Editor’s note: The following is the second in a three-part series. Part one appeared in the April 6-12, 2011, issue.
By Marjorie Stradinger
Will Zerey was recruited at 21 by Judson College in Chicago on a soccer scholarship when he was studying to be a diplomat in Brazil. He gave up sports, and is now on a fast track in corporate America.
Will Zerey and I sipped coffees at Starbucks in Rockford.
“Your family is still in Sao Paulo?” I asked.
“How often have you gone back?”
“How do your mom and dad feel about you moving here?” I asked.
“Not big fans of it,” he said. “They knew it was a good opportunity. But when I moved out of the home, on my own, if I needed to, I could still reach them.”
They have visited him here.
“It’s different,” he explained. “They have the barrier of the language, they didn’t speak English.”
“When did you start speaking English?” I asked.
“When I came here,” he said. “I always joke around that I went to McDonald’s and ordered by the numbers. But I pick up language easily. Mostly, it was through records, CDs.
“I read quite a bit…history, non-fiction…World War I and II, WWI and Greek mythology,” he added.
“Do you feel accepted here?” I asked.
“Personally, I have never faced prejudice for being South American. I look European,” he said.
“How many languages?” I asked.
“Three: English, Spanish, Portuguese.”
I sang him my only Portuguese song.
“So, you’re going to stay?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll see where life takes me.”
After three years ending as a corporate trainer for Buffalo Wild Wings, Will began a new career path at Enterprise Car Rentals.
“I got extremely burned out at BWW due to the schedule,” he said. “I never had a day off—opening after opening. Twenty-four, seven. No personal life whatsoever.”
“What pulls you to stay in the States?” I asked.
“Accomplishment. I don’t feel like I’m completely successful,” he said. “At BWW, I was the best trainer, the person everybody knows. I still get e-mails.”
“You’re consulting?” I asked.
“Ish. These are just my friends,” he said. “It’s not about the money; it’s friendship.”
“So South American.”
“It is,” he laughed.
“In 2009, one of my more immature moments, I quit before I had a job,” he said. “I applied only to Enterprise, the same day. I finished my two weeks, which turned into three, and after a week without a job, Enterprise offered me the job.”
He started in Loves Park, found an apartment in Beloit at the border, 14 miles from work.
“I thought I’d stay for a year and then find a place when my lease was up. I moved to Sinnissippi,” he said.
He kept moving up, first at Enterprise’s State Street office, then Cherry Valley, then promoted to management in Belvidere, and now manages Loves Park.
“You could go to a more urban area,” I suggested. “More opportunity.”
“I was thinking farther south. Maybe Charleston,” he said.
“That might not fit your alpha personality,” I said.
“Maybe that will be why I’ll be successful—I’m the difference,” he grins, his boyish smile charming.
“You might like Nashville,” I tried.
“My friends say Nashville is a Northern city in the south,” he said.
“What’s your next career step?” I asked.
“District manager. The career path.”
“Everybody here knows you. I say your name, and they say, ‘Oh, yeah…’” I said.
“I enjoy it. It’s a great company,” he said.
“I am blown away by Enterprise customer service. They let me change my reservation, picked me up, let me return the car to a more convenient location, all with no extra charge,” I said. “Would you do that for every customer?”
“Do you have any idea how unusual that is for car rental companies?” I asked.
“Um hmm. I hope there’s a very good feeling,” he said.
“I feel like I don’t have to do things around a car rental,” I said. “I used a different company in Denver, and I was so stressed before I even got out of the rental office…you’re a number, not a person.”
“For us, it’s not like that,” he said. “We feel like if you’re renting a car, there’s a reason behind it.”
“So, when I call my girlfriend, and she wants to pick me up in CherryVale to show me her new office, I have no stress,” I said. “I am pretty sure I can do this. And they would have even driven me from State Street to CherryVale if I had needed that.”
“Correct. It’s a family-owned company—not a public company,” he said. “The Taylor family, based in St. Louis. He started with 10 to 15 cars. His son, Andy Taylor, now runs the company.”
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 email@example.com.
From the April 20-26, 2011, issue