Oftentimes people with unusual career paths are the ones who have managed to follow their dreams along the way.

How many times have you found yourself wondering whether you should take the promotion you were being offered or leave your field entirely to find your real calling? They are difficult moments when we tend to question our judgment, when we try to balance our need for security with our wish to attain more satisfaction from our work.

Choosing unusual career paths doesn’t come easily or without a cost when you have a family counting on your stability. The choice can elicit stress, guilt, and feelings of insecurity.

But sometimes taking a risk is actually your best bet if it means a better alignment of your interests with your career.It usually leads to greater happiness and when you’re happy you tend to do better at work. Jim Biolos, COO/CFO of Farylrobin, an innovative company in the footwear industry, is one of these people. He has often chosen unusual career paths and found success every step of the way.

Of how unusual career paths come to be

You have one of the most unusual career paths I have seen lately. How does someone go from Senior Auditor at Arthur Andersen to leading the launch of the Harvard Business School Publishing’s newsletter division, to curating content for a magazine focused on Japanese art and end up working in the footwear industry?

Unusual career paths usually lead to taking on challenges and a fulfilling life. Jim Biolos has been working with footwear industry designer Faryl Robin for a long time.
Unusual career paths usually lead to taking on challenges and a fulfilling life. Jim Biolos has been working with footwear industry designer Faryl Robin for a long time.

Well, it certainly wasn’t by design! The simplest way of explaining it is that through people I’ve met in my life, I was introduced to other people who were doing work that I found interesting. I followed those interests and ended up in unusual places, meeting fascinating people, doing interesting work.

When you started off your career, did you imagine you’d travel down these unusual career paths you’ve chosen? How did you manage to move from one job to the next when they all seem to be unrelated?

Looking back, I still can’t imagine the path I’ve taken! I started my career in the most traditional way I can think of. Since then, I don’t think I ever took on a job that I had done before — it was always a new situation where I had a certain collection of skills and experiences that I could bring to that challenge. Over time, I’ve developed an eclectic mix of capabilities that seem to have become more valuable to more organizations. In that way, I’m sort of lucky that I chose to part with tradition.

Working with women

When you follow unusual career paths you get to experience wonderful things. Like hosting third graders in your office. Here's Faryl Robin, the footwear industry designer, doing just that.
When you follow unusual career paths you get to experience wonderful things. Like hosting third graders in your office. Here’s Faryl Robin, the footwear industry designer, doing just that.

You’ve worked in large and small organizations. What would you say are some of the best practices regarding women advancement that you’ve seen?

The best practice, by far, is when an organization makes a concerted effort to focus on the unique needs that women have, as they advance in the organization. It sounds obvious, but organizations — large and small — have a difficult time treating different employees differently. Leadership development for men is different than leadership development for women. Yet, there are all sorts of mechanisms that encourage organizations to do just the opposite and try to treat every person the same. It sounds equitable at some level, but, more often than not, it is alienating to at least one segment of the population. The very best organizations make a commitment to understanding the diverse needs of female employees and act flexibly to enable them to be their best at work, while they live a rich life outside of the office.

What is it like to work in the footwear industry, constantly surrounded by women?

An iconic Farylrobin silhouette, the Madison (2009)
An iconic Farylrobin silhouette, the Madison (2009)

I like women…;?) So, it’s a good thing, I guess, to be around them every day. It is particularly fun to see their reaction when a new case of samples comes into the office — I never understood the unique relationship women have with their footwear. It has also helped me understand the business…and the product…in a way that I never would have hanging out with the guys. It is always great to be in environments where you are around a diverse group of people — having a mix is more fun!

Farylrobin, a unique business model in the footwear industry

What does Farylrobin do?

Farylrobin gives women confidence. That’s what we do. And we do that by designing shoes that makes a woman feel great about herself when she puts them on. We work with retailers, on a custom basis, to design shoes that will appeal to their target customer. This is different than most shoe companies. We DON’T design a collection of shoes and then try to sell the same styles to as many retailers as possible. We think retailers today need to differentiate themselves from their competition and provide something truly tailored to the needs of their customer. So, we design shoes that their customers won’t see in every other store in town. We think that’s just good business — others look at us and say we’re radical!

You’ve been with Farylrobin for almost 15 years. What do you love about your work in the footwear industry?

Farylrobin shoes are all about empowering women, making them feel confident.
Farylrobin shoes are all about empowering women, making them feel confident.

I love creative businesses. There’s nothing like being around innovative, creative minds. And the mix of left and right brain thinking — channeling creative processes in a way that achieves positive business results — is a fun challenge. It is also great to walk down the street and see the results of our effort on women’s feet — that is feedback and insight that you don’t get in many businesses.

Is there good representation of women at the top in the footwear industry?

The funny thing about the footwear industry is that it has been male-dominated. You had men owning/running the companies, men designing women’s shoes, men selling those shoes to retailers, and men in retail stores helping women pick out the shoes they want. It sounds crazy, but the women’s shoe industry was all about men until about 10 years ago. Faryl was one of the leaders in bringing women into prominent roles in the industry. Today, there are some great people at the top of leading footwear companies, like Diane Sullivan at Brown Shoe Co. But the industry still has a ways to go before there is a “good representation.”

The footwear industry is lucky to have an organization like Two Ten Foundation which helps people who are going through a rough time. Share with us what they do and why are they so unique.

Another Farylrobin iconic silhouette, the Sense (2012-13) - Read all about unusual career paths and becoming successful
Another Farylrobin iconic silhouette, the Sense (2012-13)

Two Ten is an amazing thing. It started when the center of American shoe-making was Boston, MA (today, it is Dongguan, China!). At that time, the foundation helped out people working in the shoe industry who had fallen on hard times. 75 years later, Two Ten continues to provide resources to people in need — financial assistance, scholarship, counseling — while it also tries to build communities of leaders in the footwear industry. WIFI is a Two Ten initiative to increase the capacity of female leaders. No other industry I know of looks to take care of people working in that industry – Two Ten’s truly unique, in that way. And they have, literally, saved lives.

You can reach Jim Biolos at: jim@farylrobin.com, twitter.com/biolos, and on Linkedin

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