By Carol K. Dumas
Managing a successful career and family is a constant balancing act, say past winners of Cape & Plymouth Business’s “40 Under 40” honor.
Cape Codders Justin and Mandee Blair of Chatham and Christopher Ward and Lindsay Cole of Eastham were among those honored as being top young leaders in their industries. But what does it take achieve a work-life balance?
These four dynamic, yet down to earth couples, subscribe to a formula of working hard, putting family first and community involvement.
While they gravitated to different industries, these couples grew up in small Massachusetts towns and were raised by working parents who taught them that by working hard, you can achieve a lot.
Longmeadow native Justin Blair, managing partner of Monomoy Real Estate and Construction, says his parents were models of a work-life balance, working in fields that nurtured people in meaningful ways. Justin’s mom was a special education administrator and his dad led a community development corporation focused on creating regional jobs.
Mandee Blair, who is from Princeton, learned a simple philosophy about those who succeed and those who don’t: “There are paddlers and there are passengers. Always be a paddler.”
Her mom was a hair stylist (and one of 17 children) and her dad is an arborist, who owns his own company.
Eastham native Lindsay Cole is the third generation of her family to run Cape Associates, a custom building company in Eastham founded by her grandfather Lester Langhans in 1971. Lindsay and her two siblings were thrust unexpectedly into leadership roles at the company when their father Michael suddenly passed away in 2013.
“Three months before, Dad had made arrangements for us to take over the company, but it was supposed to be a gradual transition,” recalls Lindsay, now the company’s Director of Human Resources. “You grow up fast.”
Fortunately, the Cole kids had a work ethic instilled in them many years before.
“Dad left the house at 6:30 in the morning, but came home for dinner,” says Lindsay. “We all had dinner together. When we turned 14 we were told to get a job. It would have to be lightning outside for us not to go to work! We were told if you wanted something, you’d have to work for it.”
Attorney Christopher Ward grew up in the Western Massachusetts town of Granby, the son of an attorney and a corporate executive. His career path wasn’t a straight one (he spent some years after college writing and surfing in Hermosa Beach, California), but he was “welcomed” to the law by his attorney father. “He taught me how to be a skilled and compassionate attorney. You have to be able to understand the person’s issue and apply the law to it.”
That compassionate approach was a good fit at Latanzi, Landreth and Spaulding in Orleans, which he joined in 2001, focusing on trust, estate and tax law and is now a managing partner.
Careers That Work
Finding a fulfilling career was a common goal among these working couples.
“I always knew I wanted to run my own business. The question was what would that be,” muses Justin, who had a truly liberal arts education at College of the Holy Cross. He and his wife met working summers at Chatham Bars Inn and were “bitten by the Cape bug.”
“After trying to volunteer in various businesses as a test run, I fortunately wound up assisting with a startup real estate brokerage and I fell in love with the industry,” he reflects. “I immediately liked the match-making element of it… we deal in a beautiful place with great people and unique properties so we are privileged to play a diverse role in creating or facilitating lasting family connections with the region.”
Justin’s accidental foray into real estate led him to founding his own company in 2005 at the age of 24. He’s proud of how his company has grown and he chalks it up to a team effort. “Our firm has been working for a long time to create a model which results in unmatched efficiency for our clients. Seeing that model work to produce a beautiful, appreciated vacation home where generations of family memories will be is a special reminder of how cool the progression of our business has been. A progression made possible by way of a unique collaboration of my coworkers’ efforts.”
His wife Mandee “tried out a few majors, considered law, and for a brief moment I was a nursing major,” but she ended up majoring in economics with a minor in business at University of Massachusetts. “I always liked working with people and numbers, so I felt that banking would be a good fit.”
She’d been eying Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank for some time as she had admired its mission and its president, Dorothy Savarese.
“She’s a woman and she’s leading this very powerful, successful bank…. she’s a powerhouse. I’m fortunate to be able to learn from her and to work in such a community-focused environment,” says Mandee, who’s been CC5’s relationship management officer for the past four years, serving as a liaison between the bank’s development arm its community engagement. “It’s been amazing to be a part of that. I feel like we’re making a difference. When I first started at Cape Cod 5, I was blown away by how passionate my fellow coworkers were about the bank. Then I was blown away by how passionate our customers are about the bank. The enthusiasm around this company is contagious.”
Joining the family business and making her own mark has been rewarding for Lindsay at Cape Associates. After graduating from Stonehill College graduate, she joined the company, first working in administration then moving to payroll in 1999. When the business had grown to 90 employees, her father saw the need for a human resources manager and she saw an opportunity to do something else.
“It is extremely fulfilling to continue a business that my grandfather and father worked so hard to build, working every day to ensure that our employees are happy, that they feel supported, and that they are given opportunities to advance their career at Cape Associates,” Lindsay says.
Christopher, a graduate of Georgetown University Law School, is also a people person and enjoys connecting with clients and providing advice at critical junctures in their lives or in their businesses. “I got into tax planning basically because I didn’t like the fact that people were paying taxes,” he says with a laugh.
Parents also drove home the concept that community involvement is important.
“My father instilled in us to get involved, do what you can and when you can,” says Lindsay who is a member of Cape & Islands Workforce Board and Cape Cod Children’s Place Development Committee. “If you support the community, they will support you right back.”
