Women in Business: A purposeful career path for Teresa Esler

Teresa Esler, left, and Paula Helgerson, led the September Brooklyn Center Business Association meeting about the Grow With Brooklyn Center program and “dressing for success.” Esler’s term as BCBA president ends this year and she will hand the reins to Helgerson starting Jan. 1. (Photo by Katy Zillmer – Sun Newspapers)
Teresa Esler, left, and Paula Helgerson, led the September Brooklyn Center Business Association meeting about the Grow With Brooklyn Center program and “dressing for success.” Esler’s term as BCBA president ends this year and she will hand the reins to Helgerson starting Jan. 1. (Photo by Katy Zillmer – Sun Newspapers)

Growing up with her entrepreneur parents, Teresa Esler had a glimpse of what would one day be her career path too.

Her parents, Jeff and Sherrill, owned a resort in the Alexandria area and Teresa helped out at the business, she said.

When she was 14, Teresa’s parents sold the resort but continued their career as entrepreneurs and started more businesses from the ground up.

They include Mobile Washer, an industrial pressure-washing business that grew to serve clients nationwide, and a food concession start-up focusing on the sale of mini-donuts and funnel cakes.

As a teenager, Teresa said she would travel with her mother to different county fairs, art shows and music festivals selling the sweet treats, helping earn the money to pay for her college education.

In that time she saw the direct reward of working hard and the power that can come from “wearing many hats” in the operation of a business, she said.

“You just learn that’s what it takes to survive,” Esler said. “If I wanted to go to college, I needed to work.”

Esler, 35, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics and German from Grinnell College in Iowa and just recently earned her master’s degree in business administration with a focus on marketing from the Carlson School of Management, she said.

At Grinnell, a small liberal arts college, Esler said she learned about building relationships and the success that can bring to working in business.

She studied in Germany for a semester and worked through college as a waitress and on campus in the student work program. That’s not to mention an internship at Ameriprise Financial Advisors in Rochester and a summer spent in Hollywood as an intern for a film producer.

After college, Esler had the opportunity to work with her family business or branch out on her own.

Early choices

She chose to accept a marketing position for Davidson Companies in the St. Paul suburbs instead of a job farther away from home in Chicago after college. After three years, Esler did delve into the family business, Mobile Washer, by accepting a job from her father.

“One of the challenges in small companies, you get to learn a lot, you get to wear a lot of different hats, but there is not a lot of opportunity for upward movement. It just kind of came to the point where I was ready for my next challenge,” Esler said.

She stayed with Mobile Washer for eight years – during which her family’s business grew in size and sales.

“I took a chance on working with my parents’ company until I really found something I felt comfortable with,” she said.

Still Esler preferred having multiple roles in sales, marketing and project management at Mobile Washer to offers she considered for jobs in “corporate America.”

“That comes from being raised in these small family businesses and just having that independent streak,” Esler said.

She did branch out on her own in 2008 by purchasing a business coaching franchise of The Growth Coach with her husband, Jeff.

“I thought it was a good opportunity to make a change to leverage my experience working with small businesses and helping them grow and having that independence and flexibility,” Teresa said.

The Growth Coach, including clients in the west metro area, helped Esler connect with Brooklyn Center.

Connecting with Brooklyn Center

Esler started her two-year term as president of the BCBA in 2010, the same year she sold the home she owned in Brooklyn Center and closed the retail branch of Mobile Washer in the city.

“My parents’ business model was changing and they did not need (a) retail location,” Esler said.

But during that time she was able to see what the city of Brooklyn Center has to offer.

“My hope coming in as (BCBA) president was to really get people engaged,” she said.

“The BCBA was a small grassroots organization made up of people who really cared about this community and who were willing to give their time and they’re all very supportive and caring of one another,” she said.

Esler and the association board worked to reach out to businesses during a time the city was changing demographically and economically.

Janelle Meyers, the housing manager at Ecumen Prairie Lodge in Brooklyn Center and a BCBA member, said Esler has brought a new level of leadership to the association.

“She has a real gift of bringing together the community and seeing a vision and getting other people to see the vision with her,” Meyers said.

She said Esler has a talent for seeing people’s strengths and helping them grow.

The membership in the BCBA has grown in recent years and during Esler’s tenure.

She has helped implement a strategic planning process for the association that is similar to the purposeful path of her own career decisions.

There is a new BCBA website (brooklyncenterbusiness.com) and “re-branding” of the association too.

“She is not afraid of change,” said Paula Helgerson, who will follow Esler as BCBA president on Jan. 1, 2013.

“She, like I, sees Brooklyn Center in the perfect position for a lot of growth in the next two years,” Helgerson said.

Helgerson, a current BCBA board member, said Esler has helped her step out her comfort zone in approaching businesses to get involved.

In the right place

Leaving her role as BCBA president and having just started a new job as a business growth consultant for Enterprise Minnesota, Esler said she has reached a point in her career where everything is just right.

“I am fortunate, I feel right now I am doing exactly what I want to be doing,” she said.

The BCBA will continue to be a part of Esler’s life after her term as president ends.

“I want to make sure that the organization is sustainable,” Esler said. “And the only way to do that is through getting people to make that happen and making sure the systems and process are set up so that regardless of who is there, the organization can continue to go and deliver value,” Esler said.

 Advice by Teresa

• Never stop learning. Esler earned her master’s degree while working full time and focusing on time with her husband and young daughter. “That was something that was investment in myself and it was such a great experience,” she said. Whether it’s one class at a community college or finishing high school or college, Esler said, “just never stop learning.”

• Have a mentor or coach – someone whose opinion you can trust and value. “Often we think our first ideas are best, that isn’t always the case,” Esler said. “I have a coach, and that’s a value to have a person to bounce things of off.”