Goodbye Executive Recruiting… Hello Furniture Making

Sheldon Myeroff is a true entrepreneur. He launched Direct Recruiters, Inc. at the age of 31. And over the next 37 years, he successfully grew the business into major executive recruiting company.

In 2011, he began an exit plan from Direct Recruiters – turning over the management of the company to a group of partners. And that’s when he installed a rather elaborate woodshop in his basement. And over the past 7 years, he has turned a hobby of work working and furniture making into a booming business called Chagrin Valley Custom Furniture.

Success has come from specialization with a focus on designing, building and selling custom-made river tables. A “river table” is two pieces of natural wood with a river of epoxy resin flowing down the middle. That’s become 80% of his furniture making business.

Sheldon displays a river table in mid-production.
And an example of the finished product.

He is now turning the day-to-day operations over to a 32-year-old mentee named Zach Schulte (who we’ll also hear from in today’s episode).

Click here for a look at more river tables and other wood products produced by Sheldon, Zach and the team at Chagrin Valley Custom Furniture.


A Magazine Writer Finds New Life As A Funeral Director

For more than 30 years, Amy worked as a writer, both on staff and on a freelance basis, for a wide range of top magazines. But when her father passed away in 2009, his funeral had a profound impact on her. And in relatively short order, Amy enrolled in mortuary school to become a licensed funeral director.

Ten years later, Amy owns and manages Fitting Tribute Funeral Services in Brooklyn, New York. Profiled in The New York Times and range of trade publications, she has built a name for herself as an advocate of green and sustainable practices within the funeral industry. And her work as a writer continues via her blog “The Inspired Funeral.”

Amy Cunningham and cemeterian Jennifer Johnson prepare a shrouded deceased gentleman for burial at the Greensprings Natural Burial Preserve in upstate New York.

Special thanks to Bruce Feiler, author of “Life Is in The Transitions,” for suggesting this episode.



Leaving Advertising Sales To Become A Hypnotist

What most of us know about hypnotism comes straight from Hollywood and involves swinging pocket watches and devious characters reciting the words “you are getting sleepy.” But Lisa Ludovici operates very differently. She is a certified medical support hypnotist and is almost always brought in by a doctor. Frequently, they turn to Lisa when every other path to healing has failed.

Jackie Kotler is a case in point. She literally broke her back in a cliff jumping accident in the Dominican Republic. A difficult operation was followed by an even more difficult recovery. Traditional methods failed and Jackie tried acupuncture, alternative medicine and a psychologist without success. As a final “Hail Mary” effort, her doctors then turned to Lisa Ludovici and hypnotism to successfully heal her.

Lisa made the transition to hypnotist from a series of high-powered jobs in the world of advertising sales working for companies like America Online, Microsoft and Time Inc.

Click here to learn more about Lisa and her practice in New York City.

Special thanks to Bruce Feiler and his excellent book “Life Is In the Transitions” for bringing Lisa Ludovici to our attention.

Sweet Story: Like A Nurse & Pilot In A Candy Store

Robin and Carl Mennie opened River Street Sweets-Savannah’s Candy Kitchen in Asbury Park, NJ on July 2, 2020. It’s an amazing shop filled with freshly-made pralines, rice krispie treats, loggerheads, chocolate covered pretzels and more – basically any sweet item you could ever want.

This franchise business is a leap for both of them. Robin worked for 20+ years as a nurse practitioner with a specialty in cardiology. Carl was – and still is – a pilot with American Airlines working mostly on international flights. The business is really a family affair with all four of their children helping in the operation.

It’s a sweet story but it’s certainly not an overnight success. It took over three years from their first meeting with the Strickland Family, the owners of River Street Sweets-Savannah’s Candy Kitchen, before the sale of their first praline in Asbury Park. And, of course, they had the challenge of opening a new store in the middle of a pandemic.

Click the link to learn more about the company. And if you find yourself in Asbury Park, NJ, I hope you’ll give Robin and Carl a visit. And you’ll feel “like a kid in a candy store.”

Special thanks to my friend Paul Kaplan for suggesting this story.

She Escaped A Forced Marriage & Now Helps Others Do The Same

Fraidy Reiss’ story is among the most inspiring tales we’ve ever profiled on the Second Act Stories podcast.

Part of the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York, Fraidy was married at the age of 19. It was an arranged marriage to a man she barely knew. He demonstrated a violent streak within a week of the wedding punching his fist through a wall and threatened to kill her. Over the next twelve years, she feared for her own life on a daily basis. But she eventually she found a way to get a college education, achieve financial independence, divorce her husband and escape with the custody of her two daughters.

Today, she is the Founder and Executive Director of Unchained At Last, the only organization in the United States dedicated to ending forced and child marriage through direct services and advocacy.

Want to learn more about Fraidy Reiss and Unchained At Last? Check out her TED Talk on YouTube and visit the Unchained At Last website. Fraidy is also featured in Bruce Feiler’s book “Life Is In The Transitions” (which is how we first heard of her) and Hillary and Chelsea Clinton’s “The Book of Gutsy Women.”

Lifequakes & Life Transitions: 27 Minutes With Author Bruce Feiler

Bruce Feiler is the author of seven New York Times bestsellers (including Walking The Bible, The Secrets of Happy Families and Abraham), the presenter of two prime-time series on PBS and the inspiration for the NBC drama series “Council of Dads.” He’s also presented two TED Talks viewed by more than two million people. It’s an honor to have him on Second Act Stories.

