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Career Make-Over / Southern Californians Learning How
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Manager Has Time, World of Possibilities for Midlife Shift


Deanie Penney is a woman in demand. As the corporate services/facilities manager of a Monrovia company, Penney, 57, spends her days fielding calls from employees about electrical outages, water leaks, temperature spikes and overflowing toilets.

"It's constant, and the work's never done," she said. "Someone's always calling--'It's too hot,' 'It's too cold,' 'Something's broken.' There are some days I can't walk down the hall without three or four people stopping me."

The Pomona resident has been with her company 19 years. She worked her way into management ranks from secretary. Though she may retire in five years, Penney wants to make the most of her remaining years in the work force. These days, however, Penney finds herself wondering what her next career challenge might be.

A few years ago, Penney began to daydream about more creative options: interior design, entertaining, traveling. But she worried that she'd have to take a hefty cut in her $70,000-a-year earnings to follow these pursuits. She also briefly considered becoming a clinical psychologist, but realized she'd have to spend years in graduate school before she could enter the profession.

For help, Penney consulted Kathleen Brehony, a psychotherapist, coach and the author of "Awakening at Midlife: A Guide to Reviving Your Spirit, Recreating Your Life and Returning to Your Truest Self" (Riverhead Books, 1997).

Penney's search for career fulfillment in late midlife is not unusual, Brehony said. During this phase, individuals often reassess their life choices. They may question their personal identity, values and goals. They may find themselves shifting attitudes, rearranging priorities and searching for new meaning in their personal and work lives.

Brehony urged Penney not to regard herself as too old to learn new skills or embark upon a somewhat radical career change. She pointed out, after studying Penney's resume and biographical writings, that Penney had a multitude of highly valuable--and transferable--skills, and had showed prowess in risk-taking, bearing responsibility, organizing and overseeing projects from beginning to end.

Penney and Brehony discussed three career options that might intrigue and challenge Penney.

* Global facilities management services: One of the best ways Penney could utilize her extensive building operations skills, maintain her salary, travel and take on new challenges would be to find employment at a large facilities management concern that oversees properties for many corporate customers, Brehony said. Penney expressed great interest in this possibility.

Instead of supervising operations for a single firm as she's doing now, Penney could join a facilities management company such as Service Resources Inc. ( in Marietta, Ga., which last year was named one of the 100 fastest-growing new companies by Entrepreneur magazine; Johnson Controls Integrated Facilities Management ( in Atlanta, which Industry Week four times named one of the world's 100 best-managed companies; or FM Strategies ( in Charlotte, N.C.

Penney would find more opportunities for promotion at such firms and, depending upon her position, would be able to travel to the numerous sites she would oversee.

Penney also could consider developing a specialty in her field. She could do this by gaining experience overseeing particular types of organizations, such as public schools, universities, corporate sites and hospitals.

Sodexho Marriott Services (, the nation's largest provider of food and facilities management services, structures its divisions this way and hires general managers, district managers and vice presidents with expertise in those areas, said Diane Newmier, vice president/recruitment for the Gaithersburg, Md.-based firm.

If Penney would prefer to manage overseas properties, she could contact companies such as Danka Services International ( in Rochester, N.Y., which supervises 450 sites for its corporate customers in 12 countries.

* International tour directing: Penney also is interested in directing international tours. Her years as a facilities manager make her a good contender for this work.

"A lot of people start this career in midlife," said Tomiko Russell, projects manager at the International Tour Management Institute in San Francisco.

International tour directors must be professional, courteous, enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about the destinations they visit. They must be able to handle social predicaments such as illnesses, deaths, spats, lost travelers and stolen belongings and be talented improvisers, for travel plans can change quickly.

"You have to really like people, because you'll be around them 24/7," said Karen Silva, chairwoman of the International Hotel School at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., and a former tour director.

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