Parlaying Compassion into a Career

Business major joins firm built around abilities of adults with autism

Karrie Pece ’06

Karrie Pece ’06

Karrie Pece ’06 knew what she wanted to do by the time she was in second grade.

A kindergartner who lived on her block had a disability, “and I noticed no one would sit with her on the bus,” Pece said. “I asked her mom if I could sit with her, but then I realized she couldn’t hear me. That was eye-opening—I had never met anyone who wasn’t able to hear.”

Pece was able to channel her compassion into a career. She is the No. 2 executive at the for-profit firm AutonomyWorks, which employs adults with autism who provide operational support for clients in marketing-related fields.

Throughout primary and second school, Pece worked with students with disabilities, from learning sign language to serving as a peer helper and tutor. When she arrived at Elmhurst University, friends and family were surprised that she decided to study business.

“I didn’t want to teach but rather make a difference for people with disabilities in the business world,” Pece said.

Elmhurst instilled the idea that one person could make a difference. It opened my eyes to possibilities on a national and global scale.

Karrie Pece ’06

Business professor Bruce Fischer guided Pece through an accelerated courseload and the two have stayed in touch. “She’s shown that you can use the profit motive to help people and not be dependent on the charity of others,” Fischer said.

After graduation Pece turned down offers for traditional human resources jobs and went to work at the LaGrange Area Department of Special Education, where she provided vocational counseling to students with disabilities and their families.

It was there that she met David Friedman, a veteran in consumer marketing, who invited her to join his startup that would be built around the talents and abilities of adults with autism. She joined in 2013 as the first full-time employee. She oversees the delivery of work for clients and a workforce of 45 that handles detailed process tasks for marketing firms that outsource back-office functions such as quality assurance, reporting and analytics.

“The job is a perfect combination of both of my worlds,” she said.

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