Jennifer Gregoriou, W’78, speaks about managing stress.
If you enter the word “personal” in the job title box of the Wharton alumni directory, how many alumni does it return? Digital motors whir through 85,000 alumni, in 148 countries, from Angola, Antarctica, Argentina … beyond MDs, VPs, SVPs, EVPs, COOs, CFOs and CEOs, to at last return the answer: One.
“Mostly, I listen,” admits Jennifer Gregoriou, W’78 owner of Jennifer Gregoriou Consulting (jennifergregoriou.com). “Listening! Sounds great,” I say into my clenched cell phone, as I watch a BMW try to pull in front of me on the Cross Bronx Expressway and think about offspring getting into college, paying for college, three different negotiations and my taxes!
“Yes,” Jennifer explains. “Business owners and executives face a lot of stress today.”
“Is that so?” I ask, my teeth slightly ungritting, conceding to the BMW squeezing past me. “Do you happen to mean stress induced from unclear communication, business deals gone awry, regulators and driving?”
“Actually, the stress I help people with is created when they can’t accomplish what they set out to do,” Jennifer continues. “It tends to stay on their minds. It’s more of a ‘if I could only get these 10 things done’ kind of stress.” “I help people manage those stacks of things — to either drop something, delegate it correctly, actually do the many small projects that they don’t want to deal with, and figure out a plan on how to accomplish their larger projects. By getting all of the small projects off their minds, they feel freer to think creatively and just perform better.”
How did your background at Wharton help to prepare you for this career?
Wharton provided me with the toolkit to do the marketing plan, analyze the financial statements, evaluate the risks and measure the ROI, but it’s those innate qualities of resilience, integrity, discretion and empathy that allow me to do my work better.
When I am called in to do a project, it can involve a sensitive negotiation, an investment portfolio analysis or a confidential medical history report. It is a given in my business to maintain complete discretion and confidentiality.
How did you start this work?
I had been an entrepreneur for many years as the owner and manager of a restaurant group. To stay at home with my three daughters, I sold the restaurants. With my daughters grown, I had to, at some point, re-enter the work force. I originally started looking on job boards and sending resumes and received minimal replies. I applied to Wharton’s Career Connect program, but not having come from the corporate world and not possessing an MBA, I was not the candidate they had in mind, so I had to reinvent myself.
How did you get your first customer?
My attorney, who knew my character well, told me he had a referral for me: A woman who was overcommitted, both personally and professionally, and looking for assistance.
What are the salient skills in serving your clients?
Listening is primary. People tend to feel better when they articulate their worries and fears to someone. Being a positive and proactive person, I seek to find solutions and/or opportunities for my clients. In some instances, it is very straightforward — they need something done, and I can do it. In other instances, they may be anxious about tomorrow, next week or the distant future. I had one client who had thought by this time in her career, she would be set, but with the economic downturn, she worries for the future. My response was, “Let’s look carefully at your business and see where we can do add-ons so you are better prepared for the future.”
How are you involved with the Wharton School?
I currently chair the Speaker Series Committee for the Wharton Club of New York. Also, I have been active with Penn’s Secondary School Committee for the past six years, which allows me to interview high school seniors seeking admission to Penn and represent Penn at local college fairs.
What do you like about your work?
I place a high priority on the human side of business. We all have to work with and through people, so it is critical to understand their needs and fears. I get a lot of satisfaction from knowing I made a difference. If I end up getting paid, then it’s a winwin situation. On one occasion, I was going through a client’s bills because she couldn’t do it. Her cell phone bill was skyrocketing each month, and she didn’t know why she was paying so much. She was paying $250 per month in text messaging. I asked her why she didn’t have a text messaging plan. By making some phone calls to the carrier, with a lot of wait time, I was able to put her on a $9.99 per month texting plan. I also pushed for a retroactive credit, and she ended up getting a credit for the previous eight months — about $1,800. I like that scenario — when my work pays for itself. People think that they don’t have money for help, but there are many situations where a second set of eyes can save you money, catch the missing money or allow you the time to make more money.
From cataloguing an art collection for insurance purposes to standing in as a proxy for a divorce settlement or reading over a proposal at the eleventh hour, I am available for my clients 24/7, with or without pay, and strive to be an agent of positive change. People have emotional roadblocks that can paralyze their ability to get something done. I can step in as an outsider and independent trusted party and allow them to unleash, vent and free their minds. I can then assist them to start to make plans, put proposals together, meet their deadlines, and continue with a creative and productive life.
Do you have a lesson for fellow alumni?
People today definitely struggle to meet all the demands on their time, with not enough hours in the day. Although we have learned to be experts at multi-tasking, our lifestyles lead to stress, anxiety, altered moods, poor outlook and deteriorating health. The truth is, people are trying to do it all, but does that result in having it all?
I do believe in people’s resilience and ability to rise to the occasion. Seeking external support can help people bounce back and overcome setbacks. Given the hard times one can find today — joblessness, bankruptcies, foreclosures — things often seem out of control. It is important to reach out for help when our own plate is overwhelmingly full.
What ’s your advice for alumni who are trying to find work?
Wharton has given us all a solid foundation to build from. Beyond that, we have to take stock of our lives and evaluate what we do every day. If you are searching for work or questioning the line of work you are in, try to reinvent yourself, and either create the job you’ve always talked about or look for the job that leverages your assets. Many capable women who possess across-the-board skills in IT, management, HR and marketing are ideal candidates for turning their passions into opportunities. I am always available to offer encouragement and advice or just a listening ear.