Lots of people rethink their work lives, but only one has recently gone from the top ranks of huge companies like Microsoft and Bank of America to selling crab at an Eastern Shore seafood market. Meet the new Linda Zecher. Most recently CEO of the publishing company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, she’s now spending her days as a small-business owner, fishmonger, and butcher at Chesapeake Seafood & Prime Meats in St. Michaels.
Zecher and her then husband moved to the Eastern Shore full-time after she retired from the publisher in 2016. He died two years later from Parkinson’s, but Zecher decided to stay in the area. In 2020, she married Glenn Higgins, an Eastern Shore native who worked as a charter-boat captain and ran a seafood business; his family had cofounded St. Michaels’ famous Crab Claw restaurant.
At first, Zecher tended to stay out of the family business; she may be a trained geophysicist who has overseen nine-figure annual budgets, but when it came to salmon and shrimp, “I knew nothing,” she says. In her experience, seafood “came out breaded from a freezer or from a restaurant.” But that changed during the pandemic. Higgins and his father had opened St. Michaels’ Ocean Cove Seafood Market in the ’70s, but in recent decades, they’d leased the space out. “I needed a project—I’ve never not traveled and never not worked,” says Zecher. She decided to become a fishmonger.
This past June, after a $1.8 million renovation, Zecher and Higgins unveiled their revamped market, which offers live lobsters, whole branzino, and—hey, why not?—a full butcher shop. “Neither of us knew anything about meat,” she says. “But wouldn’t it be fun to do surf and turf?”
Of course, diving into seafood has had its challenges. “I’ve always had corporate America around me, and suddenly I’m the HR, the buyer, the IT shop,” Zecher says. The store’s ten full-time workers represent a big downsizing from Houghton’s 3,500 employees. But “having run large organizations, I had a lot of experience dealing with people and thinking about what people were looking for and how to meet those needs.” A less predictable challenge has been adjusting to life in the service industry. The first time a customer called her “sweetie,” it came as a shock: “I had to check my ego at the door. I couldn’t imagine I was in the position where I was treated like I didn’t know anything.” But there was shellfish to reorder, catering orders to fill, and the high-end-steak dry-aging room to tend to. “I got over it,” she says.
This article appears in the November 2022 issue of Washingtonian.