I actually can't imagine how a non-compete under these circumstances could be legally binding on a non-owner officer of the former company. In order for a contract to have legal force and effect against someone, it must be supported by "consideration."
"Consideration" is an essential element of any enforceable contract. Consideration can be anything of value, and without it, a party cannot be bound to an agreement because they never received something that obligates them to their previously expressed commitment.
Put another way, if we agree that I will sell you my car and you pay me $10,000 for it, we have an enforceable contract. I received a benefit through our agreement and must therefore perform my obligations pursuant to it. However, if I simply promise to GIVE you my car, that is a legally unenforceable promise because I have not received anything from you that obligates me to commit to the transaction. I have received no consideration, and so there can be no legally binding agreement.
Your situation is not entirely analogous to the car example, but, as a non-owner officer you presumably received no compensation for the sale of the company or the signing of the non-compete. Without monetary compensation or something else of value being given to you in exchange for the non-compete, it cannot be enforced against you because there is no consideration to give rise to an enforceable contract.
An additional argument here is that you did not personally sign the agreement for sale of the business or the non-compete. Contracts cannot unilaterally be enforced against non-parties.
By example, you cannot make an agreement with your father that I will sell you my car. Again, not a perfect example, but it illustrates that if you are not a party to an agreement, the agreement cannot be held against you.
Finally, Business & Professions Code 16600, which permits non-competes only in circumstances involving the sale of a business, clearly limits its effect to the "person who sells the goodwill of the business...":
"16601. Any person who sells the goodwill of a business, or any owner of a business entity selling or otherwise disposing of all of his or her ownership interest in the business entity, or any owner of a business entity that sells (a) all or substantially all of its operating assets together with the goodwill of the business entity, (b) all or substantially all of the operating assets of a division or a subsidiary of the business entity together with the goodwill of that division or subsidiary, or (c) all of the ownership interest of any subsidiary, may agree with the buyer to refrain from carrying on a similar business within a specified geographic area in which the business so sold, or that of the business entity, division, or subsidiary has been carried on, so long as the buyer, or any person deriving title to the goodwill or ownership interest from the buyer, carries on a like business therein."
You are not the person who sold the business and, thus, B & P 16600 would not restrict you from competing.
Although it would have been helpful to review the specific language of the non-compete, I cannot imagine any language that would overcome these legal obstacles to enforcing the agreement against a non-owner officer of the former company. Thus, an individual in your circumstance would not typically have any sort of legal problem starting or purchasing a company that competes in the same industry.
I hope this makes sense.
Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding the above and I will be more than happy to assist you further.
If you do not require any further assistance, please be so kind as to provide a positive rating of my service so that I may receive credit for assisting you. Very best wishes to you and thank you so much for coming to Just Answer.