Relocating to England has opened a world of opportunity not only for Jessi Kofler Guenther ’97 in her job, but also for her husband, Mike Guenther ’97, and their sons, Greyson, 6, and Graham, 3.
Guenther runs the Managed Services and Recruitment Process Outsourcing business lines for Europe and Asia for Allegis Group Services, a human capital management firm that designs talent management strategies for the Fortune 500.
“I’m involved in the solution design and implementation and then ultimately responsible for building the teams who will deliver our services over what’s typically a three-to-five-year contract,” Guenther says. “My team is 120 and growing and it’s spread out, so I spend a lot of time with our leaders, ensuring they have the tools they need to succeed.”
Guenther says living in Europe makes it easy to get from country to country.
“From London, I can be in Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt, Prague, Rome, Amsterdam — almost any major city in two hours or less,” she says. “I schedule my trips to Asia over the course of a week to 10 days and typically make a few stops to maximize my time. With two little boys at home, I cherish being able to tuck them in at night.”
Guenther immerses herself culturally and finds ways to identify with her teams and customers in each country. “Every time I cross a border, I encounter a different language and cultural challenge,” she says. “This, in addition to currency, social and legislative employment differences, makes my days interesting. The businesses I’ve seen fail are those that try and lift and shift a solution without properly accounting for the differences. It’s challenging, but it’s why I’m here.”
When the family moved to England, Mike Guenther left his position in the medical device consulting field to enjoy his time overseas and to stay home with their sons. He also is training for a 240-mile bike race from London to Paris in June. Proceeds will be donated to the Patrick Blessing (’98) Memorial Fund.
Guenther says her Ripon College experience helped prepare her for a life with ever-expanding horizons. “I grew up in a small farm town in rural Wisconsin and had never even been on an airplane when I walked onto campus my first year,” she says. “The furthest I’d been from home was Illinois. I chose Ripon for its intimacy and reputation and fell in love with the romance of it all. I knew my eyes would be opened by the college experience; what I didn’t expect was the impact that the deep relationships I built there would have on my life and my career. I met Mike on campus in 1993; I wouldn’t have a career if it weren’t for him and his resolve that together we can do anything.
“I had a mentor in (Communication Professor) Jody Roy before I knew what a mentor was, and although the closest thing to foreign business that I studied was Greek rhetoric, Ripon gave me permission to consider anything as possible. It pushed me out of my comfort zone which at the time was quite difficult, but every time I step into something scary and new whether it’s a new job, presenting a gift to the head of a Chinese company in Beijing or moving my family halfway across the world, I draw from that.”
She says it’s vital for today’s students to gain a global perspective. “What your job is or isn’t doesn’t define who you are or need to be,” Guenther says. “Our world is getting smaller and, regardless of the political landscape, economic pressures and cultural differences, global communities want to be better, more efficient, financially stable, and environmentally responsible.
“Great ideas come from all corners of the globe, so even if you end up working for a local company supplying to a local consumer base, your ideas can reach people in ways that weren’t possible before, and the people who need those ideas could be sitting in London, Istanbul or Turin. Our ability to innovate and communicate and to do so without prejudice is more important than ever.”
Guenther calls her international experience “amazing” and loves that her family is able to share in the adventure. “I love that my boys are correcting my pronunciation of common words with the Queen’s English. I love that cilantro is called coriander, a zucchini is a courgette and an eggplant is an aubergine — though it made for an interesting first couple of months at the market!
“What I love the most, though, isn’t what’s different but what’s the same. People, by nature, are still kind. Although their accents and customs may be different, in the end they want to make connections just like we do. I would never argue that this experience is ‘better than,’ but I know that my boys will be better for learning earlier than I did what it means to embrace our similarities and differences and to be thankful, as we pray every night, for the opportunities that surround them. Their awareness of the world shines in their eyes, and I love coming home to that.”