Embrace the Curve

Christel Albritton MacLean '81

I guess you would call it a liberal arts approach to life: In the 35 years since I left the Purple Valley, I have worked on Wall Street, earned my MBA and owned eight businesses ranging from restaurants to real estate, from consulting to cold-pressed juices. These extensive corporate and entrepreneurial career experiences have given me a unique perspective on change, taking risks, being prepared and following your heart.

After graduating from Williams I followed a “curved line” for a year–with internships at Lillian Vernon Corp. and The Joffrey Ballet–until I began my career on Wall Street. During that process I learned what hard work really was, what it meant to figure out what you want and then how to go after it, not taking “no” for an answer. When Goldman Sachs made me an offer, I learned that I was the first financial analyst ever to be hired not coming right out of college. Two reasons for that: passion and determination. As long as you have those elements you can do anything.

After completing the two-year financial analyst program I went to Wharton and then spent eight years working at top investment banking and finance firms in the city. I was fully committed to my Wall Street career and was not actively looking for a new experience, but all that changed when I had a chance meeting with Hattie Moseley, founder of the eponymous and iconic Saratoga Springs restaurant, and she announced “You are going to buy my restaurant.”

After getting over the shock of the idea, I became captivated by the opportunity and ultimately did make the leap. What made the decision feel right to me was that I knew that I had the broad educational background (thank you, Williams), business skill sets and creativity to do what Hattie saw in me to take the restaurant to the next level.

Once I met my husband, Colin, and he moved from Manhattan to help me run Hattie’s, the business really took off when he designed an outdoor patio bar, which became a huge draw.  After 2001 Colin and I were ready for new challenges and made the decision to sell the business. Once we did, I was offered a position back on Wall Street with a former boss and went back as a consultant to try it out. After the consulting period ended it was clear that I was an entrepreneur for good!

One of our enterprises – a seminar business and consulting firm named Curved Line Living – encompasses my philosophy that there are multiple choices and paths that we can select. Some of the most rewarding are those that require the most nerve and willingness to veer purposefully off course.

In retrospect I believe I have always operated under the belief that life is not a straight line – even when seemingly at my most conventional. It is important to note that these moves were not made because I had the financial ability to dabble at will; they were made because I had trained myself to become comfortable with getting “off track” and following my heart. The best example of Curved Line Living and taking chances is the one I made in 1993 when I left my very comfortable job on Wall Street to buy a restaurant serving southern cuisine in upstate New York.

To some, the choices I made may simply indicate a lack of focus. However, it is important to distinguish between making a conscious and strategic decision to do something versus drifting into a course of action. Not only have I consistently enjoyed varying degrees of monetary success, I have also enjoyed the growth, wonderment and reawakening that has taken place whenever I have dared to step off track to reinvent myself.

Fearlessness is definitely one of the key tenets defining Curved Line Living and my life in general as an entrepreneur. I wholeheartedly believe that fearlessness is a trait that is developed and one that comes from experiencing situations, both good and bad. Of paramount importance, however, is the realization that how you choose to interpret an occurrence is truly a choice that is in your power to make. Also being fearless does not mean that you don’t wake up in the middle of the night stressing out about the next steps you are embarking upon – but it does mean taking the next step.

The main point is that you can teach yourself to anticipate that there will be curves along the way and that following those curves with self-awareness and growth in mind will ultimately lead to success.

Christel Albritton MacLean ’81 and her husband own five businesses based in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. These include two restaurants, Circus Café and The Crown Grill; Realty Saratoga, a boutique real estate firm; Curved Line Living Seminars; and Saratoga Juice Bar, with more than 300 locations nationwide. She can be reached at [email protected].