Morgan Stanley MAKER Sheree Blazejewski shows what it takes to adapt.
For someone who doesn’t like change, as an early occupation assessment had indicated, Sheree Blazejewski is surprised to reflect on her career and see just how many times she’s reinvented herself. “I never realized how adaptive I really am.”
Working since she was 15, Sheree can now see how “every position I had was preparing me for the next.” First a waitress, Sheree then held jobs at a hotel, a chiropractic office, an ad agency and in retirement communities before venturing into wealth management. With a strong work ethic and the belief that college was out of financial reach, it took her much longer than the usual two years to earn her associate’s degree in liberal arts before going on to Northwood University’s work-life study program in Midland, Mich., close to where she grew up. She was the first in her family to earn a degree.
One opportunity kept leading to another, as if “someone was always tapping me on the shoulder asking me to consider something new,” she says.
The transition into wealth management from her corporate marketing position in retirement-community management was probably the most unexpected. It happened after a life-altering tragedy three years prior. Son Kyler was two, and Sheree was eight months’ pregnant with her second child when her family was in an auto accident. Her baby did not survive, and Sheree was near death herself. Their loss took its toll on Sheree and her marriage, and she and her husband eventually separated. “It was very dark time for many reasons and many years, but I had to pull it together and stay strong for Kyler.”
As a single parent, Sheree felt the pressure of running a retirement community, a 24-hour business, and being there for Kyler, who “always seemed to be the last child to be picked up at daycare.” She realized she needed a change but wasn’t quite sure what that would look like as she still had to maintain her household. Sheree remarried years later, and with Kyler and husband Tim’s two children, Lauren and Justin, they had a blended family. Sheree and Tim, though, took a different parenting approach by having separate homes and going back and forth themselves so the children’s lives wouldn’t be disrupted.
It was Tim who, during that trying time, pointed out to Sheree: “You’re so good with people,” believing that she would make a great Financial Advisor. He pointed out that there were few women in that industry. He was right. She landed a job at American Express and started earning her licenses to become one. But Sheree was shocked when she failed the last portion of the insurance examination process, was let go, and told to try again in six months. She retook the exam and passed within 24 hours, but it didn’t matter due to the company’s no-fail policy.
But that didn’t stop Sheree from pursuing what she really wanted. Rather than “wait around for six months, I applied to all the wirehouse firms” and got interviews at most of them. She landed at Paine Webber/UBS, then five years later transitioned to Smith Barney, a predecessor firm of Morgan Stanley.
In total, Sheree was a Financial Advisor for 18 years before taking a management position that required her to transfer her business to another Financial Advisor. “Tapped on the shoulder again” is how Sheree describes the offer to become a producing manager, an assistant complex manager, then a complex business development manager, a non-producing manager and eventually a sub-complex manager. Three of those seven years she spent in Chicago without her family.
After the third year alone, she asked to return to Michigan. “With the support of the region and complex, the firm was willing to be creative and developed a sub-complex for me” in which she managed four of the 12 Morgan Stanley branches in Greater Michigan, including her East Lansing office. She was happy to be back home close to all of her family.
In fact, family has always been important to Sheree, who grew up in a blue-collar farming and military household. Her mother was one of 11 children and stayed at home. Her father, a truck driver and an only child, began having heart attacks at age 42. Her fondest memories of her dad were the fact that he never complained about his job and actually loved his work. He is also known for making Sheree and her three siblings each feel that “they were dad’s favorite.” Losing her oldest sister at 53 to ovarian cancer was just another case of overcoming adversity for Sheree and her family.
Despite her many manager titles, Sheree sees herself as more of a “shepherd” and “coach” than a leader, helping to steer others along their chosen paths. When asked what she loves most about her job, she says: “I’m able to make a difference in other’s lives, helping them to navigate this large firm, to be heard—and to realize their true potential.”
She also does so through mentoring, including as part of Morgan Stanley’s BRIDGE program, where managers help new managers acclimate to their roles. She has been a member of two mentoring circles for 10 years. She gives back wherever her home has been, through volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, Ronald McDonald House, Saginaw Advocacy for Individuals with Disabilities, and 100+ Women Who Care, among other charities. She’s even participated in a sleepout to raise funds for Covenant House on the cold winter streets of Chicago to raise money to fight homelessness.
For Sheree, “finding the gift in the storm” has been a true choice and how she has managed through numerous challenges. So committed is Sheree to helping others that she already knows what she’ll do in retirement: volunteer with hospice and launch a new charity (which she might name From House to Home) to help low-income homeowners spruce up their properties so they have something of which to be proud.
For all her efforts, Sheree was named a Morgan Stanley MAKER, joining a group of trailblazing and accomplished women nominated by their peers. Uncomfortable with the recognition, Sheree still takes pride in her achievements: “I really did find my way by continuing to trust and taking leaps of faith.”
Sheree never envisioned reinventing herself, but now recognizes her ability to overcome life’s challenges. “I’ve had many,” she acknowledges, “but you cannot dwell on them. How you recover from those challenges is what makes all the difference.”