Your first act is school, your second act is work, but have you thought about what you’re going to do in your third act? Join host Liz Tinkham, a former Accenture Senior Managing Director, as she talks to guests who are happily “pretired” – enjoying their time, treasure, and talent to pursue their purpose and passion in the third act of their life.
Inspire others to get more and to do more later in life.
Athena helps women achieve executive-level leadership expertise, polish their boardroom and executive knowledge, get closer to board seats, and make leaps in their careers.
Today, Liz talks with Anne Sample—The Career Reinventor. What do you do as the head of HR once you’ve counseled yourself out during a company transition? If you’re Anne Sample, you buy into a business that you’re already really good at: Anne bought her outplacement firm, Navigate Forward.
On today’s podcast, Anne talks about her early start as an Ohio plant manager to leading HR for several companies, and how she eventually realized she wanted to run the P/L of a business. Today, she’s the happy owner and CEO of—as one of her friends called it—her own ministry at NavigateForward, running a business that provides counsel to those seeking a career reinvention.
3:21 Working at the plant in Clyde, Ohio
5:00 Technology influencing HR
6:15 Getting good at career transition advice
7:59 Firing herself
8:30 Running a P/L
15:20 Trends in career transition
17:24 Finding your passion
21:02 Creating her own ministry
If you enjoyed the podcast, please subscribe and share a review. Engage with more stories of those finding fulfillment in the third act of their lives on Liz Tinkham’s Third Act podcast at thirdactpodcast.com.
Liz Tinkham (00:18):
Hi, this is Liz Tinkham and welcome to Third Act, a podcast about people embracing the third act of their lives with a new sense of purpose and direction. The third act begins when your script ends but your show’s not finished.
Liz Tinkham (00:34):
Hi, and welcome to Third Act. On today’s show, I talk with Anne Sample, the career reinventor. So what do you do as the head of HR, once you’ve counseled yourself out during a company transition? Well, if you’re Anne Sample, you buy into the business that you’re already good at. Anne bought her out placement firm, Navigate Forward, in 2019.
Liz Tinkham (00:53):
On today’s show, Anne talks about her early start as an Ohio plant manager to her leading HR for several big companies, and how she eventually realized that she wanted to run the P&L of her own business. Today, she is the happy owner and CEO of, as one of her friends calls it, her own ministry at Navigate Ford, running a business that provides counsel to those seeking a career reinvention.
Liz Tinkham (01:22):
Anne, thanks so much for joining us today, another fellow Buckeye and friend of Bev Tarulli. Where do I find you today?
Anne Sample (01:29):
I am in Minneapolis, Liz. It’s a beautiful sunny day here.
Liz Tinkham (01:32):
So I want to get started with your Columbus roots. What did you plan to do after you left the hallowed halls of Columbus, Ohio, and Ohio State?
Anne Sample (01:41):
The funny thing is, I went into Ohio State assuming I was going to be a biochemical engineer, and that was my interest. Somewhere along the way, I stumbled into the field of people, which, amazingly, is not that different than organic chem.
Liz Tinkham (01:57):
I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before. You got to say more about that. Why is it not that different?
Anne Sample (02:01):
Well, the reason I would say that is because I think I have met six women with a background in some kind of biochemical studies. It’s a weird trend that I have found, but I have met, I can think of four of them off the top of my head, who started in this idea of science and ended up enjoying the notion of trying to understand people, what makes them tick, how to optimize performance. There is a lot of similarities between figuring out the people side of an equation and solving those kind of biology and chemistry problems, believe it or not.
Liz Tinkham (02:37):
Wouldn’t that be funny to go back and give a talk at the College of Biochem at Ohio State and say, “By the way, you’re all going to be going for career HR professional jobs as well,” so not sure that would play very well.
Anne Sample (02:51):
I don’t think they all will. There’s a few of them that are sure they’re not in the right place because there won’t be enough people to engage with in the lab. It’s those people.
Liz Tinkham (03:00):
Yes, you’re just studying microbes. So you and I did have similar experiences and not only did we graduate from Ohio State, but we graduated with degrees where there were few women, and particularly in Ohio, which at that time was a big manufacturing state, and actually it still is. I think you went to work for a plant and you were telling me you were the only gal.
