Bio: A formerly overweight construction industry worker who not only slimmed down, but transformed into a healthy snack mogul
Attitude: "Find what you love, and success will usually organically happen from there," Gruno says.
The 52-year-old Gruno provides the perfect example of how to not just make a healthy change in your life, but also how turn it into a new career. Back when Gruno was in his mid-forties, he was struggling, both economically and healthwise. His career in the construction industry was faltering, he was dangerously overweight, and his cholesterol was high enough that his doctor prescribed Lipitor. Instead of sinking into despair, Gruno decided to shake things up. He switched to a raw-food diet and succeeded in losing 40 pounds. But even then, he still craved crunchy, flavorful snacks. So he began experimenting in his kitchen, blending vegetables with spices in an effort to create a non-fried, non-baked raw snack that was still satisfyingly crisp. Eventually, Gruno found a way to create a dehydrated vegetable chip that fit the bill, and Brad's Raw Chips were born. Today, Gruno's chips -- made from tomatoes, sweet potatoes and other ingredients grown in Bucks County, Pa., where he lives -- are sold by more than 500 retailers nationwide, and his company racks up $2 million in sales annually. "Running a successful business [takes] a lot of work and a lot of time," he cautions in an interview with Second Act. All the same, he reassures us that "hard work, persistence and passion can pay off -- even today."
Honorable Mention: Robin Mather, author and locavore
After her marriage fell apart and she lost her job as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune's food section in the space of a week, Mather found herself set adrift and terrified. The fiftysomething writer retreated to a lakeside cottage in western Michigan, where she was compelled to live on a $40-a-week food budget as she struggled to find freelance work. She bounced back by becoming an expert on how to find locally grown food and prepare healthy meals while pinching pennies. Mather, who eventually found a new job as an editor at Mother Earth News, turned her experience into a book, The Feast Nearby: How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week), which provides a template for the rest of us. "Eating locally builds a community of people who care about each other," Mather says.
Honorable Mention: Chris Gardner, investor and motivational speaker
The homeless man-turned-stockbroker portrayed by Will Smith in the hit movie The Pursuit of Happyness continues to reinvent his life. As detailed in this SecondAct article, Gardner spent several years in the mid-2000s trying to launch a new venture -- an investment fund supporting business development in South Africa -- only to have the project upended by the global recession. But Gardner told an audience at this year's AARP convention in Los Angeles that he's going to give the idea another try, this time with new investors. Gardner, 57, says that whether you're movie material or just an ordinary middle-aged person trying to forge a second act, the same principles apply. "Forget what other people think or say," he advises. "Do something that makes you happy."
Honorable Mention: Erik Proulx, documentary filmmaker
After being downsized from an ad agency in October 2008, Proulx made a 30-minute film, Lemonade, on how being laid off actually could be a positive impetus toward personal reinvention. Since then, the film has been seen by millions of people on the Documentary Channel, various European TV networks, and on the web. Proulx, 40, also created a sequel, Lemonade: Detroit, about that city's decline and rebirth, and the workers there who are finding a new direction. In addition, he's making ends meet by directing commercials and doing freelance advertising work. In an interview with Second Act, Proulx says the past two years have taught him that you don't need to get laid off to reinvent yourself. "A very high percentage of people who reach out to me are looking for some inspiration to change what they're currently doing, and not necessarily to find a job after a layoff," Proulx says.
Keep reading: The Best Second Acts Awards 2011
Day 1: Best Second Act in Sports 2011: Swimmer Diana Nyad
Day 2: Best Celebrity Second Act 2011: Jon Bon Jovi's Soul Kitchen
Day 3: Best Creative Second Act 2011: Poet Kay Ryan
Day 4: Best Second Act Comeback 2011: Entrepreneur Brad Gruno
Day 5: Most Inspirational Second Act 2011: Grad Student Allyson Reneau
Day 6: Best Second Act Making A Difference 2011: Judith Broder
Day 7: Best Second Act Reinvention 2011: E-book Author John Locke
Day 8: Best Second Act Game-Changer 2011: Room to Read's John Wood