STL PersonalitiesAug 01, 2012
The Road to Success
It might not be straight or paved, but these six St. Louisans navigated their ways to careers worth journey for.
Story: Amy De La Hunt
Photos: Corey Woodruff
It might not be straight or paved, but these six St. Louisans navigated their ways to careers worth journey for.
A Game of Numbers
Dan Kantrovitz, 33
Director of Scouting, St. Louis Cardinals
When he was a high school intern with the Cardinals more than 15 years ago, Dan Kantrovitz’s career goal was to play shortstop out on the field. It didn’t work out—but now, as the team’s director of scouting, he can’t imagine a more perfect position.
Throughout his life, Busch Stadium’s magnetism has proven hard to resist. There was that internship, but better by far was being drafted in the 25th round in 2001. “Being on the other side of that now, when I call some of the players immediately after we draft them, I know the excitement that they’re feeling because I can’t remember a more exciting day in my life. Except for when I got married,” he adds quickly with a smile. A shoulder injury in college ended his minor league career almost before it began, and Dan left baseball to apply his management degree as an investment banker. It wasn’t the career for him. Baseball beckoned. He sent résumés, emailed teams and applied for openings. “I wasn’t going to give up,” Dan says. “It became clear that whether somebody was going to pay me to work in baseball or not, I was going to do it.”
He found a startup in Seattle that was developing software to analyze player stats. It was perfect, with one catch: no paycheck. “I went from working on Wall Street to living in a garage in Seattle, but it was phenomenal,” Dan says. During spring training, the company demoed the software to Major League teams, including the Cardinals. “That might have planted a seed,” Dan admits, because he later got a call suggesting he apply for a low-level assistant job in the scouting department. “I said, ‘I’ve gotta get this job—it’s what I’ve been working my whole life to do,’ and they said, ‘Well, don’t get your hopes up; there are about a thousand other people that are in the same boat.’” That motivated him like never before. “I was used to fighting for jobs; I was never the biggest player out on the baseball field,” he admits. “It never came easy for me to work my way up in the baseball world, so I tapped into that and kept fighting for that job.” He won the job in 2004.
After several years of scouting from Latin America to Asia and across the United States, Dan wanted a deeper knowledge of the analytical side. He left for Harvard, where one of the professors had done groundbreaking research in baseball, and from there, he went to the Oakland A’s, where he spent three years with legendary general manager Billy Beane (portrayed by Brad Pitt in “Moneyball”).
Then, in December 2011, the Cardinals called again. This time, he wasn’t one of a thousand candidates for the director of scouting position—he was their guy. Now, Dan is tapping into all of his experiences from the past eight years—the analytical skills from investment banking, the statistics modeling from the startup and the grassroots scouting. “Ever since I left the investment banking world, I’ve loved getting up every day and doing my job,” he says.
The die-hard scout admits, though, that “it’s tough to sit back and have a beer at a game.” Not that he’s complaining. “People say, ‘Can’t you just relax and watch the game?’ Well, I’m actually really enjoying every game I’m at, but it’s more thinking about it in my own way.” His wife—a Cardinals fan herself—is well aware of that, too.
Two For The Road
Lauren Loomis, 27, and Robert Tucker, 28
Owners, Lulu’s Local Eatery
Robert Tucker and Lauren Loomis are the kind of couple who are so fully in-tune that when they talk about the future, they complete each other’s sentences. “We dream of having a large-scale urban farm,” Robert begins. “…that’s primarily sourcing our food for the food truck,” Lauren continues. “…and then we could use that produce to sell from the food truck as well,” Robert finishes. The urban farm is still a dream, but the food truck is a steel-and-rubber reality. And given the couple’s willingness to put their labor where their hearts are, the farm is probably not that far away either.
Back when he was a jazz drummer and she was doing corporate HR in Chicago, the pair fantasized about one day owning a business that would showcase their passion for food. “We’d dream about possible menus,” Robert recalls. The catch was, they didn’t have a lot of time to indulge in daydreams together—Robert worked nights playing and teaching music lessons, and spent weeks at a time on the road touring. “I really enjoyed that, and I still play,” he says. But, the lure of food—and of spending more time with Lauren— was stronger than music.
