From a Small Town to Making it Big Featuring: Jennifer Gorsuch Walters
In this post, I introduce you to Jennifer Gorsuch Walters, owner of Gorsuch Construction, Inc., a commercial construction company and president of Fairfield Homes, a development and property management company. Throughout our interview, Jennifer’s value of authenticity came through clearly. As a third-generation family business leader, she was determined to find her own way before making her way back home. Enjoy learning about her journey!
Where did you grow up and what has been your journey from the time you left your small town?
Jennifer grew up in Lancaster, Ohio. Her father Leonard, a second-generation owner of their family business, Fairfield Homes, Inc., introduced Jennifer to some of her first jobs. As a full-service development company, there was no shortage of odd jobs to be done. Jennifer learned quickly the value of commitment, work ethic, and building relationships. After high school, she headed west to attend the University of Denver. She knew she wanted to attend college outside of Ohio. While it was 1,200 miles from home and in one of the most populated cities in the country, her college campus and sorority was close-knit and comfortable, it still felt “small town.”
For the first two years of college, Jennifer was unsure of her major. She gravitated toward real estate classes as she always believed that someday she would join the ranks of the family business. After learning about an opportunity to study abroad in London that required a major in hotel and restaurant management, her career path began to unfold. She declared her major and headed across the pond.
After graduating from college, Jennifer was recruited to work for the Old Spaghetti Factory, which took her to both Indianapolis and Nashville. From there, wanting to gain entrepreneurial and start-up experience, she worked for Bravo where she opened restaurants in Dayton, Columbus, and Indianapolis. She was young, hungry and willing to work obscene amounts of hours. While she gained great experience and was part of creating something from scratch, she was ready for a change.
Jennifer moved back to Denver to work in the coffee industry, where she not only trained staff and opened new coffee shops, but also met her husband, Stephen. Stephen, a master coffee roaster, was the coffee buyer for the coffee shops. This move to Denver was crucial for Jennifer’s future success as a business leader. Not only did she meet her husband, but this is also where they would launch their first business, Chief Cooker, a specialty coffee roasting and distributing company.
After a successful startup, Jennifer and Stephen decided to move Chief Cooker to Lancaster, Ohio to be closer to family. Being back in Lancaster naturally stimulated the prospect of working with her father. Over the next few years, Jennifer would become more and more involved with the business operations. She participated in strategy conversations and was elected to the board, her father mentoring her all along the way. Leonard and Jennifer talked at length about building the company into a third generation.
After ten successful years in the coffee industry and many conversations with Stephen, they agreed that it was time for “someday” to be reality. She and Stephen decided to sell Chief Cooker. Jennifer would join Fairfield Homes full-time and Stephen would stay at home with their young children.
Now, ten years later, their careers are a long way from restaurants and coffee houses, however, their past experiences have served them well. Jennifer calls on her hospitality and entrepreneurial experiences to help lead and inspire a team of 200 employees across the state of Ohio. Stephen has pursued his passion to help and heal people and spends his days as a Clinical Medical Counselor.
Jennifer, Stephen and their two children reside in Granville, Ohio.
How has your small town upbringing allowed you to be successful in your professional life? Jennifer learned that you can’t hide in a small town; you are accountable for both your good and not so great decisions. This taught her to always be her authentic self and to hold herself accountable.
Being comfortable being herself has been critical to Jennifer’s success. Not only has she learned how to organize, navigate and prioritize her daily business dealings, but her focus on authenticity, vulnerability and accountability translates directly to effective leadership, communication, and customer service.
When did you have your first “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto” moment? When Jennifer was relocated to Indianapolis for work, she felt out of her small town element. She didn’t have any family, friends or connections. She had to work hard to build relationships and make friends. Not to mention navigating traffic!
What experience is the most memorable from your time in a small town? Jennifer recounted the experience of her parents getting divorced. This happened when she was in high school during the 80s when divorce wasn’t a commonplace occurrence. Because her family was in the public eye, something generally very private, wasn’t. She witnessed how her parents navigated the experience. While the divorce came with a lot of pain, it also allowed her to see that, despite their differences, her parents treated one another with respect.
This experience forced a valuable perspective and opened her eyes to the choice of “How do I want to react?” especially when something big, dramatic and unexpected happens.
When did this experience serve you most in your career? In 2014, Fairfield Homes decided to build The Pearl House, an affordable housing community serving the needs of homeless families struggling with drug and/or alcohol addictions. Jennifer and Fairfield faced substantial controversy from fellow hometown residents. Jennifer’s eyes had been opened to the opiate epidemic and Pearl House was a way to help. For others in the town, they weren’t ready to see their town through the lens of addiction and broken families. In many ways, Jennifer was ahead of the curve in addressing this national epidemic. By choosing to act and not ignore that her town was changing, Pearl House has helped families in her own town to receive much-needed help to overcome addiction.
What is the most important lesson you took with you from your small town upbringing? Jennifer learned from an early age to be comfortable with you are.
“It’s easier to be you, all of the time.”
She also learned that everyone has an opinion and while it may be your business, many people will have something to say about it. This is a double-edged sword. Life changing advice and guidance has come from others choosing to share their opinion and perspective, however so have hurt feelings and disappointments. The lesson she takes from this is that she is only responsible for her part of the relationship. She can choose how she will react, however she is not in control of how other people will respond, react or even judge the decisions she makes. Accepting this has helped her navigate her life and career with authenticity and grace.
How have you brought the small town spirit with you in life? Community pride. Jennifer is proud of where she has lived and recognizes that communities improve when their residents are engaged. Jennifer serves on many boards and committees. She and her family are active volunteers in their community. In 2016, Jennifer was the recipient of the 31st Annual Athena Award for her contributions to the Lancaster community.
What advice would you give kids who are growing up in your hometown today? Take your hometown pride and values with you wherever you go. If, and most likely when you come back, share the experiences you have built on your home town foundation to make a positive impact. It’s a big world with lots to offer, but remember where you started and all the good things born out of that beginning.
Thanks for your insight and inspiration, Jennifer!
Connect with Jennifer on LinkedIn