Careers Issue

Safe and (Sort of) Secure

Nobody feels completely recession-proof. But these folks are about as unlikely as anyone to be unemployed soon. Click over each photo to read their stories.

Kerianne Panos
Bill Gardner
Rupert Athill
Rebecca Mazzone
Stephen Solari
Amy Poehler
By Kris Frieswick
March 29, 2009
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Kerianne Panos, 32

Instructor of Business English

The Boston Language Institute and freelance interpreter, Boston

Growing up in a west Bridgewater home where both Italian and French were spoken by her grandparents, Kerianne Panos has never not spoken multiple languages. Her love of learning has been at the core of her desire to acquire as many languages as possible, and today she works in seven: Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, French, Italian, and English. Largely self-taught, she learns a language by taking some classes and then immersing herself in it -- reading newspapers, listening to radio and TV, and watching movies in that language. "I sometimes watch Japanese movies dubbed in Korean subtitles to pick up new words and phrases in both languages," she says. She lived in Japan for eight years, translating for Americans, so when she returned 2½ years ago, she began specializing in translation services for Japanese businessmen, visitors, and residents.

"I love it," says Panos. "I escape from stress by speaking other languages." And given the rapidly rising immigrant population, Panos is so busy that she doesn't have much time for a social life. She doesn't mind, though. By far her favorite part of her job is helping people navigate the medical system in Boston. "I'm the only person who gets excited about going to the hospital," says Panos. "That's why I work so hard. I know someone can benefit from the knowledge I have. What's more important is that someone goes in sick and comes out knowing what is going on with them. They have this great feeling of relief. I never say no to work. I love the experience, and I'm always learning something."

Kerianne Panos


Rupert Athill, 48


Green Bay Home Improvement, Dorchester

As a native of Antigua, Rupert Athill started his home improvement and construction business on the breezy shores of the island's Green Bay. But 12 years ago, he relocated to Boston. And while the weather can't quite stack up to Antigua's, the business climate -- even in these terrible times for many builders -- has been just fine for Athill.

"We're very busy," says Athill, who works extensively with another company, Halleywood Design Construction in Quincy, to do everything from foundation work to finish work on projects as small as bathroom renovations to as large as condominium buildings. The team has work scheduled through the spring, pretty remarkable considering that construction has been one of the hardest hit sectors of the economy. His secret? "It's how you treat the customer," says Athill. "They like your work, they refer you to somebody else. It's all about making them satisfied with what you do. And we show up when we're supposed to. I think that is the most important part of it." Anybody who's punched a wall waiting for the contractor to show up or a call to be returned knows how true that is.

Athill, who considers himself a generalist, says his favorite part of the job is the finishing touches -- trim, finish carpentry, cabinetry -- because that is "where the quality of the work really comes out." But the thing he loves most about his work is the peaceful feeling he gets while engrossed in a project. "I enjoy working. I love seeing the finished product. I feel uncomfortable when I'm not working. Even just helping out friends without even getting paid. It gives me a really relaxed feeling to be doing that."

Rupert Athill


Stephen Solari, 47

Auto Mechanic

Advance Auto, Newton

A white-collar job was nice, but after selling computer hardware for a living, Stephen Solari decided 20 years ago it wasn't for him. He and his brother Michael pooled their money and opened up a two-bay auto repair shop, Advance Auto, in the Newton village of Nonantum. Solari didn't plan on staying long, but once they started, he never looked back. Today, the shop has expanded to eight bays, and business is better than it's ever been.

"Right now, people are hanging on to their older cars," says Solari. "They're not buying unless they really have to. It's cheaper to put $1,500 into the one they have than spend $15,000 on a new one." The company saw a 25 percent jump in revenue over last year, and the brothers opened up a second shop in Rockland in February.

Solari says he wouldn't trade places with his old business self for anything. "Lots of people don't want to get into this grungy field," he says. "It's not like being a corporate executive. When my wife and I are out to dinner, people ask what I do, and I say I'm a mechanic. Most people like the status of a title." But with corporate culture in a tailspin, Solari says he'll take the money he's making as a mechanic and business owner over an impressive title any day. "Definitely," he says with a laugh.

Stephen Solari


Bill Gardner, 30

Lead Level Designer

2K Boston, Quincy

When Bill Gardner was 8 years old, he sent design documents for a new version of the video game Metroid to Nintendo. Sure, it was part of Nintendo's Fun Club program for kids, but when the company wrote back to report that Metroid 2 was already in the works, Bill's take-away was "They loved my idea!"

Fast-forward 22 years. A stint in the film industry while attending Emerson College left Gardner yearning for more creative freedom. The video-game industry was just starting to take off, and he was waffling about whether to dive in when he met a game designer at a networking event. "She said to me the first thing you have to do is stand up on the highest mountaintop and say, 'I want to be a designer,' " recalls Gardner.

With no mountaintops handy, Gardner simply began studying the industry and got a job in a video-game store. Seems silly, but one day a customer named Ken Levine, who happened to be the creative director of game designer 2K Boston, offered him a job in quality control (essentially playing prototype video games for a living). Seven years later, Gardner is lead level designer and worked on the team that created the award-winning BioShock. Although the gaming industry isn't recession-proof, gaming remains a fast-growing industry, and 2K Boston is expanding. "I feel like the luckiest guy in the world," says Gardner. "It's a dream to have the job you wanted as a kid. A dream come true."

Bill Gardner


Rebeka Mazzone, 39


Accounting Management Solutions Inc., Waltham

"I have a passion for accounting," says Rebeka Mazzone. "I never would have imagined myself doing that, quite honestly." As a director for Accounting Management Solutions Inc., a finance and accounting consulting firm, Mazzone feels lucky that she chose a profession in which demand has always outstripped supply, especially since 2002, when the federal government increased accounting requirements for US companies. Mazzone, mother of three daughters, says her life today exceeds her wildest childhood dreams: As one of six daughters of a single mom on welfare in Ithaca, New York, she dropped out of high school in 10th grade and moved into her own apartment at age 15. But armed with goals and drive, she put herself through college, finally graduating at 29.

Instead of pursuing her original dream of joining the FBI to do white-collar crime investigation, she took the certified public accountant exam and joined a major accounting firm, specializing in higher education and nonprofits. "It's nice to have a job where you feel like you're making a difference," she says. Today, Mazzone helps companies without their own full-time finance departments translate complex financial data into business strategy. "Whatever you do, be passionate about it," says Mazzone. "If I didn't love my job, I wouldn't excel at it. Life is too short to go to 'work' every day."

Rebekka Mazzone


Amy Poehler

Burlington's own Baby Mama and SNL alum. whose sitcom, Parks and Recreation, debuts April 9, talks careers (via e-mail).

Ever been fired?

Never. I have either been very lucky or managed to always quit when I was behind.

So what was your worst job?

Taking X-rays of feet at a podiatrist's office.

And your first job?

The now gone but forever in our memory Chadwick's restaurant, where the sundaes were free if it was your birthday and every wiseass 16-year-old asked you to "hold my nuts."

In your new show, you work for the local government. Could that be a fallback if this acting gig doesn't work out for you?

Perhaps. I feel I would be excellent at deciding who gets permits for things.

Between jobs -- like many people today are in this economy -- how have you filled your time?

Learning how to print my own money.

When did you know acting was what you wanted to do? And what crystallized it for you?

Yesterday. Free coffee.

Amy Poehler

Kris Frieswick is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to