Finding a New Path, with Karen Davis-Farage
Episode 29: Finding a New Path, with Karen Davis-Farage
Karen Davis-Farage had a long career in the tech industry and, after 32 years, found herself without a job. It was through the influence of her son and her husband that Karen found her next career: becoming an entrepreneur. Karen is the President and Co-Owner of Pole Position Raceway, a company she leads with her husband. In this episode, Karen shares her advice for getting through tough times, working through a career transition, and the importance of having a network and continuing to learn from others.
00:13 KW: Hello and welcome to the Ellevate podcast, this is Kristy Wallace and I'm joined today by Maricella Herrera, and we are really excited to talk to you about our guest today. Are you excited?
00:24 MH: I am, Hi Kristy.
00:26 KW: Hi. [laughter] So today we have Karen Davis-Farage, and we're excited because she is actually the president and co-owner of Pole Position Raceway, which has locations throughout the US but a very special location close to our office, and this is gonna be our next team off-site. I haven't told you this yet, but are you ready?
00:47 MH: Umm, when are we going?
00:47 KW: Do you have a license?
00:48 MH: I don't.
00:48 S1: I'd actually didn't ask her if you need a license. I wonder...
00:52 MH: I'm sure half of our team has one, but it's probably not really valid.
00:57 KW: Well, I know, I know. Maybe we have to check that out first and see if you need to have a license but probably not, I don't know.
01:05 MH: I wouldn't think so. It's okay.
01:07 KW: It'll be fun. Like drive some race cars, channel some Julia Landauer.
01:12 MH: I was gonna say, we should've gone when she was here.
01:16 KW: Yeah, we should have but we'll have fun and of course support one of the members of the Ellevate community who is doing great things and we love supporting our members and their businesses, so yeah.
01:28 MH: Yeah, Karen is so interesting like her background and how she ended up doing entertainment sort of, the whole raceway thing is such an interesting story.
01:40 KW: Yeah, and we do hear that a lot, so many of our members, and everyone these days is not taking necessarily the traditional career path, and I love hearing the stories with the women on the podcast, and how they got to where they are because I'm inspired by the decisions they made and how and why they made those decisions and just a lot of the funny stories along the way.
02:07 MH: Yeah.
02:08 KW: So I know we have a really interesting poll for today.
02:12 MH: Yeah. So actually Karen, as Kristy said, is the co-owner and the other owner is her husband. [chuckle] So she works, it's pretty much a family business and we did ask our members if they could work with their spouse or partner but before going into the data, Kristy, could you work with your husband?
02:36 KW: I have a big smile on my face right now.
02:36 MH: We won't tell Jake.
02:38 KW: Yeah, so Jake and I actually have worked together before on a company he had founded called Dewdrop Digital, and we didn't work great together. I think I'm not fantastic at taking direction from Jake, [laughter] and he's not fantastic at taking direction from me at least professionally. So, it worked, I mean it was fine, but it was tough, it was definitely a learning experience for our relationship although it's interesting personally. I consider our role as parents of being co-workers or business owners cause that's our family business and we do that great. We had to learn how to do it but we're a really fantastic team and partnership there but when it comes to professional life, we both said that that will never happen again.
03:35 MH: It's interesting, you hear that a lot with family businesses though, either with your spouse or if it's your parent's business and etcetera, whatever it is, people tend to say it's a little harder than just any other partnership.
03:51 KW: Yeah.
03:52 MH: Anyway, so our members said... 43% of our members said, "No way, I like to keep things separate."
04:00 KW: Well, there you go.
04:02 MH: Yeah, 21% did say, "Absolutely, we'd be the best team, I'm sure they have not worked with their spouse or partner yet, just yet." [laughter] And another 21% said, "I think so."
04:14 KW: So majority, "Not so sure about it," and I'm in that camp. Alright, so let's hear about Karen's story and she does talk about working with her husband so we'll hear her perspective.
04:40 KW: Thank you so much for joining us.
04:42 KDF: Well, I'm honored to be here.
04:44 KW: We'd start off just telling a little bit about your background?
