Ron Heflin  /  AP
Trudy Bourgeois, CEO of Center Workforce Excellence, is seen in her home office in Plano, Texas earlier this month. Formerly a vice president with a Fortune 100 company, the 45-year-old resigned her high-level position to run a consulting firm out of her home and bring some balance into her life.
updated 7/13/2005 8:34:19 AM ET 2005-07-13T12:34:19

The epiphany for Trudy Bourgeois came in the form of a stinging rebuke from her daughter during a weekend when, as always, she was preoccupied with her job.

“Mommy, I don’t want to be like you when I grow up,” the frustrated sixth-grader told the shocked executive. “All you do is work, work, work, and you’re always stressed.”

Bourgeois’ career and life turned for the better on that painful moment — she resigned her high-level position to run a business out of her Dallas-area home. So did John Gates’ when he left a corner office for a farm and tractor, and Jim Modica’s when he turned his back on Madison Avenue to open a pet boutique.

Forsaking corporate jobs may not yet be a trend, but if boomers made it one it wouldn’t be surprising for a generation known for shattering barriers and doing things in its own unconventional way. Due largely to boomers’ influence, work-life balance is becoming more of a priority for a U.S. population getting older and wealthier.

Kathleen Christensen, director of a program sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation examining the work force and working families, says research clearly shows American employees want flexibility in their jobs and more control over their working hours.

Instead of waiting for the boss to suggest something, she recommended employees propose flex schedules that offer demonstrable benefits for their employers. Someone working in a highly cyclical business, for example, could offer to work a part-year schedule where their time off would correspond with the slow periods in order and cut labor costs; even an office assistant might be able to demonstrate how coming in earlier and leaving earlier would get more phone calls answered while addressing his or her personal needs.

“Companies are seeing that flexibility can be a means to enhance recruitment, improve retention and in some cases increase productivity,” Christensen said. “I think any company that may be losing critical human capital is going to step back and say ’We are losing not only money but the investment we have made in this person. This person has an enormous amount of institutional knowledge about our organization over a long period of time.”’

Employers that don’t adjust for those needs, or can’t, risk seeing top talent walk away.

Bourgeois, 45, did just that after getting what amounted to a wakeup call at home six years ago.

One of the first black female vice presidents in the consumer goods industry, she managed a $3 billion business unit for a multinational conglomerate. The compensation and benefits were “fabulous,” she recalled, but there also were endless 80-hour weeks and travel. Lost in the shuffle were her two children, and her daughter finally erupted one Saturday.

Compelled to fire out just one more e-mail, Bourgeois risked making her daughter miss a volleyball tournament. “It’s a burden for you to take me to my game,” the girl told her accusingly — something her mother couldn’t truthfully deny.

“I concluded that my life was out of control,” Bourgeois said from her home in Plano, Texas. “I was defined by my job. I WAS the rat race.”

It wasn’t easy to abandon the race. Two years and many tears later, she started a training and consulting firm in her home called the Center for Workforce Excellence.

Today she works out of a “little bitty” part of the house and still experiences work stress running her business. But her work week is down to 50 hours and the 10-second commute is hard to beat.

Some of her newly found extra time went into writing a book on career strategy called “Her Corner Office.” Her own best move, though, turned out to be jumping off the traditional ladder altogether.

“You’ve got to follow your heart,” she said. “Easy words to say but hard to live up to.”

Like Bourgeois, Gates put in a lot of years and hard work in order to move up in the business world, accumulating power and perks along the way. After 20 years in various senior management jobs, he had risen to president of a Fortune 500 company’s Canadian unit.

Offered a promotion, he quit instead at age 49 and bought a farm in his native Missouri, putting away his business suit to raise dairy cows.

Not every fed-up business person has the option to chuck it all or can afford a 200-acre farm, of course. But Gates said he paid a big personal toll over the years — bad hours, heavy stress, related health problems and a lack of family time — that had begun to more than offset his monetary gains.

His mood by the time he left is reflected in the title of a book he published recently — “Businessman’s Prison,” a fictional work based on his experiences.

“I left for work before the sun came up and came home after the sun went down,” he said. “Either that or I was on a plane,” he said. When his house was being remodeled “The workmen used to joke about me never being there. They’d ask my wife, ’Does John Gates really exist?”’

Gates plotted his escape for three or four years, finally moving in 2002 with his wife Sally to West Plains, Mo. Now he spends half his day doing administrative work or writing and the other half driving a tractor, fixing fences or otherwise prowling the farm.

While acknowledging that the corporate grind paid off for him financially, he asked “Is it really important to have a Mercedes? The things that are important are the love of the family, and I get such a charge out of seeing a lot of trees and animals.”

Mel Evans  /  AP
Jim Modica stands with some of his baked goods for pets, like Mutt Muffins, pizza for dogs, and cookies, at Asbury Bark, his pet boutique and pet bakery.

Modica, 50, wasn’t miserable in a career as a marketing and advertising agency executive, but he felt bored and somewhat trapped by a routine that demanded working nights, weekends and 50 to 75 hours a week, along with constant meetings, frequent travel and “sometimes being around people in the corporate environment who have no life.”

So last fall, the animal lover and budding entrepreneur opened his dream business on the New Jersey shore — a bakery and boutique for dogs and cats. “Asbury Bark” enables him to use his advertising and marketing skills and have fun merchandising the store’s whimsical assortment of items: from peanut butter, ginger and low-fat biscuits to “pupcakes” to cat cards and dog jackets.

“I go by the philosophy that you can always go back but you may not always have the opportunity to try something new,” he said. “The chance may be gone.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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