Between February 2020 and May 2022, about 300,000 public school teachers and staff called it quits and left the teaching profession for good. Ex-teachers cited burnout, the challenges of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic, a lack of support, high anxiety and declining mental health.
Where does a former teacher recovering from extreme burnout go?
Sun and Water Consulting.
Founded by Tom Maxwell and Brad Bell, Sun and Water Consulting is a management consulting firm helping companies with their IT and business transformation projects. They provide companies with top-tier project management — something that former teachers are pretty darn good at.
Unlike a staffing firm, Sun and Water Consulting employees are project managers embedded on their clients’ teams, but when the project is done, that person doesn’t get completely rolled off. As a Sun and Water employee, they get to continue their work with a new client.
Tom, who is technically the CEO but isn't big into titles, had a similar business prior to Sun and Water Consulting, and operated as a much more traditional business management consulting firm. While they had an array of services, they kept getting moved into project management.
Eventually the business evolved and Tom parted ways with his co-founder at the time. He wanted to start a new consulting business that was all about project management and incredibly focused on the people.
“We realized that work isn’t your life,” Tom says. “So many people are working to fund their passions, and we really wanted to help people do that.”
While consulting at a company where he met Brad, Tom thought Brad fit perfectly into this philosophy. The two teamed up to form Sun and Water about a year and a half ago, and they bring over 20 years of consulting experience to the table.
Sun & Water Consulting team: Tom on the end left and Brad on the end right
Work-life balance: ‘We were doing this before it was cool’
Because Sun and Water Consulting is so focused on the people, Tom and Brad came up with the idea to have employees sign a pledge when they join.
The pledge is to prioritize these three things in any way that’s important to you:
Whether it’s a kid’s soccer game, a faith-based event, or your Iron Man race, Sun and Water Consulting wants you to put that thing first.
“We understood that someone’s motivation would be destroyed if work came before passions,” Tom says. “That’s why we always put these things first. Work will always be there, and we can figure it out.”
This radical work-life balance is something Tom says they’ve been doing before it was cool.
“This is a part of our DNA. If Brad and I go away, this will always be a part of the company,” Tom says.
And in the project economy, this work-life balance benefits everyone.
“In our corporate experience, everyone used to hate project managers because they always wanted answers or were pushing people to meet deadlines when everyone just wanted to log off and be with their families,” Tom says.
When the project manager is prioritizing work-life balance, so can the rest of the team.
Newfound career paths, newfound hope
Project management has vastly evolved over the years. What used to be one person pointing fingers and saying, ‘okay, you’re keeping track of these tasks,’ has now become a defined, supported, and standardized profession.
And as companies grow, transform, update, and digitize, the demand for project managers has skyrocketed. Tech companies have agile product teams and sprint planning, but marketing and sales and the C-Suite all have projects running too. In this new Project Economy, a company’s value is determined by the successful completion of projects and delivery of products. CEOs are no longer coming from the sales team. They’re coming from project managers.
But an increase in project management and thus project managers has led to a sea of mediocrity.
“There’s a science and an art to project management,” Tom says. “The science is done by a computer, and the art is something we can’t teach. It’s the people skills.”
Tom at the Startup Columbus Happy Hour this summer, put on with Sun & Water
As Tom and Brad thought about who would make great project managers — who had the right skills, the art — they realized it’s not necessarily the person with the experience and a certificate.
“The best project managers are the people with the soft skills: teachers, athletes, people in the military,” Brad says. “It’s the people who have been doing a project for the past four years without knowing they’ve been doing a project.”
These are the people Brad and Tom say will really thrive at Sun and Water Consulting. They get training and support, which are vital for the transition process of a huge career pivot.
“The military and teaching are the biggest industries we see that are full of project managers who don’t realize it,” Tom says.
Helping these people pivot into project management has not only given them new career opportunities. It’s also given them new opportunities to be a part of a supportive work environment — and to live their life again.
This is also exactly why Tom and Brad are open to hiring prior offenders.
“We want to give people an opportunity to be successful,” Tom says.
At Sun and Water Consulting, project managers experience some major culture perks:
- Giving input about the company direction
- Helping decide which non-profits and community charities that 5% of the profits will go to
- Flat and fair hierarchy — everyone has the same title (“engagement executive”) and pay
- And of course, an amazing work-life balance
“We all want to be successful and have everyone reap the benefits of that success,” Tom says. “It’s about growing the company in a sustainable way, making a nice living, but never sacrificing the values or DNA of the company.”
If you’re a project manager or looking for a new career path in project management, Tom and Brad want to talk to you! Learn more & apply!