Last year, Kaye Stone-Gansz, the president, CEO and co-founder of Stone Goose Enterprises Inc., was looking over Smith’s Gravel Pit in Sodus, Wayne County, with an eye to purchasing the sand and gravel mining company.
Stepping into the company’s yard, she caught sight of its huge excavators.
"My eyes got really wide and big, and I said, ‘Wow, this is awesome,’" she says.
After spending her working life in offices and boardrooms, Stone-Gansz found herself driving dump trucks-and loving it.
"I have a saying, ‘I traded my business suit for Carhartts,’" says the 2004 Forty Under 40 alum, referring to the work clothes used in construction.
Stone-Gansz is not the only Forty Under 40 alum whose career has brought moments of realization or has taken surprising twists and turns. Experts say dream jobs can be the result of false starts, unexpected decisions or even childhood experiences.
Raised on a potato farm in Newark, Wayne County, Stone-Gansz grew to enjoy handling heavy machinery in the fields and acquired a taste for entrepreneurship from her father, who opened a shop that sells and services snowmobiles and other equipment.
Earning a bachelor’s degree in computational mathematics and an MBA, she spent 25 years at Xerox Corp., ascending the corporate ladder. Though hard work and a passion to succeed had put Stone-Gansz on track to a senior vice presidency, she chose to retire in 2011 and form Stone Goose with her husband. The move shocked many of her peers at Xerox, but Stone-Gansz says it was natural for her to take the step.
"What I wanted was to be the head of a corporation, where I lead the whole thing, I’m the conductor of my own orchestra," she says.
Initially, she says, leaving Xerox was surreal, but she enjoys shouldering the responsibility for her businesses.
"(The) burning passion, hard work is still there, but my focus is I own this company, this business, 24/7," she says.
When the opportunity arose in 1998, Tracy Till was not sure she wanted to strike out on her own.
"I really didn’t know if I wanted to start an agency," says the co-founder and co-CEO of Butler/Till Media Services Inc., a media and communications agency.
Till did not expect to specialize in providing media services when she first took a job as a receptionist for a full-service advertising agency in 1989. The position gave her the chance to learn many different parts of the business, from its creative aspects to account servicing.
"I really loved working in a full-service agency," says Till, one of the 2003 Forty Under 40 honorees.
Moving on to a firm that served clients’ media needs, Till bought radio, television, print and other forms of media for customers while honing her skills.
"I was connecting brands to consumers via media," she says. "I fell in love with that."
Till became media director for Hutchins/Young & Rubicam but was not bitten by what she calls the entrepreneurial bug. Then in 1998, a colleague, Sue Butler, suggested they start their own firm. After thinking about it, Till was intrigued by the idea of creating an agency completely focused on media services.
"I thought we could do it better than anyone else," she says.
Till can now look back on her decision to help start Butler/Till from the top of an agency that employs close to 80 people and does about $130 million in business.
"In the end, it was an incredibly smart move," she says.
Even a long-held dream can be a little nerve-wracking when it is finally realized. Todd Zyra remembers feeling that way on Oct. 2, when he took over as president of Klein Steel Service Inc.
"It’s, like, ‘OK, I’m here. Is it what I wanted? Am I up to it?’" Zyra says.
Given Zyra’s drive, the statement is a bit of a surprise. Even before entering college, the 2012 Forty Under 40 honoree knew he wanted to be president of a company.
After service in the Marine Corps, he held increasingly responsible positions with Cintas Corp. and Sprint Nextel before becoming operations manager of Klein Steel’s Rochester facility in 2008. Zyra says the switch from a telecom company to one that manufactures steel components to precise tolerances was not easy.
"What surprised me was how intricate and technical it (the manufacturing process) actually was," he says.
Moving from chief operating officer, the position he held at Klein Steel previously, to president, Zyra learned to view the bigger picture instead of simply making sure that products go out on time and meet customer specifications.
"It’s my job to foster a culture that encourages the team members, our suppliers and our customers to all work together to achieve their goals," Zyra says, adding that he is excited to be in the president’s role.
Mark Murphy expected to teach youngsters when he began coaching basketball for his sons’ teams-not to learn from them.
"That was a very pleasant gift, an upside benefit," says the president, CEO and co-founder of Greenlight Networks LLC.
Murphy says his interactions with his 10- and 11-year-old sons and their teammates and friends has helped guide his business decisions at Greenlight, a Penfield firm that provides ultra-high-speed residential broadband service.
Murphy entered the telecom industry when he joined what was then Rochester Telephone Corp. in the early 1990s. After advancing to executive positions with a number of companies, Murphy helped found Greenlight in 2009, becoming president and CEO.
The 2008 Forty Under 40 alum says the move allowed him to achieve his dream of running his own business while reaching for greater job security than the shifting local telecom market could provide. He credits his wife for giving him the support he needed to make such decisions.
Greenlight was unable to find the funding it needed to get off the ground, so Murphy took a position at the telecom giant XO Communications LLC while his company lay dormant, though he continued to head Greenlight.
After becoming vice president of XO’s Northeast division, he left the firm in 2011. Coaching his sons and their teammates has helped him hone some of his leadership skills.
"You know right away if you’re reaching the kids or not," Murphy says.
In addition, watching his sons and their friends use digital video recorders and other popular devices at his home has helped Murphy detect trends that could be useful to Greenlight. He says the firm now serves residences in Rochester and Pittsford and continues to expand.
Mike Costanza is a Rochester-area freelance writer.
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