Instead of going to work on the trading floor, this former Swedish banker now visits trade fairs. Her market? The parents of fashionable babes.
In 1996, Christina Ahlquist left her native Sweden for an internship at Commerzbank in Frankfurt. From there, she kicked off a 16-year career in finance, which brought her to London in 2001 doing Interbank Sales for Interest Rate Swaps, and then implementing OIS curve discounting in the trading system and setting up the business of OTC swap clearing for customers. Two kids (Oskar, 7 and Erik, 4) and one voluntary redundancy later, she decided to become a stay-at-home mom.
Before long, she started feeling a little bored, so despite becoming quite the accomplished banker, she joined a friend in I Dream Elephants, a purveyor of super-cute kids clothes. We find out more.
What is your work-life like now?
When I joined my friend at I Dream Elephants I thought I would work a couple of hours per week. But it turned out to be more than a full-time job. When you have your own business, you have so many small tasks, which are not obvious on the outside. In general, I go straight home from the school run and sit at my computer till 3pm, when it’s time to pick up again. And I would lie if I said the evenings and weekends are work-free. Running an online business means that most work is on the computer, but I do have the very rewarding hands-on work of packing the parcels and taking them to the post office as well. Twice a year we go out to showrooms to selecting new stock, and visit trade fairs in London and Paris, so I do get out a bit, too.
Is there anything you miss about banking?
I miss having a bunch of colleagues around me. The atmosphere on a trading floor is quite unique, and you get very close to your colleagues. Now I work mostly on my own from home, and miss the daily jokes and chats we used to have. But luckily I have one very nice colleague in my business partner (who currently lives in Germany), and we have a conference call every day to run through the to-dos.
What are you working on right now?
Now we are gearing up for the Christmas season, which is the most important sale period for our business. We’ve got some lovely gifts coming in, in addition to the fashion lines we stock. We will attend a few Christmas Markets and organise some Pop-up events for local customers. On the international marketing side, we are making targeted efforts in various blogs and magazines all over the world, so I spend many hours in Photoshop creating adverts and buttons. Shortly after Christmas, we run our big end-of-season sale, and then it’s also time to visit the showrooms and order the new stock for autumn/winter 2014. The advantage of being just two people in the business is that you get to do almost everything. So my tasks run from ordering stock to filing the tax-return.
Are there skills you picked up in banking that you use in your current job?
A profound knowledge of Excel is, of course, very useful when you run your own business. (Funnily enough, I used the good old friend ‘VLOOKUP’ yesterday when analyzing our customer base.) And certainly communication skills, but otherwise, the pure business knowledge is so different that there's not that much I can apply in my new job. My current customers are more interested in bibs than bips.
Did you ever imagine you'd be dealing in kids' clothes, or was this one of those cool surprises life delivers?
I always had an interest in interior design, photography and graphics, and when I had my children I realised how fun it is to try to dress them in a cool and stylish way. After a few months of being a home-mum, I was ready for an additional mission, so when my friend asked if I wanted to join her in her business, I felt this was an opportunity I couldn’t miss. So I would probably be inclined to call my career move one of "the cool surprises in life”. I definitely don’t regret grabbing it. I have learnt so much, and it’s it so fulfilling to have your own business and work for yourself.