How to Change Your Life and Achieve Financial Security
Eight years ago this month, doctors stunned John Mattox III with the news that he had lung cancer that was 95% likely to kill him. After watching him suffer through radiation treatments and two operations, his wife Mary Ann, a veteran nurse, started feeding him a macrobiotic diet of pesticide-free whole grains, beans and vegetables. Six weeks later, the Minneapolis investment banker was back in his office for a few hours each day. Today, at 60 he is thriving (as you can see at left). “His doctors just look at John with wonder,” says Mary Ann, 55. “We don’t think that the diet alone turned his illness around, but we feel it played a role.”
John’s life was not all that got transformed. In 1986. after deciding not to return to the administrative job she had quit to help care for John, Mary Ann adapted some of her whole-grain recipes to found the Mill City Sourdough Bakery. A baker of organic bread. Mill City makes no claim to curing cancer. It doesn’t need to. Several of its brands were rated tops in a Minneapolis/St. Paul magazine contest last October and now are in demand at stores and restaurants to treat a more common ailment: hunger. And with three of her four children working alongside her and the $225,000-a-year business expected to turn a profit in 1990 for the second year in a row. Mary Ann is understandably delighted. “I didn’t find out what I wanted to do until I was 50, and then only because of our experience with cancer,” she says. “Now the best part of my life has begun.”
Although Mary Ann Mattox may not be typical, a growing number of Americans are discovering that shaking up their staid careers, as she did, can be spiritually and financially therapeutic. Most career changers — including the three pictured on our cover — set out initially in search of happiness, not money. But many learn that doing what they love can make them prosperous too — and, ultimately, financially secure. “People whose jobs really use their talents are more highly rewarded in the long run than those who are simply chasing cash,” observes Abraham Zaleznik, a Harvard Business School professor and author of the forthcoming Executive’s Guide to Motivating People (Bonus Books, S24.95). “The more value you bring to your work, the more it will be worth.”
In these pages, we present five profiles of people who sought self-fulfillment and found fortune as well, and list the lessons drawn from their experience. We also present a guide to selected careers (page 80) and 10 rules to follow if you plan to transform yourself (page 86).
Changing your life isn’t easy, of course. Many who try fail — almost 25% of new small businesses cease to exist for one reason or another within two years. And even people who make it usually suffer periods of want. But for those who succeed, the rewards can be boundless — as the following profiles illustrate.
From workaday lawyer to world-renowned critic
Before Robert M. Parker Jr. went to France in 1967, his interest in wine was limited to gulping a few glasses of cold duck with schoolmates. So his first taste of French wine — ordered because it was cheaper than Coca-Cola — surprised him. “I was fascinated to find this beverage that enhanced food, prolonged a meal, offered such variety and made me mellow but not blurry or bloated like liquor and beer,” Parker says.
Back at law school in the States, he found himself obsessed with wine. He read books by Frank Schoonmaker, Alexis Lichine, André Simon, Hugh Johnson and other experts. A few years later, trapped in a tedious legal job in Baltimore. Parker — along with his wife Patricia — formed wine-tasting groups and ran off each summer to tour European vineyards. “We’d buy expensive labels that the critics raved about and find them disappointing.’’ he says. “Gradually I realized that many of the critics were into free samples and expense-paid tasting trips. There was no Ralph Nader in the field. It dawned on me that I could become that objective voice for consumers.”
Parker’s voice was first heard talking his mother into lending him $2.000 in 1978 so that he could mimeograph 7.000 copies of his Wine Advocate newsletter and mail it, free, to members of wine groups. “I expected a flood of subscription orders,” Parker laughs. Instead, he got only a trickle — but, at $ 10 each, they were enough to keep the newsletter afloat.
From the first, Parker’s readers applauded his iconoclasm. “Wine writers traditionally have paid homage to sacred cows like Lafite-Rothschild, even when a wine was mediocre,” he says. “1 operated on the presumption that wines should be judged only by what’s in the bottle, not by the label or price.” He became blunt to the point of insult — describing wines as having “foul barnyard odors” or smelling like cat urine. He also introduced a simple 50-to-100-point scoring system that, to his dismay, some merchants began exploiting in their ads. He bought 70% of the wine himself — the rest was unsolicited samples — and paid all costs of his annual three-month tasting trips.
