Through the looking glass

Posted on September 05, 2017 | Atlantic Business Magazine | 0 Comments

During his five decades in the oil and gas sector, Jerry Byrne, a self-confessed adrenalin junkie, created a dozen businesses in the U.S. and in Canada. He spearheaded the growth of D.F. Barnes over six years from a company with annual revenues of $1.5 million to the DFB Group of Companies with 450 people on the payroll and annual revenues in 2008 of $90+ million. It was then he began looking for a buyer. Within three years he sold his business holdings and jumped a jet for Thailand. Then, after twice circumnavigating Canada and the U.S. by car, and after a failed election bid, he took a brief vacation with his new partner at an upscale cottage in Heart’s Delight and they fell in love—with a 140-acre tract of land in Green’s Harbour that has helped him reclaim, “the life that can be lost in living.” These days he’s fully engaged in the tourism industry of Trinity Bay.

Atlantic Business decided to check in with Byrne to see how he’s faring in this surprising career change. He agreed to meet in a downtown coffee shop. Dressed in jeans, he arrives 20 minutes late, shaking hands with a man he knows as he enters. He makes his way over to the table, effervescent and smiling apologetically, orders decaffeinated coffee and explains his delay was due to lineups at a big-box store. And once this lunch ends, he’s headed for the farmers’ co-operative to buy 24 chicks for their coop—activities he never imagined in the late 2000s would be part of his daily life.

The DFB Group was reaching new heights in 2007 with Byrne at the helm. He lived alone in downtown St. John’s. Mornings began around 5:00 AM with his day planner. By eight he was in the office for meetings throughout the day. Most evenings there was a board meeting or a networking function. “I even slept with my computer at the foot of my bed so I could be checking emails through the night,” he says as his cell phone buzzes. He switches it off and plunks it on the table. The face has several hairline cracks.

When his brother Jack Byrne, aged 57, died in June of 2008, Jerry Byrne’s priorities shifted. They came to a head in 2010. “I was still living alone and givin’ ‘er every day. Then one night I said, ‘What am I doing? This is insanity.’ I’d been doing it my whole life but I was physically and mentally burned out.” He decided to sell.

After the sale, an extended vacation, and a trans-North-America driving excursion, Byrne ran for the federal Conservatives in St. John’s East in 2011. “I never had a chance against Orange Crush and Danny’s ABC campaign.” Despite the defeat he felt refreshed and he and his wife, Laurelyn Berry, went to Heart’s Delight to relax. “But I kept asking, ‘What am I going to do?'” They loved the slow pace of the community, so on a whim, he did some “quick numbers” on operating the four cottages, plus three more the owner had in Whiteway. “It was perfect.” They bought in.

Then Kevin Nolan offered them the Doctor’s House in nearby Greens Harbour. “I never saw anything like it. My heart was pounding out of my body. The place is breathtaking.” Dr. Charles Boddie, a psychiatrist at the Penitentiary, spent 40 years developing the house, barn, and surrounding 140 acres. “He was a genius,” says Byrne who with Berry, and a peak staff of 55, including five people working full time in the gardens, have made it an internationally recognized inn-and-spa in just four years. He says Berry has played a key role in this rapid climb. “She is a marketing guru and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention her contribution to this story.”

He says the tourism business is different but, after a lifetime networking in hotels and restaurants, he has an intrinsic understanding of “the inverted world that drives these people. It’s like going through the looking glass and coming out the other side.”

Ninety minutes after arriving, Byrne shakes hands, offers a complimentary room at the Doctor’s House and leaves for his date with 24 chicks.

Four things you won’t find on his resumé

1 If you can’t find Jerry Byrne, then he’s probably having a bad day.

2 From his mother, who is his role model, Byrne learned tenacity. “Mom had a thing on her wall: “Hard times don’t come to stay. They come to pass.”

3 High school didn’t bring out his best. He passed his second time in grade 11, with a “gifted” 54 average. But in university he won the Deans award in engineering for academic achievement.

4 When Byrne was seven and his brother Jack was six, they spent a year together in the Sanatorium in St. John’s recovering from tuberculosis. He remembers it as a positive experience. “We owned the place.”

Where Are They Now is a new department featuring members of Atlantic Business Magazine’s Top 50 CEO Hall of Fame. A different Hall of Fame member will be profiled each issue.

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