“Chip” Zielke

zielkeSince his days at USF, Donovan “Chip” Zielke ’88 has logged his share of miles. He has enjoyed careers as a professional bowler, a coach living in the Middle East, a marketing professional in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest, and now he runs his own consultant business in southern California.

It is a bit ironic because the very reason Zielke chose USF was to stay close to home, and remain connected to his family and friends. He had contemplated attending the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, but after much soul searching USF became his choice. One of the main reasons he stayed was the relationship he had with his father, who operated a local business and asked his son to stay home and help run it.

“Staying connected to family, friends and your environment, I think, is a really big deal,” says Zielke, a native of Lockport and a graduate of Joliet Catholic High School. “With my dad’s business and many of my friends going to USF, it was a natural fit for me.”

However, college is just one season in life, and where you go from there is quite another. Career choices can take you places you would never imagine. After graduating from USF with a degree in business in 1988, Zielke joined the Midwest regional professional bowling tour and spent his time traveling the United States competing against the best in the sport. Although he was better at bowling than probably anyone reading this story, he says he was not much of a threat to his competition.

“I could never hold my own against the top athletes out there,” he says. But he knew the game, having grown up in it, first at Strike N Spare II in Lockport and then at Town & Country Lanes in Joliet. Many summers he worked as an on-lane coach with the Professional Bowling Camps, and he became highly respected for that work. It was from this experience that he was offered an opportunity to coach the national bowling team of Bahrain. While he had never traveled out of the country, he saw it as a way of expanding his knowledge, and for the next two years he lived and coached in the Middle East.

When he returned to the United States in the mid-1990s, he worked for many of the companies within the bowling industry. When a position opened up at the Brunswick Corporation, it offered him a move back to the Midwest, and an opportunity to be near family once again. Zielke became the company’s director of marketing for its consumer products division, and during his tenure he helped launch a new product called Viz-A-Ball, the world’s first bowling ball with a graphic image on it.

The next step in Zielke’s career was the return to the Professional Bowlers Tour, but not as an athlete this time. He was hired to be the vice president of marketing and business development. While he truly enjoyed the experience, his entrepreneurial voice was calling and eventually he started his own company, Circle Athletics, based in Plainfield. Circle sold all manner of bowling products, and eventually merged with a company in Texas. While this marked the end of Zielke’s bowling business connection, it certainly was not the end of his business career.

Today he is the owner of Zii3 (pronounced “z cubed”) Strategy, a business consulting firm specializing in global brand development and product launches. Zielke credits his USF professors, specifically Michael LaRocco, for opening his eyes to the dynamics and creative possibilities of marketing. Zielke started his USF career with an accounting-heavy class load, and that has served him very well professionally. But his later marketing classes introduced him to a whole new side of business.

“Probably my favorite course at USF was my marketing course with Mike LaRocco,” Zielke says. “He was a great instructor and it just inspired me to think about things in new ways, from a marketing perspective.”

While that class stands out in Zielke’s mind, he says his entire experience at USF was memorable, mostly because the university provided an academic climate that was personal and human in scale.

“I enjoyed being on a smaller campus, as opposed to going to a large university such as the University of Illinois,” Zielke says. “I would recommend USF to any prospective student wishing to stay in the area and not go out of state for college. USF can provide a variety of experiences while keeping pace academically with other similarly sized universities.”

Zielke’s latest work relocation has landed him in a nice little spot in the sun. He lives with his wife Kathy and their daughter Anna, who came up with her father’s company name, “Z cubed,” in Laguna Niguel, a town in southern California’s Orange County. For someone so connected to his family and friends—and the Joliet area—the initial move to the west coast required an adjustment period.

“We’ve been out here for eight years now and it truly has become our home,” Zielke says via telephone on a chilly day in early March when temperatures in Joliet hovered in the 30s. “As with any move, it takes time to get connected and rooted. I can honestly say one of the best aspects of California living is the climate. I definitely do not miss the cold of Joliet. It’s going to be about 80 degrees here today.”