A passionate dedication to lifelong learning and career progression is a common trait of alumni from the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics. We reached out to some outstanding Lerner alumni to share their professional experiences and insights on improving the world of business for future generations of Blue Hens.
In 2017, Trellist’s Maria Gunther was part of the inaugural class of participants of the Women’s Leadership Forum (now called Rise Up), a program run by the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) at UD’s Lerner College. Gunther, who joined Trellist as a design contractor in 2005, was promoted to Trellist’s CEO in 2021.
As CEO, Gunther aims to “be reflective of what I can bring to the position in order to keep the company running in a sustainable way — as well as working with the extended leadership team to explore areas of growth that are in line with our charter, mission and vision.”
She met with Lerner to discuss her career trajectory and how WLI’s program helped her advance to the next level.
Lerner: Why did you decide to pursue the Women’s Leadership Program? What did you learn through this opportunity that you wouldn’t have learned anywhere else?
Gunther: Professional advancement in the category of leadership, including how to organize my approach to leadership, identify both my strengths and weaknesses and formulate a plan for how I see emerging from the program as a leader (what I “want” to achieve).
Lerner: Please share an example of a course or concept that you were able to apply directly to your life and/or career.
Gunther: Being exposed to all of the types of resources presented to me in the program allowed me to hone in on specific areas and channels I could leverage to continue my growth long-term, rather than having a few takeaways and then going back to what I do day-by-day. By acknowledging that leadership is about continual growth encouraged me to stay connected to my goals.
Lerner: Describe an important connection you have made through your program.
Gunther: It allowed me to learn from my mentors in a different way by looking through their lens and understanding concepts of leadership at a different level. The continued connection with WLI expanded my network and pushed me to go outside of my comfort zone to meet new contacts who have taught me that I have as much to give as I have to learn.
Lerner: If you were to describe your classmates in one word, what would that be and why?
Gunther: Supportive. We were all in that program for personal and professional reasons. We acknowledged each other’s individual challenges and hurdles, and acted as a team of sisters that truly wanted to see each and every one succeed in what they set out to do. I believe this support allowed my classmates to accelerate their careers, change employers that were holding them back or choose new paths that best fulfilled them. It was always a celebration to see this in action mere months after the program ended!
Lerner: How did you balance your career with your studies?
Gunther: Making time to go through the program while having a demanding full-time job was the single most amazing gift I’ve given to myself.
Lerner: Fill in this sentence: “My program helped me become…”
Gunther: much more focused on what the single most fulfilling objective I wanted from my career and how to have the courage to go for it.
Lerner: What advice would you give to current UD students?
Gunther: Never stop learning about yourself and think that just because you have a job that it will be the only thing that you need to continue your professional growth. Seeking out programs like Rise Up and expanding your network all provide fulfilling, uplifting ways to learn, reenergize and have fun.
Lerner: What are your professional plans or next steps for the future?
Gunther: Continue to be the best CEO I can be and help provide a growth plan for the future of my company that will lead to long-term sustainability and a healthy and exciting place for employees to grow and be a part of.
Lerner: What advice do you have for fellow businesspeople?
Gunther: Be a good listener. Learn how to make decisions and stick to them. Do not be afraid of failure.
Lerner: What does it mean to you to be a Lifelong Lerner?
Gunther: That I will always feel connected to my experience with the program and want to help and encourage others looking for support they may not have personally or professionally.