“I don’t feel I’ve ever had a career,” says Constance Konold without apology as she sips Earl Grey tea in a fashionable café on Paris’ Left Bank where the maitre d’ knows her by name. No, she explains, hers has been more of a non-career just doing what she wanted to in life, a life that, so far, has taken this businesswoman, executive coach, consultant and self-described adventurer around the world to posts with top international companies. What’s made it possible, Konold tells you, is UW-Madison. It gave her the language skills, cosmopolitan attitude, and job contacts necessary to succeed.
Drawn to UW-Madison by Hoofers and the French House, Konold majored in French. It was a language she had begun studying, along with Latin, at St. Mary’s Academy in South Bend, Indiana, the town she moved to from the New York area when she was ten. She remembers having classes with some of UW-Madison’s “greats,” acclaimed French professors Germaine Bree, and Helen Cassidy. In the History department, her favorite was French historian Harvey Goldberg. “He was spellbinding and unorthodox, people hung from the rafters,” Konold says, recalling how hundreds of students would cram into Goldberg’s lecture hall. Konold has kept her notes from her course with Goldberg. “He gave us such insight,” she says, keys to understanding the world.
In Madison, Konold was a member of the International Club and lived at the French House, experiences that offered another opening to the world. “I was rubbing elbows with an international crowd,” she says. It would be one of Konold’s friends from the French House, hailing from Mount Horeb, who would be instrumental in bringing her to France several years later, after graduation, a merchandizing job in New York at Macy’s, a failed marriage, a master’s in teaching from Notre Dame, and a stint in the Peace Corps in Cameroon.
In Africa, Konold lived in Pitoa, a small village of about 300 people about a two-day drive from the capital, Yaounde. She taught English, sewing and hygiene. Back in the U.S., she got a job on Wall Street with Institutional Investor magazine organizing international seminars for government officials and financial investors at the magazine’s newly created institute. That’s when Florian Chollet, the husband of her French House pal, Margaret Henze Chollet, called her from Paris offering her a job with the international accounting firm of Arthur Anderson.
Chollet was the manager of the company’s Paris office. A Frenchman, he had met Margaret at UW-Madison when he was a Fulbright scholar. Now, he was looking for staff who were bilingual and sensitive to cultural differences. Konold arrived in France on July 14th, 1972, Bastille Day.
She was put in charge of helping Arthur Andersen’s executives relocate. The know-how later made it possible for her to establish her own executive relocation company, one of only a few such firms in Paris at the time, she says. One of her clients introduced her to an executive with Seagram’s; Konold worked there for several years as the executive’s chief of staff. Other business connections took her to Malaysia, where she ran trade delegations and taught English at the Ecole Française in Kuala Lumpur.
Back in France, she helped a friend restore his centuries-old chateau in Brittany by establishing an informal work/study program with UW-Madison and Notre Dame, called “Restore and Explore.” In exchange for room, board, and lessons in French language and culture, the universities’ students helped rebuild the castle’s crumbling stonewalls. Other jobs followed, including chief of staff for the president of the Saudi-European Bank in Paris and with the International Packaging Association, a group of independent metal-packaging companies around the world. Today, Konold is a career and life coach, writer, trainer and education consultant. Her company organizes executive education programs for clients such as ESSEC, one of France’s leading business schools. She also writes content for hand-held wireless devices and teaches master’s level strategic Human Resource management as well as Intercultural management at schools in Paris.
Working around the globe has made Konold realize not only the value of her UW-Madison education but also the importance of international studies for today’s undergraduates. “The world is getting smaller and if the U.S. doesn’t really mesh gears with other cultures, it’s going to slip,” Konold says. She believes Americans are too insular and need to learn about, understand, and enjoy other cultures, especially if the U.S. wants to continue to have a positive influence on the rest of the world.