“Change brings uncertainty, but it also opens new doors,” said Michelle Rojo ’90, who has taken advantage of those new doors in her 17-year banking career.
As a newly graduated finance major from Illinois State, Rojo started as a financial analyst, moved to special accounting projects in the corporate controller’s office and presently is in a compliance role.
Rojo said her first job illustrated that the 1980s were over, and reengineering, restructuring, mergers and cost cutting became prevalent in her field. The bank she first worked for no longer exists after three different mergers, and her present employer, ABN AMRO LaSalle Bank, is foreign-owned and does a lot of outsourcing and off shoring.
“Of course, I walked right into LaSalle Bank during a time of change that hasn’t really stopped in the last 10 years,” Rojo said. “Gen Xers did not want to work in the same way as their parents, and companies were being creative with jobs since pay wasn’t growing like it used to. I took advantage of the trend.” The advantage was working a flexible schedule of three days a week in the corporate controller’s office, eliminating her supervision of 12 people in Chicago and New York, and continuing to have a relevant job that allowed her to advance her professional skills. Rojo said she had just lost her parents, was pregnant with her third child and felt a need to simplify her life.
Rojo said she was also missing an important piece of her professional career puzzle and needed to have exposure to accounting and the balance sheet as well as finance and the income statement. “I worked with some very specialized and interesting accounting issues such as international accounting, mezzanine funding and acquisition related accounting, and I took on the budget coordination for the North American businesses, which was another great way to bring together my experiences.”
After another reorganization, Rojo moved into a compliance position, still in a part-time role. “I have been able to take a lot of stress out of our home life by having two days at home, which allows me to be very focused during my time at work,” she said. “I am much more efficient than I used to be.”
Rojo, husband Dan and three children, Alex (9), Anna (6) and Emma (5), live in a 90-year old Chicago-style bungalow, which calls for continuous improvements, preservation and updates. She said she loves Chicago history and architecture, the Cubs and traveling.
“In my opinion, Chicago in the summer is as good as it gets,” Rojo said. “I look forward to enjoying the lakefront, baseball, festivals and all the activities that make this city one of the best in the world.”
Rojo said she remembers her Illinois State professors as supportive and invested in their students’ efforts and future professional success. She said she enjoyed being part of the Educational Investment Fund and is “thrilled to see that it is still around today and growing” as it was a terrific learning opportunity. Rojo was so impressed with the Fund that she has given money to assure its continuation as well as contributed to the College of Business. As a student, Rojo took advantage of a summer study abroad program in England, which she said helped her “realize that we are part of an international community” and was “one of the most important life learning experiences I had as a young adult.”
Rojo fondly remembers Avanti’s and Garcia’s restaurants, Abe’s candy store and Commencement in the new Redbird Arena. Less fond is her memory of the trek from Tri-Towers to Williams Hall in the winter, but Rojo said it was good training for walking around Chicago in the winter.
Rojo became friends with five other women on her floor, her roommate Wendy (Grossenbach) Rehn, Dawn (Wiggins) Marros, Heather (Tilton) Miragliotta, Joyce (Dierks) Bartens and Donna (Dailey) Brockmeyer, all 1990 graduates. She said the five of them were comparable to the demographics of the university, with two from the Chicago suburbs, two from the St. Louis area, one from Central Illinois and one from Rockford. Rojo said they had fun comparing notes about their lives in the differing communities and their common goals as students and women. “It opened my eyes to how people can be different but alike, and how wonderful it is to meet new people and how they expand your knowledge of the world, life and yourself,” Rojo said.
“I feel like I really ‘grew up’ at Illinois State. It is an institution that is accessible but has high expectations of those who are a part of it. Illinois State is proud of its roots, but wants to be active and relevant in creating the future. These are attributes that I admire and strive for in my own life. I am proud to be associated with Illinois State because it reflects who I am.”