Area residents launch new careers
Whether they’re chasing a dream, re-entering the workforce after time off, rebounding from a job loss or seizing an opportunity, people all over our area have launched businesses that have taken their careers—and their lives—in new directions. Following are three such stories and the advice these entrepreneurs offer to others looking to make a change.
Building a Dream on a Solid Foundation
Some people change careers to follow a dream, like Reston resident Sean Hunt.
Ever since the late 1980s, Sean has dreamed of opening a brewery. In the spring of 2016, his dream became a reality when the former corporate attorney opened Mustang Sally Brewing (MSB) Company in Chantilly.
Mustang Sally operates in a 14,000-square-foot warehouse space that includes the brewery and a tasting room. Sean believes the exceptional quality of MSB’s beer sets the brewery apart. “In the craft world, there is a lot of experimentation on the outer edges. It’s fun, but we found the middle is kind of open. The equipment and the expertise we’ve got allows us to go more toward that middle and produce a really high-quality, balanced, easy drinking beer,” he said.
Originally an engineer, Sean worked for Booz Allen Hamilton before going to law school. He worked for K&L Gates for several years then became general counsel for a series of tech startups. He thought working for a smaller company would mean fewer hours and more time to spend with his growing family, but it didn’t quite work out that way. That same theory contributed to his wife starting her own engineering company called iPower.
Sean never gave up on his brewery dream, but he and his wife agreed that one startup in the family at a time was enough. Once iPower became stable, Sean decided the time was right. “A couple years ago, I started doing the business plan, and it looked viable. I got financing for it, and it was two years from the time I started the business plan to the time we opened the doors.” It was a long two years, with most of the time devoted to getting the facility, doing the build-out and going through the regulatory clearance process.
A resident of Fairfax County since he was 4 years old, it meant a lot to Sean to locate the brewery in the county. “There are a really small number of larger craft brewers in Fairfax County,” he said. “It’s a challenge to find the type of facility you need to run an operation like this here.”
With his background in corporate law, Sean put a great deal of emphasis on establishing a solid corporate foundation for his business, which frees him to focus on operational excellence. He has high praise for his head brewer Kenny Allen and General Manager Dave Hennessey, who both served as head brewers at Old Dominion Brewing Company. “We keep focused on what we do, and we do it really well,” said Sean. “We just keep it simple. We started out with a core, and we want to focus on getting that core really strong and then gradually broaden from there.” The three men bring considerable knowledge from the operations, industry and corporate operations standpoints, which gives Sean confidence in their foundation and their ability to grow the business.
Mustang Sally beers are available in the company’s tasting room and in bars and restaurants in Fairfax County, Arlington, Alexandria and parts of Prince William County. The third phase of the business will be small packages, either bottles or cans, a step Sean explains needs to wait until they have enough traction in the marketplace and enough quality assurance to maintain the beer’s integrity in the package.
In the more immediate future, Mustang Sally will host the first Fairfax County Brewfest on October 1, 2016, in conjunction with the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce. The event will be held at MSB but feature other brewers from the county as well.
Sean’s advice to those looking to switch careers is simple. “Do it,” he said. “If you want to do it, do it. Just don’t do it recklessly. Do your homework. A lot of people say they want to do it, but they give up too early. At least give it a shot. Vet the issue. Walking away from a profession you’ve invested in is not an easy thing to do, but I’m certainly glad I did it.”
Mustang Sally Brewing Company
14140 Parke Long Court A-C, Chantilly
Bridging a Gap
Like a lot of women, Herndon resident Ellen Grealish took time off from her career to stay home with her children. When she wanted to re-enter the workforce several years later, she looked forward to putting to use the experience and skills she garnered from her eight years as a sales development and marketing professional with Hewlett Packard, but she wanted a part-time position that would allow her to pick up her youngest child at school.
“I remember thinking that if a company only knew that I would be willing to negotiate my pay rate and forgo benefits in exchange for a role where I could be home at three, it would be such a great deal for the business and myself,” Ellen said. She went online to look for part-time or part-virtual work in her field and found only cold calling or retail jobs.
A conversation with her friend Sheila Murphy revealed that Sheila wanted to find a flexible job as well. They learned about a staffing company in Colorado called 10 til 2 that focuses on part-time jobs for experienced professionals. They looked into opening a franchise, ultimately deciding against it, but they felt they had identified a real need in this area. They began talking to business owners and realized that one of the biggest challenges for a small business is trying to find really good talent when they don’t always have the budget to bring in someone with 10 years of experience at a big company.
Ellen and Sheila, along with Gwenn Rosener, co-founded FlexProfessionals, LLC, to build a bridge between businesses and an experienced, talented employment pool who are willing to work at competitive rates with no benefits in exchange for a part-time or flexible role. Originally geared toward mothers looking to re-enter the workforce, FlexProfessionals now includes retirees and people looking to scale back on their hours.
