Inspiring Stories of Bold Career Changes
Follow the stories of 10 professionals as they reflect on their journeys from one successful career to another. While each story is vastly different, common themes begin to emerge about the questions, challenges and doubts that arise during a major career switch.
Do you have a great career 180 story to share? Click here.
What is a career 180?
Regardless of when the inspiration strikes—or lingers and grows—pivoting from a long, successful career into a complete unknown takes guts. Career 180s are the stories of the brave professionals who changed course after years of success to pursue totally new ventures. No two paths are the same, but every great career 180 story has significant obstacles, learning opportunities and moments to inspire us all.
Ready to make a bold change?
Get inspired today.
Explore their stories
Connie Duckworth: Weaving a Better Future for Women
Following more than 20 years in a high-powered role at Goldman Sachs, a persuasive call from the State Department gave new purpose to Connie’s retirement dream of balancing work, charity and family time. She spent the next several years developing a successful government-backed startup to help economically empower women in Afghanistan. Connie applied her extensive business intelligence to identify a viable product, secure funding, find and train employees, and reinvent the supply chain for an ancient industry—hand-woven rugs.
ARZU Studio Hope is a stable, self-funding enterprise that’s changing the lives of Afghan women, and is truly Connie’s pride and joy.
Anne Reed: It’s All about the Animals
“Experienced litigator” wasn’t the first bullet point on the Wisconsin Humane Society’s executive director job description. In fact, it wasn’t on the list at all. Luckily, the board saw the value in what Anne Reed’s 30 years of legal experience could offer the organization—after she realized it herself. Her leadership, drive and wide range of analytical and problem-solving skills allowed her to overcome industry inexperience and succeed in a role well outside of her comfort zone.
Chance brought Anne to the job description, but creative thinking and determination earned her the title. Under her leadership, the Wisconsin Humane Society is thriving and will become strong enough to sustain success long after her time.
Roger Brown: Making Music Happen around the World
Roger Brown’s position as the president of the Berklee College of Music in Boston blends his lifelong passions for education, music and international work perfectly. In hindsight, it was a natural next step after stepping down from his founding role at Bright Horizons Family Solutions, the largest worldwide provider of early childhood education. As it was happening, however, he had serious concerns about how to break into higher education. His determination to secure his dream job fueled his pursuit and willingness to learn, and he was able to convert a happened-upon job posting into a new rewarding career.
Berklee College of Music is more vibrant and successful than ever, thanks to Roger’s dedicated leadership.
Mike Rohrkaste: Working for a Better Wisconsin
As an HR professional with more than 30 years of working in a multitude of industries, Mike Rohrkaste is no stranger to building and supporting very successful teams. Following an extended retirement transition out of leadership at the Oshkosh Corporation, he heard about an opportunity to support a team he had been part of all along—Wisconsin. Getting elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly was a long, grueling and humbling process that involved his entire family. In the end, Mike was able to use his human resources knowledge to tap the minds of his constituents and become a public servant.
Mike considers holding public office as the crowning achievement of his professional life. He’s committed to bettering the state and creating lasting improvements for Wisconsin residents.
Francesca Edwardson: Dealing with Disasters Gracefully
Fran Edwardson’s journey from general counsel at United Airlines to CEO at the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois is full of reminders to seize opportunity—because life is short. While at United, Fran lost her husband suddenly and was only one week back from bereavement leave on 9/11. Those events tested her in ways she never thought possible, and taught her what she is capable of in high-stress situations. After several years of deliberation and work transitions, Fran decided to pursue nonprofit leadership. She landed an interview with the Red Cross, wowing them in the selection process with her drive and disaster-response skills.
Fran believes that every experience, good or bad, is preparation for another venture. She has become an influential leader at the Red Cross because of her experiences and enjoys building the capacity for the next generation.
Wayne Breitbarth: Helping People Link In for Success
When the Great Recession hit, Wayne Breitbarth’s fast-growing office furniture business came to a screeching halt. His accounting background hadn’t given him great sales chops, but after witnessing the power of LinkedIn firsthand, he realized just how to reinvigorate his sales numbers. A few months later, Wayne had mastered LinkedIn and he and his sales team were using it to leverage relationships and drive sales. His success was so impressive that he started teaching his clients and, eventually, anyone who wanted to learn how to use LinkedIn.
