Courtesy John Berglund
When John Berglund was growing up around his father's hardware shop in Chicago in 1960s, it wasn't the power tools or jingling cash register that caught his eye.
"I always was impressed when men would walk in with a suit and tie," said Berglund, now 57. "At that point, I was chasing the money."
He found it.
After flirting with the idea of a career in chemistry after college, Berglund traded in his lab coat for a shot in the legal world. He started out as a county prosecutor and spent some time as a lobbyist before carving out a niche representing major trade associations across the country.
For the next two decades, he bounced from one six-figure paycheck to the next. But it wasn't enough.
In his upcoming book, "A Beach Less Traveled," Berglund describes the 10-year plan he hatched to ditch his briefcase and tie for sand, sweat and life as a small business owner in the Caribbean.
He spoke with BI by phone early this week to discuss the ups and downs along the way.
The turning point
Courtesy John Berglund
"I always thought it would be fun –– instead of arguing and fighting at work –– to be creating something," he told Business Insider. Fascinated by different fragrances, the idea to launch his own perfume business began to form.
All roads were leading him back to the science lab, where he had abandoned his passion for chemistry so many years before. But he wanted more than just a change in career.
"We wanted to live and work where people vacationed," he said. As he and his wife were nearing retirement, and his children were already on their own, Berglund knew this was his shot to make it all happen.
They eventually set their sights on St. Martins, a tiny Caribbean island with a booming tourism market.
It was a painstaking process
To shore up their savings account and finance their new venture on his own, Berglund continued clocking into his nine-to-five.
"It made it tougher to leave because the money kept getting better," he said. "We also found creating my formulas for the perfumes was very expensive."
Berglund "dedicated a large fortune" to set up a temporary chemistry lab at home, and it was there that he tutored himself, tinkering with fragrances, devouring books on the subject, and meeting with industry experts around the world whenever he could. It was painstaking work. Each new fragrance took at least a year to develop, he said.
"But we did have the best smelling trash in the neighborhood."
The small business transition
Courtesy John Berglund
With the creative side of the business slowly underway, Berglund and his wife soon found navigating the business side was no easier.
"We bought two pieces of property in 2004, one on a corner we'd convert into a business, and another for our home," he said. "We totally remodeled them, and as so often happens, it went over budget significantly."
In fact, they were so far in the red that Berglund was forced to stay in the U.S. for another two years to generate enough income to meet their expenses. Taking out a loan was out of the question.
"We really wanted to be debt-free and not have to answer to anyone other than ourselves," he explained. In all, they eventually invested $1 million into the business and their move.
"We didn't make the move until we felt we had everything in place."
They weren't completely oblivious to the risk they were taking either. The year was 2007, and the U.S. was spiraling toward a crippling recession. They were lucky to sell their Dallas home before the housing market caved.
"We were almost wondering if this was the right move," he said. "But when we bought property in 2004, we were already committed. Now there’s no turning back."
"All I own are flip-flops now"
They named their new shop "Tijon" after their son and have been steadily growing their business in the town. The couple's eldest daughter is working on opening a second shop in San Diego later this year.
While Berglund admits some friends and family weren't entirely on board with their decision, like any good lawyer, he's quick with a counterargument.
"We sleep in until about 7:30 and walk next door to work. We have no commute. The weather is always nice," he said. "My suits are all in storage, and I'll probably never see them again. All I own are flip flops."
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