“I didn’t intend to switch careers,” said Ellen, “but no one was going to hire me. I didn’t intend to start a business. It just sort of fell into place, and here we are 6 1/2 years later, and we have built a pretty thriving business.” FlexProfessionals has opened a Boston office, has more than 9,000 job candidates in the DC metro area and made $3.2 million in revenue last year.
“It’s a great feeling to look back and see you built something from nothing,” she said.
Part of Ellen’s mission, and one of her biggest challenges, is getting companies to understand that there is a different way to do things. She and her partners work hard to get in front of business owners to change their mindset, and they practice what they preach.
FlexProfessionals’ 13 employees all work part time and part virtually. “We promote these jobs, but at the same time, we’re also building and running this company in a part-time, flexible way,” said Ellen. “Everybody in our company is empowered to create their own schedule as long as our clients’ needs are being met. People can take as much vacation as they want, and nobody has come close to abusing it. As a small company, we couldn’t initially pay people what we thought they were worth. If I can’t pay you money for your worth, I’m going to give you something of value to you.”
As a business owner, Ellen admits it’s hard to turn off the work. She tries to keep work and family separate and be 100 percent focused on what she’s doing. She advises those who want to change careers to think about where they want their career to go and to focus on which of their skill sets are transferrable.
“If you’re a lawyer who wants to get into fundraising, don’t highlight all the legal things you don’t want to do anymore. Put a summary at the top of your resume to sell yourself and why a company should be looking at you. Think about what skills you gained as a lawyer that can transfer to fundraising, like negotiating.”
She also recommends focusing on small businesses when looking to make a change. It’s harder for a big company to take a chance on an employee trying something different. “You may have to adjust your pay expectations to get in the door, but you can renegotiate later,” she said. “Promote what you can bring to the company that they may be overlooking.”
Serving the Community One Bottle at a Time
Rande Jenus and Mike Mackie
Mike Mackie and Rande Jenus both spent their first careers with Marriott. Mike started with the company as a lifeguard in high school and continued with them through college and his career with corporate for a total of almost 40 years before he retired in 2001. While Mike came up through the food and beverage side of the business, Rande started out on the graveyard shift as a desk clerk and worked his way up to corporate through room operations, spending 24 years with Marriott. After they closed that chapter of their lives, they opened The Wine Cabinet in Reston.
“The joke was if we failed terribly, we’d have a heck of a wine cellar when we were done,” said Rande. What they have, nearly 13 years after they opened, is a successful shop with a loyal customer base and a livelihood they clearly enjoy.
The bright, airy shop includes two inviting-looking leather arm chairs right in the center. Rande thought he’d get to sit in those chairs and read three newspapers a day. “I haven’t sat down a moment since,” he said. The open and inviting feel of the store is no accident. The design is meant to make women feel more comfortable, since they usually represent a smaller percentage of customers in liquor, wine and beer stores, which are often poorly lit with narrow aisles. Today women make up more than half of The Wine Cabinet’s customer list.
“We try to create a community feel here so people are more invested in doing business with us, not just because we have wine but because we’re part of the community,” said Mike. They build on that sense of community with wine tastings every Friday night and Saturday afternoon that might also feature beer, soups, cheeses or chocolates that they sell in the shop.
“The whole idea is to make it a one-stop shop. If you’re going to be entertaining over the weekend, stop in and get some wine, get some beer, serving pieces if you need them, soups. We have some of the best soups you’ve ever had, made on the Eastern Shore,” said Mike. They try to stock as much local product as possible. The chocolates come from a shop in Arlington that is owned by people in Reston. The peanut brittle is made by someone in Reston, and the artwork for sale on the walls rotates between two Reston artists.
Mike’s wife Kate handles all the merchandising for the eye-catching gift items and serving pieces displayed in the front of the store, and his son David is responsible for the growing number of beers they carry.
Although located in Reston, people come from all over Fairfax County, Arlington, even Bethesda and DC to shop here. Both men have high praise for Reston and their shop’s location. “I don’t know if I’d be in this business if I didn’t have this location,” said Rande. “It took me leaving corporate America to learn how great Reston really is in terms of community, people and a very supportive, loyal customer base.”
One of the things they took from working for Marriott is the importance of knowing your customer. They develop a profile for everyone who buys wine there. Now, if someone comes in and tells them they are going to the Smith’s house for dinner and asks what they should bring, Mike and Rande can look up what the Smiths buy and help that guest choose a gift that is well-suited to their host’s tastes.
Mike’s advice to others looking to make a career change is simple. “If you’re going to change, change to do something you love,” he said. “People have heard the old expression if you enjoy what you’re doing, it’s not work, but if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, why are you doing it?”
The Wine Cabinet
1416 Northpoint Village Center, Reston