The Second Act: Marie Henry

Jennifer Lopez’s new movie Second Act is bringing new attention to the term. A Second Act is defined as something, whether it is a hobby, new career, or lifestyle, that a person devotes their life to, usually after a former occupation or career. And while we will probably wait to see the movie until it hits Netflix, we welcome conversation with individuals starting their second calling is a craft brewer, dress designer, or real estate agent. Their stories are fascinating, and we think, they make the best clients. In this series of posts, we’ll introduce you to individuals starting, or in the midst of their second acts, how they got there, and why they are on the brink of something really special.

So without further ado, we would like to introduce you to…

Name: Marie Henry

Education/Training: BS in Business Management, Empire State College, Associate’s Degree, Human Resource Management, Newberry College

First Job/Career: My first job was a clerical associate in a local insurance agency supporting client’s auto insurance requirements. Six years later, after one year as the Assistant Business Manage at a Porsche/Audi dealer (I got to drive the 911 Targa to the bank every day !), I joined New England Telephone as a service representative. I worked in the various iterations of the “phone company for 25+ years, NYNEX, Bell Atlantic, and Verizon. My various positions took me to Boston, New Hampshire, and eventually to Syracuse NY, where I was the Director of Operations for the Central NY area.

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From our conversations about your previous career, we have been able to piece together you were quite accomplished in your field. Can you share some of your achievements from your “First Act”?

I enjoyed many challenges as a Verizon employee, participated in two high-level process improvement initiatives, earned a certificate in project management from Boston College, developed technology to measure employee performance that is still used today, and was one of only a few female “field operations” Directors at that time. I enjoyed every achievement, managed a household and did my best to raise two fine children.

When did you decide it was time to leave the telecommunications industry?

In 2002, life threw me a curve ball. I was diagnosed wIth breast cancer and had surgery and chemo. I was out of work for six months, the longest break I had since the summer of my high school freshman year. In many ways it was an epiphany. The work I was doing was not what I wanted to do anymore. I likened it to dishes and laundry. I worked hard at it, yet, everyday was the same, just different problems to address/solve. There was never any sense of accomplishment. Fortunately, for me, Verizon initiated a force reduction plan, targeting middle and senior management. I was just barely old enough to meet the plan guidelines, but, left in November of 2003.

Can you share a little bit of the journey from business to real estate, and your creative endeavors?

Facing a blank slate future, there were two important guidelines for moving forward. I wanted a job that allowed me to be successful for my own personal effort, not a management position, where success is based on everyone else showing up and doing a good job. I also wanted space in my life for creativity. My childhood goal of an art career was revisiting me and I needed an opportunity to create. In 2004, I obtained my real estate license. In 2005, I purchased the local fabric store, Cazenovia Fabrics, in the community where I lived. Mission accomplished.

How are the two are related? Have you found any similarities? Differences?

I credit my success in real estate to the business and customer service skills I gained in my phone company employment. Staying on top of things, and pushing myself to follow up consistently with buyers and sellers, created a rich cache of referrals. Business came to me. Never a fan of large crowds, I relished the one on one contact this business allowed. Many of my real estate clients have become close personal friends as a result of the time we spent looking for and purchasing homes in the Syracuse area. In my 15 years of real estate, I actually exceeded my management salary three years in a row. I loved the flexibility. I got to buy groceries on a Tuesday morning, instead of a busy Saturday. The flip side of that is that you are always “on call”. You never know in advance what your schedule will be as you cater to the needs of the client and the work requires evenings and weekends. That has its advantages and disadvantages.

If you could go back in time, would you pursue Real Estate, or a small business from the start?

I am not sure I would have enjoyed real estate work as a first career. I applied many of the skills I learned in my business management experiences to managing client expectations, negotiating contracts, and providing excellent customer service. These skills were ingrained in my everyday life experiences, but, learned through years of corporate training and daily practice.

My delightful, colorful quilt shop, closed in 2012. It was a victim of on line shopping and I learned first hand how difficult it is to maintain a small, independently-owned business. Marketing is a full time job. My part time efforts while I worked with real estate clients never provided enough oversight to be truly successful. However, my quilting knowledge and skill improved, I discovered that I have the gift of putting color together in unusual ways that many don’t. I met some amazingly talented, creative women who I now consider part of my tribe. Overall, it was an excellent adventure.

Any plans for Act Three?

Almost two years ago, I moved to Boonville NY an hour and a half from my established real estate client base. I have cut back significantly on that work. I spend several hours every week in a sewing studio I built in our pole barn. I go to auctions, yard sales, antique shops and thrift shops and refurbish my “finds” into items I then sell in the three antique shops I rent space in. I am living that 10 year old dream. I guess it’s also called retirement. But, if this is a Third Act, I hope I enjoy it as much as I have most of my working life.

Do you have any advice for someone thinking of switching careers?

If I were to offer advice on career change, I would tell you to listen to your heart. What makes you truly happy and content? Leave stress as far behind as possible. It really is only one life. It is important to enjoy the day to day as much as possible. Don’t let a daily grind curb your enthusiasm for the things you love. Once you find that sweet spot, pursue whatever you need to make that safe place work for you. I have been the most successful at the things that I loved doing.