Anne Sample (03:19):
Liz Tinkham (03:19):
I think it was at Whirlpool. Tell us about that experience.
Anne Sample (03:21):
It was. I went to work in Clyde, Ohio.
Liz Tinkham (03:25):
Where is Clyde, Ohio?
Anne Sample (03:27):
It’s south of Toledo, so it’s somewhere between Toledo and Cleveland, but Whirlpool would build these huge manufacturing plants in small towns. It was a great opportunity to go to work for a great boss doing some really interesting work in a really small town. I didn’t realize I was going to be one of two women on the management team.
Liz Tinkham (03:47):
So how’d you find your way into HR?
Anne Sample (03:49):
Actually that first role was an HR role.
Liz Tinkham (03:53):
Really? What were you doing?
Anne Sample (03:54):
Well, they would grow people to be HR. Because they put plants in these small towns, communications was incredibly important to maintaining a union free status. So the crazy part is, they convinced me, my first job with them was in communications, and I was the only person. I spent time on the shop floor, I spent time talking to the local media. I was the only person who could represent the company, but it was about learning the processes. It was everything from applying for, I think we got recognized as a top manufacturer. It’s hard to talk about the spectrum of the work, but the great thing is, every week I sat in on the president’s staff meeting as a fly on the wall.
Liz Tinkham (04:36):
Oh, what a great experience. Yeah, that’s fantastic.
Anne Sample (04:41):
I learned a lot about the business, I learned a lot about change management, and I learned a lot about people.
Liz Tinkham (04:46):
If you get a chance to do those business manager/true executive assistant, anything where you can get that kind of exposure early in your career, it’s a really, really good opportunity for people.
Anne Sample (04:56):
To me, there was no better way to learn the business, to just watch it happening.
Liz Tinkham (05:00):
So you had a long career in HR across Pepsi, Thrive, and Caribou Coffee and Bagels. What were some of the biggest changes that you saw in the profession over the 20, 30 years that you were doing it?
Anne Sample (05:10):
I remember how little technology there was in the early days, and the fact that, like any other field, the fact that you could begin to use systems, the fact you could gather data, the fact you could understand everything from… I think about creating the first employee engagement survey that we had ever done at that plant in Clyde, and having somebody who was writing on key cards figure out how to ask people how they felt about work, and I compare that to what you could do now.
Anne Sample (05:38):
So I think technology and the use of technology has changed a lot. People and understanding how to best leverage and help the talent get into the right spots has gotten a lot more sophisticated. And I think it used to be all about compliance and labor laws, and I, personally, think that human resources has become much more of a business partnership function and much less of a risk mitigation.
Liz Tinkham (06:03):
As people, if they were to go somewhere next, what was the kinds of advice that you were giving them? And talk about what you learned through those years.
Anne Sample (06:15):
What I learned was that oftentimes people are not terribly thoughtful about their own careers. They’re all in, right? They’re doing the work that needs to be done, let alone having a busy life outside of work. And so what I found is, too many people were letting their career happen to them versus being thoughtful about what they were good at, what they enjoyed, and where they could add value.
Anne Sample (06:39):
My counsel to people would generally be to go back and focus on those three questions. Think about what you’re really good at, think about where you add value, think about where you want to be; and then be thoughtful and make sure you’re both communicating that. You have to advocate for yourself. There’s no organization that’s going to advocate for you. And you also have to take risks. You have to try new things.
Anne Sample (07:03):
There were people who wanted to maximize their careers. They wanted them to move quickly, but they wanted those to be safe moves. Well, you don’t maximize a career by making safe pivots. You maximize a career by trying new things.
Liz Tinkham (07:14):
Talk about your transition from, I think your last corporate job was at Caribou, to Navigate Forward. What was that like?
Anne Sample (07:22):
So Navigate Forward’s a boutique firm that works with executives in career transitions. We help people pivot to new jobs and figure out what they want to do next. The majority of our clients come to us because they’re paid for by their company, but sometimes it’s people individually.
