Monica Stettler, Division 3, Graduate school #ws17e-s1d3

I was born in the middle of a civil war, in the middle of nowhere Nigeria, to a couple born and raised in Wisconsin. They were on an adventure so that my father could teach engineering at the University of Ibadan. I learned from birth to adapt-learn-reinvent. It has been the theme for my whole life. My parents, both descendants of swiss farmers, gave me a gift I still use to this day. My unique ability to adapt and reinvent myself has allowed me to live a life full of adventure, whether living in other countries, working for the largest corporations in the world or the smallest start-ups, learning new industries, becoming a mom, investing, and again now, as I go back to school to reinvent myself into a data engineer.

After my third year of living near the equator and speaking an obscure tribal language, we moved to Winnipeg in Canada where there is snow 6 months out of the year. That required a willingness to let go of the warmth and to adapt to building snow forts. Living in Canada back then also allowed for a lot of freedom. It was safe. Five-year-olds were trusted to be responsible. I could spend the day unsupervised in the forest with my best friend. I could ride my bike to the grocery store by myself to get food for our family.

This skill to adapt-learn-reinvent has had me look at life a bit differently. In my senior year in college, it never occurred to me to look for a job. I wasn’t even aware of my friends doing it. All I cared about was getting back to Europe. I didn’t care how. I had studied abroad the summer after my junior year and fall semester of my senior year, and it transformed my life once again. I had to go back. Knowing that I could adapt to anything gave me the freedom to just go. I had lined up a 3 week job and knew that I could figure it out as I went and I did.

I never thought about it as being different than other people. Years later after attending class reunions and catching up with college friends, I realized that no one I knew did stuff like that. I realized that knowing I could learn and adapt to anything gave me a confidence to dive into the unknown. It has led me to have the most amazing and fun experiences.

After a summer of finding odd jobs and hanging out in Italy for a month, I wandered over to Paris. Why? Because I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to live in a big city like that. I figured that maybe instead of judging without knowing, I would try it out and see. So, I showed up with my tent and $100 in my pocket. I quickly learned that to get an apartment you need a deposit, first month’s rent and last month’s rent. For a tiny studio, that meant a minimum of $3,000 to start. I was also informed by the agency that helped students find jobs, that it would take me at least 3 months to find a job. I knew I could be more resourceful than that. I knew I HAD to be more resourceful that that because my $100 wouldn’t last too long, even eating only one small meal a day and living in my tent.

Using those learn and adapt skills, I found a family that would give me a room for free in exchange for hanging out with their kids after school and speaking English with them. They had just come back from 2 years in New York City and wanted their 3 girls to maintain their new English skills. They lived on the 2nd floor of a beautiful flat next to the gardens of Luxembourg in the 6th arrondissement. I got the maid’s chamber up on the 6th floor. It was maybe 20-25 feet square with a sink, but it was free and it was heaven.

After that, I started calling around to companies that had hired Americans in the past. Back in those days, there were no cell phones. You had to buy a pre-paid calling card and call from pay phones. On the list was a hotel who liked to hire American women bartenders that spoke French and German. Yes! I called. They said they had not posted for a bar tender, but their bartender had just quit that day and that I could come over for an interview.

I got the job and the best part was that I could eat whatever I wanted! And I got paid! The hotel manager then told the hotel owner about me. He was a Turkish entrepreneur who had just started a new company. I ended up working in the start-up during the day, working with the girls after school and nights at the bar.

The new business the hotel owner had created was an incoming tour operator. We would contract space in Parisian hotels, say 25 rooms every weekend for a year in approximately 50 hotels. We would then sell them with a mark-up to tour operators in England, Germany and the Netherlands. You would think that the Germans, Dutch and English could just pop over and contract the hotels directly, right? Well, we could still contract such a low price, that even with our mark-up, it was cheaper than them going direct. As I mentioned before, I had no business background, but my ability to learn, adapt and reinvent myself served me well. I was doing both contracting (purchasing) and selling.

While working in Paris, I got word that I had been chosen for an internship with the State of Iowa Department of Economic Development in Frankfurt, Germany. While they called it an internship, it was only me representing Iowa companies in eastern and western Europe, helping them to grow their export trade into Europe. In my office, there was just me, my boss, who worked on getting European companies to invest in Iowa, and our secretary. There was no training other than “Here is how the telex machine works” (I am not kidding) and off you go! I traveled to trade shows all over Europe representing the state and creating trade relationships for Iowa companies. I had never had one business class in my life. I was a pre-med turned French major! But I knew I could learn, adapt and reinvent myself. I could figure anything out and be successful. I did so well that they asked me to stay and extended my contract.

After I completed my time in Frankfurt, I went back to the same company in Paris. During my time building that start-up, I realized that I loved business and decided to go back for an international MBA. I planned to focus on marketing, as my work had been contracting, sales and marketing. At the end of my first semester, I attended the public presentations of the final project for both the marketing capstone course and the finance capstone course. After the marketing presentations, I thought to myself that I already knew how to do most of what they did. After the finance presentations, I thought to myself, “Wow! I only understood a few words of those presentations: the, and, we, I, etc.”. My desire to learn something completely new, to figure it out, to reinvent myself, drove me to choose the finance track, even if it meant staying an extra semester.

When it came time to look for a job, I discovered corporate banking, a perfect blend of finance and relationship management. I was looking to enter at the Associate level, which normally required years of experience as a bank analyst. But my track record of being able to adapt and reinvent myself convinced one global bank to believe in me and hire me. Within a few years and by 30 years old, I had been promoted to a second level vice president responsible for a billion-dollar portfolio.

After a successful career as a corporate banker, I next went on to learn and adapt to being a mom and leaving downtown Chicago to become a suburban resident. Surprisingly, that was one of the most difficult challenges of my life – not just the parenting part, but adjusting to life as a parent in suburbia. While home raising my children, I grew our real estate investments and became an entrepreneur. That required much learning, adapting and reinventing.

Today, I am initiating a new cycle of learn, adapt, reinvent. I will be 50 years old in a few months and I going back to school to get another master’s degree - this time in predictive analytics. The world is going through its own cycle of reinvention, with the accelerated speed of artificial intelligence permeating everything. It is a global transformation that I want to be a part of shaping.
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