Upon her father’s death, Lindsay and her family established the Michael H. Cole Charitable Giving Foundation to support local non-profits.
Christopher’s law firm provides pro bono work through various local organizations, supports more than 50 nonprofits annually, and he has been involved on several Cape boards, currently focusing his efforts as the chair of the Development and Capital Campaign Committee of the JFK Hyannis Museum. This past year, the firm established the LaTanzi, Spaulding & Landreth Scholarship Fund in honor of the firm’s founders and its 50th anniversary.
“Giving is better than getting,” he says.
The day begins at 5 a.m. at Lindsay and Christopher’s house on the bayside of Eastham. This blended family of four includes a daughter (12) from her first marriage and two daughters (13, 11) and a son (5) from his first marriage, plus a new arrival, a black Lab. The kids make their own beds, pack their bags and take out the puppy. Everyone’s out the door at 6:45, either to work or school. Depending on the day, it could be tennis, dance class, bass lessons or soccer practice in the late afternoon and evening. The family is back together for dinner and “it’s a group effort to eat dinner, make the next day’s lunches, do laundry, finish homework, and get everyone in bed as close to 8 o’clock as possible,” notes Lindsay.
Then it’s some quiet time for mom and dad, catching up on the day, discussing tomorrow’s schedule, and maybe, planning the next family trip (they’ve traveled to 31 different places in the past three years).
“It’s clearly the hardest challenge we face,” Christopher says about achieving a work-family balance. “We’ve always said, ‘family first’ and you try to re-arrange your schedule to make sure that happens, but it usually means we’re working at night after the kids go to sleep.”
“We’re both extremely organized,” explains Lindsay. “It helps a ton, if you don’t plan, things fall apart.”
Lindsay’s strength and organization makes it all doable, he adds. “It is not easy working a full time job while running a household of four kids and a puppy. She keeps the schedule, runs a tight ship, and has fun doing it. It is a unique talent to have so much going on and accomplish it all with a smile. It’s a thankless job that she makes look easy.”
On the frequent family trips, Christopher likes to interject some fun by organizing scavenger hunts, be it a week in Key West or a weekend at the Prudential Center in Boston. “Travel is an education into itself, “ he feels. “It’s a worldly life now and you’ve got to prepare these kids.”
“I admire Chris’s ability to be an amazing parent,” says Lindsay. “ He’s spends time with each child, learning about their current interests and doing things they enjoy with them, while also being firm and disciplined with them. He treats my daughter no differently, maintaining a great relationship with her. He is probably the most patient person I have ever met and he’s fair, always listening to their opinions. And all the while, he keeps them laughing!”
In Chatham, at the Blair household, the children are much younger, but scheduling is no less important and life is just as busy.
“With a 5 ½-year old and a 2-year-old, our typical days are anything but typical!” says Mandee. “It’s filled with making lunches, preschool shuttling, work meetings, work calls, responding to emails, reading ‘Fancy Nancy’ books, cooking breakfast/dinner, picking up the same toys 15 times, attending community events, giving baths, singing songs (‘Me!’ by Taylor Swift is big in our house right now), working after the kids go to bed. It’s all a little crazy and it doesn’t feel like we ever have spare time, but we wouldn’t change a thing.”
Making it all work is possible through friends, family, an employer who allows a flexible work schedule and of course, each other.
“Justin and I have an amazing partnership. We share our family responsibilities while respecting the other’s work responsibilities,” she adds. “We try to plan our work/event/social schedules as far out as possible to make sure that we have a good balance. Every week seems a bit different from the last but we manage to make it all work.”
Mandee, Justin says, possesses a unique combination of self-confidence, humility, wisdom and compassion. “She is just a very special person.”
The Blairs try to find time to golf (Justin), paddleboard (Mandee) and they make two “bucket lists” every year: exploring the Cape as a tourist and eating out at someplace new.
At Chatham Town Meeting in May, Justin was one of a few young people in attendance. Much debate was spent on the two opposite ends of the town’s demographics. A request to fund a new senior center and an increase in the community’s childcare voucher program were central to the theme despite very different dollar amounts. This push and pull is indicative of debates across many Cape towns but there are positive ways these seemingly disconnected segments of the population interact.
Justin is impressed by the support of the predominantly older generation for a younger generation often struggling to make a living and stay here. “You meet a lot of people who have had meaningful careers in successful small businesses and larger corporations, but who retire here for the quality of life we enjoy every day. They are committed to the communities and continue to contribute to nonprofits.”
He’s a keen student himself, absorbing advice from those with more life and business experience. “There’s something about being the young person among all of these more seasoned people who have done such wonderful things,” he says. “I joke a lot about having an on-the-job MBA. Strategically, from a business point, it’s good to be the young guy, and everyone wants to give the young guy a shot. I have aged out of that now but it was beneficial in the company’s early years.”
Organizations like Cape Cod Young Professionals (Christopher is a past president) both couples agree, are tremendously supportive to the Cape’s younger work force.
Obviously, the Cape’s older demographic is beneficial to an estate and tax attorney like Christopher, but he’s cognizant of the challenge to keep young people here. “To keep the Cape vibrant, we need a system to keep young people coming here. Couples like us need to counsel other young people that you can live and work here and have a wonderful life.”