Anne Sample (07:36):
And so in my case, I had been a corporate buyer of Navigate Forward services for years. Because, as the companies that I worked for were restructuring, as they were making changes, we had executives that needed support, and so I was a corporate customer of Navigate Forward. I sent executives to Navigate for services, so I knew it very well, believed in it very strongly.
Anne Sample (07:59):
But the interesting thing is that coffee and bagels, as I was leading… We were going through, we’d had multiple reductions in force, multiple changes. And so in the last round that I led there, I actually looked at our CEO and said, you know what? This is not strategic HR work. You’re either going to eliminate me or you’re going to eliminate 10 people that answer real questions for restaurant GMs. I think the right answer is to put my name on the list, but I want Navigate Forward services.
Liz Tinkham (08:25):
Got it. So you outplaced yourself.
Anne Sample (08:27):
Yeah. Basically put my own name on the list.
Liz Tinkham (08:30):
Speaking of risk and taking a risk, you stepped back and thought you wanted to run a P&L.
Anne Sample (08:35):
Liz Tinkham (08:36):
So how did that translate into the next step?
Anne Sample (08:40):
The first step in our process is we actually ask people to hit the pause button. Don’t go jump into a job just like the one you came from, unless you’re really sure that’s what you want to do next. And so that’s the council we give to our clients, that’s what I got when I arrived. And so as I sat down and thought about it, everybody felt I should just go lead an HR function again, because I’d done it three times. And I had done it three times. It felt like it was time for… I don’t know whether it was time for a third act or not, but I certainly knew it was time to do something different.
Liz Tinkham (09:11):
Good for you. Okay.
Anne Sample (09:12):
And I thought about what I had been missing. And what I found is, I had had an opinion about growing a business and about the P&L, but I had never been the decision maker. And I just decided it was time to pivot, and so I reworked all of my materials and went out to the market and said, “I want to run something.”
Liz Tinkham (09:35):
How did Navigate Forward find you? You’d already been a client of theirs, but how did the opportunity to lead it come about?
Anne Sample (09:42):
Well, that was the strange thing. Nothing stranger than being in due diligence with a company while you’re a client, that truly is what happened. But I discovered that Navigate Forward was… They were working with a broker to find a buyer. Ironically, I said, “Well, I actually think this is exactly the kind of business I’ve been providing support to people and helping them think through their careers for a long time. It’s a business I know, it’s a brand I love,” and so I made the decision to buy the business while I was in services as a client.
Liz Tinkham (10:14):
Well, you found your own job that way, right?
Anne Sample (10:19):
Liz Tinkham (10:19):
How scary was that? Because you had to come with the money, you’d never done that. Who helped you? How did you get over the fear of failure? Because I think that’s a big leap.
Anne Sample (10:29):
It is. I had done a lot of M&A due diligence work, so the good news is I could look at the business and say, “Look, as long as I don’t screw it up, this is a well run business that should be able to run under new leaders.” I made sure I was aligned with… I know most M&A deals, where they really fail is if a new person comes in and tries to change the culture.
Liz Tinkham (10:53):
Correct, yeah. It’s hard, really hard. Right.
Anne Sample (10:55):
Yeah, and I was so aligned from a value standpoint with the women that had started this firm, which I think was lucky for me because they had seven bidders for the business, and so I was actually in competition with other people who wanted to buy it.
Liz Tinkham (11:09):
And they picked you.
Anne Sample (11:10):
Yeah. Well, the good news is they knew me and they knew what I stood for. They knew that I had the same values in terms of wanting to give back to the community and they knew why I wanted to run the business, and I think that actually gave me an advantage as a buyer.
Anne Sample (11:24):
What I did was, I went back to folks that I had worked for in the past, people who had been mentors, and I said… And I did this even when I repositioned my materials to ask them, how do you feel about me running a business? What do you think about capabilities? What should I emphasize? What kind of business? And I got a lot of encouragement from the people that I had worked with before, to tell me that not only did they feel like I could do it, but then they gave me great suggestions.
Liz Tinkham (11:52):
Tell me what’s been the hardest thing in making the transition from being a senior functional lead, understanding really well the function, but then running it as the CEO, President of the actual business.
