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Charles Turner used to daydream about owning a shoe store, a dream that would have fulfilled a design passion of his—and a need—since he often has difficulty finding shoes that fit both his liking and his size 13 feet. Turner, however, already had a career; with 14 years in finance he pays the bills as a manager of treasury operations for a hedge fund administrator in New York City. But after trying to get his foot in the door of the shoe industry—he took his first shoe design class in 1999 and considered using his background in finance to help develop the business of a cobbler in Harlem—Turner ventured to find out if his passion for shoes could become a business reality.
In late 2006, after reading about VocationVacations online, Turner signed up for a mentorship opportunity with Mercedes R. Gonzalez of Global Purchasing Cos. “It’s a very hands-on situation,” offers Gonzalez. “Our goal is to help them understand all the things they didn’t know they needed to know about running a retail store and starting a design business or fashion line.”
Founder and President Brian Kurth came up with the idea 10 years ago and, after a job loss, knuckled down in 2004 to launch VocationVacations, which allows professionals to test their readiness for their dream jobs through one- to three-day mentorships with professionals in their chosen field. Jobs range from acting and animation producing to cattle ranching, music production, professional wrestling, tour directing, and teaching yoga. Kurth notes that several years ago most students were feeling unfulfilled in their present jobs or had been gifted the opportunity by a spouse or friend. “In the last year and a half, we’ve seen a huge upsurge in people who have been laid off. Now they’re being forced to consider change.”
Turner is still employed, but just months after his internship and with the encouragement of Gonzalez, he launched his men’s shoe line, Brown Luxe by C. Everette. Working with Gonzalez, Turner was able to shadow a member of her team as a buyer and learn the purchasing and supply demands of the industry. “It was a really good way of looking at the product from the business side. I also wouldn’t have been able to meet with certain people, I’d tried to meet before. Here I could sit down with the buyer at Bally’s.”
Kurth says that 20% of VocationVacations’ alum are either in their dream job, have started their dream business, are in school getting the training they need, or are in some form of transition. The program also provides pre- and post- counseling to help candidates get the most out of their internship and to help focus them on the next steps after completion—whether the student wants to advance in that area or switch interests. Gonzalez says there’s huge benefit working with seasoned professionals. “They roll up their sleeves and get right to work. Business is business; it’s just the product line that changes. So with them, we love to go right into the ‘insiders’ secrets.”
Turner is fully committed and is now focused on evolving into a made-to-measure company. “I’ve always been attracted to the artistry and the craftsmanship,” he says. “I want to offer a high quality product.”
For a listing of dream jobs, visit www.vocationvacations.com.
This story originally appeared in the July 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.