Ellen Goldberg grew up helping out at her family’s two furniture stores, and to her it was a lesson in the drawbacks of being your own boss: the long hours, the sore feet, the lack of vacations, the ceaseless pressure, the threat from encroaching competitors. (“Ever hear of Levitz?” she asks.) Her grandparents had started the business, in suburban Philadelphia, and she was determined not to be part of a third generation. So she got both an MBA from Columbia and a law degree from George Washington University and began a long climb up the world of corporate finance.
She became a vice president at Fannie Mae
, working primarily in investor relations, selling the company to the financial markets. But by the time she was approaching 50, corporate life was closing in on her: the shifting priorities of her bosses, the grueling D.C. commute, the time away from her two teenage daughters. Then, one fall weekend in 2001 while taking her mother for a drive around lovely Loudoun County, Va., to view the autumn leaves, she drove past a once-familiar place.* It was the Briar Patch
, a bed and breakfast in Middleburg, about an hour from Washington, D.C. She had taken her daughters there when they were young, and now she was flooded with memories of happy, bucolic days running across the grounds and staying in the pre-Civil War main house.