Imagine that you’re a high-flying media executive in New York, enjoying life with your partner, who is also a successful executive. All of a sudden, a recession comes along and bam—you’re both out of a job. That’s a pretty massive “changing of the sheets” for a personal relationship. What do you do then?
You don’t curl up into a ball and give up. You muster even more courage and roll with it. If you’re the Fabulous Beekman Boys, you even parlay it into an exciting new business
partnership on, of all things, a goat farm.
In 2007 the Beekmans (Josh and Brent) purchased the historic Beekman 1802 farm in a Sharon Springs, New York, a bucolic village of 547 inhabitants (according to the 2000
census) near Albany. The two intended the property as a weekend place, and they imagined that they would spend many tranquil weekends together on the farm away from their hectic
white-collar lives in New York City. It was not to be. In 2008, the two lost their jobs within a month of one another, casualties of the Great Recession. With their bank threatening
to foreclose on their farm, the two came to a radical decision: They would give up their traditional careers (Josh had been a successful author and an advertising executive, Brent a Vice President at Martha Stewart’s company, Martha Stewart Omnimedia) and make a go of it together on their farm, crafting soap and cheese using milk from a herd of goats.
Many farmers make high-quality, artisanal products, but very few manage to create one of the nation’s fastest growing lifestyle brands. That’s exactly what the Beekmans have done. Putting their marketing chops to work, they set up an online store, the Beekman 1802 Mercantile, for their ever-expanding line of products created in collaboration with local artisans and farmers. Their website features a blog, recipes, and enticing imagery from the farm—all intended to enable others to “reconnect with real things,” as Brent told the New York Times.
In 2009 and 2010, the Beekman Boys brought their story to prime time by starring in the reality TV show The Fabulous Beekman Boys on the Planet Green network. The show, depicting the joys and struggles of the Beekmans’ adaptation to country life, became a huge favorite of Bob’s. You can’t believe how happy he was in 2012 when the Beekmans appeared on the show The Amazing Race—and won the million-dollar prize!
It’s worth pausing to take stock of what the Beekmans have done. Here are two guys who suffered professional setbacks that commonly cause even the strongest personal partnerships
to fall apart. Instead, they made the best of it, in the space of just five years launching a successful business, appearing on not one but two reality TV shows, and winning a million dollars. When we interviewed them during the summer of 2015, they were preparing for still more change, hiring on a new CEO to partner with them and help take their burgeoning business to the next level.
How did the Beekmans do it? Clearly they had business experience and talent, but most fundamentally they had the right attitude about change. Instead of looking at their layoffs
as a disaster and falling into a depression, they saw them as a dramatic opportunity to “change the sheets.” As they related, change sometimes happens to us, and sometimes we make it
happen. Either way, the key is to have the courage to roll with both positive and negative change. “We lost our jobs,” Josh said. “We didn’t make that happen. We did start this crazy
business, and then the first television show came along out of nowhere, and then The Amazing Race came out of nowhere. These things kept life fresh for us.” Brent agreed, noting that
their business had “grown very organically. It follows our life and then we follow it. I think we had some foundations to make a successful business, but by large we let the business take us
where it wants to take us.”
As the Beekmans tell it, they didn’t panic in the face of adversity. After so many years working in corporate America, Josh had seen many clients who, becoming overly reliant on strategy and planning, weren’t able to maneuver to meet changing circumstances. Determined to do better, he and Brent weren’t afraid to entirely reinvent themselves. And that meant hunkering down and focusing on one step at a time, making the most of what they could control. “I think both of us are just really hard workers, and so we just set forth focusing on the things that needed to get done, and dividing and conquering.”
Even once they had developed a plan for their new business, the two made sure always to keep the door to change open and to stay flexible so as to meet whatever the business world or life might throw at them. And more recently, as their start-up has become established, they have had the luxury of proactively changing the sheets on occasion to keep things fresh. “When we get bored,” Brent remarked, “we just look for whatever is going to change things up.”
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