At the end of 1983, with the newsletter grossing $200,000 a year. Parker finally quit his $47,000 law job. “I’m not a risktaker,” says Patricia, now 42. “and I was worried about his leaving a secure position. But Bob was working 90 hours a week trying to do both jobs. 1 was afraid he would burn himself out.” Parker says, however, “the idea of failing never crossed my mind.”
Today, with the Wine Advocate grossing more than $1 million (28.000 subscribers at $35 a year in the U.S. or $55 abroad) and five books to his credit. Parker is considered the most influential writer in the field — a reputation that promises to give him financial security for life, not to mention a net income at least triple what he used to make.
Still, Parker. 42, cherishes the nonfinancial rewards the most. He works from his home north of Baltimore surrounded by the serene beauty of Gunpowder Falls State Park. Four days a week, he dictates into a tape recorder; two more days are spent tasting — savoring, and then spitting out, samples from about 100 bottles a day.
Since he doesn’t observe a fixed schedule, Parker often works longer than Patricia would like. On the other hand, he goes to work in Levi’s, not suit and tie, and a traffic jam consists of bumping into their two-year-old daughter Maia in the hall. “Once I was in the mall dressed in my usual sweats and tennis shoes with a couple days’ growth of beard when 1 ran into a lawyer Id gone to school with,” Parker says. “He asked with great concern if 1 was okay. It was clear that he thought I must have gone off the deep end.”
What’s next? Whatever it is, Parker can’t wait: “I feel my first decade — when I was doing something that intrigued me more than anything I’d ever done — was just a dress rehearsal for what I can accomplish in the next.”
SIX LESSONS FROM A WINE LOVER:
Start your new career in your spare time if possible. It’s relatively risk-free; Parker, for example, waited five years before chucking his day job.
Work at home, at least initially, to cut costs.
Like Parker and many others, you may decide to stay home permanently; the number of home-based workers has swelled 15% in the past three years to reach 26.8 million this year, according to the New York City research firm Link Resources. “As working parents become disillusioned with the fast track, managers must experiment with creative work options, ” says Max Messmer, chairman of Robert Half International, an employment recruiting firm.
Design your home workspace to minimize distractions.
When his wife got sick of losing her kitchen to wine tastings, Parker added a three-room wing that includes his sunny office, the entrance to his wine cellar, a tasting room stocked with 2,000 bottles, and an office for a full-time assistant who transcribes his tapes.
Don’t scrimp on technology.
Paul Edwards, co-author of the comprehensive guide Working from Home (Jeremy P. Tarcher, $13.95), says the basic equipment will cost around $5,000, including one or more separate phone lines CS100 to install, $15 each per month); answering machine ($100); computer and software ($1,500); printer (Edwards recommends a $650 ink jet or a $1,000 laser printer rather than a $300 dot matrix); fax ($800); and copier ($800). Parker, for example, says his $1,100 Murata fax is invaluable for communicating with wine buyers in European time zones.
If you have small children, arrange for child care during your working hours.
“I just laugh when I see magazine pictures of mothers bouncing babies on their laps as they sit at the computer,” Ann McGrotha, a mother of two preschoolers who operates her human-resources consulting firm — MW Associates of Wilmette, III. — from home. “It just doesn’t work that way. “At the Parker household, Patricia chose to quit teaching French in order to stay home with Maia.
Set up a daily routine for when to start and stop. Parker’s still working on this one. “You might use the closing refrains of the Today show to get you started in the morning, ’’suggests Edwards, “and the arrival home of your spouse as the signal to quit at night. ”
From mulling Kierkegaard to touting kilowatts
Ever since grade school, Fred Abbate wanted to become a teacher. While working on a philosophy Ph.D. at Columbia, he taught for three years at a small college and then became a professor on the Rutgers faculty in New Jersey after graduation. But five years later he was growing restive. “The community of scholars I envisioned didn’t really exist, and I felt isolated,” he says. “At 36. with three sons to educate, finding greater financial stability was important. But even thinking about change was traumatic. Teaching was intrinsic to my identity. Who would I be if I changed that?”
