To begin again
By Michelle Newman
At the age of 40 Andrew McElroy made the brave decision to step away from his well-paid, job in the ‘corporate world’ to follow his heart and chase a career he had always dreamed of. Now a successful salon owner, at one time his hopes of becoming a hairdresser seemed too far out of his grasp to consider. Even though he knew he wasn’t being true to himself, after leaving school Andrew ‘conformed to society,’ went down the ‘conventional route’ and took what he believed were the next logical steps for him.
“I kind of followed all of those clichés; you went to college, you got a job, you got married all that kind of stuff but I realised fairly early into it career wise. Whilst I did very well in the jobs that I did and I always progressed, got the promotions, made the money, had the lovely lifestyle, the nice house, the nice cars, it didn’t make any difference. It’s nothing if you’re not happy,” he explains.
“I always wanted to do hairdressing from a very young age. I didn’t do it because I think I felt a bit intimidated; at the time it was probably seen as very much a female industry. I think I would have been an effeminate child as well and I was probably afraid that it would draw more unnecessary attention to me, so I didn’t pursue it.” While working as the sales operations manager for Facebook, six years ago the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy became available and Andrew knew that this was he chance to make a career change. “I was 40, half way through my working career. I had this opportunity to go and retrain and I figured, I’m going to be working for at least another 25 years so I may as well do something that I like.”
Determined to see what avenues were available to him, he began researching hairdressing courses. With two young children to consider – Andrew is the father of twins, a boy and a girl, who are now 14 years-old – a traditional apprenticeship wasn’t a realistic option. “I chose to go with House of Colour; they have a number of salons around Dublin city and they also have a private training academy where you could qualify in nine months. I trained three full days a week, working on two models a day. If you do a four-year apprenticeship you’re looking at about 500-plus hours of training over that period, whereas with this you were doing that quantity of training in a nine month period of time,” Andrew says. After a few months he was taken on as an apprentice in a salon. “I was washing hair, I was the junior working with the girls and lads that had just left school but it was great because I got to learn what it was like to work on the floor.”
Once he qualified Andrew continued his training and became a senior stylist within a year. He opened his own salon, Andrew McElroy Hair Concepts, within two years from beginning training, and his business has been going from strength to strength since it opened its doors four years ago. “I did my master colour degree with Alfaparf Milano and did a lot of competition work as well. I was very interested in the competition side because it takes you away from the commercial day-to-day hair, it lets you be more creative and put yourself out there in the industry, mixing with other small business owners, other hairdressers and just getting a different perspective. We would compete in a minimum of one big competition every year,” he says.
Last year, Andrew became an Alfaparf Milano style expert in Ireland, another side to his already multi-faceted career. “I’ve been working on photoshoots or I’ve been working on training videos so it opened up that avenue and gave me another little bit of exposure. It’s great to do that kind of stuff, it just gives another dimension to the work.
“I think people are kind of afraid to make a change but what it’s shown me is that there’s no such thing as a job for life. Before, I was married for 11 years and then I came out at the age of 36. I was at that stage where I was more confident in myself, more mature, I felt it was the only thing I could do. When that happened I said, ‘I can do anything I want now. I can put myself out there.’ I didn’t really care what people thought of me at that point because it was probably the biggest life changing thing I’d ever done and never expected that it would happen.”
Minding his ‘mental health' and considering his own happiness were two very important factors in this decision. Andrew and his ex-wife - a term that he isn’t particularly fond of - have a very good relationship and he credits her backing and encouragement with helping him to start from scratch and build the successful business that he now has. “She didn’t give me grief saying, ‘How are you going to support the family?’ because we’re still a family, even though we don’t all live together every day. She was very, very supportive. We get on very well and we do everything for the children.”
This month, Andrew will open his own private training academy, much like the one he trained in himself. His students will receive the same ‘fast-tracked’ education in a creative environment. Andrew hopes to mentor about five students to begin with as this will allow he and his fellow educator to give each one the time and ‘personal attention’ needed to qualify in nine months. “When I worked in sales I would have been like a sales coach and I can bring that into my new business now,” he says. “[My course] seems to attract people that maybe did hairdressing in the past and then went on to have a family or didn’t finish their apprenticeship and they’re coming back into it in their early thirties like myself. It also appeals to the younger people as well. You have to be completely passionate, completely dedicated and committed to doing that time-scale of training.”
He recognises that breaking away from what’s comfortable can be a daunting undertaking, regardless of what stage someone is at in their life, but he feels it’s a risk worth taking. “It is doable, you are going to take a hit financially but if you’re passionate about it you will do it and I think that goes for any career. The message I would send out to people is, ‘If you don’t like something, do something about it.’ If you’re in a position where you can change it and you really want to, go change it because it’s a long life if you’re not doing what you’re meant to be doing and if you’re not happy.”
For more information on Andrew McElroy Hair Concepts see www.andrewmcelroyhairconcepts.com