During his career in horticulture, Ren developed people, management and business skills that could be used anywhere.

Ren Vande Guchte used his horticulture degree to work in an international flower bulb and perennial wholesale company and then own it.

Ren Vande Guchte earned his bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Michigan State University in 1986.

Why did you choose Horticulture and MSU?

I was in my first 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 real passion and that I needed to pursue a career in horticulture.

My employer was a large chain of independent garden centers, and they also encouraged me to study horticulture at MSU. Changing from English to a science meant an extra year of school, but I was very happy to do it.

Where did you go after MSU?

After graduating, I continued to work for my current employer. I was promoted to department management and later to store management as the garden center expanded. It was a fun job working with people, factories and customers every day.

In 1989 I was approached by a salesperson who sold the flower bulbs and perennials from our Holland store [the Netherlands]. He was looking for a territorial sales representative to sell his company’s products in the states of Michigan and Indiana. In July 1989 I went to work for Multiflora Import Co. Over the next 10 years this small family business grew and merged with other small import businesses to form VanBloem Gardens. It was a $70 million-a-year flower bulb and perennial wholesaler that had five distribution centers in the United States and production facilities in Lisse, Holland.

As the company grew, I grew with it. I have worked on all aspects of this business, from the shipping department to our marketing and new product development. It was fun work with an international flair that I really appreciated. Unfortunately, in 2000, senior management made several serious mistakes regarding the implementation of a new computer system that did not work. Management had also made investments in a large production plant in Georgia, which turned out to be a bad investment and the company began to suffer financially.

At that time, four of my colleagues and myself and another financial partner made the biggest bet of our lives and bought the company from the bank. It turned out to be a very profitable investment and I was promoted to General Manager and National Sales Manager. I worked in this position for three years until I got tired of the stress and the travels. I resigned in 2003 and sold my shares in the company.

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 sales skills. I worked for them for four years, then decided, after much soul-searching, that it was time for a mid-life career change. Over the course of 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 a leave of absence (I called it Career Halftime), I joined Edward Jones Investments as a Financial Advisor with an office in my home town.

What are you doing right now?

I’ve been a financial advisor to Edward Jones for 11 years. When I look back on my career in horticulture, I am convinced that the education I received at MSU and the work I did for VanBloem made me the person I am today. It was so worth all the effort.

What advice can you give to current or potential students?

The best advice I can give you is to always follow your heart. It will never deceive you. There were times in my career when I changed companies, changed roles, and eventually changed careers that were really scary. I followed my heart and always ended up in the right place.

The other advice I would give is that success is achieved through hard work and dedication. If you work hard, you will succeed. Give 100% of your personal best every day and success is guaranteed.

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