A Real Career Move

Born in Yokohama, Japan, in military housing that once served as a brothel, Steve Baer has crisscrossed the world. By the time he turned 18, he had been “involuntarily moved 22 times,” according to his résumé. “It made me resilient, curious and never too quick to unpack a suitcase,” he says.

Baer has put his packing skills to use in his ad career, too. He started in Detroit in 1978 at DMB&B and did two four-year stints at Hal Riney & Partners in San Francisco. He has also worked at New York shops such as Foote, Cone & Belding, where he was group creative director until 2001. Since December 2002, he has lived in Atlanta, where he is the executive creative director at WestWayne.

Baer says his peripatetic path resulted from choosing the job over the location. He met with independent shops in Portland, Ore.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Columbus, Ohio, before landing the gig in Atlanta. “I was looking for an independent ad agency because I didn’t want to be beholden to a holding company anymore,” says Baer, 48. “I have never worried about where I lived.”

He said he is enjoying his new environment, especially his first house, a 1925 Craftsman bungalow.

While changing cities can put an extra thrill into changing jobs, those who relocate have to deal with the headaches of moving. “There are so many details that you don’t think about until you get closer to the move,” says Lisa Bennett, who just completed a cross-country trip. The Leo Burnett veteran joined the Chicago shop as an associate art director in 1988 and left her post as an executive creative director last March. She took the reins of DDB San Francisco’s creative department last week.

A one-year noncompete clause gave Bennett lots of time to plan her move. “The biggest anxiety we had was selling our house,” she says. Her 3,800-square-foot home sold in February, soon after it went on the market. She and her husband, Chris, will temporarily live in a furnished one-room apartment in Pacific Heights while searching for a new home, but time-consuming tasks such as switching bank accounts and forwarding mail are behind them. Bennett, 36, says those considering a new job in a new city “should think less about the city and more about the people they’ll be working with and the opportunities and challenges of the new job.”

That’s what brought Evansville, Ind., native Richard Mahan to California. The executive creative director of McCann-Erickson’s Los Angeles office had spent his entire career in New York. “I wasn’t looking to relocate cities but for a chance to run an agency,” says Mahan, 49. His biggest professional hurdle was adjusting to the difference in the work ethic. “When I first got here, there weren’t a lot of people who stayed after 5 p.m.,” he says. “We are closer to a New York time frame now.”

Not thrilled with L.A. public schools, Mahan enrolled his daughter in a private, all-girls school. (His son had just started NYU, so he didn’t make the trip.) He advises people moving for a job to factor education and other living costs into the salary and compensation plans they negotiate.

Making sure your family is settled is critical to any successful move. “Ultimately, when you throw yourself into a new job in a new town, you leave your family to fend for themselves,” says McKinney + Silver chief executive Brad Brinegar. He moved from Chicago to Raleigh, N.C., solo for a few months. It allowed his sons, now 11 and 7, to finish the school year, and gave him time to sell his house and investigate schools and neighborhoods.

“It assured that how we live as a family is as important as the job,” says Brinegar, 48, who has been at the shop for about a year. Now living on the seventh hole of a golf course, Brinegar, a former CEO of Leo Burnett, says he enjoys the “far less hectic lifestyle” and “the different look at life.” But the biggest draw was his attraction to the McKinney brand, where “there’s a bunch of smart, nice people who really care about client success.”

Brinegar still gets to break out the parkas and snow boots that were staples during his years in Chicago. “I use them when I visit our Lands’ End client in Wisconsin,” he says.

—Jennifer Comiteau