The Quest for Benton Harbor

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Me in Benton Harbor, circa 2001

In October of 1993, I needed a job. I was married to a sports columnist whose travel schedule was crazy, and I needed a job with flexible hours or we never saw each other. Whirlpool Corporation opened a customer service call center on Peters Road in West Knoxville. The center was 24 hours, and I had my coveted night-time and weekend shift to match my husband’s hours. The pay was good to boot, the work was interesting, and there was plenty of opportunity to grow professionally in an organization of 60,000 employees.

The Whirlpool Call Center in Knoxville

The call center was new. Most of the managers had relocated from Whirlpool’s corporate campus in Benton Harbor MI to open their newest project. It grew and grew and grew. From my first day, this southern gal was fascinated with the Michiganders who ran our office. We partied a lot in those days, and I would often corner a Yankee and quiz them about what it was like “up north.” From the very beginning, my dreams began to revolve around working in Whirlpool’s World Headquarters and learning to live in that curious land on the banks of Lake Michigan.

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I was married, of course, and there was no newspaper there big enough to support my husband’s career. Those were just a 30-something woman’s dreams. But after we divorced, my quest began in earnest. I took a job on a high-profile project which was the single biggest skill-builder of my career, and I focused on work. That landed me a sales job in Seattle, and I finally ended up in Benton Harbor in June of 2000 as a Training Specialist at the Michigan customer service call center. I will never forget the day that I drove up to the “Ad Center” (short for Administration Center) for the first time. I took a picture by the sign out front, and I took some time to soak up my accomplishment. It felt really, really good.

The Service 2000 Team

 

As a young girl I always, always dreamed of being a corporate executive. I was so thrilled when I bought my first suit. I just knew I was on my way, and I’d be running one of the world’s greatest companies. As my career progressed, I realized that I wasn’t really that ambitious. Money didn’t really motivate me. Power seemed empty. What motivated me was getting stuff done. I love the feeling of working hard for something and seeing a result. I love managing things. Over and over I am drawn to being in the hub of the wheel. I want … no I LIVE… to be in the middle of the action. And Whirlpool is where I learned how to be effective.

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The “Rent-A-Husband” Innovation Team

 

I left Whirlpool 3 years after I landed at the World Headquarters. I was distracted by a man that I married too soon. I was in a very dark period of my life spiritually, and I felt lost. Whatever I had in my life at that time felt wrong, and Whirlpool was thrown into the rubble by association. I was restless and scared and wanted something – anything – different.

I’m a lucky gal, and my scrappiness and lust for hard work always lands me in some great places. But I’m not always the most focused. Two years ago, I realized that I needed to focus more on my career “path” if I was ever going to be able to retire. Now is the sweet spot for saving money, and I had the skills and capabilities to be successful. But I had not been thrilled with my last few jobs, and I felt aimless. So I invested in a few visits with a career counselor.

Michelle and I explored my interests and inclinations with some personality testing and reviewed my resume and job experience for what worked and what didn’t. As we ripped apart each job and each organization, a common theme arose.

“Why did you leave Whirlpool?” she asked.

“I think I just felt done with it,” I said. It seemed like such  a stupid answer to a really important question. It looked like every job that I really liked was at Whirlpool. My greatest successes were in my early career at that company by the lake. And, as we reviewed companies and culture, we both looked at each other. “I have to look at Whirlpool again, don’t I?” I asked.

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So, once again, my sights were set on the appliance giant on the banks of Lake Michigan. This time, I had the disadvantage of being outside the organization, but I had the distinct advantage of having lots of friends in the fold. I knew that most jobs are filled by the time they are posted, so I had to start circulating my resume in the hopes that it would one day fall into the hands of my future manager. I also knew that I had a specific skill set that is very marketable. The doors would open for me in learning and development.

My Interview Last Year

I had an interview last year that was unsuccessful in landing the job. But I made a few contacts, and I got a look inside the company again. I knew that I wanted to be there. It felt good. A few weeks ago, I got a text from my friend Michael – another former Whirlpool employee – that I needed to send my resume immediately to our friend Sandy. There was a job, and they were looking for somebody quick with my particular brand of talent. I found myself standing in front of the Ad Center once again two weeks ago.

I sat in the parking lot of the Ad Center in my rental car awaiting my appointment with the Global HR team. The outside of what they now call the Global Headquarters (GHQ) looks very much the same as the first time I gazed upon it. I look very much the same. But the reality is that we are both very different. Whirlpool has matured, and so have I. This was the moment – and the job – that was going to bring me back. I just knew it.  And yes, Curt, I buried the lead. I accepted the position of Training Manager with the Global HR team at Whirlpool in Benton Harbor MI yesterday. My quest is complete, but the work has just begun.

I’m back, Whirlpool. Bring it on!

23 thoughts on “The Quest for Benton Harbor

  1. Congratulations! I know you don’t like muggy heat and will still have that in MI, but hopefully you will enjoy the weather more there.

    I did trainings for years, stress release, communication, empowerment, coming from my 37 years of doing holistic therapy and teaching quick, powerful tools to help people be focused and more peaceful…and loved doing that work.

    May your move be smoth and easy.

  2. Congratulations Sharon. I know that you will find everything good that life has in store for you.
    Thank you also for the friendship and the shared hiking experiences together.

    Love,
    Kirk

  3. Congratulations Sharon!! I’m sure you’ll be a great success in your new job. Hopefully Ashok will adapt to the climate change.

  4. I can’t believe you are moving. You’re so free, brave, and independent. I’m jealous but my life is different and moving and starting over are not even feasible. I’m happy for you and I’ve never been to Michigan. I would love an invitation!

  5. Wow! I am so happy I met you there while at Whirlpool. Good luck with the move back and we’ll have to coordinate a meet-up 1/2 way in Chicago. Go get ’em!

    • I’d love that!!! In fact, my sister wants to come up and do the Lake Michigan Circle Tour next summer, so I already told her we’d swing by Madison. I also have some friends from Memphis who live in Madison. Can’t wait to see you!

  6. Pingback: Things I Learned in My 55th Year | Midlife Moments

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