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Shelter Island profile: Benjamin Ivan Dyett Jr., a  focus on the personal

Courtesy Photo Benjamin I. Dyett Jr. with 569, the Etchells that brought him to Shelter Island.
Courtesy Photo
Benjamin I. Dyett Jr. with 569, the Etchells that brought him to Shelter Island.

It may surprise Islanders who know him as a chilled-out sailor that Benjamin I. Dyett Jr., with his ever-ready laugh, is an authority on work.

As co-founder and CEO of Grind, a New York City-based “shared workspace” company, Benjamin has made it his business to improve the fortunes of entrepreneurs by providing them with great places to work and, more importantly, to network.

He recently spoke to the Reporter at one of Grind’s four New York locations, a sun-drenched, high-tech space overlooking Broadway in the garment district. The fast-growing company has another facility in Chicago, plans for more elsewhere in the United States and abroad and an expanding membership of architects, lawyers, brand strategists, venture capitalists, food startups and other free-range entrepreneurs.

Like other shared workspace providers, Grind frees its members from the hassle and cost of investing in the infrastructure and support staff required to run an effective business. In exchange for fees that range from $40 per day to $550 per month, members can choose a spot in the workspace that best fits their needs — a seat at one of the big tables in a large common area; a private booth for making phone calls, or a meeting room for a small, medium or large team of collaborators.

While each staffed facility has amenities including sleek design, desirable location, and a coffee bar, there are no office dogs or raucous millennials playing all-night foosball. The spaces are intended for serious work conducted during regular business hours, with extended service available until midnight.

But what really sets Grind apart, Benjamin said, is the company’s focus on building connections among it subscribers supported by an in-house “agora,” a virtual meeting place on its website where members can search for potential collaborators by name, profession, skill or company.

“Really smart entrepreneurs realize that they don’t know everything,” he said. “The best way to be successful is by sharing expertise with other people who have something that you can learn.”

Author Malcolm Gladwell, in “The Tipping Point,” describes what he calls “agents of change”: connectors, people who know large numbers of people and have a special gift for bringing them together; “mavens,” information specialists who know how to effectively share their knowledge; and “salesmen,” charismatic people who, by some indefinable trait, make others want to agree with them.

By Gladwell’s formula, Benjamin is a triple threat whose collaborative bent is brought to bear not just at work, but also at play, at home and for the benefit of his community.

He grew up with three older sisters in White Plains in the 1960s and 1970s. His father was a physician, whose rare time off could be spent only at places readily accessible in case of a patient emergency.

“My parents wanted to live in Martha’s Vineyard more than anybody, but they couldn’t, we had to remain landlocked,” he said. The family vacationed on Cape Cod, where one summer, Benjamin’s parents signed him up for a sailing program at nearby Tabor Academy.

Unbeknownst to him, they had also enrolled him at Tabor for the academic year. While he didn’t last long at the boarding school and finished high school closer to home, he’d caught the sailing bug.

He pursued the sport sporadically while at Boston University, where he majored in history, and at New York University, where he earned a law degree. It was after law school, while working in commercial real estate and later going solo as an entrepreneur, that he began racing in earnest.

“I met people who had boats and on Thursdays and Tuesdays we’d jump in the car and head off to sail,” he said. “I ended up sailing with a couple of these guys for many years, around New York and Connecticut, and eventually on Shelter Island.”

A member of the Shelter Island Yacht Club, he’s been sailing in the Etchells fleet since the early 1990s, has served on the club’s board and, unsurprisingly given his affinity for networking, its membership committee.Benjamin and his wife, Rosemarie Ryan, an advertising executive, and their

Middlebury-bound daughter, Ella, make their primary home in Brooklyn, but have spent weekends and summers on the Island at the sprawling Burns Road compound they share, in collaborative fashion, with two other sailing families, the Hodkinsons and the Maries.

“Maybe this [article] can put to rest the rumors about the compound,” he said with a laugh. “Everybody thinks we’re like a free-love group. They’re wondering ‘who do all of those kids belong to.’”

Among them, the three couples have six children, plus Rosemarie’s nephew who comes from England to spend summers. Raising them together has been, he said, “amazingly awesome for us and for the kids.”

“Technically, I have an only child. But she was raised with brothers and sisters and it’s been a great thing for her,” he said, adding that another sailing family, the Roberts, recently bought a neighboring property, expanding the compound.

The Dyett-Ryan home is the former Jennings dairy farm, one of the oldest houses here. It has a state historical marker noting that it was the Island’s first Presbyterian manse from 1806 to 1812. Among numerous restoration projects that Benjamin and Rosemarie have undertaken was the installation of a new foundation.

“The logs that the house was built on were just trees from the forest that they felled and dragged into place. We found logs from the 1700s with the bark still on them,” he said.

The solid old house became a refuge for friends in the aftermath of the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 when the family’s primary residence was just north of the World Trade Center.

“Many of our friends had to evacuate and we had 22 people staying in our apartment,” Benjamin recalled. “Usually the prevailing winds blow into Brooklyn, but for some reason the wind shifted and began blowing north. Everyone was kind of freaking out.”

Loading his car with as many people as it could safely carry, Benjamin drove out here and was greeted with relief by Islanders who’d heard rumors that he’d died. He stayed put for a while and in 2002 opened a restaurant, Slip 23, at the Island Boatyard, where he put in long days often accompanied by his then 4-year-old daughter.

“She used to sit at the end of the bar and eat french fries all day,” he said.

It was his startup savvy that got Benjamin involved at Sylvester Manor, where he now serves on the board and co-founded the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program with Etchells sailor Don Shillingburg and Sylvester Manor Educational Farm founder, Bennett Konesni.

“Don said to Bennett, ’Let’s go talk to Ben, he knows about starting businesses.’ So they showed up at my house one Sunday morning and it went from there,” he said.

“I don’t know anything about farming, but I knew something about CSAs because I’d been a member of two and as an entrepreneur,” he said.

Benjamin is too buoyant and circumspect to discuss difficulties that might accompany the collaborative endeavors he’s engaged in. Anyway, he said, most problems can be sorted out with conversation.

“That’s where life starts, with personal interaction,” he said