Karen Jensen

President and CEO, Farnsworth Group

A business leader, building our community in healthcare, education and transportation

I am always most proud of the accomplishments and activities that contribute to the success of our communities. I feel our work at Farnsworth Group has really helped change the landscape here in Peoria, and is playing a key role in improving the overall quality of life—making Peoria and all of our surrounding communities better places to visit, reside and raise families. Central Illinois has so much to be proud of! It’s been a true test of its character and leadership that our progress has thrived despite the economic downturn that affected so many communities nationwide.

Our work throughout the medical community has been especially rewarding. From the new cancer research center on the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria campus to the Jump Trading Simulation and Education Center at OSF to the Illinois CancerCare addition, I believe the medical facilities, healthcare professionals, and research being done right here in Peoria really give us a competitive edge as a community.

I am also proud of our work with the Peoria Public Library board in updating its facilities and designing the new North Branch library. When the referendum was presented to approve a tax increase to improve our physical libraries, the community stepped forward, understanding their importance. Today, we have a vibrant library system that offers wonderful, state-of-the-art facilities throughout Peoria. Farnsworth Group has also been pleased to be a partner with our local school districts, providing new and improved facilities for learning. I’m also excited to see so many opportunities develop through the re-use of spaces that have sat empty or been underutilized. The Levee District in East Peoria, the museums in downtown Peoria, and the unlimited potential of Peoria’s Warehouse District are all going to have a dramatic effect on our area and economy.

As chair of the Metropolitan Airport Authority of Peoria, I can’t emphasize enough how many exciting opportunities are occurring in our community! We are so fortunate to have an exceptional airport in Peoria. The facility is amazing and the operation is a huge asset, not only as an important travel hub, but as an economic engine for the region. We are seeing a record number of passengers travel through the Peoria airport and continue to expand our routes, most recently adding a nonstop flight to Orlando. We are particularly enthusiastic about the upcoming addition of a new international terminal building. The Airport Authority’s Board of Commissioners has long understood the importance of growing the airport’s role on the global landscape. It is certainly rewarding to see its impact, not only as a travel leader for families in central Illinois, but the key role it plays for businesses that have the opportunity to travel throughout the U.S.—and eventually internationally—from here in Peoria.

Tell us about your educational background and how you got started on your career path.
Growing up, I really didn’t envision a career in the engineering field. In fact, I always thought I might become a doctor or veterinarian. I didn’t have a clear vision for my career when deciding options for college, but I had a high school counselor who suggested that an engineering curriculum might be of interest, given my aptitude scores in math and science. Once I got into the general curriculum, I knew the civil engineering option was best for me.

I attended the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, where I received a B.S. in civil engineering. That’s where I met my husband, Brian. We were married our last year in college, then graduated and both obtained employment in central Illinois. In the professional world, I enjoyed being a civil engineer, but I was always drawn to the business aspects of a company. While I was working on treatment plants and water lines, I wanted to know how the other areas contributed to the overall success of a company… all of the different components, working toward a single goal, and how it all fit together was fascinating to me. Based on that, I decided to pursue my MBA at Illinois State University while still working as a civil engineer, and gradually transitioned into operations. My career was really built on this educational foundation and the opportunities it afforded me.

Tell us about growing up and your family life.
My father was in the military when I was growing up, and the nature of his career necessitated that we move frequently. Because of that, every year or so I would live in a new neighborhood, go to a different school, make new friends, etc. My family was always adjusting to a different location and “learning the ropes.” Because that’s how I grew up, adjusting to a new environment and adapting to change became normal for me. I believe this gave me a purposeful perspective and a valuable foundation for my future. Change, evolution and progression became an integral part of my life, and I learned to embrace it. This perspective helped me see different possibilities and recognize opportunities when they were presented. I certainly learned the importance of getting involved right away and making a contribution without hesitation or delay, because opportunities and environments are always changing.

Please reflect upon your major accomplishments in recent years.
From a professional standpoint, I’m really proud of the growth and stability of our company—I believe this translates to the trust our clients have in our abilities. To supplement the growth of our services throughout our 16 offices, we’ve also acquired four companies in the last four years to join the team. As we’ve grown, it has given several individuals the opportunity to step into key leadership and management positions, and it’s been very rewarding to see their growth and success.

I am also impressed with the quality of people at Farnsworth Group, as they represent our company’s core values. As we have continued to grow these past several years, we remain committed to recruiting and hiring those who are the very best fit. Our employees and their commitment to excellence, client satisfaction and teamwork are really the heart of our success.

And of course, personally, I am proud of my two young boys—Taylor and Andrew—who are actually young men now, and my daughter Lara. Taylor and Andrew are both off to college and Lara is a sophomore in high school. Above everything else, my goal has always been to guide and support these great kids and prepare them for the world ahead. They are on their way, with more on the path to come.

What advice would you give to a young, up-and-coming female professional?
I would encourage them to be interested—to learn, to explore new ideas, to find out about people, to listen—to be sincerely interested. To work hard, take advantage of opportunities that present themselves, and get involved in their communities and organizations. Of special note, I would ask them to think carefully about finding something(s) they are personally passionate about, think big and pursue it relentlessly... that’s part of enjoying life and the journey. It’s too easy to get totally caught up in what “needs” to be done. Be honest, be ethical in what you do, be sincere and always do your best.

In your opinion, what is the greatest struggle working women face today?
The greatest struggle—as always—is finding balance between work and family. But nowadays, I wouldn’t call that just a “working woman” struggle, I would call that a family struggle. It’s great to see men and fathers playing a bigger role in family activities. It’s not uncommon for fathers to be in charge of dinner, shuttle kids from one event to the next, or take off work to stay with a sick child.

Interestingly, I was at my daughter’s school just last week, and a teacher was talking about a concern for life balance for high school students—kids working, studying, music, sports, theater, community, lessons for almost every activity, lack of sleep, etc. Everyone these days has so many priorities, and multitasking is often more of a determent to quality outcomes than a help. The biggest struggle is forcing everyone to slow down, set aside time for the whole family to be together and turn work off. With technology, work follows us, and I think shutting down the computer, putting the cell phone or tablet away, and learning to relax is our greatest struggle.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
It’s a very exciting time to be in the Peoria area! There is so much progress and opportunity. I also find it a tremendous privilege to serve in my position at Farnsworth Group and lead a group of exceptionally talented individuals. iBi

 

Add new comment