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Making A Change 

A new career path can be the road to greater fulfillment.

Most of us, if asked to name another career we would like to attempt, have a prompt answer, maybe two. So it's not surprising that many people do actually change careers somewhere along the line. What makes an individual turn the dream into a reality? Giving up the earnings and familiarity associated with a job -- not to mention perks like 401(k)s and health benefits -- can be risky, but the trade offs are tempting. Entering a new field can bring a renewed sense of excitement and challenge, while starting one's own business is the ultimate form of job autonomy.

For some, the desire to find a new direction occurs early on. Thomas Lyons, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in arthroscopy at the Orthopedic Center For Sports Medicine in Kenner, acquired an MBA and worked in commercial and investment banking for less than two years before deciding to make a change. "It's a lot to expect somebody who's 18 to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives," says Lyons, who got it right the second time around when he was in his 20s. Unable to picture himself in business for the long-term, Lyons asked a friend's father for a first-hand look at the day-to-day goings-on of his orthopedic practice. The experience, which included seeing a hip replacement surgery on the first day, was enough to motivate Lyons to apply to medical school. "There wasn't a day that went by that there wasn't something exciting going on," he says. "In medicine, you feel like you're making a difference and having an impact on people's lives."

For others, finding a career about which they are passionate comes later. "It took me 20 years to make a business out of my passion and my hobby," says Kim Bremermann, owner of Phydeaux's, a doggy day care and no-crate boarding facility located Uptown. Bremermann started her career in the early '70s as the party-planning arm of Bremermann Designs, a successful interior design business she started with her mother and her sister; she later became a computer programmer before deciding to redirect her energy and resources to the thing she loved most: dogs. With the support of family and friends, she turned a family-owned building into a canine-friendly space designed to accommodate up to 30 tail-wagging clients at a time. Because the process of obtaining permits and renovating the property was a year in the making, she used the time to build a trusting clientele by working as a pet sitter and trainer at client's homes. She also prepared herself for the demands of opening a new business by taking a course in entrepreneurial business at UNO. "By doing the formal work, I was able to prove that 90 percent of my thoughts and wishes for the business would work," she says. "It was great reinforcement for my ideas."

For Kathy Redmann, making a career move was less about a lifelong passion and more about striking out on her own. During the 16 years that Redmann was with the law firm of Stone, Pigman, Walther, Wittmann & Hutchinson, she rose from paralegal to recruiting coordinator to accounts manager. But by the time she was in her late 30s, she was eager to pursue a niche of her own making. In 1993, she entered an investment partnership with Stone Pigman attorney Michael Fontham to open a PJs Coffee & Tea franchise in The Rink. "I had great training at Stone Pigman," says Redmann, who today runs the coffee shop under the name Still Perkin'. "But I was ready to pilot my own ship. I was paid well, but I wanted to start something that I could see evolve regardless of the financial ramifications. It's exciting to create a concept and watch it grow."

With a background in accounting, coupled with the franchise training provided by PJ's, Redmann had the financial and managerial skills to run the business. She also had the advantages of a recognized product name and a good location. Nevertheless, to minimize her financial risk, which included a bank loan and money from her pension plan, she continued to work part-time at the law firm while also establishing her new business.

CPA Bob Champagne brings more than 30 years of accounting experience to his role as the new owner of the two Foodies Kitchen locations. Over the years, his clients have included restaurants, groceries and other segments of the food business. But, unlike Redmann, who started her own store, Champagne is entering the field at the helm of already established stores. And he doesn't intend to give up one career for another; he plans to do both. "This was a tremendous opportunity when it appeared," says Champagne. "The brand, the reputation, the tradition that Foodies has built up was something I couldn't pass up." Though he and his wife, Karyn, are running Foodies in a hands-on fashion, Champagne expects that the stores' effective management teams and built-in clientele will allow him to focus on growth opportunities and to work with private equity funds and investors.

Not every foray into untried territory turns out to be a dream come true. In some cases, a less than satisfying career change can be even be a reaffirmation of a previous career. After the birth of his first daughter, Bob Stefani, now a lawyer with King, LeBlanc & Bland, said goodbye to the demands of being a Washington, D.C., lawyer to own and run a sports bar in Charleston, S.C. "A lot of lawyers are not terribly satisfied with practicing law in the first few years," says Stefani. "It's a grind and it can be tedious, so a lot of lawyers daydream about other things they'd like to do." Stefani was acquainted with the bar business, having bartended in college, and hoped the change would enable him to spend more time during the day with his daughter. Late night hours, the need to constantly account for cash and a lack of intellectual stimulation were part of the trade-off, however. After two years, he returned to law with a new perspective. "I had the good fortune of being able to take two years off and then come back," says Stefani. "After having the experience of owning my own business, I started to look at legal questions in more practical ways," he says.

For those who can't afford the luxury of changing course entirely, there's good news in the workplace. Experts point out that job dissatisfaction affects both performance and attendance. But it's not necessarily a one-way ticket to getting fired -- or being miserable. In an effort to keep employees happy and bolster their bottom line, progressive companies like the Hammond-based Neill Corporation, which distributes Aveda products and owns the Paris Parker line of salons, are responding by placing greater emphasis on employee placement and development. "We hire for attitude and train for skill," says Karen McLaughlin, senior vice president of human resources. "Someone may have the skill level to perform a particular job, but that job doesn't make their heart sing, so their performance starts to suffer; or they perform well, but their health and attitude start to suffer."

To prevent the inevitable effects of a bad match, Neill uses an individual talent survey as a tool to help guide the interview process and frequently moves employees to different positions as their strengths become apparent. The company also provides intensive training and a health-oriented environment where fresh fruit replaces vending machines and a chiropractor is available to employees once a week for just $5. "It's all designed to create a better environment for the employee and to help people not feel discouragement," says McLaughlin. "If someone is not suited to a job, but culturally they're a good fit, we think it's our obligation to try to place them where they can contribute the most."

Some companies bring in independent management consultants as a means of enhancing job performance as well. "The people who are most successful in their jobs are the ones who are following their passion," says Linda Caporaletti, a New Orleans-based management consultant who's observed and coached management teams for a list of national clients that includes Nabisco and Union Carbide. "It's about matching the skills, talents and strengths that someone brings and making sure that they can use them."

Where once a career was viewed as a lifelong commitment to a single occupation, a career today also can be seen as an evolutionary process that accompanies one's growth and needs. After success as both a lawyer and a music producer, Hammond Scott is now in his third career incarnation. He began his career as a prosecutor. But music was his first love and, in 1981, he and his late brother Nauman founded Black Top Records, a successful R&B label that has produced records for the Neville Brothers, Snooks Eaglin and Maria Muldaur. When changes in the industry required that he devote less time to producing artists and more time to the minutia of the business, he sold the company and decided to try real estate. "It allows me to work for myself and to work in an area I like," says Scott, now a residential/commercial agent with RE/MAX n. o. properties.

Likewise, Wendy Newlin, who went from being a civil litigator to working in retail when she and her husband relocated from New Orleans to Los Angeles in the early '90s, is open to what may come. Frustrated by the fact that lawyers in her line of work too often seemed to lose sight of the human element in a case, Newlin turned to retail as a more satisfying venue for her interest in people and for her visual sensibility. "It may sound frivolous by comparison, but in retail you are dealing with problem solving and attention to detail, and at the end of exchange, everybody is happy," says Newlin, now a sales consultant at Weinstein's, a local high fashion boutique.

"But, I'm always up for something different if you can find it," she adds. "You never know if there's another adventure around the corner."

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