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A Different Culture Blog

By: Stephanie Freihofer


If you know anything about SEI or follow our blog, then you know that our culture is one of the most defining and differentiating aspects of our organization. The robust culture, which sold me on SEI when initially hired, is the driving force that keeps me here. However, this blog on SEI culture is not about how our culture enables us to deliver at a client. It’s about a different aspect of our culture, one that may get little air time, yet illustrates the incredible compassion and concern our colleagues have for one another.

Things Were Going Well

Back in March of 2016, life was great! I was managing a large payroll consolidation project for a Fortune 500 client and our team had fallen into a solid rhythm, converting various divisions across the country from disparate systems onto a single platform. It was smooth sailing on the home front as well. My three girls were in their early twenties; two of them were already out in the workforce and a third was graduating college in May. She had even secured her first ‘grown-up job’ in Chicago, planning to start shortly after graduation. It was like every consultant’s dream – everything was ‘under control’ in both my professional and personal life. Until the morning of March 19th, 2016.

It had been raining non-stop over a large part of Cincinnati and Northern KY for more than 24 hours straight. I was finishing out a different SEI blog about emotional intelligence and looking out the window, wondering if it would ever stop raining. I was startled out of my solitude by the ringing of my cellphone. Wonderful! It was my daughter Katie calling (the one who would graduate college in May). She let me know that she was going hiking at a beautiful nature sanctuary just outside Lexington KY before coming up to Cincinnati to celebrate her and her twin’s 22nd birthday. We talked about her editing my blog before I sent it for final review (Katie being an excellent writer) and how much we looked forward to the birthday celebration. I told her to be safe and we exchanged ‘I Love You’s.’ That was the last time I ever spoke to her.

Anything But Control

Within an hour or so after we hung up, Katie slipped while hiking, fell a significant distance and died from the injuries she sustained. I didn’t learn the news until a few hours later when she didn’t show up at the designated time. The world as I knew it ended. I was in complete disbelief that I would never see my daughter fulfill all of her hopes and dreams in life. Kate’s twin was supposed to “do life” with her, sharing that special bond that only twins have. As a family, that promise of a future felt stolen from all of us.

The control and safety that I always provided for my children crumbled. I felt stripped of the supposed command I had over any aspect of my life. I had trouble making it through five minutes, much less 30 minutes or an hour. I went into a numb, kind of ‘auto-pilot’ mode, navigating the first few days with no idea how to simultaneously survive the nightmare and care for the rest of my family at the same time. And work? Strangely, the second day after the accident, I felt worried about my project (which I later learned is normal response, you want to gravitate toward focusing on something you CAN control). However, in my heart, I knew I couldn’t go back to work too soon. Not only did I have my own grief to deal with, I had other daughters and a husband to support. That’s when my fellow SEI colleagues stepped in.

A Culture of Caring

The first week after the accident was a blur of activities – the wake, the funeral, the burial, the life celebration. I felt warm gratitude as a countless number of my SEI colleagues came to pay their respects and support my family. Soon after, our VP of Administration at SEI-Services called to say that my fellow co-workers from across the country pulled together their resources so that I could take time off work to grieve and be with my family. Because of their selfless act, I was able to take many weeks away from my client without worrying about my project or financial situation. For me, this time off was vital to begin my grief journey, lean into my daughters and husband, and spend time with those precious people who have shaped and influenced my life. It was an incredible gift of love that could never, ever be ‘repaid.’ I was humbled to my very core.

Not Surprised

I was blown away at this gesture, but not surprised. SEI hires people who care – about their clients, their community and their level of service – but most of all, about each other. Ironically, the blog I wrote on that fateful day was about Emotional IQ. Little did I know that only days later, my SEI colleagues would demonstrate a level of emotional IQ that would have a profound and positive impact on my family and me. My SEI colleagues show this level of care and support to each other on a regular basis. Mine is neither the only, nor last, crisis we’ll face. We have rallied to support each other in times of tragedy, great need, and often to celebrate one another’s accomplishments. And we will continue to do so – that’s what keeps me here and keeps us who we are.


Stephanie Freihofer


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