Excellence is a journey: Meet Tammy Jelinek
Tammy is a Wipfli principal working with nonprofits and for-profit businesses. She is based in Wipfli’s Madison, Wisconsin office.
Tammy Jelinek feels at home at Wipfli, but her winding road here was filled with many stops. It’s a colorful journey with lots of places she briefly called home, an unconventional career path and an unrelenting work ethic.
With the first half of her life in near-constant flux, she likes the consistency of helping clients who help others. The daughter of a young mother, Tammy moved around the country out of necessity. The family struggled to maintain a consistent income and they moved in with different relatives, so Tammy had to transfer schools many times. These circumstances taught her about perseverance and resilience. Her success is a result of, rather than in spite of, her experiences as a child.
Tammy, far right, hams it up on a recent girls’ trip to northern Wisconsin.
An unorthodox path
As a pre-teen, Tammy started working but she avoided the one job most of her peers were choosing: babysitting. “That was not going to be my first job,” she insisted. Beginning early, she asked to help at her mom’s work — a business that made contact lenses. Tammy dug right in and found new ways to help, always curious to try out new tasks.
“I was representing my mom, so I had to be really good at it,” she says. “I was a young female coming up in a business environment. From that experience I learned to take jobs I thought would be interesting and help me grow.”
Tammy went on to become a receptionist but was always a bit restless in her duties. She would ask for new tasks and become more involved. Then, when working with a client of a CPA firm, she noticed they conducted training sessions.
“I thought that was the coolest thing ever to get paid to travel and talk with people,” she said. She partnered with them and traveled around the country; when the firm decided to move her role internally, Tammy offered to move from Utah to Wisconsin to help them continue to grow training. She flourished in the role with her knack for making strong connections with people and an eye for business development.
Fifteen years later, the firm joined Wipfli. When she first moved to Wisconsin, Tammy thought it would be a 5-year stint. Fast forward 20 years, and it’s still home…for now.
Tammy met the zoo mascot while volunteering during Wipfli’s Community Day at Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison.
Building a career at Wipfli
After joining Wipfli, Tammy got motivated to pursue the college degree that she had skipped by going directly into the working world after high school. She thought to do so would mean she’d have to leave the firm. But her managers at Wipfli worked with her to accommodate her learning and career development goals.
By moving her to another role that didn’t require her to travel for the firm, Tammy had her nights free to focus on classes. She earned her bachelor's degree in Business in 2005 and a year later (thanks to Wipfli’s tuition plan) started her MBA to graduate in 2008.
“Once I made it to Wipfli, every time I’ve wanted to do something, they were open to listening,” she says.
Tammy embraced her new role in business development, selling software systems along with consulting and HR services. She credits Wipfli for always encouraging her to climb, as she reached the leadership ranks at the company. Her willingness to try new things has guided her pursuit of excellence.
“Taking perseverance and then trying to get better at what you do. That’s how I would define excellence,” Tammy says.
These days, Tammy wears many hats for Wipfli. She still conducts training and works on new services for clients. In addition, Tammy helps with marketing, travels to introduce Wipfli to new groups, conducts coaching calls and supports the next wave of leaders.
Tammy’s husband Jim loves to help out during the Wipfli national training conference in Las Vegas.
Giving back to the community
Tammy’s giving spirit shows up in her work life and her personal life. At work, Tammy especially loves to support Early Head Start / Head Start and Community Action Agency clients. These grant-funded clients connect with the community and deliver immediate impact, which Tammy appreciates.
“It’s so compelling to me because when they’re not meeting with us they are going out and changing lives. They’re feeding children, helping out the elderly and building affordable housing. They’re doing things that resonate in my heart.” It comes full circle when Tammy notes, “They’re helping children that are low income, and that’s what I used to be as a child. It’s really cool to bring Wipfli’s skills to organizations that impact on such as personal and life-changing level.”
On the personal side, Tammy and her husband Jim were “bigs” for Big Brothers Big Sisters, proudly noting that their “little” recently graduated from high school. She’s also involved with Gifts for Kids, which solicits gifts during the holidays so low-income parents can shop for free for their children. She is also an experienced potato peeler — eager to help when it’s time for a church or civic organization to put on a holiday meal.
Tammy’s proud collection of shot glasses keep her travel conquests front and center. A wooden one from Montana is a favorite.
Family, friends and fun
Away from the office, Tammy enjoys — what else? — travel. Trophies from her travels include more than 100 shot glasses picked up along the journey, displayed on a shelf built by her father-in-law. She has now seen 45 states in the U.S., with just Alaska, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Mexico and North Dakota remaining on the list.
The Jelineks are keen on lake life and enjoy taking their boat out when they can. For adventure, skier Jim slaloms down the slopes, while Tammy is fine back at the lodge with a good book next to the fire.
Rounding out the travel schedule, Tammy always looks forward to yearly trips with her girlfriends. Support from family and friends is important for Tammy, and she’s quick to point to the support she gets, and is happy to give, at work.
“I love if we can give someone a really cool journey here, that their journey is positive,” she says. “Because that’s what Wipfli has given me — the ability to continue to spread my wings.”