Call them inspirational, call them risk-takers, if there is one thing we know, it’s that they’re courageous. Meet 12 Chattanoogans who made the great career switch in mid-life.
By Angela Whitaker
Chip Baker — From Healthcare to the Festival
When Chip Baker moved to Chattanooga in 1992 to continue his career in hospital administration, he had no idea that he and his wife Karlette would fall in love with the Scenic City – both its natural beauty and its people. His job at that point required him to relocate nearly every five years. But as the Bakers grew more attached to the city, they began thinking about putting down roots – a desire that only increased after they started a family.
Some time after, Chip was offered a position in Houston, forcing the Bakers into a difficult decision. What they didn’t anticipate, however, was that around the same time, Chip would receive another offer: to become executive director of Friends of the Festival, which organizes the Riverbend Festival in Chattanooga every summer.
The couple weighed the pros and cons, and finally decided their priority was to stay. Chip accepted the Riverbend position, and has been using his background in management to lead the organization ever since.
As someone who loves variety, Chip says he enjoys the challenge of planning and executing an event that changes every year. “No day is the same,” he says. “Working with leaders and managers to bring in artists is still very exciting.”
Mical Traynor — From Small Business to Nonprofit
Mical Traynor was operations director for Chattanooga’s CWC Office Furnishings when she learned the Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute (CWLI) was searching for a new executive director. At the time, she was focusing her energy on managing CWC’s sales team, but the opening piqued her interest. She was already an active member of the organization and was looking for more ways to promote and affirm women in leadership.
Mical decided to trust her instincts, and with support from her husband, Dan, made the leap to apply. The result was landing her dream job – a position where she is able to both help increase the leadership capabilities of women and represent an organization whose mission is to do solely that.
Having started in December of last year, Mical is busy learning all about how the 400+ member organization works – the nuts and bolts of CWLI’s regular events and educational opportunities. While she admits that assuming the helm of a sizeable organization has its challenges, she continues to be enthusiastic about her new line of work. “I’m really glad I took a chance,” she says. “It’s important to trust your intuition and take a risk when presented with an opportunity you feel strongly about.”
Rebecca Bursch — From Separate Careers to a Joint Venture
In 2011, Chris and Rebecca Bursch were both transitioning careers when they heard about a new opportunity: owning a franchise with commercial cleaning company Office Pride. Rebecca had been a stay-at-home mom for years, but with the children grown, she was thinking about how she could once again use her background in sales. Meanwhile, Chris, who had worked in IT at Unum for 27 years, was in the process of taking early retirement.
The couple immediately felt that the faith-based company was a match with not only their financial goals, but also their personal ones. They liked how Office Pride’s business model emphasized integrity and a servant’s approach, and it would give them an opportunity to support their community and provide jobs to others. After months of research, they successfully launched their own franchise in Chattanooga.
Office Pride has now been in Chattanooga for three years, and the couple says some of the most rewarding parts of their journey thus far have been achieving a high customer retention rate and recognizing employees as they grow and develop. The business itself has grown too, even winning the National Office Pride Franchise of the Year award for two years running.
Beth and Mike Harrell — From the Oceans to the Mountains
Mike and Beth Harrell began visiting Chattanooga 15 years ago when their daughter was at Covenant College. Immediately impressed by the city’s vibrant sense of community and natural beauty, they began to look for excuses to return.
Back home in Clearwater, Fla., Mike was chief operating officer of a holding company and Beth was juggling a career in advertising with being a mom. Then in 2004, Mike’s parents, who lived in Rome, Ga., began struggling with health issues. A move to Chattanooga was soon in order, putting them close to Mike’s parents for support and in the midst of a city that had captured their minds and their hearts.
Shortly after the move, Mike began “taking inventory” of his career experience, which helped him pinpoint one of his greatest passions: helping other business leaders succeed. In 2005, he opened his own executive advisory firm, Latitude Advisors, and has worked as a consultant to CEOs and business owners ever since.
Meanwhile, Beth was forging her own path: making a career change into real estate. She joined Real Estate Partners Chattanooga, LLC as an affiliate broker in 2007. Selling the assets and lifestyle of her “hometown by choice” proved to be a natural fit for her, and in 2014, she was named the company’s Top Sales Partner.
Liz Boggan — From the Campus to the Clinic
Sometimes seeds of change come through unexpected means, like a chance conversation or a sudden realization. So it goes for Liz Boggan, who one day found herself admitting to her doctor during an appointment that if she could do anything, she would become a veterinarian.