04:47 KDF: Absolutely. I came out of college with a degree in business and went to work in the technology industry. I literally fulfilled a quota as the one woman in a group of 18 people that were hired into a sales team.
05:04 KW: Fun times.
05:06 KDF: Didn't even think twice, just thought about the fact that I was getting into technology and that was a big deal. I spent 32 years in sales roles and marketing roles, in creating distribution channels, creating strategic alliances with some of the biggest companies in the world, had an amazing career and in 2008, I had never been unemployed a day in my life, had only been with five companies in my entire career and was let go and didn't see it coming. Like so many, I was with a start-up for eight years.
05:40 KW: That must have been such a hard break.
05:45 KDF: Probably the most difficult time in my entire life because I think for so many women when you are successful and when you build a career for so many years, have so many friends, have made so many contributions, feel good about your efforts, and have learned so much and all of a sudden it disappears in a moment. And I didn't see it coming. And at that moment your professional identity is just taken away. And it was the recession, so there was no jobs. What I did at that time, there was not two of us in that company, there was one of me. And so, there were no jobs in the start-up world or in the larger corporate world that I'd also been part of. And I basically went home and went to bed, and I cried for weeks and I got myself up to prepare three kids to go to school, and I did very little else for awhile.
06:53 KDF: My husband and I were about to send our first of three kids to college and all three of our kids were in private school in New York City. So that alone is just a huge commitment financially. And my husband is a contractor and designer by trade so he also was terribly hit by the recession. So it was a very scary time in our lives. And my son was on his way to USC in LA. My husband has a antique Porsche, always said, "I'm gonna take a road trip with each of our kids before they go away to school as a last bonding trip." And they took a two-week trip because all of a sudden my husband wasn't working either, and their goal is to go to the most beautiful places in America and do the most exciting things so they jumped out of planes, rafted down wild rivers, shot rifles in meadows.
07:42 KDF: And when they got to LA, they went indoor electric karting of which neither had ever done it before. And they got out of their karts after their race, and my son lifted his visor and said, "Dad, this is what you and mom should do next in life. You should open these on the east coast." And that's the story of how we got to where we are today was someone else's idea. First, I was still having a hard time picking my head up off the pillow. And I think there's a lesson learned just in that, that it's really important especially when we're talking about resilience that you mourn whatever it is that you've lost, that you take the time to understand what you just went through and that you really think about how much it hurts so that you can then take it and put it aside to look forward. You have to get through that just like anything else you lose in life.
08:45 KDF: But anyways, yes, we're now at a point where my son had this idea and my husband is a real risk taker, he was the entrepreneur in the family and so if you come up with a good idea and he buys in, he gets all in and he did his research and his due diligence, and he found a company that would give us the infrastructure if you will, or the template for success. But I was not coming in, I was gonna continue to figure out what my next step was and I never in a million years imagined leaving the technology industry.
09:22 KW: And so then how did it happen? What was that like a-ha moment? Were you like, "Alright, wait a minute, I wanna be an entrepreneur and I'm totally sold on this idea."?
09:32 KDF: Well, when we started hearing what it was gonna take to open this facility, and my husband started talking about the investment we would make, which meant that we're basically going to risk most of what we had in life. And we started looking at what the skill sets were and what the function was going to be in order to open this, we realized that I probably had much more traditional operational skills, marketing skills, selling skills, customer service skills and that my husband being the visionary, wasn't really the detail guy. And so all of a sudden we looked at each other and I think a lot of people around us encouraged me to join my husband on this venture. And just so happened that right at that time I'd finally found what look like my next opportunity in technology. And people were so convincing that all of a sudden my mindset started to shift, and I thought about, "Okay. Well, if I'm not the one in the corporate world getting the paycheck and paying for the insurance and all that, if we put two heads together, can we do this?" And that was kinda the a-ha moment of, "Well, this is a risky time, let's jump in but let's jump in with all of our hands and all of our feet and not just one of us."
11:12 KW: I've spoken to many of the women in our community and something that comes up quite a bit is this idea of next step or transition. Any advice for,  how to identify the things that you enjoy doing? And then how to find the fit for that?
