Kari Johnson is a new addition to the Rosetta Stone team based in Arlington, Virginia. She’s enjoying getting to know the other employees—not just in Arlington, but in our other locations too. Kari will be introducing her new colleagues to you in this and future RVoice posts.
In a refurbished seed warehouse in Virginia, there’s a restaurant with windows facing the railroad tracks and Harrisonburg beyond. The walls feature the same brickwork and exposed piping as the Rosetta Stone offices above. In the upper stories of this rustic building, the employees scribble feverishly on whiteboards. Downstairs, Nick Ropp, the director of marketing programs, takes a break from his work to discuss Rosetta Stone.
Nick began working for the company in 2002, when it was just a decade old and had only 67 employees. His career adviser at nearby Eastern Mennonite University had told him there was a small company in downtown Harrisonburg called Fairfield Language Technologies (now Rosetta Stone). In fact, the adviser’s own son was working there. Nick applied for a job, and, after graduation, started as an account manager for the US retail market and homeschool resellers.
“Way back when I was in charge of making Homeschool work,” Nick explains, “We didn’t have a lot of structure, but worked with the goal of seeing how far it could go.” Although he makes it sound as though it’s been ages, only nine years have passed. Rosetta Stone has since become a publicly traded company, with nearly 2,000 employees providing products to 150 countries. Referring to the late Allen Stoltzfus, company cofounder, Nick says, “If I wanted approval for something I would walk into Allen’s office and ask. He was a history buff, and had antique guns hanging everywhere.” Nick is happy to relate Allen’s eccentricities, but is quick to add, “He would always have a wise answer to my question.”
“Within three to four years we were a solid number one in the market,” he says, referring to the market of homeschool language-learning tools. As director of homeschool sales and marketing, he learned a lot about the robust industry built around selling curricula to the parents of homeschoolers. “We actually did surveys, and somewhere around 90 percent of parents who homeschooled their kids didn’t speak another language.” The parents wanted to give their children what they themselves never had: the ability to communicate across cultures.
At trade shows, Nick heard about the impact of Rosetta Stone products on real people, such as the family with an adopted child from Russia. From the time he moved to the United States, the teenager spoke only English. “Then he got to high school,” Nick recounts, “and he thought, ‘Since I’m from Russia, I should get to know Russian.’” The teen ended up trying Rosetta Stone Homeschool at a trade-show booth with his dad. “The booth representative said tears started streaming down the boy’s face when he got into it,” Nick said. “He started remembering words and moments from his childhood.” Trade shows allowed Nick to learn about the emotional connections people have with Rosetta Stone products.
As the company expanded globally, Nick switched offices, spending time in Munich and the United Kingdom. He and his wife Courtney explored a variety of cultures on his weekends away from the offices. He tries to count, but gives up, saying, “We saw almost . . . well, we didn’t see Portugal, Denmark, or Sweden, but we saw every other country in Western Europe.”
Now that Nick’s back in the United States, he notes, “Everyone I’ve worked with has been totally a team player.” Whether talking about the US or European offices, he describes the Rosetta Stone workplace as one of camaraderie. He makes sure to mention that, along with the fun, there’s an intense work ethic. “People were in the Harrisonburg office all hours of the night, working.” Nick remembers, “If there was going to be a snowstorm in Harrisonburg, an e-mail would come from Eugene Stoltzfus [the company’s first executive vice president]. ‘It might snow a lot tonight. If you need a ride, I’ll pick you up.’”