Author: Erika O'Shea
Published: Friday, 21 Feb 2020
Sometimes, an initial introduction to Junior Achievement lights a spark within an individual. JAKC Board Member, volunteer, and donor Dan Ziegler is one such person. Dan, a Senior Vice President at Citigroup, puts his talents as a project manager to use managing a team of developers and analysts who track application performance and automate processes to optimize decision making. His role puts him in contact with people and groups across the organization. He enjoys having autonomy to use his strengths as a problem solver in a constantly changing environment. “We are told: There’s a problem. Here is how it works today. We work together to figure out a solution.”
Dan is a long-time employee of Citi, and is celebrating his 25th anniversary this year. However, like many people, Dan’s career differs from what he had in mind as a young person. Growing up, Dan dreamed of being a professional baseball player. Looking back, he sees a couple key flaws in this desired career path. “One, I only focused on my autograph. Two, I was really bad at baseball. I had no athletic ability whatsoever. I was awful,” he confided, laughing.
Dan continued, “I was a horrible student all throughout high school. I had ambition but I was scared to try. I didn’t want to fail.” After graduating from high school, he pursued a call center position with Citi Group. “I started at the lowest level job there, because it was better than the job I had at the time.” To his surprise, Dan found he enjoyed the role and it foretold his strengths in problem resolution. “I worked with people to resolve delinquencies and I thrived in that. After five years of interactions I had learned a lot about credit cards and what people were doing, or were not doing, with their money.” Dan expanded on the impact his first job out of high school had on his own financial habits, “It woke me up. I was at the age where I got targeted for that stuff. Credit can be a good thing or really dangerous if you’re not responsible.”
His initial years at Citi Group awakened a deeper interest in his personal development and guiding others. “I had moments when I wanted to be leading people. Doing. Driving Change. Dealing with problems. I don’t like being complacent. I like being challenged.” He decided to continue his formal education, taking advantage of tuition reimbursement offered through his workplace to offset the costs. “I finally went back to school and eight years later received my undergraduate degree. I accepted an assistant management role and eventually a real management position with my own team. I got an MBA and my certification in project management.” Dan reflected on what helped him during his journey, “As I think back, I didn’t have a lot coming out of high school, but I was a hard worker. My parents instilled that in me when I was young. I didn’t naturally have many other skills, but I had that.”
Driven by his passion for guiding others and helping them identify their strengths, Dan started giving his time in Junior Achievement classrooms in 2015. Part of his motivation came from a desire to pass on information he didn’t receive when he was younger. “Personal finance was something I was never taught. It felt like I was never doing things right with money. I was intrigued by investing and savings, but I just didn’t know how to do it.” He made it his goal to help JA students avoid some of the mistakes he made. Dan recalled fondly, “My favorite classes were always the 3rd and 4th graders. I even got letters from one class. One student told me, ‘I didn’t realize I could have my own business. I didn’t know I could do that. Now it’s all I want to do!’ That was pretty cool.” He continued, “I still have that letter…actually all of them. Now before I go volunteer, I read them to get inspired.”
Last August, another door opened for Dan to step into a board role with JAKC. “I’ve volunteered with JA for the last four years. So, when a board opportunity opened, I signed up for it.” Though he hasn’t been a part of the board for long, he is excited for the potential to guide futures in a new way. “I want to get more involved. I want to be a part of this work because it fits into something I really care about.” He sees it as an opportunity to help JA students on a larger scale. He has advice for those looking into becoming JA Champions. “Do your research. Start asking questions. Email the staff.” He especially suggests talking to other volunteers. “At the back to school party this year, I talked to the woman who had just been awarded JA Volunteer of the Year. I asked her what worked and how to apply that. I got comfortable being uncomfortable.” He hopes others can find fulfillment as he has. “I just love the program and I want to do my part to make sure it continues. If people have a passion for this, they should step up and do more.”