Good Choices and Transitions Make Life Sweeter
Written by Paul Jansen, Vice President - Trust & Investments
Navigating life transitions is never easy or straightforward. They always seem to come with some measure of self-doubt that sometimes isn’t reconciled easily. I’ve navigated a few big shifts, including an immense one last year, and learned a lot about myself in the process. I’ll start with an early favorite, though – as most people can’t comprehend leaving Hawaii for Milwaukee. (I admit, some days I don’t, either!)
Growing up in my early teens I had the opportunity to earn extra money helping out with wedding banquets – washing dishes and cleaning up. That led to more responsibility and opportunities, so by the time I graduated from high school, I essentially had a real job practically running a golf resort, opening and closing the place, and taking care of the cash. At 18 years old, that much responsibility and decent pay was invigorating. In hindsight, that’s probably why my years in college didn’t hold the same appeal.
So with college in the rearview mirror, I landed an apprenticeship at a 5-star restaurant in Portland. I enjoyed the culinary side, learned a lot, found out I had some talent, and built up a lot of contacts. One was a well-known chef who recruited me to go to Hawaii. He was leaving to be executive chef at a premier property on Maui, and said “Look me up and we will never look back.”
Some months later, I met my future wife in Milwaukee. On our second date, I told her, “I’m going to Hawaii in January.” She hesitated, but after a few months of getting to know me, she was on a jet over the Pacific with me by her side. I would like to think it was my good looks and magnetic energy, but she can tell you the truth! When we finally landed on Maui, we really struggled to find a decent place to live. We lived in a hotel for six weeks while trying to secure an apartment. There was stiff competition, with multiple interviews to secure a studio above a garage for $2K per month (in 1980s dollars!)
After finally finding something tiny for a ridiculous sum, we were driving back to the hotel with the ocean off to the left, and we simultaneously said, “What are we doing?!” The next day, we got on a jet and flew to Kona where the housing market was a bit saner. I was confident I could find a good job just about anywhere. This time around, we spent a week looking for a place to live and ended up in a great condo overlooking Kailua Bay. I then found my job working for a multi-property hotel conglomerate as a corporate chef. Life was good!
Two years later, my wife developed the irrational need to go back to school and accomplish something, which honestly was hard to do on the Kona Coast outside of the hospitality industry. So we moved from Hawaii to Milwaukee and never looked back. Ok, maybe we question this choice every January, but for the most part it is true. The only saving grace is that it was summer when we moved, but leaving warm turquoise water for colder, and sometimes tan waters of Lake Michigan did make me question my priorities.
The Start of Something Special
When we came back to Milwaukee, I was still confident and excited about a career in the culinary business. I immediately sought out the advice and friendship of Knut Apitz of Grenadiers Restaurant and worked as a chef at the North Shore Country Club in Mequon, but I knew it wasn’t a long-term situation. Soon after, Knut called me and said, “Paul, they’re building this new arena in Milwaukee and they’re looking for someone. I think you’d be perfect.” I didn’t call about the opportunity for a few weeks despite his continued insistence, because my “hot-shot Chef” attitude didn’t want to go to an arena and “just cook hotdogs.” When I finally convinced myself to interview, I was hired as the executive chef of the Bradley Center a few months before the building opened in fall of 1988. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
It was fascinating to be there at the start – I helped build the food and beverage operations of the business, refining a framework for concessions, catering, and backstage hospitality. In the process, I learned a lot about the different parts of the business and, over the years, established a strong reputation in the entertainment industry. The Bradley Center was a site to behold, so shiny new and clean, but after the very first event, I remember the concourse’s trashed empty beer cups and cigarette butts. I’ll never forget it and thought we would never recover. But we did, and continued to recover for thousands of events over the next 30 years.
I was given the opportunity to assume a number of different positions over the years, culminating in General Manager and Senior Vice President roles, which allowed me to form many relationships locally and in the sports and entertainment industry, as well. It was a great run — the Bradley Center was a special place filled with special people including fans, performers, athletes, and co-workers, with whom I was very privileged to share some great experiences. I literally worked my fingers and feet to the bone, but I loved every minute of it. When it became clear that the Bradley Center’s days were numbered and I needed to move onto something new, I remembered our fun move to and from Hawaii, and decided it might be time to shake things up a bit and do something completely different. After all, that transition was responsible for a one-of-a-kind career.
Something Completely Different
When the time came to make a decision, I evaluated and considered some good opportunities in the sports & entertainment industry, but deep down knew I was ready for something fresh and different. Although I was relieved to have ample time to make the right choice, I woke up almost every day thinking, “What else should I do with my career? Where will I be satisfied? Where else can I find meaningful work?”
I have always really enjoyed the people component of my various roles. For me, there’s real satisfaction helping people achieve their goals, and leading groups and individuals to see the possibility of and achieving successful outcomes. Over the years. I’m most proud of the fact that just about everybody I interacted with, even if it was contentious, respected me, felt I was honest, a straight shooter, and trustworthy. I look back on my previous career knowing I conducted myself and my business with integrity. That’s the way you have to do business, especially in a town like Milwaukee where everyone knows you. It’s critical to do things the right way, and it always pays off. It is a bit humbling, but gratifying knowing people are open to taking a meeting and working with me because of that reputation. It is important to strive for respect, and that is a big part of the way I approach my professional and personal relationships.
I’ve known Dave Shaw, Senior Vice President at First Business Trust & Investments, for a number of years through a mutual friend. When he found out I was pursuing a new career opportunity, he persuaded me to listen to an opportunity he had. I admire Dave, his approach to life, competitive spirit, and his commitment to his family and clients. Initially I didn’t give much consideration to the idea of working in financial services; I assumed I would stay in the industry I knew.
Then he said something that really made an impression. He spoke about the opportunity to help people, which I have always enjoyed, this time with their financial planning, investments, and reaching their lifelong goals and even their dreams. He described an experienced team of great people at First Business who really support each other and collectively commit to serve their clients better than anyone else can. I immediately knew I could be an expert at that. After speaking with some board members, clients, and other employees, I thought, “This is a damn good organization with a caring, entrepreneurial culture, and a strong commitment to our community. A fresh start at a great company is just what I need right now.” I didn’t want just another job, security, or comfort. I wanted to find the place to recreate the dynamic energy, satisfaction, fun, and camaraderie I’d felt, at least most days, over the last 30 years. If I found that, everything else would follow.
This latest choice and life transition was a challenge that presented an opportunity for which I’m grateful. I love to hear other stories of life transitions – we so often discover what we’re looking for in the process. Please connect with me to share yours or if you’d like to talk about reaching your lifelong financial goals, as well.