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Redefiner Darren Underhill Left a Successful Career Managing Supermarkets to Retrain as a Hearing Specialist

After 30 Years of Working for ASDA in Senior Roles, Darren Decided it Was Time for a New Career – as an Audiologist

James Marsh
James Marsh
A published author, as well as a corporate and lifestyle media professional, James works across content, marketing and consultancy.

Life/Redefined shines a spotlight on inspirational Redefiners who prove that, as you enter your 50s and beyond, anything is possible. In 2022, Darren Underhill left a successful career with one of Britain’s biggest supermarket chains to start a new life helping people with hearing problems. He tells us what motivated him to retrain as an audiologist and how, after a period of frustration in his previous career, his new life is rewarding him with the fulfilment he needed.

Somehow, A Successful Career at ASDA Wasn’t Enough

As Darren Underhill approached his 50s, he knew something had to change. For 30 years, he had risen through the ranks at ASDA to become a senior retail manager.

But that wasn’t enough. He felt something was missing.

Darren had hit a place that is familiar to many in their late 40s and early 50s. As we enter those years, a need for purpose becomes increasingly significant. Job titles and career paths become less important, while a desire to make a difference comes to the fore.

Darren, What Led You to Seek a Change?

I worked in retail for the same supermarket for 31 years, in lots of different roles across the country. In my last decade with ASDA, I had taken on bigger roles, in bigger stores, in bigger cities. These were stores with annual sales of £60m and 300-plus employees. I had a reputation for helping people grow the business and have successful careers. It was a job that I enjoyed for many years.

“But I was spending more and more time dealing with problems created through a lack of resources. I stopped being on the shop floor and found myself with less time to help both team members and customers. It was a constant source of frustration.”

55/Redefined adds: Over-50s know they have many useful working years left in them and the will to retrain and reskill for a new career – a new career that will take them through the next stage of their life. It’s something 55/Redefined feels passionate about – Founder and CEO Lyndsey Simpson recently spoke with LinkedIn about why we need to help the over-50s grow and employers to make the most of this next stage of life, to create multigenerational workplaces that work for everyone.

I had a poor work/life balance. I was close to toughing it out and looking at an early retirement, but that would have been wishing my life away and that wasn’t what I wanted to do.

Family Life Had Taken a Backseat for Work

“I used to work very long days and didn’t see much of my children. I had a poor work/life balance. I was close to toughing it out and looking at an early retirement, but that would have been wishing my life away and that wasn’t what I wanted to do.

“The final straw came when I was appointed to lead a store that had several problems. There were other people who would have been a better fit for it. That was the crystallising moment. I thought: ‘I just don’t want to do this anymore.’”

Why Did Helping People with Hearing Problems Appeal to You?

“During the pandemic, my father lost his hearing. He went overnight from being able to communicate, to being really isolated. It was hard for him and for us, his family. A cochlear implant restored some of his hearing. I became more interested in the cause and effect of hearing loss, and I did a lot of research about what the implant could do. It got me thinking.

“I wanted to do something I enjoyed and to give something back. When I started to look at careers away from supermarkets, I saw that I had transferable skills. My job had become easy to walk away from. I started to have conversations with Specsavers; many of their stores have hearing specialists. It was clear the company was a good match for my skills – it was still a retail environment, but with more time spent with customers. It also gave me the chance to develop new skills. It was a very easy decision.”

A Spotlight on Specsavers’ Founders

The founders of Specsavers, Doug and Mary Perkins (pictired below right), are impressive Redefiners themselves. They started Specsavers in their 40s and built it to be the £3.5billion company that it is today. Now in her 80s, Mary still goes into the office every day and admits to having donned disguises to visit stores as a customer. Mary is exactly the sort of older entrepreneur who 55/Redefined celebrates in the Unretirement Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Specsavers are proud to be age-friendly and are pleased to have multi-generational staff in their stores. It makes business sense, too. Companies that have an age diverse and inclusive culture are more likely to exceed financial targets than those that don’t. Plus, studies show it makes for a happier workplace, too.(1)

Specsavers audiology advert. Team members pictured outside a store.
Doug and Mary Perkins

Darren, How Did it Progress with Specsavers?

I was recruited by Partner Recruitment in Specsavers’ head office, who organised for me to join my local business in Grantham. The optical, retail and audiology leads all run the store together. I can develop at a pace that is challenging but with in-store support.

“I’m learning from scratch, but I’m working with clinicians, and everyone has something I can learn from. It’s an exciting business to be working in, especially as we have an ageing population – increasing numbers of people will need access to better hearing and better eyesight.”

55/Redefined adds: It’s a good move for Darren as older consumers are one of the few growth opportunities in our economy. And it’s not due to health issues. It’s because they are the ones with the spending power – 70% of the UK’s wealth is held by the over 50s and, by 2040, 63p in every pound will be spent by someone over 50. (2)

You’re Also Going to College?

“Yes! I am also studying for a two-year foundation degree in audiology at De Montfort University, sponsored by Specsavers. I left school at 16 and studied travel and tourism at college, but I’m loving that side of what I’m doing. I might be the oldest student there, but the people I am learning with are a mix of ages.”

How Is it Being Back, Talking to Customers?

“That’s the best thing – I am spending time with people and serving customers. I could be the only person that my patients speak to all day. What’s 20 minutes of my time, when it means the world to them? My patients leave an audiology appointment happy because I’ve helped them with something they were struggling with. It can be emotional. It’s about the ‘feel good factor,’ and you can’t put a price on that.”

55/Redefined adds: Roles with some customer-facing duties are a natural fit for many older workers. Emotional intelligence grows with age and experience, and reaches a peak in our 60's. (3) It’s one of the reasons why large retailers are working with 55/Redefined to increase the number of over 50s in their businesses. Those retailers also secure a broader pipeline of workplace talent and a workforce with a wide range of skills and experience – which results in better customer outcomes.

My patients leave an audiology appointment happy because I’ve helped them with something they were struggling with. It can be emotional. It’s about the ‘feel good factor,’ and you can’t put a price on that.

Head and shoulders portrait of Darren Underhill, wearing a suit and tie.

What Comes Next?

“I am on Specsavers’ Joint Venture Partnership programme and will become a business partner. I will buy shares in the company and then either start a new Specsavers’ business in audiology from the ground up, or if a current partner retires, I could buy an existing business.

“I am supported by Specsavers in its whole outlook. The people I work with want me to be the best I can be, and head office checks in with me to see how I am. That is very nice. I feel I am more than just a number.”

Are you Looking To Change Career, Return to Work After a Break or Unretire?

Jobs/Redefined features vacancies advertised by age-friendly employers who are actively seeking experienced workers across all industries including hospitality, banking, finance, insurance, retail, engineering and more. There are no recruitment agencies, no fake jobs, no age-bias. You can apply knowing that your age will not be a barrier – in fact, as Darren’s story shows us, using your transferable skills can open a whole new world.

You can search by job type, region, part-time, full-time, contract, or temporary. Thousands of roles are on offer at age-friendly organisations.

If you’re interested in following in Darren’s footsteps, email Specsavers Joint Partnership Program and find out more.





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We are big believers that you should be able to design a life you love and not stick to a linear path, especially when it comes to your career choices. In fact, we'd go as far to say that the concept of retirement in its current form needs to be retired. Yes, that's right, there's no rulebook here!