Immigrant stories: Stefan Lafloer

By Jennifer Brookland

October 7, 2013

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It was every young adult’s dream. An all-expenses paid apartment on the 39th floor of a high-rise building in downtown Chicago overlooking Lake Michigan, and a chance to kick off a career in a hot field that was so new most had never heard of it.

At the time Stefan Lafloer’s boss asked if he wanted to leave his native Germany for a two-year stint in the United States, it was a perfect moment for him. Stefan was ambitious, motivated to make a career and (maybe most fortuitously) single and of legal drinking age.

Stefan asked when he could get on a plane.  A couple of weeks later, he was on a flight over the Atlantic Ocean. He knew opportunity when it presented itself.

Creative Associates International is reflecting on the contributions of immigrants to our professional and social lives, and is recognizing the significant number of “Americans by Choice at Creative” who work every day to support people in countries around the world.

Driven by Technology, Inspired by Nature

Stefan has always been a beat ahead of his time. As a teenager, he listened to the up and coming bands in his collection of 700-plus vinyl records. Today, he’s on to using the latest technologies to help people connect and work better together.

Despite all his talent for looking forward, it has always been the human connections and the vast expanses of the natural world that impress Stefan the most.

He cherishes the memory of a pre-dawn morning in the northern tip of Australia where he spent three months, when he awoke with youth hostel companions to go have breakfast at the beach.

Stefan-vacation-260x320  “So we walked to the beach there, and it’s absolutely incredibly quiet except for some birds that dare to be up at that point in time, because there’s no streets, no trains, no nothing,” Stefan recalls. “And then you sit there watching the sun coming up over the ocean, knowing that what you’re looking at in front of you is about 7,000 miles of water until it hits South America.  I mean, you know there’s nothing else. That was pretty amazing.”

Another time, on a trip into the Outback in the middle of the night, thousands of miles away from a city of any real size, a sky bursting with stars knocked him speechless in awe.

Born in Worms, Germany, 10 miles from the 1,200 year-old storybook castle in Heidelberg, he used to love walking the paths along the Rhine and literally bumping into pieces of history. In the nature preserves around the river, 2,000 year-old ruins mark the spots where Romans built walls to fend off Teutonic attacks.

“You will sometimes step your foot onto a stone that was part of that wall.  Now seeing 2,000 years of history right at your feet –It’s pretty cool,” Stefan says.

Stefan has fond memories of the friends he grew up with in Germany, and the nights they sat as teenagers on one of the sandy promontories of the Rhine around a bonfire.

A focus on connecting

Growing up in Europe made it easy for him to experience other cultures: one of his favorite hobbies was hopping on a motorbike and, within several hours, crossing into another country.

So it was natural for him to be excited about moving to the states and meeting new people when he accepted the offer to move to Chicago.

His new work friends introduced him to the fun side of the city by taking him out to some bars during his first few nights in the United States.

“They served me MGD (Miller Genuine Draft) and Bud Lite. And I said, “Guys, you know, I’m from Germany.  We take pride in our beer for hundreds of years now.  You need help.”

Over the next 22 years, his work in the Knowledge Management profession took him to major international companies like Pepsi and AllState that relied on his talent to bring people together through technology. He was the Director for Knowledge Management for a global engineering corporation, and the Chief Knowledge Officer for the YMCA of the U.S.A.

Stefan-running  His varied professional experiences allowed him to become an expert in crafting and executing a company’s strategy for sharing, storing and using written information and human expertise electronically so that its employees can learn, collaborate and improve how they do things.

“You know, these days, everyone’s got a smartphone, a tablet, and even multiple computers.  The whole world connects through social networks,” Stefan says. “I just like to see how I can make technology work for me and others, help people understand and embrace how it helps them work better together.  It’s kind of my hobby.  I love doing that.”

It was at the YMCA that he experienced working for a company that had a mission beyond the bottom line. Helping children, families and communities made Stefan appreciate how his work could make a life-changing positive impact on people. It eventually drew him to work for Creative.

To Stefan, it is the human connection inherent in his work at Creative that gives him the greatest professional satisfaction.

“It’s not about technology,” Stefan says. “It’s about human connections and how technology can help bridge the divide of cultures, distance and time to bring people and their expertise and experiences together – that is what Knowledge Management is all about !”

Stefan now enjoys working in a place that reaches out to people from all different countries to work and collaborate with them and help them realize the positive change they seek. That kind of collaboration is his strong suit. He doesn’t see the difference in their backgrounds, only common experiences to unite around.

“Even here at home – the American culture is starting to internationalize by itself,” he says: Not only is the United States a country of immigrants, but most of the Americans at Creative have lived abroad and spent time, in a sense, as immigrants themselves.

“It opens the horizon.  It opens understanding.  It opens cultural perspectives.”