Don Stark divides his time between Burlington, VT and the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), a British Overseas Territory and well-known tourist destination in the Caribbean. TCI has been a mecca for scuba enthusiasts for many years, and has some of the hemisphere’s most spectacular coral reefs. It has also become something of a controversial location on the issue of marine mammal captivity. The area is home to Jojo the wild dolphin, whose independence, as well as his voluntary interaction with humans, have made him the subject of documentaries, and the inspiration for the film Zeus & Roxanne.
Stark became a dedicated scuba diver and videographer (and certified PADI scuba instructor) in the 1990s. In 2011 he co-founded The Turks and Caicos Reef Fund (TCRF), a non-profit organization established to help preserve and protect the marine environment of the “Beautiful by Nature” TCI. The TCRF’s goal is to dedicate 85+% of all funds they raise to support marine conservation projects each year. While the TCI government has focused on progressive support for the local environment, Stark and his colleague David Stone felt that it was important for the community to supplement and complement the efforts of the TCI Dept. of Environmental and Maritime Affairs (DEMA). In their first two years, they raised approximately $40,000, and have successfully re-established a key snorkel trail, and secured support from local businesses and organizations, as well as a large investment from UK development and charter firm, Grenadine Escape. Funds raised are going towards supporting reef restoration projects such as their “Adopt a Coral” program, and the TCI Dolphin Defense Fund to protect wild dolphins from being caught and exhibited in captivity.
In his other life, Stark is a pharmacist by training, and spent his first career in the medical field. As he explained to www.topretirements.com, “I went to college thinking that I wanted to be a pharmacist because that would be a good way to own my own business.” But after earning his Master’s degree in Pharmacy, he wound up working in more managerial positions. During the 1980s and 1990s he worked as an executive in market research, marketing and business development for pharmaceutical companies including Bristol-Myers Squibb, Immunex, and Repligen – all in the fields of oncology and immunology. While Stark spent most of his career in corporate positions, he always had an entrepreneurial streak. In 1996, he formed Whistler Associates, a marketing and strategic planning consulting firm for companies focused on oncology. As his interest in scuba and the environment grew, he found himself spending more and more time in the TCI, and he and his wife eventually decided that they would spend about half their time there. He continues to work on client projects through Whistler, and serves on a couple of Boards of Directors for pharmaceutical companies.
Stark’s story is an example of how we can strategically design our late-career life and work styles to establish a more purposeful life, while retaining the income and momentum we have attained after our decades gaining valuable expertise in our field. Too often, Boomers who find themselves downsized in mid-life fail to appreciate the value of their accumulated skills, experience and contacts. Rather than seek to jump back into the corporate world, we should consider the kind of balance that Stark has achieved: sought-after for his industry savvy, but then leveraging his status into a pursuit that feeds his soul.
For the Year of the Boomer – 2014 is the year the youngest Boomers turn 50 – Huffington Post’s “Post-50″ section is running my career reinvention series profiling 50 Boomers who have reinvented themselves within the last 10 years.