Wayne gradually transitioned away from the furniture business and became a full-time LinkedIn consultant. His book, “The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success: Kick-Start Your Business, Brand, and Job Search,” is in its third edition, with more than 80,000 copies sold to date.
Tillie Hidalgo Lima: Rebuilding the Family Business
Tillie Hidalgo Lima found her first calling in pharmacy. She loved math, science and working with people, and she dedicated herself to being a positive influence in her customers’ lives. When her husband needed help with his concierge business, however, she discovered how well a focus on quality and accuracy could bolster any company’s operations. She applied her math and people skills to running operations at Best Upon Request. Eventually, Tillie took over the struggling family business as a first-time CEO, who needed to overcome extreme financial challenges while learning executive leadership skills.
Best Upon Request is now a thriving family business, with two of Tillie’s daughters preparing to join her at the helm one day.
Jim Berbee: Life in the Emergency Room
A successful tech entrepreneur, Jim Berbee could have retired in his early 40s. Instead, his desire to actively help people, along with a budding interest in the philanthropic and business sides of health care, revealed a new path—he wanted to be a doctor. Two years of prerequisites and an MCAT later, Jim was accepted to Stanford for medical school. It took four years of medical school in a new state and several years of residency back in Wisconsin after that, but Jim transformed from IT entrepreneur to emergency room physician.
Jim draws from his business background frequently when assessing patients’ needs, but his drive to keep learning is the foundation behind his 180 into a successful medical career.
Sue Ela: Growing the Legacy of the Orchards
Forty years in health care fulfilled all of Sue Ela’s lifelong professional goals. She was a well-educated nurse who spoke up, got involved and grew to become the Chief Operating Officer of a large health system. Having accomplished her goals, she grew restless in her position and felt the need for change. She worked with a startup for a while, but didn’t realize the career change she wanted until she and her son started brewing hard cider from the apples at their family orchard. Now, Sue is the COO at Ela Cider Company, a role with the same title but many new challenges.
Ela Cider Company brews award-winning hard cider that reflects the excellence of the orchard and its community. Sue loves what she does and that she gets to do what she’s good at with her family beside her.
Robert Finkel: Brewing His Way to Happiness
Robert Finkel spent 25 years supporting other entrepreneurs and reveling in helping people achieve their dreams through growing their companies. After a time, the environment became ill-suited to his character, however, so he looked for an opportunity where he could be his aspirational self, surrounded by like-minded people. He found that community when he immersed himself in the research of plant-based supplements and botanicals—and the beverages that use them. Over several years, Robert and his team developed unique flavor profiles, beverages and a restaurant around his company, Forbidden Root.
Forbidden Root Restaurant and Brewery gave Robert the opportunity to surround himself with high-quality beers, food and people. His role as “rootmaster” showcases his passion for his job and sharing unique experiences with those around him.
“It takes courage, tenacity and faith in yourself to make a career shift. It’s inspiring to read the stories of those who did just that.”
Supermodel, Fashion icon, Businesswoman and New York Times’ best-selling author, “The Face That Changed It All”
“An in-depth look at the soul-searching that comes with making a major professional decision—and the joy and satisfaction of knowing you made the right one.”
Chairman and CEO, Johnson Outdoors
“This book is very relevant today. I see so many people come back to college to prepare for a new career. It is exciting and these stories will help show people that is it possible to try something new and to succeed at it.”
Deborah L. Ford
Chancellor, University of Wisconsin - Parkside
“Taking a chance and trying a completely new career takes guts. Mike has found a unique set of people that provide inspiration to those who might be considering making a major change in their life’s direction.”
Businessman, speaker and New York Times' best-selling author
“If you’ve ever wondered what your life would be like if you had gone into a completely different field, read this book. An inspiring, thought-provoking collection of stories.”
John A. Challenger
CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.
“Different people with unique stories and paths – and with highly personal motivations for pursuing their new career direction. All of these stories teach us valuable lessons about life, change and purpose.”
President, Market Group Americas, Philips Lighting
“Mike Harris has beautifully captured the stories of ten brave people who have made a major career change after dedicating much of their working lives to an initial career. A recurring theme is the move from success to significance, leveraging skills and experience to solve big problems and make a positive impact. Inspiring!”