It took Jill Krueger years to figure out what she wanted to do with her career, but when she found it, there was no going back. To Krueger, there is nothing better than making a business successful while improving people’s lives.
As president and chief executive officer of Symbria, Inc., located in Warrenville, Illinois, Krueger leads the national developer and provider of innovative, outcome-driven programs that enhance the lives of the geriatric population. In her 25 years as CEO, Krueger has driven revenue at Symbria from $300,000 to $150 million, grew the company’s employee base to nearly 2,000, and spurred innovations in technology and analytical tools to support the service business.
Later this month, Krueger will be recognized with the NIUAA’s Alumni Achievement in the Business and Industry Award.
“When I came to NIU, I changed majors a lot of times,” she remembered. “A lot of young students feel so much pressure to make a decision and have a solid career path, and I always tell them, ‘Don’t do that! Let opportunity come your way.’”
Krueger began in fashion merchandising, then interior design, before settling into the world of finance. Not long after graduation, a connection through a friend of a friend led to her working for a company that developed, marketed and managed retirement communities.
“A seed was planted, and I absolutely fell in love with what I was doing,” she said, “But not long after, Ernst and Whinney offered me an interview and, looking back, it was a key decision in my life. I moved to Tennessee and began working in public accounting.”
From there, Krueger became a certified public accountant and moved back to Chicago to work for KPMG. She thrived there, moving up in management and making partner in just a few years.
“In the early 1990s, there were not a lot of female partners, and that was really one of the biggest accomplishments of my career,” she said.
While Krueger loved the work, she had a young daughter at home and struggled for a work-life balance. Still, when several Chicago clients came to her with the idea of forming Symbria, asking if Krueger would like to be its CEO, she turned them down.
“I said, no!” she said with a laugh. “At that point, I felt proud about becoming a partner at KPMG and really loved my job, despite the long hours. So instead, I offered to help them find a CEO. The problem was that none of the people I interviewed had the vision I did for the company!”
A year went by, with Krueger keeping up with a grueling schedule, and she finally decided to take the job.
“I went from a huge resourceful accounting firm to a company that was just me,” she remembered. “Everybody has different strengths and mine has always been vision. I can kind of see the future of a business. Getting into senior living in the 1980s, it was just the beginning of the aging of America, and there was a lot to think about and plan for. At KPMG, I did a lot of strategic planning for my clients, but I was never there to execute the strategy. At Symbria, then and now, I have had such a desire to have a vision for our future and actually bring it to life.”
Krueger knew she had found a role she would want for the long-term.
“I can remember coming home at night and pushing my daughter on the swing set and just being so thankful to have the time to spend with family at night. That was so fulfilling to me back then. These days, it’s the team of talented people I get to work with every day that fulfills me. I love people, and I love partnerships and collaboration and being able to bring our grand vision to life. Symbria’s vision is really to provide rehab, pharmacy and well-being programs and services to promote the quality of life and independence of older adults, so it’s a feel-good vision.”
Krueger is also experienced in corporate governance, currently serving as a director on publicly traded, privately held for-profit boards, and nonprofit boards. She currently serves on the Board of Capital Senior Living (NYSE: CSU) and the board of iMedia Brands, Inc., a NASDAQ: IMBI interactive media company.
She also regularly gives back to NIU as an active alumna, often mentoring young women in business. It all comes back to a sense of gratitude Krueger feels for where she got her start.
“I am forever grateful to my four-year education at NIU,” she said. “It started with the curriculum. I kept the books I had—Working Capital Management, Capital Budgeting—on a shelf in my office probably for decades and would refer to them. And the professors, in my opinion, even though it was a big school, they really took an interest in students. I’m not sure you find that at every University.”