11:32 KDF: I think the first thing you have to do is you have to look in the mirror and make sure that you like yourself. So when I looked in the mirror, I saw some things about myself that I felt I had an opportune time now to change.
11:53 KW: I love that.
11:53 KDF: And a couple of those, they might sound trite to others but I lost my job at 52 years old. That's the age where nobody wants to hire you again. And when I looked in the mirror, I saw a woman who had been a mom of three kids, traveled, had a very successful career, but wasn't really taking care of myself. So my lesson learned there is that as you make a transition in life, the first thing you have to do is feel great about yourself. So I started working out, going to a class three days a week. I knew that I didn't have the discipline to do it on my own so I found friends and that class. I looked in the mirror at some of my skills that I thought I could hone. I did a little bit online around areas of knowledge that I felt would benefit me. I got back in touch with people that I haven't been in touch with because I had been working so hard.
13:04 KDF: I started cooking more because at the end of the day I really didn't have time to do what I love, but I love being in the kitchen and I did that for a couple months and I stopped putting the pressure on myself about what that transition was gonna look like and more focusing on how to make myself feel really good about myself. And then when I look back in the mirror a couple months later and I saw results, I felt like I could tackle anything. And that's when that transition really became life changing because you can change anything. You just have to believe in yourself and if you don't feel good and if you're not optimized in how you feel about yourself, maybe you have a bad relationship, you gotta either repair it or figure out what to do with it. And there's a lot of different things, there's stuff, right? But I think you gotta deal with those stuff first and the transition becomes much more a part of your journey.
14:07 KW: And do you continue to look in the mirror as you say now? So not just at those times of change or hardship, but on ongoing self-reflection?
14:21 KDF: Absolutely. It's funny because when you're in corporate America, there's a lot of personal and professional development opportunities that you have, but when you're an entrepreneur, you're making 'em for yourself. If you're gonna have them, it's because it matters to you. So being affiliated with organizations, and Ellevate was one of the organizations I felt could add value to my life. Being part of associations within my industry, so now I'm in the entertainment industry, so I joined everything. And when I was just starting, I joined everything. So now I'm on the board of chambers. I've been honored a couple times for things that I never expected I would be honored for, but that's because I've gotten connected, I've gotten affiliated, and tried to learn as much as I can. And I think that the more you learn in that transition and as you create new identities for yourself, the more you wanna learn, the more you wanna be connected with others that do what you do or have similarities, not just the more positive you feel about yourself but the more you contribute to others.
15:36 KW: Yeah, that really resonates with me. It's interesting, my husband and I, he's gonna love that I'm telling this story right now. [chuckle] I always give him a hard time because he does a great job of putting himself as number one and I don't mean that in a negative way. He can say, "Well, education's very important to me, I'm signing up for this class and working out is really important to me so these are the three classes I'm going to workout classes I'm going to this week." And then I always get mad cause I'm like, "Well, good for you to not be here and I'm home taking care of the children. When's my time?" And he always says, "You need to make it. You need to make your time and if it's important to you, tell me what it is and we will, as a couple, figure this out." And so, the very first day of my son going back to school this year, we're walking him to school in the morning and my husband looks to me and he's like, "Okay, now that we're back on a regular schedule, I wanna go to the gym Monday, Wednesday, Friday." And I just turned my back and said, "Fine, then I want this, this, and this," and really carving out that time.
16:43 KW: So I enlisted a girlfriend of mine to start kickboxing. So I'm like, "We gotta do this and if I feel like I have someone else holding me accountable and doing it with me." But with all things in your life having that network to help you get to that next step, you can say, "I really wanna get a new job this year," right? And many people start with a goal: I wanna get on a board. I wanna get a raise. I wanna get a new job. And then a month goes by, three months goes by, six months goes by and life takes over and those goals aren't accomplished and so how do you go about making that happen? And not a year later you start to feel down because you set a goal, you didn't accomplish it.
