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Carol Arnott-Robbins

Carol Arnott-Robbins worked for 26 years in banking and finance before changing course in 2015, earning her real estate license and launching a new career with her husband//Photo by Ron Dubick.

Here’s help for a new wave of professionals trying to change course

By Michael Bradley
Special to Delaware Business Times

Back in the 1990s, Hollis Thomases didn’t wait for anybody else to tell her that she couldn’t execute any of the big business ideas she had generated.

She did it all by herself.

“I was my own worst enemy,” Thomases says. “I would always shoot down my ideas. I thought they were too difficult or I didn’t have the money or knowledge.”

In 1998, she came up with something that not even she could convince herself not to pursue. Dissatisfied with her current position in marketing with a company for which she had worked and after being told that advancement was unlikely, Thomases took advantage of what she calls “a perfect storm” and started her own firm, Web Advantage Digital Marketing. She reinvented herself as an entrepreneur and was thrilled to be moving forward.

A few months later, she reinvented the reinvention.

“The original idea I had was completely different from what that company ended up being,” Thomases says. “I wasn’t gaining any marketing traction. People would say, “˜I don’t want what you’re selling, but can you do e-mail marketing and banner advertising on websites?’ I didn’t know how to do any of that, but I learned very fast.”

Hollis Thomases

Hollis Thomases and her staff at ReinventionWorks help conceive, plan and execute transformations for those looking to make significant changes in their lives.

In the span of nine months, Thomases had quit her job, incorporated, launched the business, taken a hiatus and relaunched. If necessity is the mother of invention, finding out that your product isn’t too popular with potential clients is absolutely the stimulus for reinvention.

Thomases’ experience with her double reinvention has proven to be quite worthwhile as she works with people who are trying to find new professional paths the way she did. Her ReinventionWorks firm helps people pivot from their current careers to new chapters in their professional lives. Thomases and her staff help conceive, plan and execute transformations for those looking to make significant changes in their lives. She considers it to be a three-year process that requires significant thought and follow-through.

“This is different than a career change,” she says. “It’s not a case where you update your resume and LinkedIn profile and then practice interviewing.”

On Nov. 9, Thomases will serve as the moderator for the Exploring Reinvention event designed to help people “connect, explore and prepare for the reinvention process.” It will focus on the choice people have to reinvent and provide inspiration and strategies to help them chart new courses. Having a strategy is key, but more important than that is having the ability to pursue a passion.

“You need to have something [that] carries you through every single bad day, and you need to love that, whether you are doing it for the money, bliss, glory or the sheer “˜can I do this?’ fascination,” Thomases says.

Carol Arnott-Robbins always considered herself a “very creative thinker with an entrepreneurial brain,” and as a girl she always thought she would end up in the fashion industry. Instead, she spent 26 years in banking and finance feeling as if “the life was being sucked out of me.” In 2015, she couldn’t do it anymore, even though she had a good income and a position of influence at M&T Bank. She enjoyed helping her customers plan for the future and overcome hardships, but it wasn’t enough. Fortunately for her, Arnott-Robbins didn’t have to look too far to find a new professional course.

Her husband, Tucker, had been in real estate for nearly 30 years, and he told Arnott-Robbins she would “be great” in the field. She left her job in October 2015, earned her real estate license and launched her new career in January in concert with Tucker, under the Berkshire Hathaway aegis. She is delighted to be working in a field she enjoys and despite having to make some sacrifices, she wouldn’t change anything that she has done.

“I am much happier,” Arnott-Robbins says. “Even if it meant for some temporary period of time making some sacrifices in our lifestyle, it’s OK.

Ernie Dianastasis

Ernie Dianastasis launched an IT firm that employs workers with autism.

“I walked away from a well-compensated position with full benefits to do something I’ve never done. But I just help people and try to provide solutions for clients’ problems. Those skills are transferrable.”

Ernie Dianastasis agrees with that. The same talents he used for 30 years building and running the Delaware office of Computer Aid Inc. are serving him well in his newest endeavor, Wilmington-based The Precisionists Inc. Both provide IT solutions for customers, but The Precisionists has a twist that plays well with Dianastasis’ desire to help those with disabilities work and thrive.

A few years ago, Dianastasis met a man from Denmark who had been successful employing people on the autism spectrum in the tech field. Dianastasis had been lending his talent to Easter Seals for a while, and he developed the idea of starting a firm that does IT work using only those with disabilities. His goal with The Precisionists is to help 10,000 people with disabilities by 2025. He started the business on July 1 and focused primarily on those with autism, as well as disabled veterans and the hearing and visually impaired.

“It’s a for-profit company, not a charity or a nonprofit,” Dianastasis says. “Some disabilities result in tremendous strength. Our goal is to focus that. I have taken a social mission and shifted it to social entrepreneurism.”

Like Thomases and Arnott-Robbins, Dianastasis has taken skills he honed over many years in a previous world and transferred them to a new endeavor later in life. He is fulfilled and energized and serves as a prime example of someone who has matched experience with passion and created a new professional direction. If Thomases has her way, plenty of others will follow.

“I tell people when I advise them that it’s important to find out where they derive joy,” Thomases says. “When things get tough, you need to charge your batteries. You can’t do that through drudgery every day.

“It’s not always about the pursuit of a passion. It’s having the conviction to pursue that passion.”

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