Local Stories of Rewarding Career Changes
THE FINE ART OF NEGOTIATING
From Attorney to Artwork → Courtroom galleries provided drama that didn’t always suit Virginia Anne Sharber’s nature for compromise. “Unlike being a thespian in plays, my witnesses didn’t follow their lines,” Sharber says. “Trial law was a lot more adversarial than what fit my personality.”
Sharber adjusted, practicing commercial real estate law instead. “I liked the teamwork of putting a deal together,” she says. “You’re protecting your clients’ interests, but at the end of the day, both sides want the transaction to happen.”
While negotiating contracts at the firm Miller & Martin, PLLC, Sharber began serving on boards for community art organizations, including ArtsBuild (formerly Allied Arts). In 2015, she was asked to fill in as Interim Director of the Hunter while the Board of Directors searched for a permanent candidate. “I had thoroughly enjoyed my involvement on arts boards, but I wasn’t looking at all to make a career change.”
The Hunter’s storied place in the community, coupled with Sharber’s board experience and lifelong love of the arts, brought her around to the idea. “Growing up with the Hunter, I was honored to be considered to play a role in an organization with such a rich cultural tradition in Chattanooga.”
Sharber had butterflies about transitioning into a field she lacked a formal background in. “I didn’t start making huge changes right away. I came in with a totally fresh pair of eyes, observing how things worked and then gently suggesting thinking about something in a different way.”
It’s been a learning curve, but an enjoyable one she attributes to receiving guidance from her talented team. “Don’t be afraid to try something new,” Sharber advises. “Have a willingness to learn and jump in there.”
A MEMBERSHIP RENEWED
From Candy to Core Fitness → Coming from the world of chocolate-covered cherries and confections into the world of cross-fitness gyms might seem like a stretch. But for David Brock, former Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Brock Candy, the move to President of Sportsbarn combined management training with membership tradition. Brock oversaw the candy company’s financial aspects and understood the different pieces required to run a business. When the locally owned Brock Candy was acquired by Brach’s Confections, he no longer saw the pieces forming a good long-term fit.
At the same time, a broker friend who was selling Sportsbarn, a 30-year-old local company, called. “It was an appealing opportunity because this is an iconic business in a way, and it had a good brand name,” Brock says. “I’m not a fitness guru or expert or anything like that, but I am interested in general health.”
Brock was also inspired to reinvent a gym he’d been a member of back when everybody played racquetball there. “It needed a massive boost of energy,” says Brock who, with his team of investors, developed plans to revamp each of the three 40,000-square-foot complexes into small studios to reflect trends toward yoga and cycling.
“There’s been tons of lessons,” Brock says. “One, don’t buy a business before a major recession. I’ve learned a lot of patience for sure, and to be less impulsive. I’ve had to learn those lessons many, many, many times.”
But Brock hasn’t forgotten about providing sweet rewards – free beer for members. “At the same time, it’s a place to just kind of be and enjoy time with your friends even if you aren’t doing hardcore weightlifting,” he says. “Our philosophy is if we put members first and we really listen, then we’ve got a pretty good chance of making our business work.”
A LEAP OF FAITH
From Parks to Power Bars → When Norma Maloney and her husband moved to Canada from Guyana, South America, it was business as usual. Having worked as a teller, Maloney continued with banking before shifting into computer programming for the Canadian parks department. But the big change was taking shape in her kitchen with a few simple ingredients that turned from family snack into personal mission.
Maloney began mixing together oats and a variety of nuts in 1995. “It was a hobby because my husband took up cycling very seriously. A friend of mine gave me a very basic recipe to make energy bars,” Maloney says. “I experimented with it because I loved eating healthy.” In 2006, her daughter suggested she sell her homemade bars. “I said, ‘Give me one year, and I’ll have the business up and running!’” Looking back, Maloney admits she was clueless.
Throughout the next five years (and moves to Houston, then Chattanooga), Maloney attended workshops, learning facets of entrepreneurship from packaging to marketing. “I had no prior knowledge of business, so I was stepping out in faith,” Maloney says. Her story could have ended at the outset if she’d taken some of the workshop advice she received. “The instructor told me I should think of doing something else because this market was saturated,” she says. “But by then, it was too late. It was already sealed in my heart, and I knew it was bigger than making an energy bar.”
She remained steadfast to make the leap because of her faith. Before giving the concept a name, Maloney experienced a higher call to purpose. “I knew that I was being called to create a loaded energy bar that was more than just a healthy snack for the body,” she says. “The name Lo-Debar is a city in the Bible that is a picture of barrenness and low living. The ‘A’ represents Almighty God, Abba Father encountering us in that place with His love to bring healing and restoration.”
Maloney says the brand’s mission is two-fold: help people enjoy better health and equip them with necessary education, skills, and resources to fulfill their God-given purpose. “We believe that every person is created for greatness.”
DRIVING EXPERIENCE HOME
From Textiles to Tourism → As a sales management executive for a flooring company, Hugh Morrow knew traveling. Spending more than half of his time away from home, Morrow accrued millions of highway and skyway miles in cross-country sales trips. But after 23 years in the textile business, Morrow took what he calls a half-time moment.
