Central Police Station, now a cultural hub with three stunning restaurants designed by my firm.

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Few people have the opportunity, nay the luxury, to change industries during their careers. I found the change easy, perhaps because working for my new employer is such a joy – aesthetically, visually, and personally. It took me several weeks to make up my mind and take the plunge, but I don’t regret it. In fact, I highly recommend it. Life is short. Varied experiences over a lifetime can bring a profound sense of accomplishment. 

The reason I ended up taking the job is the profound insight the company founder Ed Ng had during my final video conference with him. “I don’t need another designer – I’ve got enough of those. What I need is a different perspective on the company. Someone who can write, and sell, and negotiate in different languages.”

It was this statement that made it clear to me that I had indeed something to offer in an industry entirely alien to me. It didn’t take me long to acclimatise, and within a few short weeks, I had learned all the lingo interior designers use to describe their design philosophy.

But my life did change.

I dress differently, I eat differently, I work differently. I use British spelling now instead of American (blame the Hong Kong connection). I switched from PCs and Windows to iPads and iMacs. I have a whole bunch of new apps on my phone, and I even changed airlines and loyalty programmes due to different travel patterns. No more ties and dark colours. Out of the Old Navy store and straight into Boggi’s. Almost everything about my life is new and exciting.

And I am hugely excited about the changes. In life, only change can keep us on our toes, only change can keep our brains fit, only change is constant. 

I you are at all inspired by great design, beauty, and luxury, follow me on my journey. I guarantee you will be as excited as I am about my new position. You also find me on LinkedIn. And if you have a design project you want to discuss, you can mail AB Concept here