Ren Vande Guchte used his horticulture degree to work at and then eventually own an international flower bulb and perennial wholesale company.
Ren Vande Guchte earned his B.S. in Horticulture from Michigan State University in 1986.
Why did you choose Horticulture and MSU?
I was in my junior year majoring in English at Calvin College. I was also working at a retail garden center and realized that my love of plants was a true passion and that I should pursue a career in the field of Horticulture.
My employer was a large independent garden center chain, and they also encouraged me to study Horticulture at MSU. Switching majors from English to science meant an additional year of school, but I was very happy to do so.
Where did you go after MSU?
After I graduated, I continued working for my current employer. I was promoted into department management and later into store management as the garden center expanded. It was a fun job working with people, plants, and customers every day.
In 1989, I was approached by a vendor who sold our store's flower bulbs and perennials from Holland [the Netherlands]. He was looking for a territory sales representative to sell his company's products in the states of Michigan and Indiana. In July of 1989, I went to work for Multiflora Import Co. Over the next ten years, this little family business grew and merged with other small import companies to form VanBloem Gardens. It was a $70 million a year flower bulb and perennial wholesaler that had five distribution centers in the USA and production facilities in Lisse, Holland.
As the company grew, I grew with it. I worked on all aspects of this business, from the shipping department to our marketing and development of new products. It was a fun job with an international flair that I enjoyed very much. Unfortunately, in 2000 the senior management made several serious mistakes with regards to the implementation of a new computer software system which did not work. The management also had made some investments in a large production facility in Georgia, which proved to be a poor investment, and the company began to suffer financially.
At that time, four of my colleagues and I, along with another financial partner, made the biggest gamble of our lives and bought the company from the bank. It proved to be a very worthwhile investment, and I was promoted to executive management and national sales manager. I worked in this capacity for three years until I grew weary of the stress and the travel. I resigned in 2003 and sold my shares in the firm.
I went to work for a few friends who were starting a similar business, and they were willing to take me on as a salesperson because of my customer loyalty and my sales skills. I worked for them for four years and then decided after much soul-searching that it was the time of a mid-life career change. Over my career, I had developed a wonderful set of people, management, and business skills that I thought could be used in another career field. After taking some time off (I called it Career Halftime), I joined Edward Jones Investments as a financial advisor with an office in my hometown.
What do you do now?
I have been a financial advisor for Edward Jones for the past 11 years. When I look back on my horticulture career, I am convinced that the education I received at MSU and the work I performed for VanBloem made me the person I am today. It was so worth all the effort.
What advice can you give current or potential students?
The best advice I can give you is to always follow your heart. It will never lead you wrong. There were times in my career when I changed companies, changed roles, and eventually changed careers that were truly scary. I followed my heart, and I always ended up in the right place.
The other piece of advice I would give is that success is achieved by hard work and dedication. If you work hard, you will achieve. Give 100% of your personal best every day, and success is guaranteed.
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