Erika Rieker, director of HR systems and operations, Ecore, served in the Marine Corps prior to joining the Ecore team. Following her service, she signed up for college and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business and, like so many of us, fell into a career in the flooring industry.
FCI sat down with Erika to talk about her military experience, her extensive career with Ecore and how her son is keeping with the family’s military legacy. She offers up sound advice to those looking for a place to land following his or her service.
The following are excerpts of our conversation, which you can listen to in its entirety below.
FCI: What made you decide to join the military?
Rieker: I came from a military family, and I didn't know what I wanted to do after high school. I knew college wasn't for me, so the logical path was the military.
FCI: Tell us about your family. You have a father who is also ex-military. Tell us about him.
Rieker: My father was in the Army and served a few tours in Vietnam. Later in life, he rejoined the Reserves. He ultimately retired from the Air Force. So, I had quite an upbringing from an Army, Vietnam vet. He taught me a lot about the military, and I had other extended family that were also in the military. So, I knew a little bit about what the military was and what it had to offer, and it just seemed like a good choice for me.
FCI: Why specifically the Marine Corps?
Rieker: My original goal was to join the Coast Guard because I love water and I was a swimmer. I thought the Coast Guard would be a good fit. That didn't pan out. I didn't have a good experience with the Coast Guard recruiter. The next day I went to school and the Marine recruiter was there. We started talking, and they really took an interest in me—where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do and what kind of job [I was interested in]. They spent time with me and showed an interest in me and that's when I knew that this is an organization that I want to be a part of.
FCI: What were some of the roles that you had while you were serving?
Rieker: I wanted to go into the field of communications. Lesson learned. I did not drill down specifically to what I thought I wanted to do. So, I got communications, but I was a field wireman. I set up and maintained telephone communications in a field environment. I made sure that everything was running, and I was transferring communication calls in the field.
FCI: While you were in, did you get an opportunity to do any college credit? Or did you do that after you got out?
Rieker: Actually, I did not do college while I was in the military. That's probably one of the things when I look back, if I could do it again, I would rethink that. I just had a mentality that school wasn't for me. I actually went to school after I was discharged from the military.
FCI: What was your focus?
Rieker: I started out with my associate’s degree in business. Back then, that was the degree to get. Then, I attained my B.S. in Business from Eastern University at the age of 38.
FCI: Throughout that journey, what were some of the challenges that you faced?
Rieker: The military is just a different environment. It's more structured, but at the same time, it's more relaxed. They build in time for things such as physical fitness during your workday. So, there’s some flexibility in the military that you don't get in the civilian work world. But I think the biggest challenge I faced was I knew I didn't want to be a lineman when I came out of the military. That wasn't my career aspiration, but I didn't exactly know what I wanted to do. I had a little bit of time after I came out of the service. I went back to school, and I focused on administrative careers. It would allow me to move into a job that had the standard Monday-Friday schedule so that I could be a mom to my son.
FCI: How did you go from the military to flooring?
Rieker: After I got my associate's degree, I worked in an administrative job, and then I moved into a different role with a different company. I like to say that I landed in flooring by accident. I started with Ecore in 1999, and [prior to that], I was in a position that wasn't conducive to success. So, I started looking, and I found this role as an administrative assistant [with Ecore] for HR and Safety. I applied, and the rest is history. I've been doing that ever since.
FCI: Give us an idea of what that entails. What are some of the initiatives that you have to work on to keep people safe?
Rieker: When I was here the first time, I started as the entry-level administrative assistant. It became clear that my path would lead me to workplace safety. So, after a few years, I was promoted to Safety Coordinator, and I held that position for six years. Then, I left to go to a larger organization, and I floated around for five years. Then, when I returned to Ecore, I came back in with a focus on Human Resources. From there, I came back into a more generalist role. So, I handled all things HR and now, by continuing my development, my training and applying my learning, I have the role of Director of HR Systems and Operations. So, I work in more of a technical role.
FCI: You have a son who also has joined the military. Which branch is he pursuing?
Rieker: He is in the United States Army. My son is my favorite topic of conversation. I just couldn't be prouder of him. I've taught my son that after high school he has two choices. He was either going to go to college, or he was going to go to the military, and he chose college. So, he worked his way through college for a clothing retailer and after he finished, he was promoted into management. He was managing a multi-million-dollar business at the age of 23. If you asked him where he was going to go from there, he was going to stay there. He loved it, but his career didn't work out the way he hoped.
I told him, sometimes life has a way of redirecting you to be exactly where you need to be, and that was a lesson he learned as he had to regroup from failure. So, he decided to join the Army at 25 years old. He's been in the Army for five years now, and he serves with the Special Forces unit. He plans to make it a career, and he just re-enlisted for another tour of duty for another six-year tour.
FCI: Something that I think is an interesting parallel between the flooring industry and the military is the community aspect. Once you come out, I think the flooring industry is a good fit for many service members. How do you feel about that?
Rieker: You know some of the things that we learn in the military include lessons on leadership, being nimble, decisive, competitive, and gaining the mindset that only as a team, success is achieved. So, the flooring industry uses all of those skillsets. This industry isn't just about making a floor. It's about how we lead others to success, how we compete in the marketplace, and how we, as a team, push to create products that make people's lives better. Every position, every level must perform in order to succeed. So many times, I’ve applied many of the lessons I learned in the military to what I do here with Ecore. When I face a challenge in any aspect of work or life, I tell myself, if I can make it through Marine Corps boot camp, I can do this. The military gives you a different perspective. It gives you confidence to achieve your goals, and the grit needed to overcome obstacles that you face along the way. It gives you that resilience.
FCI: If you had advice for people who are stepping out of their service and are considering a career move, what advice do you have for them as far as next steps?
Rieker: I think that one is to realize and recognize that civilian light is different from the military. Do some self-reflection. Try to find the path that is going to make you happy.
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