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From Slim Pickins to Slim Chickens

From Slim Pickins to Slim Chickens
Seth Jensen (right, with son Grant) built on his small town background to become a successful CFO.
Seth Jensen, ’95, arrived at Nebraska with a plan to major in accounting, but few connections to help guide the way. Coming from the small town of Exeter, Nebraska, Jensen knew he needed to expand his network.

“Coming off a farm, I did not have tons of industry exposure and needed to get involved. I had some skills in accounting and finance, so for me it was about finding that awareness, exposure and experience to make educated career choices,” said Jensen.

Jensen quickly reached out to one of the few people he did know at Nebraska, his friend and fellow student Mike Zeleny, now the chief of staff and associate to the Chancellor of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Zeleny, who had been at Nebraska for two years already at the time, helped him settle into his new collegiate environment.

“Mike told me about the classes to think about taking, activities and clubs to know about, and was just an overall great resource. I valued his opinion, because he had that upperclassmen mentality. As someone who came from a small school, it was nice to have someone I knew help me transition onto campus. Mike and I had always been friends in high school but that really grew in college because of our overlapping paths,” said Jensen.

Jensen and his wife, Allie, at the awards ceremony where Jensen took home the award for CFO of the Year.
Jensen and his wife, Allie, at the awards ceremony where Jensen took home the award for CFO of the Year.
Jensen joined some of the same organizations Zeleny took part in, such as Beta Alpha Psi, a national organization for students studying accounting, finance and information systems. The two also held officer positions in the Institute of Management Accountants, under Dr. James F. Brown, Jr., professor emeritus of the School of Accountancy. Jensen’s introduction to the accounting industry through these groups and the connections he made bolstered his knowledge of the field and expanded his network.

Hailing from the same high school as Jensen, Zeleny experienced the same kind of transition when he first came to Nebraska. He related to Jensen’s situation and wanted to help.

“I benefited from students a year or two older than me who shared their experiences and I learned from them to make better decisions. I happened to find myself in the same situation with Seth,” explained Zeleny. “One of the challenges coming from a smaller town is your network may not be quite as large as students who had broader opportunities in high school. I am grateful for the people ahead of me that paved the way, so I tried to do the same.”

After graduating from Nebraska Business, Jensen thrived in the restaurant world and eventually ended up in Dallas doing consulting. Tom Gordon, co-founder and CEO of Slim Chickens took note of Jensen’s successful work and brought him on to help the growing franchise. With no desire to uproot his family, Jensen commuted five hours from Dallas to Fayetteville, Arkansas, each week. His work in helping bring the restaurant into financial success earned him Arkansas Business Journal's 2018 Small/Medium Private Company CFO of the Year.

“Seth is an incredibly hard worker. He has what we sometimes like to call the ‘Nebraska work ethic.’ He works hard and is not afraid at all of digging down and sweating, if you will. His award as a top CFO didn’t just happen by accident. That happened because of the hard work, perseverance and resilience he displays in his work every day. I think he is a perfect example of In Our Grit, Our Glory,” said Zeleny, who also served as best man in Jensen’s wedding.

The two still keep in contact to this day, with Jensen stating he still bounces ideas off Zeleny from time to time. Jensen’s work at Slim Chickens proved beneficial, with the chain now at more than 75 locations, including several in the United Kingdom and Middle East. However, what he might consider an even greater success is his son, Grant Jensen, choosing to attend Nebraska to follow his lead.

“Both being here at Nebraska and being an accounting major may lack originality, considering I am the second Jensen to do it. Some people may look at a son who follows in his father’s footsteps as ‘taking the easy way out,’ and that may be true in some cases. But I am blessed with the opportunity to study a subject I love, at a university I love, in a state filled with friends and family, and I can call the man who inspired me to get here my father, my mentor and my friend,” said the junior accounting major from Springdale, Arkansas.

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Published: June 11, 2019