Anne Sample (12:08):
I would say a few things. One is that I came out of pretty large corporate organizations with lots of resources. And so for me, it wasn’t just the pivot from functional to general management, but it was also large company to really small. And so large to small, it was getting used to the idea that I wasn’t going to have the same resources.
Anne Sample (12:28):
We were just talking about our geo expansion strategy and somebody said, “Did you do a bunch of market research?” And I said, “Yep. Did it myself, and then figured out where I really wanted to grow the business.”
Liz Tinkham (12:39):
I love it.
Anne Sample (12:39):
You just have to learn to make do with less information and fewer resources. But the other thing is that it was, I had had an opinion about the P&L. It is different when you own it. It is very easy to look at it and say, “Well, if we make these investments, they’ll be growth.” And when those investments are your investments and you’re actually reaching into your own pocket or you’re making the decision not to take money off the table, there’s a new prism. There’s a new way to look at the business and look at what’s important.
Anne Sample (13:10):
I think the same leadership… I love leading a team, so it’s been fun to still use the people skills, but I didn’t know anything about sales or marketing. What I knew about brands, I had learned from time working for great brands.
Liz Tinkham (13:24):
But you have to build your own brand here, right?
Anne Sample (13:26):
Liz Tinkham (13:27):
And maybe one other question, because we have a lot of listeners who are thinking about their third acts. And one of the things I love about your story is how you took what you really knew well, decided you needed to run a P&L, and then went and bought into that business, which is a really interesting pivot. If you had one piece of advice for people who were thinking about doing something similar, what might it be?
Anne Sample (13:48):
The first one I would say is, make sure you don’t… When the women who owned the business decided they were going to sell me, they were really excited because of how similar we were. I don’t think they understood how much information I was going to ask for in due diligence, but it’s part of what has allowed me not only to buy the business successfully, but then begin to grow it. And so, just do not hesitate. It doesn’t matter what size business you’re growing. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. Make sure you have really looked under every rock and that you truly understand, what’s the value proposition? What’s working, what’s not? What are you going to have to invest in?
Anne Sample (14:27):
This was a business where a lot of the intellectual capital sat in the heads of the founders. They thought they were going to be willing to stay for a couple of years, but the fact of the matter is, they were really ready for transition. The fact that we got so much due diligence and put so much information on the table made it a lot easier. They’re both incredibly supportive, but they’ve been able to have a lot less involvement with the business than they expected to. They were able to turn it over pretty quickly. And one of them has come back to work for me as a consultant. She’s got her third act.
Liz Tinkham (14:59):
Oh, really? That’s great.
Anne Sample (15:01):
It’s really fun. She walks in the door to work with clients and she says, “I don’t have to worry about paying the light bill. I don’t have to worry about…” She goes, “You got to worry about all those things, you’re running the business. I just got to take care of clients.”
Liz Tinkham (15:12):
What a good gig.
Liz Tinkham (15:20):
So what are some of the trends you’re seeing these days in career transition and what people are doing, especially with all the employment opportunities that are out there right now?
Anne Sample (15:27):
Yeah. Well there are, it’s a great market for talent. So what I would say is, our clients are landing faster than they’ve ever landed, and they’re going to much more interesting things.
Anne Sample (15:38):
We actually do work with people. We not only help people find their next job, but sometimes we’re helping people do something we call encore planning. Encore planning is when somebody’s leaving a corporate career and they want to figure out… I actually think it aligns perfectly with your idea of a third act, because no one wants to retire. I have not talked to a single individual in two and a half years that has said to me, “I want to go to the golf course or the beach and I’m done.”
Anne Sample (16:05):
There are people that have corporate careers that want to keep adding value. They don’t necessarily want to stay in a corporate career, so our encore planning is the work that we do with a leader to help them identify, how are you going to add value? What’s the work that you’re going to do? Is it about nonprofit leadership? In my case, we always have laughed because buying a business isn’t really an encore, it’s just a next gig where you don’t have any corporate resources. But we have a lot of folks that are going to fractional leadership roles. They were CFOs at huge companies and they still want to be a CFO, but they really do want to do it 10 hours a week.
Liz Tinkham (16:41):
Is there a pretty good market for that right now?
