Despite the recession, which left many college graduates struggling to find work, Eric Jen ’09 got a job soon after graduating. He saw a sign in a Santa Barbara window of a company with additional offices in London and Shanghai. He had learned some Mandarin from his Taiwanese parents, and he started researching the firm, BeGreen Packaging, a start-up for biodegradeable packaging. “I went there every day for a month to get to know the people, and I did free projects for them,” he says. “They finally hired me.” His Mandarin improved with daily phone calls to Shanghai, and he became vice president for supply chain and logistics when the person leaving the position recommended him for promotion. “I worked my tail off,” he says. After two years of more than 12-hour days, he developed stress-induced hypertension and quit.
“I thought I could get another job anytime because I had done so well,” he says. “But it was difficult.” He made some money playing in a wedding band with other musicians from Westmont. Then he joined with a friend in a Christmas tree distribution business to help family in Oregon losing out to middlemen. “I learned how to drive a tractor, and we harvested and transported the trees ourselves,” he says. It took him a year to find another corporate position.
Eric moved to Chicago to join Goldwind, the largest wind turbine manufacturer in the world. He spent much of his time traveling to Vermont, Chile, Panama and China, sites of large wind
farms.He immersed himself in the work, even climbing up and down the towers, and put together the largest turbine sale ever for Goldwind North America. But in 2013, the tax credit for wind production ended, and the company laid off all the U.S. staff.
Out of work once again, Eric decided to sell his possessions and travel for a year through Central and South America. “As I was rappelling down a huge waterfall in Colombia, I realized that I felt alive and free of commitments,” he says. Although the time left a gap in his resume, Eric remains happy he invested in an adventure.
Eventually, he received three offers from wind companies, which he turned down for a position with Advance Digital, an online marketing firm. He wanted to learn the business so he could
open his own company someday, and he liked living anywhere he wanted, settling in his Portland, Ore., hometown. He stayed for a year, then Nike recruited him to serve as their director of renewable energy. “Everyone who grows up in Oregon wants to work for Nike,”
he says. “I love being a part of their fantastic culture.”
Eric shares his story because he thinks most of us struggle and fail; we just don’t talk about it. “Life is difficult,” he says. “It’s OK to take a less traditional path and do things like travel with a band, open a Christmas tree farm, and go backpacking for a year.”
The economics and business major appreciated the community he found at Westmont. “People love each other and really care,” he says. “Students learn to be global citizens and think critically about contributing beyond making money. I want to make sure they also understand the ups and downs of life.”