My Life Since Fairfield Public Schools

Dear RTF Fellow Members,

Paula Sweeley asked me on a few occasions to share with the group a time-line that outlined my  experience in transitioning from  30 years in public education to a nearly 15 year “second career” in Educational Textbook/Media Publishing. At first I didn’t think people would really be interested; after all, everyone in the group has already retired and not about to embark on a second career. However, after discussing it with a few members of the group they felt people would be interested so I decided to move forward with Paula’s original request. Going through some very difficult times while on medical leave during the 1998-99 school year, I decided to put into place a serious and strategic job search that would entail a major career change.

 My education experience included teaching business courses at the former AWHS (later FHS) which subsequently led to my  appointment of Business Dept. Coordinator and then served as the district’s Director of Adult/Continuing and Vocational Education with offices at the former Osborn Hill Administration Center. I also served as an Adjunct Assistant Prof. at Sacred Heart University and later at Hillsborough Community College, Tampa, FL where I taught courses in office administration and accounting.  My education credentials included a B.S. Cum Laude, Business Education, University of Bridgeport; MA, Psychological Testing (School Psychology), Fairfield University; 6th Year Diploma in Administration/Supervision, SCSU; and 30 additional credits beyond the 6th Year at UCONN and SCSU which include the completion of the state certification credential in School Guidance and Counseling. I also obtained credentials to teach ESOL, high school/GED and alternative Adult High School Diploma Programs for adult learners.  The major reason I listed these degrees, certifications and credentials is because while they did mean something in public education in terms of one’s salary level and position, they meant absolutely nothing to hiring HR and Sales Managers in the publishing industry. The ONLY credential that was required for an initial review was the BS Degree. Also, my 30 years of educational experience had no effect on my initial salary placement or position level. I was somewhat surprised when I soon realized that my resume and credentials would be reviewed at the same level as an inexperienced college graduate. Of course, I did have many advantages over the new college graduate and for that matter even the highly experienced textbook sales reps. and even managers that my years of school and administrative experience had provided. Namely, I knew what teachers liked and didn’t like about various instructional texts and materials and the criteria they used to compare and ultimately select one set of instructional materials over another.  This acquired knowledge was instrumental in my eventual success in the industry.

I had no idea just how difficult the transition from the public to the private sector would be. I quickly learned how different the work environment, culture and attitudes were. During several interviews, hiring managers told me about their hesitancy to hire former teachers. Here are the reasons I was given: inflexibility, inability to work as a team, rusty or non-existent technology skills, not driven by revenue or profits, and usually not self-motivated. Of course, I refuted these assumptions and was frustrated, discouraged and often resented having to defend myself during these meetings. However, I was able to convince a Pearson-Scott Foresman Director of Sales how my strong education (3 advanced degrees), developed presentation skills along with my organizational and leadership experiences had adequately equipped me to be able to drive sales and increase revenue in the regional position that was currently available in the NE. Following 4 interviews at both their regional and national corporate offices along with a 60 minute “mock” product presentation I was offered the position of NE Regional Literacy Specialist (Consultant) which encompassed 6 NE states along with NY and NJ.

My duties were to pre-sell and in-service their elementary basal readers along with the nationally acclaimed Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA). My audience included elementary teachers, reading specialists, and administrators at both the building and district levels. I was on the road usually 4 days a week with one “home office” day.  Since I had no elementary or reading teaching background the learning curve was intense! However, I did receive phenomenal and supportive training from the authors, marketing teams as well as my counterparts in the other 3 regions. I received a base salary probably comparable to the “mid 6th year range” of Fairfield’s teacher’s salary schedule. In addition, a bonus plan correlated to regional sales was included which could be substantial and would significantly increase the base salary. Also, a company car, home-office and presentation equipment and an AMEX Corporate Card for business/travel and customer entertainment expenses were also included. All travel reservations, etc., were handled by the company’s travel dept. and I reported directly to the NE Regional Sales Manager who was based in Boston. During my 5 years in this position my most memorable and interesting assignment was when I was sent to train elementary staffs in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and the United Arab Emirates.

