Mid-Life Isn’t a Crisis for Alumna Karen Stefl

When Karen Stefl was a telecommunications student at ComArtSci, she took hold of every opportunity that came her way. Becoming an intern for Such Video in Lansing, MI was one of those opportunities.

That internship later evolved into a career after she graduated in 1997 and became business partners with David Such, the studio’s founder, more than a decade ago. After years of working with the studio, she began to feel like she’d hit a mid-career slump. Stefl decided to lead the team through a brand transformation and Render Studios came to be.

“I have young children, I’m growing a business, the industry’s changing,” said Stefl. “It was like, this doesn’t have to be mid-life. It doesn’t have to be a crisis. This could be something that’s just a huge opportunity for continued growth. When you strategically take action, it doesn’t feel like a crisis at all.”

Becoming Render

According to Stefl, rebranding and becoming Render Studios was a process that involved the entire team in order to capture a more accurate representation of the company they had become.

“We not only did some soul searching about who we are, what brings us satisfaction, what makes our careers fulfilling, but also analyzing and serving our clients’ needs,” said Stefl. “At what level and for what reasons do they appreciate our impact?”

In today’s market, many professional services have become commoditized, but Stefl and the team are constantly striving to make sure their business stands above the rest. She believes it’s the authentic relationships with clients that keep them coming back for more.

“We are a company that has always been rigorous about growth,” said Stefl. “We’re just not willing to allow good enough to be good enough. We’re never in it for the one-off project. We’re in it to really, deeply understand how to make a difference for an organization.”

Endlessly Curious

Though there are few women in leadership positions in the video production industry, Stefl has found her stride in the marketplace and says it’s all due to her endless curiosity.

“I always want to know how things work, why they work or why they don’t work,” said Stefl. “From a client project standpoint, it always works as well. Understanding, really getting inside of how a client’s organization works, why they aren’t achieving their objectives or what is working, and what our piece of the puzzle is in helping them reach their goals.”

Stefl’s favorite part of her job is that she gets to wear so many different hats. Sometimes she focuses on operations and running the business, while other days she is knee-deep in client projects, working as the director and producer to make sure that everything is done to perfection.

In Charge of the Map

While at ComArtSci, Stefl admired professors like Bob Albers and Lisa Whiting-Dobson who both supported and challenged her to move forward. But she realized that she had to do more to gain experience than attend class, and became a part of Telecasters to produce shows like The Green and White Report.

“I think my time at ComArtSci gave me the opportunity to engage,” said Stefl. “I took advantage of a lot of the student organizations which was really fulfilling. I will say that nothing was served up on a platter. You had to be a competitive person to really get your foot in the door.”

If you’re a student who wants to be a business owner and have the entrepreneurial spirit, Stefl wants you to remember that you’re the one in charge of your destiny.

“You’re the keeper of the roadmap,” said Stefl. “It takes incredible discipline and self-trust, self-guidance. I would really recommend them to get a little bit of experience somewhere so that they can see the way another organization works, so that they can take away some lessons to build their own empire.”

By Kaitlin Dudlets