I know that title could create confusion and even anger in others. But having gone through Katrina and come out the other side, that is what we came away with.
It was August 21, 2005, and I was in my 11th annual review with Winnie, my boss. We got out of the meeting, and the receptionist was handing out maps with the projections of the hurricane that were in the Gulf. I was born and raised in New Orleans, and after 40 years, I learned to expect at least one hurricane per year. A short evacuation was usual during Hurricane Season (June – November). When I got home, we started watching the news, and this one did have the makings of something big. We started the process: Milk, bread and a good seafood Po-Boy. Remember, I said I was a Cajun.
By the next day, the storm had moved closer, and the track was a little more certain. We discussed our options and where we were going to go. We had left for hurricanes before, but this one made us board up all the windows. We packed our Mini-van as if we weren’t coming back. Little did we know, that is exactly what happened. We left for a town 10 miles outside of Baton Rouge and after 2.5 hours, finally made it to our family’s house. We listened to the weather reports and figured we’d ride out the storm there.
The next day, the levee broke and the game changed for everyone. Water was everywhere, and we thought we just lost our home. We were with my wife’s parents and started having a conversation as to what to do next. Dana and I had been praying about moving out of New Orleans for some time. She wanted to move so we could have more opportunities for work, and I didn’t want that big of change. As hard as things were, we were around friends and family. We were in a place where we all grew up. This was familiar! We made the decision to drive to Chandler, Arizona to restart our life. By the way, Chandler, AZ is 26+ hours away from New Orleans by way of 4 people in a MiniVan.
The reason we chose Chandler, AZ was that we have friends there in the same creative industry and this city had ranked in the top one or two in the nation for years. As we were driving across the country not knowing what we were in for, we were talking to friends and family on the cell phone. One of those conversations was with Winnie Hart about my future plans. I explained to her what we were doing and through tears of love and friendship, she understood. She hung up the phone and called her EO group in the South West. It’s a young entrepreneur organization that networks people all over the world. She let the team know what was going on and if anyone had an opening at their companies. By the time we got to Arizona, I had my first interview.
We pulled into a new state wide-eyed and a little scared of the unknown. The next day I met with Brandon Ames about what, I had no idea. He was a nice guy, but as you could expect, he wasn’t looking for someone. He took the call and interview as a favor to Winnie. I left without much of an answer to my problem and so began to look for work while staying with some friends. The world was up in the air for us. No home in New Orleans, no home in Arizona, no job and only a little money in our pockets. We were trying to communicate with the bank back home, unemployment, Red Cross and so on.
Things didn’t look bright, and we thought we might end up driving back to New Orleans after the first month or two in Arizona. But the phone rang one day, and it was Brandon Ames on the other end. He asked if I had time to come in for another meeting, that he had an idea. I said, “when and where!” Long story short….we met, he made up a job for me titled “Web Programmer.” By far my weakest skill if at all. I was to redesign and launch the website for Able Information Technologies. After that, we would see what else I could help with. I didn’t know what to say. I was completely in awe as of what just happened.
I started work the next week, and I threw myself into this position. Over the next 18 months, my title changed from Web Programmer to Marketing Coordinator to Director of Marketing. I couldn’t learn enough to satisfy my inner drive. I can still remember days in that office where I would get up and say, “someone teach me something.” They offered learning software where I could learn as much as I wanted about a bunch of topics. I dove in head first, and my boss asked me what in the world I was doing. As I finished a lesson, he would get an email telling him what class I just finished. He said, all of this time here he had only gotten three emails until I came on board. I completed 40 courses during my time at Able.
All this time we were trying to sell our home long back in New Orleans. We had a new roof put on, trees cut up and removed, fence repaired, new siding, etc. But it still wasn’t selling. Paying a mortgage in New Orleans and an apartment lease in Arizona at the same time was hard, but God was providing the resources. For some time we thought we’d have to move back to New Orleans because we couldn’t sell our home. We took a vacation to San Diego since we’d probably never be on this side of the country again. We sold our house standing in Sea World.
Before Katrina, I didn’t have the skills that I needed to take the next step in my career. After going through a rebirth if you will in Arizona, I felt like I had gone back to college and gotten my MBA. We started Studio490 April 1, 2007. Studio490 is a combination of all the skills I brought from New Orleans and Arizona.
April 1st, 2017 Studio490 Creative Services turns ten years old. Studio490 is the result of my fears and God’s faithfulness. Once again I say… ”Thank God for Katrina.”
Tj is the CEO and founder of Studio490 Creative Services. He runs this business with his wife, Dana. You can see what God has started at www.studio490.com.