The industry was experiencing a series of acquisitions and consolidations. Morrow debated whether to switch gears. “I was kind of pushing the clutch trying to decide what I wanted to do going forward in my career,” Morrow says.
He compares his chance career change to the accidental way Ruby Falls was discovered. Through word-of-mouth, he heard they were seeking a new president. Redirecting completely, Morrow threw his name in the mix, accepting the position shortly thereafter. The most difficult part of his decision was leaving relationships he’d developed with customers and employees over two decades.
The benefits of starting down a new road surfaced over a one-minute commute between home and Ruby Falls. “I remember my first day here very well in February 2007. It was extremely cold that day – single digits cold. And I remember driving here and my heat never turned on in my car,” he says. “I thought, how cool is this! I live close enough that the motor in my car never gets warm enough for my heater to turn on.”
Morrow was nervous about building new relationships while also having to confront difficult decisions during the recession. “We wrapped our arms around what we wanted to be, and we’ve held together a very wonderful management team almost completely intact for the last 10 years. We have specifically focused on the guest experience and bringing value to them, just as I did in my past industry.”
As Ruby Falls is expanding, Morrow is reconnecting with past associates. “All of a sudden I realized we’re using product I used to sell, and the salesperson we’re dealing with I hired 15 years ago.” Experience has brought Morrow full circle with colleagues, driving home his philosophy: “Never forget where you came from.”
OPTIMIZING BRAND NEW PATHS
From Food Service to Marketing
Strategies → Change has been the spice of life for Steve Errico, even before entering the ever-evolving digital technology field. “I’m a serial shifter,” says Errico, who began his career in psychology before making a transition into various executive roles in the food and beverage industry. Errico had reached a crossroads in his line of work as a therapist when he thought, “I’d like to try my hand at business.”
After returning to school and accumulating 30 hours in accounting, Errico commenced his journey in business, landing executive roles with Southwest Coca-Cola, then Custom Food Group, and then as CEO of Five Star Food Service from 2000 to 2008.
Errico was originally brought in to lead an acquisition strategy, but the economic climate in the early 2000s was not conducive for such a plan. Much of his effort went into streamlining operations and building internal brands to create points of differentiation from local and national competitors for the venture capital-owned company. Errico eventually orchestrated a large group of transactions in 2007 that put the company on the path to profitability. Shortly thereafter, he decided to leave the food industry to partner with a compatible entrepreneurial spirit, his wife Jackie. “I’ve always put a lot of credence in how I intuitively feel,” he says about teaming with his wife to expand her graphic design firm into a full-service brand marketing agency.
There were some growing pains while the couple started working from their house and discovering respective management styles. “I can be more methodical and like to let ideas mature for a bit, while Jackie usually drives full speed ahead. They can be complementary styles,” Errico says. Combined perspective has expanded Riverworks Marketing Group into a brick-and-mortar company with a team of employees. “My wife and I have a similar philosophy – hire great team members, empower them, and support their initiatives.”
Years of experience in assessing human nature and the nature of business prepared Errico for the constant changes in the digital technology industry. “The days of starting a business and just learning it and doing it well are gone,” Errico says. “It’s shifting sand now.”
Lessons learned shape his optimism about pursuing new paths. “I’m constantly reminded every day that I have nothing figured out. But when you wake up each day open to change, to listen and to learn, then life is pretty extraordinary.”
LISTENING TO A CALL FOR SERVICE
From Telecommunications to Legislature → Serving a constituency begins with a passion for possibilities. State Representative Patsy Hazlewood’s mind wasn’t set on one field when she envisioned her future. “I wanted to be everything at different times,” Hazlewood says. Three months into her first job, she discovered teaching wasn’t for her. “Teachers have my admiration totally and completely,” she says. Hazlewood was soon hired by BellSouth, where she played many roles over the course of 30 years: from building and design to management to public relations.
After retiring from BellSouth, Governor Bill Haslam selected Hazlewood as the Regional Director for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development based on her leadership with local chambers of commerce. This experience highlighted how state laws affect the ability to retain and attract Chattanooga-based businesses and employers. “I felt I could do more in the legislature to bring businesses to the southeastern part of the state,” Hazlewood says.
When a seat opened in her district in 2014, Hazlewood was ready. “It was an appropriate time if I was ever going to do it, so I took the plunge and decided to run.” If there was hesitation, it was the four months per year she’d be away from her grandchildren. “I really enjoy spending a lot of time with them, but I also thought being in the legislature was one way I could do my best to ensure that Tennessee was the place that allows them to have plenty of opportunities,” she says.
Taking office taught Hazlewood about complexities of lawmaking and the importance of being open-minded to achieve common goals. “It seems so easy when you are looking at it from the outside,” Hazlewood says. “You look at some legislation and think it’s a great idea, but when you look at how it impacts other things, there are unintended consequences you may have to deal with.”
Her advice to others contemplating a career move? “I think passion is more important than experience. You can gain experience. I don’t know that you often gain passion,” Hazlewood says. “If your skills and personality match something that you are passionate about, I would say go for it.”