Nancy O’Hare (Executive MBA, 2014) has spent 20 years in the oil and gas industry travelling whenever she could. Now she’s ditched the day job and has published a new kind of travel book “Dust In My Pack” part how-to, and part narrative based on her travels. We spoke about this huge change and whether she could be tempted to return to a corporate role.
Tell me about your time at Cass!
I really liked the Cass programme. It was a mix of intense periods of being pushed and stretched, but I looked forward to the monthly getaways as the environment was refreshing and energising. The people I studied with made the experience dynamic and fun and everyone was really supportive. My classmates came from a very diverse background and that diversity was one of the reasons I picked Cass. I came from a financial background, working in the oil and gas industry, and the mix of people’s experiences and industries was something I really appreciated.
At the start, I was based in Geneva in Switzerland so the Modular Executive MBA worked really well. It fit with my work commitments. But mid-way through, my husband got a job in Nigeria. Soon after, I transferred to the Lagos office with my employer. That commute was not quite as easy! But it was good fun. I would catch the shuttle bus from my office at 4pm, take the overnight flight to London to arrive in the early morning and then go straight to class. I came to love the BA Arrival Lounge’s shower!
A couple of classes stood out for me. One was when we did a consulting project in Vietnam and we worked with a local tour company. It was a family business with growing pains. After living and travelling around the world, working with a tour company really appealed to me. We could apply our personal experiences as well as what we learned during our MBA program to give them practical advice to grow.
The other great class was Managing Strategic Change. It was relevant because the company I had been working for had been through a lot of change. It was a public company when I joined, then it was acquired by a Chinese state-owned enterprise so it became part of a huge entity and then there was just constant change after that with further m&a activity. But it was inspiring to see how, as a manager, I could affect the impact of those changes on the people in the organisation. How well it is managed really resonated with me and how I could make a difference going forward.
What did you do next?
Well, my husband and I love to travel. Getting away helps to clear my mind and see through big decisions. After I graduated from Cass, we took a holiday away to decide what to do next. We went to Rwanda to see the gorillas and then to Uganda for a nine-day trek to Margherita Peak in the Rwenzori Mountains.
By the end of 2014, I had spent nearly two years in Nigeria. We were ready to leave and do something different. We took time out to study Spanish in Guatemala and then continued across Central America and to Cuba for five months in 2015/16. After that I decided to write a book. At first I wanted to tie it to the energy industry, which proved difficult; it took me a while to get my groove. My husband also decided to leave the corporate world and to follow his passion for photography, which worked well for my book!
So…what’s in your pack?
My website’s theme is “in my pack” and my first book is called “Dust In My Pack”. The next book will also follow the “in my pack” theme. I’m planning a whole series, and I’d say it’s a new sort of travel book. It’s not just narrative but also not just a guide book like the Lonely Planet. It’s a mixture of how-to and stories that can bring the stay alive before you go and let you know what you can expect.
It was odd going from finance to a more creative role. I’ve had to get comfortable with marketing and cover design, which pushed me out of my comfort zone. I’m currently working with an organisation on the cover, which is a fantastic team with the artistic skills needed that I don’t have. Even getting an editor is more complicated than you might think because there are many different types – substantive, copy, stylistic – which was all new to me.
A big part of committing to this change was getting the structure of the book right. Coming up with the focus of my book took me a long time. After I decided to focus purely on travel, the stories poured out. Then it was just writing, reworking and reworking until it sounded right. I’d say getting the structure set-up was pivotal to moving forward.
I typically like change. I’ve always moved around, worked in different roles and sought out new challenges but switching from my finance career to write is in an entirely different vein from earlier transitions. I really enjoy it, especially how flexible my time is now. I have the support of the editors and proofreaders, but outside that I have the freedom to do what I want and fit in future travels. Actually, we’re leaving in a few weeks for three and half months of travel which I will use as the basis for a second book.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
There have been lots of challenges! I would say the biggest was the decision not to go back to a corporate role and to give writing my full focus. This was such a big change. It took a long time to figure out that this was what I wanted to do next.
A finance background may seem odd for a travel writer. But, writing also requires planning and structure. I did a lot of research on the self-publishing process and lined up my editor and cover designer upfront. Plus, I had travelled a lot with my work and on sabbaticals over the years to draw from.
Do you have any advice to give?
It’s a personal decision, but for anyone trying to find their own footsteps I’d say listen to yourself and what feels right. Be aware of the opportunities, but assess them for yourself, and push out others’ expectations. For me, my big test was an offer for a CFO role that came along. With my background, that’s typically the ideal role to target. It was with people I’d worked with before and it was a really good opportunity. It tested my resolve, but I knew I wanted something more flexible and something new. I look at it in phases, I had a 20-year career that focussed on the corporate environment and now I’ve turned toward a new phase. I don’t know if this will be for another 20-years, but I am sure there will be curveballs thrown in along the way.
So, I think my advice is be true to yourself, look at your skills and where you want to make an impact. That can change significantly over your life depending on what path you take.
Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!
Favourite place in London: The Artillery Arms where we used to go for a drink after lectures, and the Madison, a rooftop lounge overlooking St. Pauls
Favourite holiday destination: My most memorable was Oman, where we lived and worked for three years – the country really confronts stereotypes of the Middle East, the culture is unique and people were so generous; Cuba was such an interesting place, we loved staying in the Casa Particulares, which are like B&Bs and have only been permitted since Cuba’s 2011 reforms; and I’m really excited to go back to Bhutan – last time we did a nine-day hike in the Himalayas and this time we’ll be doing a 17-day trek called the Snowman trek!
Must-check every day website: The Globe & Mail, it’s like Canada’s BBC
Dream travel destination: Some places I’ll go to on my next trip, like Myanmar, but I think my top pick has to be the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia – its hiking sounds amazing!
Cheese or chocolate: It used to be chocolate but over the years it’s switched to cheese! I think it’s all the good European cheeses from living in Switzerland!