The Pivot: transitioning from live entertainment to sustainability with Murray Gray

Career Transition Apr 21, 2020

How to transition from the entertainment industry into helping businesses make social and environmental impact in tomorrow’s model of capitalism.

The Pivot is a series of conversations with people who have taken non-linear career paths and been through a number of transitions as part of that journey. Our guests come from a diverse range of industries, countries, and career stages - but they all have one thing in common: they’ve made the pivot.

Murray Gray is a sustainability consultant based in Amsterdam. He started his career in the graduate scheme of Swiss banking giant UBS before making a career pivot into the entertainment industry; first helping to build a startup before founding his own talent management company.

In 2017 he found himself looking for a career path that had more mission and purpose, and where he could apply his skills in analysis and commercial strategy.

Here’s Murray’s story.

How did you start making your career pivot?

I started by knowing I wanted to do something good for the world; being on my deathbed saying I've made a small dent of some kind.

Beyond that, I wasn’t too sure, so it started with research.

A few weeks into exploring options, I went to a party with a friend and met someone who worked at the World Bank. As we were chatting I thought ‘imagine if I’d done that!’: it seemed like the perfect blend of what I was interested in and good at. That chance meeting was a catalyst and helped push me towards a few more specific areas.

Over time, I adjusted my focus via more research into 3 categories: companies, programs, and communities in the areas I was interested in. This gave me more of a sense of where the opportunities were, but I also needed to look at where my skills were from before and match them into the new areas I was exploring.

This part was harder than I thought - I could be a Business Analyst or Commercial Director, but because I didn’t know the specifics of these industry roles I had no idea how well the roles or the skills that supported them would transfer in this new arena. It was so vast, it was hard to know which route to take.

This is mirrored by people who now come to me wanting to get into this: they’re not sure where to start, or how to go about it.

Something that really opened things up for me was connecting with the B Corporation movement. A few months into my career transition I decided to move to Barcelona, and began helping the team at B Lab Spain. The combination of community and credential from working with B Lab gave me a lot of momentum.


What was hardest?

Repositioning. Beyond my university degree in Politics I didn’t really have any credentials - education, big brand names - that people in this area would be familiar with.

Some people do an MBA, or independent programs like On Purpose or Escape the City, and get placed in a role from there. I didn't have the money for those options, and also didn’t feel the apprenticeship conversion route was something I wanted to do. I was impatient then, maybe that was my ego, but living on $25k a year, I would have had to cut my lifestyle back too much and unwind a lot of stuff which I didn’t want to do at 31.

A friend of mine could afford an Oxford MBA because he did banking for 20 years. Most people at 30 don't have the savings to do a transition year, so making the transition without that program and credential was tough.

What would have made your career pivot easier?

It can actually be surprisingly hard to contribute to projects. I would have liked a pre-built project structure to slot me into; especially one that would credential me somehow. Another option would be more companies to say they’re open to pre-screened people, who want to rack up some hours working on impact projects for them.

The other thing I would have benefitted from is knowing how to realign my skills to roles in this new context: I knew I had a certain range of skills but wasn’t sure how I could use them for sustainability. I knew I was good at commercial and operations work - but what did that mean in the context of sustainability?

Unless you're very specific, applying to different roles is hard to understand. Having a way of discovering how you can apply your skills is useful.

Which questions do you get from people looking to make their own career pivot?

A question I get a lot is “how did you go from entertainment to this?”. People see career change as very challenging. There are questions of how to leave a job, get into a new industry, and do so without massive investment? This is especially true with people who don't have $20k+ saved up.

I also often get asked what their skills are good for, and what kind of roles they can do in this space.

Perhaps the question I get asked most though is “where do I start?”. Many people are overwhelmed by the range of possible options and knowing the first steps to take.

What advice would you give someone looking at making a pivot into sustainability?

Think about how to build a personal brand. This doesn’t need to be directly, it can be via association with someone else's brand - by supporting them on projects, for example.

Finding projects to work on is definitely something I would recommend doing as soon as possible, and if you can then do these internally at your current company first. A big challenge people have is the reality of needing to earn money, so I would encourage working on projects while keeping your current job.

I would also suggest becoming part of a community - B Corp opened up a lot for me.

Do what you can to understand how other people have done it. Read interviews like this one!

Something I’ve noticed is that people end up saying "oh i thought i wanted to change, but i can find meaning if i reframe it". It can be better to make the most of what you've got before making a big switch, as there is a risk in terms of time and cost.

Finally - be patient. Like many of the best things, it takes time!

Murray's top 3 resources for learning more about sustainability

The Age of Sustainable Development, by Jeffrey Sachs

Kate Raworth - Doughnut Economics

Circular Economy: An Introduction

To learn more about career paths in sustainability and how you may be able to make your own career pivot, head over to Fondo.