Debbie Goldman-Bhyat spent much of her childhood as a contemporary dancer. She turned her passion into a professional career as a performer, a choreographer and the director of a dance company until an injury forced her to retire in her late 20s.
“I was 28, injured and flat broke in spite of being the recipient of awards and top industry accolades,” Goldman-Bhyat says. “And there were dismal prospects for a change in those circumstances for the foreseeable future.”
She didn’t want to take a bow from the industry she loved, but Goldman-Bhyat waded into the business world as a financial-services recruitment consultant working for Capital Assignments in South Africa. She spent almost 21/2 years there before starting her own company, Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters. More than 15 years went by, Goldman-Bhyat says, before she was overwhelmed by the urge to pick up her passion. “One day shortly after my 42nd birthday, a proper midlife crisis crept up on me,” she says. “All of a sudden, I had a desperate desire to dance and perform again, on a stage, with a professional dance company.”
Goldman-Bhyat began an 18-month training and rehearsal process. She still ran her business, just a little more hands-off than before, and while it wasn’t easy to take this step back, the situation gave her team an opportunity to grow immeasurably. “I needed to delegate not just tasks, but also decision-making—allowing others to do things without needing my personal yes or no. A big part of gaining comfort with this was also accepting that things would probably not always be done the way I would do them. I needed to make peace with it so that my team felt confident to step up and make decisions.” In addition to the leadership skills her staff developed, the company also saw a 20 percent increase in revenue during Goldman-Bhyat’s absence.
As a member of the Cape Town chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, she gained many insights that have been instrumental for her and her business. She also offers her perspective for those who might be reluctant to indulge in absences from the office. “Until you’re forced to take the time out, one can never really test the resilience, competence and self-sufficiency of one’s business.
“Most of us would need a really compelling reason to do this. I found a great reason, without which I doubt I would have taken the gamble! My advice: Go for it!”