We sat down in the backyard of Bruce’s townhouse in Brooklyn for a socially-distant interview focused on his latest book Life Is In The Transitions: Mastering Change At Any Age. It is a highly-relevant book for anyone exploring a second act and we’ve happily added it to our “Best Books About Second Acts” resource page.

For more on Bruce and his work, here’s a link to his website.

After A 50-Year Hiatus, A Return To The Courtroom

Kiku Mehta was born in 1937 and grew up in the Gujarat Province on India. He was trained as a lawyer there but emigrated to the United States in 1964.

When he arrived here in the US, he set aside his work as a lawyer and went to work as a social worker for Children’s Services Inc. in Philadelphia. It paid the bills and helped him and his wife Kira put their three daughters through college.

He stayed with Children’s Services for 51 years. But when the organization shut down in 2017, Kiku was out of a job.

With the help of his youngest daughter and a family friend – both lawyers – Kiku want back to school to complete 41 continuing education credits and pursue the reinstatement of his law license. And today at the age of 83, he now practices immigration law in Philadelphia at the law offices of Stanley J. Ellenberg.

Kiku Mehta shakes hands with Judge Wendy Beetlestone after being admitted to the federal court system in a swearing-in ceremony on February 12, 2020. His daughter Tejal Mehta (left) served as his sponsor.
Photo Credit: Tyger Williams, Staff Photographer of the Philadelphia Inquirer

Kiku Mehta’s advice to others considering a second act: “Do it to help people. My background as a social worker helped me to do it that way. So, money is the last thing on my mind. I joined the law profession to help people.”

We learned about Kiku’s story from a terrific article, “He Returned To The Courtroom At 82 For A Second Act As A Lawyer” in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Special thanks to Mari Schaefer for her excellent reporting.

A Revolutionary Change: How A Financial Planner Became Benjamin Franklin

We first read about Terry Kutz in a terrific article in The Wall Street Journal. Terry had a long career as a financial planner in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But as a hobby he had become involved in revolutionary war reenactments with a group called the Northwest Territory Alliance (NWTA). And one day an organizer asked him if he’d be willing to play the role of Benjamin Franklin at an event they were putting on.

In retirement, his work interpreting Ben Franklin has become a part-time occupation (or what his wife now calls a full-time obsession). He’s participated in dozens of historical re-enactments and events as a historical interpreter. When we met him at his home in New Berlin, Wisconsin, he came in full historical costume and wearing bifocals – which of course were invented by Ben Franklin. Click here for more on Terry and his work as a historical interpreter.

The bulk of today’s episode focuses on Terry and his second act. But we’ll start by going back to 1776 for an interview with one of America’s founding fathers.

Terry Kutz has spent more than fifteen years working as a historical interpreter of Benjamin Franklin. We interviewed him in a new colonial costume at his home in New Berlin, Wisconsin.

Out of Africa: An Executive Recruiter Launches “American Rhino” Clothing

Chris Welles was a 46-year-old executive recruiter in Boston, Massachusetts. He was happy in his job and he had no plans for a change. But in 2008 he took a summer vacation with his wife, four kids and two other families to Kenya. And the trip completely changed his life.

Today he manages “American Rhino,” a growing clothing brand with a retail and online presence. The company sells shirts, pants, sneakers, canvas bags and now face masks. All of the manufacturing takes place in Africa. And 10% of our every purchase goes directly to supporting wildlife and land conservation in Kenya.

Chris Welles with the Massai Mara Rhino Rangers on a landing strip in Kenya. American Rhino provides critical support — uniforms, boots, radios, binoculars, and patrol vehicles — to this anti-poaching unit.

The products that American Rhino produces are truly outstanding. Kikoy is a wonderful breathable fabric that has the feel and look of linen. Please visit and check the shirts, shorts, canvas bags, sneakers and more. And remember 10% of every purchase goes back to Kenya to support wildlife conservation.

Chris in American Rhino’s flagship store in Fanuel Hall (Boston, Massachusetts).

Conversation With A Contact Tracer: A Look At America’s Fastest Growing Job

We depart from our traditional format with this episode to offer a glimpse inside the world of contact tracing. This is the fastest growing job in America, with the need for an estimated 200,000 contact tracers to track infections and protect the U.S. population against the advance of the COVID-19 virus. For those in our audience who may now be unemployed or simply looking for a new challenge, we thought it would be interesting to learn how the job works and the qualities needed to excel in this role.

We connected with Daniel Okpare, a 30-year-old masters student in New York University’s School of Global Public Health. In addition to getting an advanced degree, he is on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, working for New York City’s Health and Hospitals Program. He was previously profiled in The New York Times.

One point of clarification…many of the contact tracer positions focus on connecting with individuals infected by the virus by telephone. Daniel’s job is that of a “community engagement specialist.” He goes out into the community to meet with individuals that can’t be reached via the telephone. He typically conducts 4-6, face-to-face interviews per day. Interviews take place in the doorway of the infected individual’s home and run for 20-30 minutes.

We regularly celebrate the doctors, nurses, physicians assistants and paramedics helping to combat the COVID-19 crisis. It’s to add “contact tracers” like Daniel Okpare to this list of healthcare heroes.