You started a career in sales at major consumer product companies like Kraft Foods and Unilever. After a corporate restructure, you did your first Reimagination by becoming a computer specialist and software trainer in the legal field.
Tell us about that transition. What were the steps that you took?
My career at Unilever began as a sales representative position traveling from Delaware north to Syracuse NY with the military division called “Unilever Military Export”. We supplied food and consumer products to DeCA, the Department of Defense Commissary Agency, which sold the products to active and retired military personnel in all branches of the service. My area was the Air Force and Dept of the Army bases and one U.S. Navy within my territory.
After 10 years of sales, I accepted a promotion to the NYC and then the Greenwich CT division office as a sales analyst. My background in college was accounting, so I was tasked with statistical interpretation of raw sales data that the company purchased from each military branch and each commissary globally. This included the categories that we competed in, ranging from margarine, frozen food products, detergents, pasta sauce, and health and beauty aids.
During the mid to late 1990’s, laptops became necessary across corporate America for traveling executives and sales forces, as email was now important in the day to day business and less on sending promotional materials, sales analysis and expense reports via Fed Ex. My goal at this time was to engage with 50 sales reps across the USA, shipping them computer equipment and then conducting in house tech training on how to use the new email technology and the emerging internet tools to make the sales force more profitable and productive
In 1998, I accepted a voluntary severance package as the military was making cuts in personnel and bases, enabling me to take my complete compensation and sign up for Microsoft’s System Engineering intensive 6 month program. My goal was more software work and less Engineering, but I assumed that future employers would have to see that my career was sales related but I had 5 years of experience with web HTML experience, assisting the field reps on technology issues before there was a dedicated “help desk”, and was adept at Microsoft Office products as well as teaching colleagues on our in house sales reporting systems.
I accepted a Desktop Computer Specialist position with Pillsbury Winthrop LLP in Stamford CT. Eventually I was moved to the New York office to handle more support issues with phone programming as well as some technical training.
After a restructuring at Pillsbury Winthrop in 2012, I moved to Kelley Drye & Warren (KDW), one of the oldest law firms on the East Coast, as a technical trainer with the same training of new hires which averaged 1-2 a week as well as assigned “how to” emails and documentation of all law firm programs.
After 7 years at KDW, I retired from the legal field in December 2019, shortly before the COVID pandemic.
During your 20 year legal career, you started a new “layer” as a photographer. As you pursued that, did you think that it might become a full time career for you? Was that the plan?
I started as an amateur photographer capturing landscape, travel, and some portraiture work. Another I.T. friend at another firm approached me about taking photos at events, red carpet, weddings, etc for compensation. This was new to me to receive money but first I had to “develop” photos much faster, especially with events that were press assignments. I initially accepted smaller events with less stress. Many of the events are not paid but you receive commission compensation if your photos are selected to run in magazines, newspapers, websites, etc that are seen by photo editors from those industries. They downloaded the photos from our respective agencies and we then were paid, splitting the fee 50/50. At the same time, I enrolled in portrait, studio flash, on camera flash, and photograph composition classes to quickly get up to speed with other New York photographers with more press and art school backgrounds.
Since I was a business major with sales and tech experience, my plan was to someday use my “personality” or people skills to slowly convince larger photo agencies to work there for higher compensation. Today, I am engaged with Getty Images and Shutterstock. With both companies, I have worked in 4 different states ranging from Broadway openings, red carpet movie premieres, film festivals, and the New York and Hamptons society and fundraising events.
You left the corporate world just before the pandemic and now you have a full on career as a photographer for executive meetings, speeches, and large group events. Your photography is also on Getty Images and Shutterstock.
What advice would you give someone who wants to make a complete change in their work over 50? Do you view your new career as a lifelong effort?
My advice to anyone seeking a role in the arts is to have a backup plan. Financially successful photographers have the same 2 common denominators: a spouse or partner that can provide financial support and medical insurance so that you can exist months without compensation while you wait for a corporate client to issue payments and slow parts of the year from January to May.
The second is to keep your current job, moonlight in photography after hours or weekends until you can retire or have 1-2 years of savings until your business is established. In New York, young photographers tend to want to work in “fashion” but I explain that there are only 2 large shows a year and the very few that can work full time in that field have extensive experience and can afford equipment well over $30,000 for a single camera, and access to studio, stylists, and makeup artists. I try to sell them on taking on a wedding photography field which can pay on average $2-3K for each event. It still takes years of assisting before developing your own style, but easier to develop clients than fashion and celebrity fields that are dominated by the global agencies.