How 4 Career Changers Found Their Calling
Michele Bessey, 41
After her second child was born, Michele Bessey no longer wanted to commute from her New Jersey suburb to Manhattan, where she and her husband ran a production company specializing in televised concerts (by the likes of U2 and the Dixie Chicks) and other extravaganzas (like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony). But she still wanted to work.
Her Aha Moment
"We were driving through our town when I first uttered it aloud: 'Maybe I could open a store!'" Bessey recalls. A home store, to be exact: Friends had always praised her decorating style, and she'd been a happy scavenger at estate and rummage sales since childhood (when her dad would pull over to the side of the road if he spotted a treasure in someone's trash).
In 2006 Bessey opened Perch Home, a suburban nester's bazaar with an "urban farmhouse" aesthetic: The selection ranges from antique furniture and lighting fixtures to seersucker shower curtains, vintage-inspired jewelry, and handmade soaps.
Bessey and her husband squeezed every drop of equity out of their house to get the store up and running, though she never fretted about going under. "Because of my producing background, I knew how to budget, how to cover rent, insurance—all that unsexy stuff," she says. "But I did worry that by leaving our production company, I was abandoning my whole definition of myself."
"When I first opened, another business owner in town told me, 'Be nice to everyone.'" Taking this maxim to heart, Bessey began personally delivering purchases to customers' houses and offering antiques-shopping day trips to eastern Pennsylvania. "Coming home, we'd drink Champagne on the bus," she says. "Word started spreading. I think those trips are one reason Perch is successful."
Her Surprise Payoff
"Thanks to the store, I now know everyone in my town, and they know my kids," Bessey says. "When I worked in the city, I just slept here."
— Meredith Bryan
Patricia Kline, 50
Menlo Park, CA
In January 2009, Patricia Kline's mother, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, was hospitalized after a fall. To deal with her stress and anguish, Kline—head of marketing and operations at her husband's furniture dealership and a onetime Silicon Valley communications exec—returned to the childhood ritual she'd shared with her mom in their Indiana kitchen: baking pies.
Struck by how tiny her mother's world had become, Kline decided to work small, using a muffin tin instead of Mom's faded pink pie plate to create what she called ipies. "Toward the end, when she could no longer speak, I'd hold her hand and tell her about my pie experiments," Kline says. "When I did, she'd visibly relax. I'd like to think we were still communicating through the language of baking."
Her Clean Break
Her mother died that February, then the faltering economy forced Kline and her husband to shutter their dealership and move to a downsized house, "cutting expenses to the bone." Kline resisted a return to her high-paying PR roots. "When you lose so much, you discover that your identity isn't made up of material things—it's about what you can do with your brain and enthusiasm. Now was the time to take a chance and do something with passion."
"From January to June 2009, I made a dozen pies nearly every night," Kline says. "The idea was to create a pie that could be eaten like a cupcake, but my first efforts were pathetic. Peach juice would ooze out the sides; the crust would crumble away in my hands." Some 1,200 (!) ipies later, she'd perfected her butter-and-cream-cheese crust and won a coveted space at her local farmers' market; she also does special orders and hopes to attend pastry school in San Francisco next year.
"Often someone will come up to my stand and announce himself or herself as a 'pie person,'" Kline says. "I love that. Pie is simplicity and cheer, an easy moment of happiness. Pie people are optimists at heart."
— Naomi Barr
Tammy Mack-Lowe, 35
New York City
Tammy Mack-Lowe can remember every detail of the outfit she put together for the first day of first grade: red denim genie pants with elastic at the ankles, a blue Members Only jacket ("zipped all the way up"), and beaded sandals with cork wedge heels.
Her Wall Street Years
The 6-year-old fashionista grew up to be an investment banker—for a while, anyway. After college, she took a job at Chase and spent ten years in the foreign exchange and commodities group, where colleagues were always raving about her style—and she was always making suggestions about theirs.
As the market took a downturn, Mack-Lowe was offered the option of a severance package; she combined it with her savings to strike out as a stylist and personal shopper. "This was a chance to do what I've always loved: pay attention to people's ensembles and help them get it together."
Depending on the day, Mack-Lowe might be coordinating an entertainment lawyer's Grammy-week garb, making sure a model's dress hangs perfectly at a photo shoot, or dragging ten shopping bags through Brooklyn on a Sunday evening alongside a commodities trader hoping to resuscitate her look in time for Monday morning. "As a woman's lifestyle changes—she gets married, has children, her career advances—she has less time to maintain her wardrobe, yet she's required to look a certain way," Mack-Lowe says.
"There's a hierarchy in a corporation—you know where you stand. But in your own business, sometimes you're meeting with CEOs, and sometimes you're taking out the trash. You have to be disciplined—and suspend your ego."
— Andrea Lynch
Tammy Rosen, 37
After five years as a software engineer and IT consultant, Tammy Rosen "felt like a widget in a big machine." Meanwhile, she was watching a lot of Animal Planet...and thinking about getting a dog...and wondering if dog training might make a cool hobby....
Rosen began apprenticing with a trainer once a week. "I loved how personal and direct the work is," she says. "It's much more interesting than sitting at a desk coding all day." After almost two years—and without quitting her job—she started a part-time pet-sitting business, Fur-Get Me Not.
Her Big Step
"My husband and I were on our honeymoon in Hawaii, feeling all this excitement and freedom, and I was like, 'I don't want to go back to working for corporate America!'" Within two months, she'd resigned from her job, gotten a puppy, and gone full-time with her company.
Her Fairy Godmother
When Rosen found the perfect space to open her own doggy daycare and training facility, she was rejected—twice—for a six-figure loan. "I told myself, I believe in this business model. I will make it." At bank number three, she met "a fabulous female loan officer who supported women-owned small businesses"—and who gave Rosen the money.
Her Juggling Act
Since being diagnosed with diabetes three years ago, this self-described workaholic and mother of two (ages 3 and 1) has struggled to make her own well-being a priority. "When I'm stressed, my numbers get high—and I'm stressed a lot. So as my business keeps progressing, I, too, have to improve."
"As an entrepreneur, you never really feel like you've 'made it,'" Rosen says. But after four years, she knew she'd cleared a major hurdle when she could finally afford to pay herself more than $10 an hour. Now she employs 97 people, has recently opened a second location, and just brought her husband, Steve, onboard as vice president: "He's had a big impact on the business—but I'm still the boss."
— Nina Shen Rastogi
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