So Abbate, who lives with his wife Rosemary in Moorestown, N.J., consulted career counselors. After making a list of what he wanted from a job, as they suggested, he started networking to find such a post — talking to friends, business associates and others to whom he was referred. “I got some good advice, some bad advice and a lot of blank stares,” he recalls. Finally, after more than a year, a contact told him that Atlantic Electric — a New Jersey utility — was seeking a public affairs director. Within a month, Abbate landed the $22,000 job.
His first day was scary. “I took off my coat, sat at my desk and was overwhelmed with a feeling of not knowing what to do next,” he says. Fortunately, the phone rang, and soon he found himself swept up in learning his duties. “The primary difference was that in my former life, problems were something I analyzed — while in this one, they were something I solved,” he says. And solved successfully. In the past 13 years, a string of promotions have led him to general manager of corporate communications at more than S90,000 a year — perhaps double what he might have made at Rutgers. True, he misses summer vacations. “But I don’t miss much else,” he says, including teaching. Why? “Because I teach a course in corporate communications at Drexel University on the side.”
SEVEN LESSONS FROM A P.R. MAN:
Choose a new career where you can use what you know.
“Most people envision career changes in radical terms, ” says Matt Whalen, a consultant at Right Associates’ Washington. D.C. office, “like going from being a businessman to a brain surgeon. In fact, most successful changes allow people to simply transfer skills they have learned in one environment to another.”
See a career counselor if you want help.
Private counselors charge as much as $100 an hour. But some universities and community colleges, especially, offer similar services at little or no cost.
Research thoroughly any occupations that interest you.
Our table on the following two pages may help you get started. Then move to the library for other sources, such as the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Prepare an informative resume.
“I see so many resumes cross my desk that simply list past jobs, “says Abbate. “I want to know what you‘ve learned from that job. Focus on how what you know can help the employer, especially if you’re aiming for a job that — on the surface — seems unrelated to what you’ve done. ”
After doing your homework, start networking.
Place ads in trade publications, use your college alumni directory, consult headhunters. Talk to people at companies that attract you. “Meet in their offices rather than at lunch, because you learn more about the company that way.” says Susan W. Miller, a career counselor at Vocational Training Consulting Services in Los Angeles.
Keep in touch later. Follow up your visit with a thank-you note and then another note a couple of weeks later, says Miller, perhaps enclosing a clipping about something you discussed. “Continuing contact lets you become a known person, “she says, “so that later, when an opening pops up, your contact will call. ”
Don’t give up.
The average job hunt takes six months; dramatic changes like Abbate’s usually take longer.
From corporate cost buster to toy dealer
In 1983, with the construction business slumping, the large Stamford, Conn, firm that had employed Jim Askew for nine years started to freeze salaries and slash vacations. “None of that bothered me much,” says Askew, an industrial engineer and cost expert. “I’d been brought up to be a team player — believing that if you worked hard and gave a little when times were bad, the company would always take care of you.”
But when veterans in their fifties and sixties started getting laid off, Askew began having doubts. “I felt that any one of them could be me a few years down the road. I realized that job security in a corporation was a thing of the past.”
He decided to look around for other opportunities, preferably near the shore. ‘‘Jim’s father, who also loved the water, had to wait until he retired to live there,” says Kathy, who shared Jim’s dream. “We decided we wanted to do it while we were still young.” Connecticut’s waterfront was out of reach on Jim’s $45,000- a-year salary. So, for the next year and a half, he mailed resumes to companies near the more reasonably priced New Jersey Shore. No luck. Then it dawned on him that he and Kathy could open their own business. But what? A liquor store seemed too dangerous. A bar or restaurant might leave little time for their kids, Michelle, now 9, and Jim, 12.
One Sunday in August 1985, about 10 months later, Kathy spotted an ad in the New York Times for a children’s toy and furniture store in Little Silver. N.J. “1 figured that, even in a recession, people still buy baby furniture and toys,” says Askew. But when they met the owner on Labor Day weekend, Kathy says, “there wasn’t a customer in the shop.” Afterward, their accountant and attorney reviewed the store’s financial figures and advised them against buying it.
