If you met Jerry Byrne, the 64 year old proprietor of the Ocean Delight Cottages on Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula, you might be fooled into thinking that this was just some low-key B-and-B owner, taking tourists fishing in his Boston Whaler outboard with his trusty golden retriever. You would be wrong. Jerry’s energizing and inspiring story underscores how even in retirement, Boomers today are dynamic creators and visionaries. An accomplished business and community leader, Jerry’s business has been a brilliant way of pivoting to a lifestyle that is healthful and meaningful, while retaining the project-builder mentality that characterized his successful engineering career.
The wakeup call came in 2008, when Jerry’s politician brother, Jack, a Provincial Minister and Member of the Newfoundland and Labrador Assembly, passed away. At the time, Jerry was CEO of Newfoundland’s D.F. Barnes Ltd., and had taken the company from a mom-and-pop operation making about $1 million/year to a big player in the burgeoning Canadian offshore oil drilling industry. By 2006, the company was doing $60 million a year, and by 2008, when it beat out 26 competitors to secure a major manufacturing contract, it was on track to top $100 million.
But losing Jack, who was one year younger than Jerry, hit him hard. As he explained to TC Media’s The Compass in 2013, “When Jack died I asked myself, ‘What am I doing? It’s time for me to get this under control.” Long hours and the responsibilities of the business were taking their toll, and he knew that he needed to slow down and find a new direction. He decided to sell his shares in DFB, and hit the road with his wife, Laurelyn Berry, to travel and clear his head. But it was hard to wander, and he felt that he still had business to attend to. In 2011, he decided to run for the Assembly seat that his brother previously held in an attempt to honor his brother and to continue the family tradition. “We talked about it many times. Politics is in our blood,” Byrne told CBC News at the time. “We talked about it, he did it, and now it’s my turn.” He fought a good campaign, but did not win the seat. The defeat stung. As he told Barbara Jaworski, a top Canadian career advisor to Boomers: “I worked like a dog, and took the beating of a lifetime.” But he was by no means down for the count.
That summer, Jerry and Laurelyn spent a weekend at a charming waterfront cottage to once again figure out their next move. Sitting on a terrace overlooking a spectacular bay, it occurred to them that they knew exactly what that move was going to be. In typical Jerry Byrne fashion, they contacted the owner of the cottage, who also owned a handful of neighboring accommodations and made a deal to buy the whole operation. The appeal was clear: Jerry saw a growing upside to the local tourism trade, but also knew that running this business would be healthier for his body, mind and soul. With his management experience, and Laurelyn’s marketing background, together they had the complementary skills to make it work. “It was a moment where you know you are somewhere special. It became an absolute mission.”
Since buying the Ocean Delight Cottages, Jerry and Laurelyn have bought another nearby property, the Doctor’s House, a spa and conference center that they plan on renovating and turning into a world-class destination for weddings, small conventions and corporate retreats.
In addition, he and Laurelyn plan on further developing the Ocean Delight Cottages (now a top-rated TripAdvisor destination), and working with the local business community to invest in renewable energy technology for the region. Once again, this is no retiring innkeeper whiling away his final years on a slow decline. Jerry is a vital businessman who has taken his lumps, learned his lessons, and adjusted to the realities of aging, while not succumbing to any of the conventional wisdom about “slowing down” or “moving over.”
His final statement sums it up: “We’ve really just gotten started. Opportunities are showing themselves every day.”
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.