By 2003 I decided I wanted more control over my calendar, time and earnings and I was also looking to move into management. I also had a strong desire to move out of the cold NE to sunny FL.  By this time my wife had retired from Trumbull HS where she had been a teacher and dept. head and had secured a position (for her second career) as a Flight Attendant for Southwest Airlines, based in Orlando, FL. I was also able to obtain a new position as a Sales Specialist with a small start-up high school science and math publisher based in Armonk, NY. My territory included FL an AL. I really sharpened my sales skills while in this position and in early 2009 I was approached by an independent recruiter to interview for a new regional sales management position at Macmillan’s Higher Education, high school AP division. The position was SE Regional Sales and Adoption Manager which included overseeing 6 southern states, 7 sales reps within these states and 2 sales assistants housed in the NY office. I endured 3 brutal interviews by 3 different committees all in different geographic locations with the “finalist” interviews held at the NYC corporate office on Madison Avenue. All 3 finalists were asked to develop a “Marketing Plan” for the SE Region that if hired would be implemented. I had one week to complete this task and I definitely was at an advantage having taught a Marketing course to my Fairfield HS students for several years. Also, as a culminating activity in the course, students were required to develop a marketing plan. A major obstacle I was definitely aware of but tried not to let it affect me was my “age”. I was aware that the other 2 finalists were in their early to mid-30’s (I could be their dad’s).  However, I was ultimately offered the position and was definitely up for the challenge.

The entire landscape of how instructional materials were developed, packaged and implemented for instruction was changing drastically. Portals, electronic test banks, interactive videos and activities and E-books were becoming the norm. Competition between publishing companies is stiff and often cut throat. Job security is nonexistent. There is no such thing as tenure or for that matter any type of employment contract. You can be terminated at will. Everyone within the entire organization; sales, marketing and editorial are expected to reach and hopefully exceed their individual revenue yearly sales goals. Those who do not meet this requirement for 2 consecutive or definitely 3 years will be terminated. While compensation in this industry can be substantial, your ability to reach and hopefully exceed goal defines and controls your destiny.

The year 2012 I will describe by referring to the Charles Dickens classic, A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”… In March of 2012 I suffered early stages of congestive heart failure caused by a genetic defective aortic valve. I underwent an emergency 10 hour operation at Shands Hospital at the University of FL. I suffered several complications following the surgery including sepsis (blood poisoning), MRSA and renal failure. I was in the ICU for 2 weeks and hospitalized for a total of 21 days. My at home recuperation exceeded 4 months but I made a full and complete recovery and was eventually able to return to work. During this same year my long term marriage ended in divorce and I moved from my home in Orlando to a townhouse in Hollywood, FL. On the upside the SE revenue numbers for 2012 came in at 49% over goal; a rare and unusual accomplishment. These numbers exceeded the goal numbers reached in every other division within the Macmillan organization including their trade book and college division.

By the winter of 2012-2013 retirement began to look more and more attractive. I had now been working 44+ years. I was starting to dread the airport delays, hotel and restaurant food, sleepless nights away from home, endless product committee presentations, a full calendar of  state, regional and national conferences, monthly  management meetings in the NY office, text revision launches and the almost never ending learning curve to stay current and up-to-date with product and media changes.  I decided that April 8th, 2013, the day after I would reach what was considered my normal social security retirement year would be my last day.

I am truly enjoying my life here in Hollywood, FL. I am only one mile from the beach, 4 miles from the FT Lauderdale International Airport, and 6 miles from Miami. The area is vibrant, fast paced and diverse but what I love the most is the almost continuous sunshine and warm weather. I am also fortunate to have met a very special person with whom I am sharing my life, feel physically great and am relatively happy. A trip is planned to visit my younger son Todd and his fiancée in San Juan Capistrano, CA where he has lived and worked for the past 5 years.  While there I will be looking at the dessert communities of Palm Springs, Dessert Springs, La Quinta and Rancho Mirage as a possible future relocation but their proximity to the ocean is a major drawback.

On several occasions I have been asked if I preferred one work environment over the other and I would always say that they both had their own distinct advantages and disadvantages. You are all aware of the advantages and disadvantages encountered in your teaching careers and I hope the information I shared gave you a better understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of working in the private sector. I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to work in both arenas. Having had what I considered a solid college business education along with several years teaching business courses I always had a “hidden” desire to actually try my hand at and hopefully succeed in the business world which I ultimately did and I definitely have no regrets.


Len Bennett 

(I'd love to hear from my old friends and colleagues.)

Ron salamon 15.07.2017 15:48

I see you have a Toyota R. I just got a Honda Civic typ R

Frank Bent 04.07.2017 16:26

Len, Saw Lorraine Costello last week at a fundraiser We spoke of the old days the lunches and the fun She asked me for your phone number l didnt have it

Len Bennet 04.07.2017 19:18

Hi Frank! Have had same number since 2003-- 727 543 0633-- actually I believe I still have Lorraine's Monroe number and will contact her. Thankd for message!

Ron Abate 29.01.2015 18:33

Hi Len,
Great that you have done well in career and retirement. I too have had a successful 2nd career. I am retired and winter in Florida with my girlfriend.

Len Bennett 02.02.2015 20:13

Hi Ron....where in FL do you spend winters?

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