MONEY

This Entrepreneur Left a 25-Year Career at Xerox for a Job in the Pits

Kaye Stone-Gansz
Jesse Burke

For a gravel pit, that is

In early 2011 Kaye Stone-Gansz was cruising along the executive track at Xerox when the downsizing company dangled an attractive buyout package. To the surprise of her colleagues, the 25-year vet took the bait. “I thought, This is my sign; this is my time to do my own thing,” says Stone-Gansz, who had long harbored entrepreneurial aspirations.

Rather than begin from scratch, she decided to look for a business to buy. At Xerox she had started as an engineer, and then jumped around several disciplines before becoming a director of product services. Her strength was serving as a liaison between engineers and customers, and she figured she could use those talents to grow an existing company.

The buyout allowed her to stay at Xerox for eight more months, during which time she shopped for businesses around Sodus, N.Y., where she lives with her husband and daughter, now 3. After she considered a scrap-metal business, the owner of nearby Smith’s Gravel Pit—a 100-acre mining facility specializing in gravel, stone, sand, and topsoil—heard of her intentions and reached out to see if she’d be interested in his company. Stone-Gansz didn’t know a thing about gravel. “But I’m a quick study,” she says.

While the pit had revenue of $680,000 in 2011, its owner ran it as a secondary business. “So he left many markets untapped,” says Stone-Gansz. Confident she could expand the customer base among municipalities, garden centers, and the like, she negotiated a $1.2 million purchase price. She drew some funds from retirement savings and secured a loan for the remainder.

Upon taking over the business in February 2012, she immediately began spending mornings at the pit and afternoons connecting with potential clients. “My best advertisement is me,” she says. So far, she’s grown the customer base from 150 to 225, and boosted revenue nearly 50%. And while she’s working more hours, Stone-Gansz says her personal gratification has skyrocketed. “I go home feeling really good about each new customer I got.”

By the Numbers

$600,000

Amount she drew from savings: The majority was pulled from her 401(k). Stone-Gansz, who saves regularly in an IRA, doesn’t feel her retirement is compromised, just different. “Once you have your own business and you’ve acquired assets, they become your retirement.”

70%

Initial pay cut she took: In her first year Stone-Gansz paid herself $40,000. Between that money, her package from Xerox, and her husband’s salary as general manager at a fabrication company, the family was able to cover its living costs. Last year she upped her pay to $80,000.

2013

When she was named female entrepreneur of the year: The award, from the New York State Small Business Development Center, was based on her having grown the company so quickly. While the pit’s 2013 revenues hit $1 million, Stone-Gansz anticipates another 50% increase in 2014 as a result of new projects and continued customer growth.

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Money Magazine.

 

MONEY identity theft

If Your Credit Card Information Was Stolen from P.F. Chang’s, Here’s Your Best Defense

Wallet exposing social security card
Olivia Locher; Prop styling by Linda Keil 8.3 million: How many private records have been exposed to thieves so far this year.

Millions of private financial records have already been exposed this year. Follow this simple plan to stay safe.

Updated: August 4, 2014

If you’ve eaten at a P.F. Chang’s restaurant anytime since last October, you could have been the victim of a data breach. According to the company, consumer credit and debit card information has been stolen from 33 restaurants in the U.S. (You can find a full list of the affected locations and dates of possible incidents here).

Today, CEO Rick Federico issued a formal statement apologizing to customers and assuring them that their data has been secure since the restaurant chain identified the breach in June. In light of that news, we’re resurfacing a post from earlier this summer, with advice on how to protect yourself in the event you think your personal data has been hacked.

At least 8.3 million private records have been put at risk in 250 separate data breaches revealed this year, says the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center. One upshot of the leaks (up 23% over 2013 through late April): greater awareness of the threat of identity theft. Follow this three-tiered plan to defend yourself.

1. Take Advantage of Free Tools

Visit annualcreditreport.com every four months to get a credit report from a different one of the three major reporting agencies, advises Ed ­Mierzwinski at advocacy organization U.S. PIRG. And sign up for any no-cost service your bank or credit card issuer has for notifying you of activity in your account.

2. Warn All Lenders

Afraid your data has already slipped out? Put a free 90-day fraud alert on all your credit reports by contacting Experian, Trans­Union, or Equifax, says Paul Stephens of the nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. That tells companies to use extra caution before issuing credit in your name. For confirmed identity-theft victims, alerts last seven years.

3. Lock Down Your Credit

For top security, freeze your ­credit, advises ID-theft consultant Robert Siciliano. Opening new lines of credit will require your password. Visit each of the big three bureaus online to launch it. Costs—up to $30 to place a freeze and $12 to lift it—vary by state.

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MONEY Careers

Wish Every Work Day Felt Like a Vacation? For This Guy it Is.

David Harris
Benjamin Rasmussen, wardrobe and grooming by Ashley Kelly "We offer a great product," says David Harris. "It was a matter of getting it in front of the right people.”

After toiling in the tech industry for over three decades, David Harris decided to buy an adventure travel company. Here's how he did it.

For 30 years, David Harris bounced around Silicon Valley, using his sales and marketing savvy to overhaul tech companies. But in 2011 he received a sizable payout from the sale of Tumbleweed Communications, where he had been vice president—and he was ready for a change. Though his work was highly compensated, it was also high pressure. “I wanted to continue to chal­lenge myself,” he says. “But I needed to get out of high tech for my mental health.”

Around the same time Timberline Adventure Tours, a Lafayette, Colo., company offering hiking and biking trips across the U.S. and Canada, went up for sale. Harris and his wife, Kisa, had gone on many vacations with Timberline and had even become friendly with the owners.

For Harris, it was the perfect opportunity. He was looking to do something he felt passionate about, and Timberline filled that bill. Plus, he felt the business had potential beyond its current revenue: “I knew Timberline offered a great product. It was a matter of getting it out to the right people.” While details of the purchase were still being ironed out, Harris moved with Kisa (then an aerobics instructor) and his three daughters to Louisville, Colo., where they lived off investments until he settled into his new role.

Immediately after taking over in January 2012, Harris began boost­ing Timberline’s digital presence—revamping the website and developing strategies for social media and email marketing. He used skills he’d honed in Silicon Valley, only now “product overhaul” meant testing trails and putting together a “fun puzzle of trip itineraries.”

Today Timberline offers 84 tours to about 600 clients annually. Revenues hit $1.2 million in 2013, up from $850,000 in 2011. While Harris isn’t making the big bucks he used to, he’s enjoying going to a job that doesn’t feel like work. “At the end of a trip, when clients are beaming and thanking you for making their vacation,” Harris says, “it’s just such a pleasure.”

BY THE NUMBERS

$500,000: What the company cost

Harris, who bought the business with cash from the sale of Tumbleweed, drew on his sales experience to create a valuation. The owners still cared about the company, and Harris says that made it somewhat harder to negotiate them down to the price he wanted to pay.

84%: how much less Harris earns than he used to

While his family can live off the $100,000 he and Kisa bring in (she’s the VP), they’re still adjusting to the seasonality of the business, which requires intensive budgeting. Harris credits Kisa, who is “as organized as the day is long.”

240: Target number of new clients to add in 2014

Harris is proud of Timber­line’s customer loyalty— 84% of travelers in 2012 were returning—but he’d like to grow the customer base so that 40% of clients are new. He plans to introduce more trip itineraries, and he’s working on building corporate partnerships, hoping that this will help raise revenues to $2 million by 2015.

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