Lunch with Marjorie: Climbing corporate ladders, making transitions from Brazil to the U.S.—part one

Editor’s note: The following is the first in a three-part series.

By Marjorie Stradinger

Will Zerey, my point person at Cherry Valley’s Enterprise car rental, at 27 is confident, centered, personable. We enjoyed coffee at Rockford’s Starbucks. Will didn’t have time for lunch. After two attempts for a chat, we agreed to coffee.

“Why move from Brazil to Rockford?” I asked, aware a Rockfordian asks this of everyone who moves here—especially from sunny places.

“I got a soccer scholarship at 21, 2004, and moved to Judson University in Chicago,” Zerey said. “I was a sophomore at the University of Sao Carlos in Brazil. Sao Carlos was 38,000 students; Judson 1,100 students, so it was a big change just in that area.”

Judson recruited him playing for the Sao Carlos Eagles.

“Our (school) year starts in January, but here it’s fall,” he said. “I had a half semester of sophomore year left.”

Growing up Catholic in Sao Paulo, his parents divorced when Will was 3.

“I lived with my mom,” he said. “I didn’t leave Sao Paulo until college. My mom taught me family values—like Sundays at my grandmother’s house.”

“What did you eat at your grandmother’s house?” I had to know.

“Chicken and pasta.”

“Is that Brazilian?” I asked.

“My mother’s descendants are from Italy and Spain,” he explained. “Technically, I’m second generation in Brazil. Brazil is a mix of peoples. My dad is Eastern European—Yugoslavian, but born in Alexandria, Egypt. He moved to Brazil when he was a kid. He’s a fantastic father…more of my friend than a father. He taught me the friendship side of everything.”

“You have a baby face,” I segued, finding it difficult not to smile as I looked at his handsome boyish face. He’s about 5-foot-7.

“I get that a lot. I get carded every place I go,” he smiled.

“A little facial hair might help,” I offered.

“Can’t do that at Enterprise,” he explained.

Business wasn’t his original goal.

“I was majoring in political science with intentions to be a diplomat,” he explained. “At Judson, I transferred to advertising. I’ve always had a creative mind—seeing things out of the box. I have a certificate for a sports agency. I can actually be an agent.

“I got tired of the sports environment,” he added. “It became a job. I did it for so long. … I’m business oriented. I do want an MBA.”

“Politics?” I asked.

“I don’t have a political position,” he said. “There are topics…immigration, for instance. Even though I’m from a different country…you have to be conservative. I think it’s your country; you have to protect your country. It’s offensive to the U.S. that you have to accept Spanish as part of your language.”

“Interesting. You believe in the melting part of melting pot,” I said.

“I don’t think what we are trying, to be like (Europe), is going to work,” he said. “They tried for thousands of years over there.”

“Why do you think they don’t know that?” I asked.

“They do,” he said. “They’re just trying to prove they can do it. Those in power with that philosophy do well, but the people don’t.”

“Greed and corruption?” I asked.

“Exactly,” he said.

“What’s health care like in Brazil?” I asked.

“Very different,” he said. “Partly government run.”

“Is it working?” I asked.

“Not at all,” he said. “You go for an MRI, and you’re going to stay there 10 or12 hours if you actually get it. When they do the changes here, they’re going to find out it’s not going to work.”

“People don’t see themselves as the government when they want it free,” he explained. “Free, we pay more.”

“After Judson?” I asked.

“I worked for Buffalo Wild Wings (BWW) as a corporate trainer,” he said. “I traveled for that. Originally, I was hired as a server, then a bartender.”

“You worked your way to corporate trainer? How?” I asked.

“Good with people, talking to people, I guess,” he said. “Everybody tells me it’s the alpha personality. After five months, they offered me the opportunity to shadow the training program. Then, I did one opening as a shadow. I tried to stay low-profile the first two days. Two weeks after that, we did an opening that lasted 10 or 12 days.”

He has worked on the teams that opened stores in New Haven, Conn., Los Angeles and then Decatur and Springfield, Ill.

“You’re a team player?” I asked.

“I actually am,” he said. “We used to put in 110 to 115 hours a week. Training started at 7 a.m. Lack of sleep didn’t bother me as much as not having time to relax.”

“Brazil is more laid back?” I asked.


“I’ve heard appointment times are casual,” I said.

“Really, it’s just no ending time,” he explained. “I still eat very late.”

But he sees Brasilia, the country’s capitol, as an aggressive culture.

“I was in Sao Paolo,” he said. “Rio was the old capital. They created Brasilia…like Washington, D.C., the political capital.”

“Are you thinking you will go back home?” I asked.

“It crosses my mind sometimes,” he said, “especially in winter.”

Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years. She can be reached via e-mail at

From the April 6-12, 2011, issue

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