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Nov 5, 201210:00 AMVan Lines

with Joe Vanden Plas

Network News: Ann Becker turns pals into career counselors

Network News: Ann Becker turns pals into career counselors

Ann Becker’s career change is, admittedly, a bit of a departure, but lately she’s become accustomed to changes.

Good thing it doesn’t faze her. A divorce, a new marriage, a new cell phone (don’t laugh, some people get emotionally attached), and now the sale of her interest in the Holiday Inn at the American Center, all within the space of a couple of years, would be enough transition for anyone.

But when you go from general manager of a hotel, essentially the head honcho of a family-run operation, to corporate sales specialist for the corporate division of a college apparel business – not exactly a lateral move – some might wonder if you’re taking change to extremes.

“I’m a person who embraces change,” she explains. “I look to the future, not the past.”

Her immediate future involves building the corporate division of Kollege Town Sports, a Madison-based apparel company known mostly for custom screen-printing, embroidery, and jerseys for youth, high school, and college athletic programs. It also has partnerships with Adidas and Major League Baseball as it attempts to become a leading apparel choice of corporate America.

Ann Becker of Kollege Town Sports

Ann Becker made a dramatic career change, transitioning from the hotel industry to the college apparel business.

That’s where Becker comes in. Selling corporate apparel wasn’t her first thought – consulting on customer service was – but she knew that after 30 years in the hotel industry, she wanted to do something different.

As Becker was figuring out her next move, son Luke Stauffacher offered to buy her out, and since he and daughter Alicia Olson were basically raised in the business, she had plenty of comfort with passing the torch.

The only question was: what to do next? Eventually, after a few sleepless nights, she was talked into joining Kollege Town by company president Tom Handlen, whom she has known for 15 years.

Handlen employed a blunt style of salesmanship. “He said, ‘Don’t talk to anybody else, you need to come work for me.’”

He rewarded Becker’s decision to join Kollege Town by dubbing her “Queen of Casual Friday.” That’s not meant to convey that fashion should go wanting on Friday, when Becker dons her jeans and at least one ladies apparel item, it simply means that fashion takes on another dimension.

“You have to have your fun little sayings,” Becker noted. “It’s right next to my other quotes.”

Another of her favorite quotations is from Geoffrey Sandler, owner of Celebrations Entertainment: “Success is in the details.”

Becker still is getting up to speed on the details of the apparel business, but she’s been there before. She had also learned the hotel business from scratch after marrying into the Stauffacher family, which once ran local Exel Inns.

She would take the wheel herself with Staybridge Suites East and later the Holiday Inn, where she worked with her son, daughter, and with daughter-in-law Margaret Stauffacher.

Apparel won’t be a family affair, but Becker has a real advantage in getting up to speed on it. A conversationalist to the core, she believes business is about relationships, in part because those relationships can yield answers. “My real job is to solve problems,” she said.

 

On that score, Becker has gotten by with a little help from her friends. When in the process of deciding her next career move, she reached out to her personal and professional network and found a stable of willing mentors.

They included Jill Muenich, vice president marketing services for National Guardian Life Insurance Co., who not only offers career guidance but already has given Becker an idea that could broaden Kollege Town’s appeal.

“She suggested tailoring more of our merchandise to women’s styles,” Becker said. “We’re definitely going to expand on that.”

Sister and mentor Jayna Schultz, a partner in the Milwaukee accounting firm Vrakas Blum, was another “go-to” person for Becker, and she also emphasized more choices specifically for women.

But that wasn’t their only recommendation. Becker is a big believer in taglines. In the hotel industry, her tagline was: “It’s All About the Experience.” Now, as a corporate apparel evangelist, it’s about looking sharp and smart.

That also was courtesy of Muenich, but for anyone thinking about a career change, Becker’s tagline could well be: “It’s all about the network.”

“Develop a network of colleagues and mentors and reach out to those people,” Becker counseled. “Use your network, use your social media resources like LinkedIn, and be persistent.”

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