Most people would have quit then. But Jim and Kathy figured the owner had hurt himself by trying to compete with high-volume discount chains like Toys R Us. Jim’s own financial analysis showed they could make it. Besides, Kathy reasoned, “Even if we failed, we’d be living where we wanted. I was afraid we’d really kick ourselves later if we didn’t try.”
Backed with SI89,000 from the sale of their Stamford home, which had tripled in value in eight years, the Askews acquired Little Silver Mike’s.
Welcome to hell! “For three months, we were living out of boxes while Kathy house hunted and I worked at the store from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week,” says Jim. “When we opened Nov. 11, I weighed 175 pounds. On Dec. 25 I was down to 140.” It wasn’t until halfway through the first year, says Askew, that he “finally relaxed because it was clear we had a winner.” Sales of their high-end furniture (cribs from $300 to $1000) and old-fashioned wooden or educational toys have grown from $200,000 the first year to $750,000 in 1989. Jim expects $850,000 this year, enough to provide more than double his old income.
Last year, the Askews finally bought their dream house — a $300,000 three-bedroom right on the water. Kathy now works at the store four days a week; Jim works six. Would they do anything differently? “We’d never want to go through that first year again,” laughs Jim. “But truly, the only regret we have is that we didn’t do this sooner.”
FIVE LESSONS FROM A RETAILER:
Build a cash reserve.
Ideally, it should equal about six months’ living expenses. Failing that, a reserve of any size will help; the Askews, for example, started with only $10,000.
Reduce your debt, especially if your income will be uncertain at first.
You may have to liquidate assets — as the Askews did with their home. Get several appraisals first. “Most people are good at comparison shopping when they buy but don’t put the same effort into being smart sellers, ” says New York City financial planner Adriane Berg, who interviewed scores of career changers for a book to be titled Changing Lanes, Cashing Out and Becoming Job-Free that will be published by Dutton next year.
If you plan to open a business, get advice from others in the same trade.
Potential competitors won’t help you, so seek out businessmen without conflicts of interest. One source: the Small Business Administration s Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), reachable through 800-368-5855 or your nearest SB A office.
Count on working harder than you ever did as a wage slave.
Happily, you can also count on enjoying it more.
Plow as much revenue as possible back into the operation, at least initially.
“A lot of businesses fail because once money starts rolling in, owners don’t have the discipline to use it to keep expanding. ” says Askew. “During our first year, for example. I took only $8,000 in salary. ”
From L.A. law to chi-chi California-style pizza
Rick Rosenfield was grabbing lunch at the California Pizza Kitchen in Beverly Hills when a woman customer eyed the long line of diners waiting for a seat and said, “God, why didn’t we think of this?” “I did,” shot back Rosenfield, smiling.
The 44-year-old ex-lawyer has reason to be pleased with himself. In the five years since he and partner Larry Flax, now 47, opened their first CPK restaurant with a fast-food menu specializing in salads, pastas and pizza topped with barbecued chicken, duck sausage and the like, their dozen stores have made them millionaires many times over.
The two men became friends in the 1970s, working as federal prosecutors and then forming their own private Los Angeles firm. By 1984. however, their work was no longer satisfying. “We were making a good living.” says Rosenfield, “but I needed to find something that would permit more time with my family.”
Both were fascinated by the restaurant business, and they envisioned a chain of moderately priced restaurants serving gourmet pizza baked in wood-burning ovens. They leased a 1,800-square-foot space not far from their Beverly Hills homes and took unsecured personal loans of $100,000 each for the estimated $200,000 construction costs. Only problem was, the contractor’s estimate didn’t include the $300,000 needed for ovens and fixtures. So one evening, with advice from their attorney, Flax and Rosenfield had to get on the phone to a number of well-heeled friends and raise the cash.
On opening night “we were full at 5 p.m. and had people waiting in line,” Rosenfield says. “I remember standing in the office above the restaurant hugging my 15-year-old son as both of us cried with happiness, because I’d really rolled the dice on this one. I’d gone into debt and had no savings to fall back on.”