The two packed up and traveled to New Zealand and Australia for a year to learn how to grow their own food by working on organic farms and cooking freshly picked, all-natural foods that weren’t treated with chemicals. “It was a fantastic experience that definitely shaped our lives,” Lauren says.
The throw-caution-to-the-wind decision to start a food truck focused on fresh, wholesome foods flowed from their travels. The practical decision to park Lulu’s Local Eatery in St. Louis was all about business. Chicago had higher costs and less room in the market for their concept. St. Louis, on the other hand, has a “robust local food culture with room for growth,” Lauren says. As an added bonus, it’s Robert’s hometown.
That’s not to say either decision was easy. “We were totally scared when we left Chicago,” Lauren admits. Now, with several successful months behind them and plenty of miles on the odometer, it’s looking as if both decisions were fortuitous.
Lulu’s menu of wraps, bowls, snacks and smoothies—cooked from scratch using local, organic ingredients—changes with the growing season, based on what the farmers who supply their truck are picking that day or that week. “We’re working with multiple sources to get the freshest produce possible,” Robert explains. But, their very freshest harvest comes from the top of their truck, thanks to an eye-catching roof garden filled with herbs and greens.
Although some couples might find it a strain to shift from hardly ever seeing each other to sharing practically every minute of workdays that can stretch to 14 hours, Lauren and Robert are thriving on it. “We love being together,” Robert says. “We work really well together—and we never get sick of each other.”
Coffee's Siren Song
Peter Cohen, 46
Owner/Head Roaster, Stringbean Coffee Co.
Pete’s Redeye Roast, Midnight Run, Good Vibe…such are the names of Peter Cohen’s Stringbean premium roast coffees. They not only tell the story of Peter’s 9-month-old business, but they also highlight this local entrepreneur’s playful streak, which was seriously limited during the 14 years he spent at his previous career. “As a banker, I was a treasury manager,” he explains. “It’s a very niche area of the commercial bank, and the paycheck was very good.” But, Peter was perfectly happy trading those ties for a do-rag that reads “I got out” on Nov. 20, 2011, the day of his official transition to fulltime coffee roaster.
He’d wanted to take the bold step years earlier, after a major crisis in his life prompted him to consider buying a coffee shop. “My wife passed away almost three years ago, and at that point, everyone said, ‘You’re absolutely, positively nuts. You know nothing about food service, and coffee shops don’t make any money. So, I listened. I stayed at the bank.”
But, Peter couldn’t stay away from his calling for long. His first roast was Pete’s Redeye Roast. He began dabbling with the espresso blend in spring 2011, at first as a hobby because he didn’t like the bold-bitter combination in most commercial coffees. “I started sharing it with my family, and they said, ‘You’re on to something here—share it with some other people.’”
Like any hobby, roasting coffee was a trialand- error process. “My first roast was on a little tiny air roaster at my house,” Peter recalls. “It set off all the smoke alarms, and the dogs went crazy.” Soon, Peter moved the operation outside and bought a bigger roaster. A mediumbold blend called Midnight Run immortalizes his hours of production in the dead of night, while a chance encounter and conversation with Jerry Greenfield from Ben and Jerry’s inspired Stringbean’s Good Vibe single-origin light roast.
Now that the coffee business is taking off and he’s in “full growth mode,” Peter admits that his life is less settled—but more fulfilled. “The hardest transition is not knowing if [the company] is going to work,” he says. But in the short term, he finds immense gratification in the roasting itself—as well as the challenge of using his financial acumen in new ways. In fact, he says he uses his MBA from Lindenwood University more now than he did as a banker. “I love having my hand in every aspect of the business.”
A Mile Away, A World Apart
David Carroll, 41
Executive Director, North Grand Neighborhood Services
Moving from a high-paid corporate recruiter to the director of an inner city nonprofit might not be the most likely of career moves. Then again, the defining moment that prompted David Carroll’s move wasn’t exactly the most common of circumstances either.
“I was robbed at gunpoint while putting my key in the car door at 8 o’clock on a Monday night,” David recalls. The assailants took his car, wallet and phone; then, told him to lie down. David refused and an altercation ensued, but thankfully he got away uninjured. A few months later, the assailants were caught. “They were 15, 16 years old; it really shook me that these young boys’ lives could be ruined for absolutely no reason,” David, who is now the executive director of North Grand Neighborhood Services (NGNS), explains. “It just seemed senseless. That’s when I decided I had to do something different. I refused to lie down when they were robbing me, but figuratively, I was lying down that whole time by not participating or giving back.”
