Call it a midlife crisis or simply taking a break to review your priorities. Many people find themselves soul-searching at some point in their career—sometimes after a crisis. They realize that they want to change things up somehow. Many come up with a path that merges personal fulfillment with a satisfying work life, even stressed-out executives.
Ed Ukaonu had gone the traditional business route, with an MBA and corporate jobs with enterprises like Siebold Systems. He was also a serial entrepreneur. He founded the custom-software-development company Vixio Technology and WineStyles, a wine shop franchise in suburban Atlanta, Georgia.
Despite these successes, Ukaonu found himself alone in a hotel room in Florence last year, wondering what he wanted to do with his life. The 48-year-old had gone through a painful divorce. He took a European trip to clear his head and do some soul-searching.
"I was in my hotel room, and I started making a list of my accomplishments and failures," he says. "It dawned on me that my core essence is who I am when I'm helping other people. When I came back, I decided to close down the wine shop and research and find the kind of business that taps into that essence."
Ukaonu evaluated many business options, most of them in the health care field. He had experienced firsthand the difficulties of providing quality care to elderly loved ones. He was a caregiver for his mother, who was living with him.
His experiences with in-home care showed him that this was a field with a large market. It could benefit from more professionalism and better communication.
Ukaonu was already a believer in the franchise model, which he had used with WineStyles.
"My personal belief is that, because this is a business I have not done before, the best way to do it is not to figure it out on my own, but to go through a franchise system," he says. "They have the systems in place and all I have to do is follow what works."
His due diligence led him to FirstLight HomeCare, a provider of non-medical in-home care. He opened his branch in Conyers, Georgia, in January. Ukaonu has signed the first three clients. With 10 employees on staff, he's in the process of hiring 10 to 15 caregivers.
Unlike many home health care providers, FirstLight maintains caregivers as employees rather than contractors, offering them benefits and vacations. It even puts potential caregivers through personality tests to make sure each will be a good match for clients.
"It's simple for me," Ukaonu says. "I want to be sure that when someone engages FirstLight HomeCare, their lives will be transformed for the better. That starts with the investment in training and personal development [for] caregivers. I want to make sure that they have that passion to deliver exceptional care to our customers."
Ukaonu doesn’t find his business rewarding only in the abstract. When he can, he introduces himself personally to the family FirstLight is serving. He goes back again to make sure that the level of care is making a difference.
Sometimes, he finds, little things do make a big difference. One client liked honey-baked ham, for example. A couple of weeks after FirstLight started caring for her, Ukaonu was planning a visit, so he stopped at the store and picked up some ham.
"You should have seen the amazement and joy she felt," Ukaonu says—and he has similar amazement and joy in his own voice when he tells the story. "It's the type of difference I want to make."
Today, Ukaonu credits that period of soul-searching and self-discovery—and even the dark period that preceded it—with setting him on a path that merges personal fulfillment with a satisfying work life.
"I feel vibrant, I feel fresh, I feel like I'm doing God's work," says the former executive, who is not so stressed out anymore.
Image credit: FirstLight HomeCare