Today, with stores scattered from Atlanta to Hawaii, Flax and Rosenfield still hold 62% of the stock in the S22 million (sales) privately held company and are worth SI9.4 million each. They may get even richer in a few years by going public. For now, though, their fondest dream is going international. “My wife and I can’t wait to sit in a California Pizza Kitchen on the Via Veneto in Rome,” says Flax, “and see how the Italians feel about what Californians did to pizza.”
A KEY LESSON FROM THE PIZZA KINGS:
Be smart about how you raise cash up front.
The best way is probably through a private placement, since you won’t have to register the deal with the SEC. Otte simple type, used initially by Flax and Rosenfield, is the limited partnership in which you — as general partner — usually receive a management fee (often 5% of gross revenues) from the outset but none of the profits until the limited partners, or investors, recoup their stakes. Thereafter, you and the investors split the profits according to a pre-agreed schedule. By all means, get a good securities law attorney to set it up.
From self-absorbed scribe to selfless crusader
In his former life, Jon Greer used to write about businessmen like Flax and Rosenfield. A financial journalist at the San Francisco Chronicle, Greer, now 31, had drifted into the field because it was familiar: his father was a business reporter for the Washington Post and ABC radio. But he never felt committed. “I didn’t have the fire in the belly that a good reporter needs,” he admits. “I stuck it out because journalism was one way to see the world and perhaps find out what I really wanted to do.”
Greer did not consider himself a crusader. So when friends asked him in late 1987 to serve on the board of a shelter for homeless families near his Haight- Ashbury apartment, he agreed without giving it much thought. Once aboard, though, he saw that the shelter really needed him. Founded by the Hamilton United Methodist Church two years earlier, it had little cash, a slim staff, and an ever-growing parade of homeless at the door. “I just couldn’t walk away,” Greer says, “knowing it meant the shelter’s kids would be back on the streets.”
Greer took two weeks of vacation to straighten out the finances and almost immediately realized he’d need more time. He asked the Chronicle for a leave from his $40,000-a-year job. The paper said no. So Greer granted himself a leave — he quit. “I figured the worst that could happen would be I’d have to scrap around for some freelance work,” he recalls. Though his savings were only $7,000, as a bachelor, his rent and other fixed costs were a low $600 a month.
He began by fundraising with a vengeance. He called executives at companies he’d once written about. Pals at the newspaper steered him to other corporations. And a friendly disk jockey aired a public service announcement that brought a $ 12,500 donation to buy beds.
Now, after three years of hard work by Greer and his staff, the shelter’s budget has risen tenfold to $500,000; it operates around-the-clock rather than 12 hours a day; and it serves more than 700 homeless families a year, double the number in 1987. Greer’s lot has improved too — from the $6,000 in salary he drew when he started to $30,000 today.
True, that’s $10,000 less than he used to make — but he’s not complaining. “I finally realized that whatever I do for a living must directly affect people for the better,” he says. “Being a business journalist was too much like being a cheerleader for Wall Street.” Besides, he feels, his earning potential may now be greater. “In journalism, I was probably earning close to my maximum. Now, I’m running a half-million-dollar agency and, as my experience grows, there’s the potential to earn more to raise some kids of my own.”
THREE LESSONS FROM A FUNDRAISER:
Don’t burn your bridges.
Not only because you want a safety net in case your new life doesn’t work out, but also because — as in Greer’s case — the contacts from your old profession might prove extremely useful in your new one.
Any career change involves sacrifices. To help focus on these, Maxine Wineapple, president of New Options. a New York City career counseling firm, recommends that you make a list of what you expect to gain and lose. “You can avoid a lot of mistakes by knowing the trade-offs beforehand, “she says.
Don’t be afraid to follow your gut.
Since you’re usually seeking happiness first and foremost, your instincts will be your best guide. As Harvard’s Zaleznik has put it, “The question the fast trackers asked in the ’80s was, ‘Where can I make money the quickest?’ I hope the next group’s question will be, ‘Where will I discover my true talent, contribute to society and have the most fun?’ If you answer that question, the money always follows.”