Meet A Career Changer – Payal Gidwani
A journey from culinary arts to business analytics
Career change comes with maturity and life experience but stems from the fact that when you’re 18, it’s hard to decide what you’re going to do for the rest of your life. I went to boarding school in South India and later attended university in the UK where I completed my Bachelor of Business Administration degree.
I guess advertising just fell into my lap. I landed my first role in marketing and sales in Mumbai through a contact I made at my best friend’s wedding. I realised quickly however that the work I was doing wasn’t fulfilling or adding any real value or meaning to my life.
I was 24 or 25, and already tired of what felt like the corporate rat race, when a friend called and invited me to an ashram. I jumped at the opportunity; a month-long yoga retreat in South India felt like the perfect escape.
At an ashram, everyone worked together, and I was assigned to help in the kitchen. I was surprised to find myself really enjoying the work. Given my general lack of purpose and a gut feeling I had about this newly discovered passion, I decided on an impulse to move abroad and go to culinary school. Sometimes in life you just need to have the audacity to take action.
Payal Gidwani/ Panamanian
Master of Business Analytics
‘Sometimes in life you just need to have the audacity to take action.’
So that’s what brought me to Australia.
I gained my Certificate IV in Commercial Cookery and Culinary Arts from Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney in 2017 and started working as a chef at Google. It was a hybrid role that also involved organising events. That’s how I found myself helping to host a data analytics summit at the Google offices.
After the event, I was talking to one of the Google event organisers about the growth of the industry and future trends, and he suggested I should consider a career in data. For some reason that one conversation really stuck with me. I had previously done a volunteering gig for Gartner working at their data analytics summit, so the tech space had been on my mind for a while. I loved cooking but I didn’t feel it would be a lifelong career for me.
At the same time, I knew I didn’t want a traditional corporate career. Business analytics was an aspect of business management that interested and excited me. So, for a second time, I found myself pivoting my entire direction in life. I decided to enrol in a Master of Business Analytics at Kaplan Business School.
What drew me to analytics is the idea of spinning a story. The beauty of analytics is that you can develop theories and tell a story, but it’s credible and there’s mathematical evidence to back it up. A lot of people think it’s left-brain rational thinking kind of work, but it’s actually very creative and elicits two sides of your brain.
As part of my degree, I did an Academic Internship via Careers Central at a property tech company. The careers team was exceptional, going beyond my expectations to source an internship that would suit my needs. It was very eye-opening and one of the best internships I’ve ever done; it really honed in on how analytics can impact business decision making. Afterwards, I decided to apply for a role at KPMG to gain experience in the professional world before graduating, which is where I’m currently working as a consultant.
I also started a Women in Analytics Club during my time at KBS. I have something in me that makes me want to drive opportunities for women. I think it was triggered by my time in hospitality, working in kitchens where it can be a male-dominated and sometimes sexist environment. I remember thinking: if I can’t help empower women in hospitality maybe I can do it in analytics. It’s not ground-breaking but we look to source inspirational speakers and have an active WhatsApp group where we share articles, news and ideas.
In the last trimester of the degree, you work on a capstone subject. I found it very valuable to consolidate my learning into a real-life project. I chose to work on an algorithm that considers the wording and visual aspects of a perfume ad, to help predict what notes of the scent are in the perfume. I’m interested in e-commerce, so it was incredibly useful to be able to receive feedback and expert input on a model that I might be able to replicate in my own business one day.
When people ask me ‘what’s next?’ it almost feels like I need to do one thing and I don’t think one thing is for me. For me variety is the spice of life – that’s why I’m doing my study, job, working as a catering chef and other pet projects on the side. I like data, but I’m also interested in leadership, so I feel like starting my own e-commerce company would be a way to merge my skills and interests.
I think whether you’re in your 20s, 30s or 40s, you still have a long career ahead of you. I couldn’t imagine myself stuck due to fear of ‘losing’ a few years of studying. How will you ever feel satisfied? Over contemplating can result in a failure to launch and really start living.
I think e-commerce will be my true calling. But you never know, life is long.
It’s never too late to change.
Feeling inspired? If you’re considering a career in the growing field of data and analytics, find out more about studying a Master of Business Analytics at KBS.