Anne Sample (16:43):
Liz Tinkham (16:43):
Anne Sample (16:44):
Fractional market is strong, the consulting market is strong. And then we have people just pivoting to totally different kind of work.
Anne Sample (16:53):
Somebody came to work with us from a very high powered role in, let’s just say, investment banking, I’ll put it in that category. Somebody who’s very capable, and truly thought that that was what they wanted to do again. And what’s fascinating to me is they have built this incredible portfolio that includes… They are on boards, but they’re also working as a volunteer firefighter.
Liz Tinkham (17:22):
Oh, my goodness.
Anne Sample (17:24):
This individual is happier than he’s ever been and more satisfied, and he has just completely reframed how he adds value in what he does. And it’s fun to talk to him because it wasn’t where his mindset was when he walked in the door.
Liz Tinkham (17:38):
Through your encore planning, you helped him figure that out.
Anne Sample (17:41):
Liz Tinkham (17:42):
One of the things I’ve always struggled with is people say to me, “Did you have a passion that you put on hold while you were working?” And I’m like, “Oh, not really.” So then I have all this time, talent, and treasure, how do I use your passion? I’m like, “Well, I don’t know what mine is.” Did he have a passion for firefighting, or did-
Anne Sample (18:00):
He did. He did, and-
Liz Tinkham (18:01):
Had he done it before?
Anne Sample (18:03):
No. No, not at all. No, this was something… But now as he looks at future opportunities, he’s now looking at places where he can combine his financial acumen… He goes, “Maybe I can find companies that do firefighting equipment. Maybe I could-”
Liz Tinkham (18:17):
Oh, there’s lots of those, right. Oh, I see what you’re saying. Okay, very interesting.
Anne Sample (18:22):
Really, the way we get after it is truly just in dialogue, our consultants have great questions. As you talk to somebody, they may not be able to identify their passions, but when they are talking about how they spend their time, you can watch somebody’s energy level, and sometimes our consultants can help them identify what they’re passionate about.
Liz Tinkham (18:40):
Right, because they can see the energy level going up and down, right? Like, oh, you really like that. Oh, this is really fun. So you counsel both men and women. What differences do you see, if any, in talking with both of them?
Anne Sample (18:51):
From a gender standpoint?
Liz Tinkham (18:52):
Yeah. Is there any difference?
Anne Sample (18:54):
I think the difference is because, in our business, a big portion of our clients are coming to us and they may not have made the choice to leave, that might have been made for them by their company. I do think, and this isn’t unusual, but I think many of our male clients, that’s a bigger blow to their ego because it’s so much a definition of who they are. And so if I were going to make some stereotypical conversations around gender, what I would say is that sometimes our female clients can pivot more quickly to thinking about what’s next because they don’t have so much personal affront, and it hasn’t taken away their entire identity.
Liz Tinkham (19:32):
With the full employment that’s going on now, what I’ve read is that a lot of people retired during the pandemic. So are you busier than ever, or not as busy because people are staying in their jobs, or what’s happened to your business itself?
Anne Sample (19:46):
So our business has been, just as the pandemic hit, most companies, they needed every leader they had to get through the pivot. Are we going to make it, or are we not? So that was actually a slower time for our business in terms of corporate paid clients. Now we had individuals coming to us because they wanted to make a change, but our corporate paid business got softer. Right now, there are companies making changes and there are people making changes, so we are quite busy. And some of it is motivated by individuals being impacted, but a lot of it’s motivated by people wanting to think about what’s next.
Anne Sample (20:25):
We were talking forever about the fact that there was going to be a war for talent. What actually happened is, we took away people’s pensions. We took away the vehicles that made it easy to retire, and most people made a decision. Markets were good, people didn’t have that much pressure, they stayed and worked a lot longer.
Anne Sample (20:43):
I think COVID caused people to rethink whether they really needed to be doing that, and so I think part of the Great Resignation is just a natural flow of talent. It’s just people making choices around the fact I want to do something, and we’re honored when we get a chance to help them figure out what they want to do.
Liz Tinkham (21:02):
So one of the things I love most about your story is that you told me you created your own ministry, in the sense, because you’d been giving that advice before and now you have all the accolades out there, in the sense you were in that business. And I love the fact that you actually went and bought the business. So what’s next, and what’s your future with Navigate Forward?