17:26 KDF: I think you gotta check-in with yourself, and that's that part of looking in the mirror on a continual basis. You gotta check in with yourself and determine have I done those things that were important to me? Have I grown as an individual? Am I doing my job better? Am I learning from those around me? I've tried to add value to the team that we've now built, and we have about 225 people, but you can never forget how much you can learn from them too And so creating a team and creating a culture that you're really proud of where learning and professional development is important to the company as a core value of a company I think holds me accountable as the president of the company too.
18:18 KW: You go from being an employee for 30 some years and now you're the employer and you're setting the culture and the rules and all of that. Do you see things differently? You as a business owner, what are some of the core values that you apply to your business?
18:39 KDF: I think when you're running a brand new company and you're creating those, all that knowledge and experience I had in the corporate world and in the start-up world, it kicked in. I didn't think those skills were transferable. I couldn't have imagined I went from the technology industry into entertainment. I mean, really? Indoor electric karting? I had a hard time saying it for a long time. I had a hard time identifying with that's what I do for a living after being a vice president of business development at a hot software company. But now I do it with a tremendous amount of pride. And I had to think about what it was I wanted this company to be known as. Even though it's indoor karting, what was the core values that my employees would wake up and feel as their identity when they walked in our building?
19:41 KDF: So I created a mission statement like any new company, I created core values and a business plan. And I realized that it didn't fully matter if it was a big company or a small company. The difference was, I was creating what I wanted it to be. So for example, my last company, I was in technology, Marc Benioff from salesforce.com was someone I knew many, many years ago when he started his give back program at Salesforce. It was the pillar in the industry. He was the first to create a foundation. And I wouldn't learn from him and his team actually because the last company I was with, that was important to him. But we didn't integrate it into our core values. We just had it kind of over on the side and I actually became the executive responsible for it on the leadership team. With my company, I made it my third core value. So I made give back part of who our identity is as a company, and it's been so incredible because the identity we now have when we go into a new region and open a new venue, we're known for the kind of company that we wanna be portrayed as because that's a core value. We act that way, we give back to the community, we never say no when anyone asks us for anything as long as you're a 501 [c], as long as you're a true non-profit. It's so empowering to decide what it is that's important to you in life when you're creating your company and then live by that.
21:27 KW: So give me the dirt. How's it like working with your husband?
21:32 KDF: Okay, so as long as he doesn't listen to this.
21:35 KW: I know this is a husband free zone, right? We can say whatever we want today.
21:39 KDF: He'll never know there's a podcast. [laughter] No, I'm kidding. Yeah, I wouldn't... I won't... I won't...
21:47 KW: Not gonna sugar-coat it?
21:48 KDF: I'm not gonna sugar-coat it.
21:51 KDF: It's been trying. It's been rewarding. It's a very difficult transition from being husband and wife to being co-workers. I think part of it is that we've decided together that I'm the face. And I think that's very difficult time sometimes on a man's ego, and we talked about that and we deal with that. But at the end of the day, we have a pie, if you will, and each one of us has very much a half. And our skill sets are so different that if we stay on our side of the pie, it can be very, very smooth. And if we can be very respectful of each other when we get into each other's pieces of the pie if you will, then it can really be very advantageous. So I wouldn't say it's for everybody and I'm not a huge advocate, but I would say that we were in a moment of survival and to have someone, it's the Yin and Yang. To have someone who has completely opposite skills is an amazing gift, and that's what enables it to work.
23:22 KDF: So he builds the facilities, he's in an operational mode, he's the visionary for the company, he's taking us down roads that I would have never considered. We're gonna be adding some new experiences, experiential activities into our racing facilities, which will keep people there longer and doing other things. I would have never ever done that. So at the end of the day you have to take the pluses with the minuses. And when I look back on my career and I think how hard I worked to work with some of my bosses and some of my teams and other members and peers within the environment that I was in, then I realized this is a whole lot better and a lot more rewarding, and ultimately we're building something together and that's really incredible. That's a gift.
24:19 KW: I love that. Thank you so much for joining us today. This was great.
24:22 KDF: Oh, thank you. It's great to be here and be part of the Ellevate community.
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