Photo By: Eren Göknar/ Special to the Town Crier
After decades on the job, career coach and author Jean Hollands relishes retirement at The Forum. Hollands and her husband, Tom Rohrer, travel around the community in their spiffy red golf cart with Perky, their Norwich Terrier.
Jean Hollands carved a niche for herself by counseling Silicon Valley’s odd couples: the high-tech whiz kids married to their emotional opposites.
After fixing many such partnerships, Hollands began fielding requests to heal corporate relationships, as well.
An author, corporate psychologist, leadership trainer and writer of the Town Crier’s long-running “Jean on the Job” column, Hollands, 80, and her husband, Tom Rohrer, 86, are now thriving in retirement in a Mediterranean-style cottage at The Forum in Cupertino. She basks in the knowledge that she has lived “a good life, a fun life.”
With a rich résumé, Hollands has walked her talk for many years, managing to balance work, family, social life and volunteer service.
She was among the first to spotlight the unique culture of the high-tech Silicon Valley and its consequent effect on relationships – both business and personal. Business Week once lauded Hollands for her “tough love for techie souls.”
Jean on the move
Hollands began her career as an IBM computer programmer, married an engineer and had four children. She later earned a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from San Jose State.
“I was homeroom mom every year, too,” she said.
The husbands Hollands counseled began to ask if she could help them in the workplace as well. Before long, she organized workshops that coached executives on how to iron out communication problems in the boardroom.
She founded the Growth & Leadership Center in Mountain View in 1980 with a mission to instill and reinforce emotional intelligence in Silicon Valley’s high-tech CEOs and executives, many of them engineers. Her presentations on team building, executive coaching and women’s leadership drew crowds.
Although her first marriage ended in divorce, her counseling skills coupled with her observations on engineers’ personalities and lack of communication skills became fodder for her first book, “The Silicon Syndrome: How to Survive a High-Tech Relationship” (Bantam, 1985).
“I understand engineers and love them,” she noted, adding that all three of her husbands have been engineers, including Rohrer, who earned his degrees at UC Berkeley.
Jean on the hot seat
Leading women’s leadership workshops inspired her to write her next book, “Same Game, Different Rules: How to Get Ahead Without Being a Bully Broad, Ice Queen or Ms. Understood” (McGraw-Hill, 2002).
The book generated a fair share of controversy, with Hollands asserting that most men in the workforce were conflict-avoidant and women who bullied with loud voices or blunt pronouncements might not get promoted. She advocated a softer approach from women, noting that she wasn’t encouraging an antifeminist vision, but rather a path to advancement.
“These women (in her workshops) were not getting promoted and not getting responsibility,” she said. “They didn’t know how to talk to people, and men want nurture from women, not harassment. It’s just the history they’re used to.”
In the introduction to her book, she conceded that she comes from a long line of “bully broads” herself. Her mother, Helene, was domineering, although generous and loving. In characteristic style, “Same Game, Different Rules” urged women to stop moaning about men who get away with ranting and tirades. Hollands’ practical voice persuaded women to understand that they “can’t seem to get away with it as well as men can.”
In an interview with NBC newsman Brian Williams, he accused her of slowing down women’s progress. Hollands disagreed, countering that she was teaching women “how to be assertive, not aggressive.”
Hollands also appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “The Today Show,” “Dateline” and “Good Morning America.” Articles in Forbes, Marie Claire and Ladies Home Journal, as well as in major newspapers, presented her thesis to a wide audience.
She made a name for herself nationally but still reserved time in her busy schedule to volunteer in the community as chairwoman for the El Camino YMCA.
‘Jean on the Job’
When Hollands retired in 2000, her daughter and son-in-law, Laura and Ron Steck, succeeded her at the Growth & Leadership Center. Hollands still serves as chairman of the board.
She parlayed her experience writing and coaching executives into a decade-long run as a columnist for the Town Crier. In her “Jean on the Job” column, she offered common-sense advice on careers and retirement.
“We knew we were getting sound insights and great advice that we could pass on to our readers,” said Bruce Barton, the Town Crier’s editor-in-chief, of Hollands’ contributions. “This was the case with ‘Jean on the Job’ and her column on what to do in retirement. She has the much-desired ability to cut to the heart of the matter.”
Barton said he especially admired Hollands’ candid nature, noting that her “BS detector is always on high.”
“She’ll call you on it,” he said. “She communicates with pure directness and honesty. On the other hand, she emits kindness and empathy.”
Jean on the ball
A fellow member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos introduced Hollands to Rohrer, a writer and owner of a marine-burner business for ships. The couple went on a blind date at the Los Altos Golf & Country Club.
Rohrer claims to have been in love with Jean before he even met her – he had read her “Silicon Syndrome” book. Married now for 10 years, they both sold their homes and downsized to their current digs at The Forum.
As a widow and widower who met later in life and combined their households, their move to The Forum involved many Goodwill giveaways. Rohrer had lived in his previous Los Altos home for 52 years.
A recent visit to The Forum revealed that Hollands hasn’t slowed down much. She co-edits the facility’s monthly 20-page internal magazine for residents and serves on several committees.
Rohrer finished his 12th book last year, with a bit of wifely nudging from Hollands. His self-published “Behind Retirement Doors: A Story of Love and Intrigue” draws back the curtains on life in a retirement community like The Forum. Like his other books, this one’s a murder mystery. More than a dozen residents helped edit the book, which centers on Adam and Eve in the fictional Next Door Retirement Home.
The couple enjoy water aerobics, driving their red golf cart from their villa to the community building several times a day and doting on their Norwich Terrier, Perky.
Hollands still sometimes counsels friends’ adult children who need motivation or career advice. She even motivated this reporter.
“Remember,” she called to tell me after our interview, “it’s human nature to wait until the last minute to write something like this.”