A St. Louis native, David feels lucky to have benefited from programs for low-income families that supported him all the way through graduating from Cardinal Ritter High School. He went on to Harris Stowe State University (back when it was a college) and wound up doing corporate human resources to staff information technology jobs at Capgemini. “I was doing well,” he says, “but I was never fully fulfilled.” To compensate, he coached, volunteered and mentored to make himself feel like he was part of the community. He pushed to bring together people who were struggling with those who were thriving.
After the robbery, he found a job recruiting mentors and tutors for at-risk middle schoolers. Three years later, he came to NGN S, where he has worked as executive director since 2010. “I thrive on knowing what we do matters, and it’s really helping,” he says. “The community isn’t thriving, but segments of the community are starting to thrive.”
Earlier this summer, all eight high school seniors working at North City’s Angel Baked Cookies graduated—news that thrilled David and the staff and volunteers at NGNS, which oversees the nonprofit bakery. “We’ve been celebrating 100 percent graduation among the kids that have been part of our program—in a neighborhood where only 50 percent of kids graduate from high school. We’re really proud of that,” David says.
Likewise, good news is coming out of NGNS’ affordable housing initiative, the Solomon Project. “We’ve been able to reduce the percentage of abandoned and neglected buildings from over 42 percent to less than 10 percent over the last four to five years,” he explains. The initiative has also converted four people to first-time homeowners, selling them new or newly renovated houses below cost.
“I have a dual bottom line in a nonprofit: money and people,” David explains. And, really, who can argue with that?
A Performer at Heart
Carolyn Chiang Rosebrough, 30
Senior Vice President, Fleishman-Hillard
Most of the clients who turn to Carolyn Chiang Rosebrough for public relations and communications advice have no idea that her well-honed instincts for understanding what an audience wants to hear come from her years of performing as a world-class concert pianist.
Carolyn started performing concerts at age 7, rising quickly to the level of international competitions, Carnegie Hall performances and solos with orchestras. Then, during her junior year of college at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, she woke up out of the blue one morning with her left hand in excruciating pain. When a long string of doctors couldn’t find the cause, she was forced to give up performing almost overnight. “It was incredibly devastating,” Carolyn says. “I was heartbroken.”
At the time, she simply found it too painful to discuss. “It’s been 10 years now—I think part of the reason it sounds so matter-of-fact is that I have enough distance from it now. It’s almost as if it’s the story of someone else,” explains Carolyn, who is now a senior vice president at Fleishman- Hillard.
Carolyn can now also appreciate her parents’ wisdom in making sure she still developed other interests during her childhood in Indiana, to the point that she even applied to the more academically- focused Stanford University in California after high school. When she had to give up performing, Carolyn reapplied to Stanford and started studying political science. An internship at a PR agency immediately clicked, because “in my career as a pianist, I was on the other side,” she explains.
Now she approaches whatever her clients are doing as a bit of a performance, knowing full well how important the presentation is. “A brand is all about identifying an audience and how a message will resonate with them. How do you communicate with them to make them be in that moment with you?” It’s the same question that motivated her as a pianist—except now she thinks about a larger (usually national or international) audience for her clients’ media strategies, integrated communications tactics and social marketing. “I’m still engaging with audiences and trying to make a lasting impression,” Carolyn says. “I want them to see something that they’re never going to forget.”
The demands of the PR world are no problem for Carolyn, who grew up with an equally demanding schedule. Her fast rise through the ranks—first in San Francisco with firms like Ketchum and Bite Communications, then with Fleishman-Hillard in the Bay Area and St. Louis— is similar to the trajectory she experienced in music. As one of the youngest senior vice presidents at Fleishman-Hillard, few would dispute that her second successful career is in full swing. Now that the reality of her pianist career has faded a bit into the distance, Carolyn is once again able to attend concerts for pleasure. “I feel like I’m always ‘on’ naturally, even outside of my job,” she says. “I’ll always be a performer at heart.”
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