Liz had been working for eight years as a math teacher and dorm parent at Baylor – years she found rich and fulfilling in many ways. But somehow, she still felt like she was trapped in repetitive motion. “It was like I was Bill Murray in ‘Groundhog Day,’” she says. Later, thinking about her doctor’s advice to “just do it,” Liz made the decision to follow her dream. She turned in an application for vet school and hasn’t looked back since.
Liz earned her degree in veterinary medicine in 2007, and soon after started treating a variety of animals from dogs and cats to horses, cows, pigs, sheep, and even the occasional alpaca. Today, she works as a small animal veterinarian at Red Bank Animal Hospital, where she thrives on the fact that every day is different. The most rewarding part? “When the ‘puzzle’ of a patient’s illness is solved with a correct diagnosis,” she says.
Chuck Baker — From Business to Ministry
Chuck Baker was 50 years old and happily employed as an executive at Unum when he sensed God would someday call him away from the business world into ministry. Not sure how or when this opportunity would emerge, he decided to carry on with his current line of work while waiting for that “still small voice.”
Meanwhile, he began serving on the board of Bethel Bible Village, a Christian children’s home in Chattanooga with the mission of providing a safe place for children of families in crisis. In 2010, the board asked Chuck to lead a nationwide search for a new director. Then six months later, with more than 200 resumes submitted
but still no clear candidate in sight, the board asked him to consider the position himself.
What followed was a period of soul-searching and prayer, after which Chuck realized this was the “when, where, and how” he’d been waiting for. He accepted, and has been the organization’s leader ever since. Chuck says that while it wasn’t easy leaving Unum, he’s grateful for the opportunity to use his business experience to serve, and he feels rewarded when he sees young people from Bethel becoming productive citizens and fulfilling all of their God-given potential.
Jim Johnson — From the Office to the Trail
Jim Johnson is no native to Chattanooga, though his biking cred might mislead you. He transferred here 16 years ago to continue his career in public relations, only to find himself sidelined two years later when he lost his job.
In the midst of this dark time, however, a bright idea took shape. Why not build on his strengths? He decided to combine his extensive experience in writing, website development, and marketing with his passion for travel and cycling – and subsequently founded his own company, BikeToursDirect, in the basement of his home.
Today, BikeToursDirect, which acts as a one-stop shop for booking bike tours around the world, is a multi-million dollar company representing more than 125 smaller tour companies across the globe. Jim continues to be very involved in day-to-day operations, but due to its increased growth (i.e., the hiring of a staff of eight), he is now able to be more active in the community, supporting cycling, trail preservation, bike tourism, and more.
Jim says that, looking back at his life now, he wouldn’t change a thing – even losing his job. “That’s really what allowed the confluence of so many life experiences to emerge as a career,” he says.
Charlie and Marie Hyde — From the Kitchen to the Bakery
Marie Hyde had always enjoyed baking, but it wasn’t until her sourdough bread developed a following on Signal Mountain that she and her husband, Charlie, began seriously considering turning her hobby into a business.
At the time, Charlie was working at IBM, where he had spent 23 years in sales. The couple soon realized that between her skills in the kitchen and his strong background in customer service, they had all the ingredients they needed to go into business for themselves. So in 1993, Charlie left his job at IBM to work full-time alongside his wife, and together, they built and opened The Bread Basket at its present Signal Mountain location.
The joint venture was immediately embraced by the Signal Mountain community and has since expanded to locations in Hixson and East Brainerd. To what do they credit their success? According to Charlie, it’s a high-quality product combined with excellent customer service and a great work environment – values they have now passed on to their son, Anson, who took over ownership in 2010. “It’s all about what the customer sees when they walk into the shop along with the response they get from our team,” Charlie says.
Robyn Carlton — From the Clinic to the Mountain
Lookout Mountain was the first landmark Robyn Carlton noticed upon moving to Chattanooga, and it was love at first sight. At the time, she was pursuing a career in behavioral and mental health services, but also an avid runner and hiker, she began spending her free time exploring its trails. “I always had my eye on Lookout,” she says.
So when, 30 years later, the Lookout Mountain Conservancy offered Robyn the chance to be the organization’s CEO, she was thrilled. “To be able to work on Lookout where I had been playing for decades was quite simply the chance of a lifetime,” she says. “And after a long career caring for the health of others, I was ready to begin taking better care of my own.”
Today, the Lookout Mountain Conservancy – whose mission is to protect Lookout Mountain’s scenic, historic, and ecological resources – is widely viewed as being on the cutting edge of community engagement. And Robyn, driven by her passion for land conservation, continues to be enthused about her work of developing school outreach programs, connecting residents to the land, speaking at community events, and more.