Anne Sample (21:22):
Well, I do feel, and I should tell you, that notion of a ministry came up. It really was because I was talking to my minister and telling him about what I was doing. And he happens to be a dear friend, we’ve traveled and done mission work before. And so he was intrigued that I wasn’t going back to a corporate career, and so I started talking about what I was doing. And I think it comes back to that idea of reading energy level, because he was watching my energy and hearing my excitement in terms of the work we were doing. He goes, “You’ve just created a new ministry. You’re just helping people figure out what’s right for them.”
Liz Tinkham (21:56):
Which is a great third act.
Anne Sample (21:57):
It is. I thought it was funny, because as I sat on my screened porch, my husband and I were talking over the weekend and he was asking, he said, “All right, you’ve owned this business now for two and a half years.” He goes, “How are you feeling? What do you think about it? What’s giving you the most satisfaction? Is it what you expected?” And I started to answer, and he goes, “Okay, wait a minute.” He goes, “I know you’re having fun running a business, he goes, “but just so you know, the thing you light up about is what roles people are going to, how they’re changing the world.”
Anne Sample (22:30):
The fun part is, once a month, I gather all my consultants and we celebrate landings. And I feel like we are truly making the world a better place because we are helping people. I’ve got people that are going to do great work in climate change, great work. And it’s just fascinating to watch people whose third act is really different than what they were doing before, but very aligned with what is important to them. And that’s true for me too.
Liz Tinkham (22:56):
So what about your business and you, what do you think you’re going to do with the business?
Anne Sample (23:00):
I feel like we have been really well known in the Twin Cities’ market, and I think that’s silly, I think we should be helping executives in a much broader footprint. And I’ve always loved growth businesses, so what I’m focusing on is going into new geographies and helping more people.
Liz Tinkham (23:16):
If we come back in three or four years, are you going to be Navigate Forward, global conglomerate?
Anne Sample (23:22):
I don’t know about a global conglomerate, but I sure hope we’re in more cities than we are now. And we’ve got clients all over the world…
Liz Tinkham (23:29):
Anne Sample (23:29):
… But we don’t necessarily have the companies that know us, and so we’ve hired consultants in new places, and salesperson in a new place, and…
Liz Tinkham (23:39):
Probably a little easier to do because people are working from wherever, right?
Anne Sample (23:42):
Liz Tinkham (23:43):
So I almost titled this podcast, I’m Not Done Yet, because I feel like I’m not done yet, so what aren’t you done with yet?
Anne Sample (23:49):
I’m not done helping businesses to grow and get better. I really love working with people and I’m getting a chance to do it here.
Liz Tinkham (23:58):
Biochemistry background, now that we know that that’s the connection, right?
Anne Sample (24:02):
Yes. Well, and I think whether it’s the nonprofits that I care about or whether it’s serving on other corporate boards, I’m not done yet in terms of influencing people to think about how they can grow and how they can bring people strategy to life and make a difference with business growth.
Liz Tinkham (24:18):
Okay. Well that’s great. Anne, it has been terrific to talk to you on Third Act. We will put information about your company online in the show notes. Anywhere else about Navigate Forward and all that, anywhere else people can find you online?
Anne Sample (24:32):
Yep. They can find us, we’ve got a good website at NavigateForward.com, and I would just encourage folks to spend some time with our articles, because if they’re thinking about what’s next in their career or thinking about board work, we’re trying to create good content that they can take a look at to be a good source of reference.
Liz Tinkham (24:48):
Oh, that’s great. Well, thank you very much.
Anne Sample (24:50):
Liz Tinkham (24:54):
Thanks for joining me today to listen to the Third Act podcast. You can find show notes, guest bios, and more at ThirdActPodcast.com. If you enjoyed our show today, please subscribe and write a review on your favorite podcast platform. I’m your host, Liz Tinkham, I’ll be back next week with another guest who’s found new meaning and fulfillment in the third act of their life.
Want to share the story of your own Third Act on our podcast? We welcome stories from executives who pivoted their careers to find their passion and purpose later in their lives. Tell us more about yourself to be considered as a guest.