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Monday, July 30, 2007

Robin Buckson / The Detroit News

Rob Brunhild advises new business owners to be sure they are well-financed and learn all aspects of their business.

Money Makeover

Ex-sales chief's franchise buys 'quality of life'

A former Compuware boss starts battery shops that eliminate his worry about being laid off.

Brian O'Connor / The Detroit News


Robin Buckson / The Detroit News

Rob Brunhild says starting two BatteriesPlus franchises gives him "the ability to figure out what I want to do when I hit 60 and 65 " See full image

  • Ex-designer serves up sandwich shop
  • Eatery cooks up a side of debt
  • Daughter helps mom escape corporate stress Money-Makeover

    Have you remade your career?

    Did you switch from engineering to sales? Escape the boss from hell? Use your severance pay as seed money to start a small business? The Detroit News wants to hear from readers who've successfully remade their jobs, professions and careers. To tell your story, e-mail Personal Finance Editor Brian O'Connor at

    Rob Brunhild

    Home: West Bloomfield, married with two daughters, 8 and 12
    Born: Tampa, Fla., 1961
    Education: Plant High School, Tampa, 1979; University of Southern California, 1984; Michigan State University (MBA), 1999
    Old career: Electrical engineer, technology expert and sales director
    New career: Co-owner of BatteriesPlus franchise

    Work tips

    "Rob's story is such a clear example that career paths rarely follow a straight line," says career coach Prudence Cole of Grosse Pointe, co-author of the book "Finding Power, Passion and Joy Being at Work" and author of "The key is to recognize that both gentle turns, as well as abrupt shifts, are all part of the journey." She has these tips:
  • Build on what you have learned from each career step. No matter how radical the career change, you have gained experience and knowledge from your past positions. Don't waste these skills -- leverage them in a new way.
  • Don't burn bridges. Regardless of the reason, when you leave a job and an employer, do so with graciousness. There is nothing to be gained by telling your employer what you think of him or her. While you may get things off your chest, you will guarantee yourself an enemy -- and you never know where or when you'll cross paths again.
  • Maintain relationships from previous positions and build your network. This network is not only key when you are looking for a new job, but also can be a ready source of customers in a new business.

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    • Why would a successful business executive up and quit to take on the uncertainty and risk that comes with owning and running his own business?

      For the security.

      "Wanting to run my own show wasn't about ego as much as financial security," says Rob Brunhild, who left a job as a technology sales director to run a franchised battery store with his brother.

      "Working in corporate America I had seen over and over that there's no loyalty anymore," the 45-year-old West Bloomfield man says.

      "It doesn't matter how good you are, you can be downsized, outsourced and laid off, and as you get older that becomes a more frightening prospect."

    • Where he came from: After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California, Brunhild landed a job during the mid-'80s boom in aerospace.

      "It was right in the middle of the 'star wars' programs and the aerospace companies were offering a ton of money for electrical engineers," he recalls.

      He went to Hughes Aircraft, which soon was acquired by General Motors Corp., and Brunhild did some work on GM anti-lock braking systems. After getting married, he and his wife, a Michigan native, were in Florida for several years, where he worked on early Internet start-ups.

    • What changed: The couple moved to Michigan after the birth of their first child, and Brunhild started working as a Web developer for an ad agency and then as a project manager with Compuware Corp.

      After working his way up through the project management ranks, Brunhild moved into sales and eventually became a sales director, overseeing about 150 employees at the firm.

    • Moment of truth: As he got older, though, Brunhild became more concerned about the ups and downs of life as an employee in the corporate world.

      "I've seen people at 50 whose divisions were sold off or cut, and at that age it was hard for them to find something, especially at the salary they were looking for," Brunhild says. "I thought, 'I'm in my mid-40s, so if I'm going to do it, I have to do it now."

      Brunhild also wanted to get out of the technology field, so he decided to look at franchise opportunities. After reviewing several, he was surprised to find his brother was considering the same move and was interested in the same franchise -- BatteriesPlus, which sells more than 12,000 types of batteries and related products, both in stores and on a commercial basis.

      "I decided that if I'm going into a business that I don't really know, I needed a franchise," he says.

      Brunhild left Compuware in February. The brothers have opened a Farmington Hills store, have business-to-business distribution going and signed a lease for a Plymouth store.

    • Stumbling blocks: The business is growing, but the brothers aren't taking money out of the operation yet, Brunhild says.

      "The biggest stumbling block is money and how to live without income," he says. "Our revenue is right on track with our projections, but our costs are higher."

      Another focus is on learning all aspects of the new business.

      "You don't know what you don't know," he says. "You've got to learn fast, especially on the commercial side."

    • Words of wisdom: Brunhild's first advice for other prospective business operators is to make sure they've got enough money to make things work.

      "Make sure you're well-capitalized," he says. "This takes two or three hundred thousand per store to open, and if you want to do a multistore deal you have to have real good sources of capital."

      Another point he stresses is that a franchise business is more about security than huge financial gains.

      "I'm not going to become a real rich man doing this, but at the same time, my risk is significantly lower," Brunhild says. "I know this is a model that works."

      Another plus is the independence that comes from owning your own operations, he adds.

      "You don't do this just for financial gain. It's the quality of life. It's the ability to figure out what I want to do when I hit 60 and 65 and not have someone else tell me what I'm going to do when I hit 60 and 65," Brunhild says. "That's what I'm buying in this."

      You can reach Brian O'Connor at (313) 222-2145 or

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