This month my professional career is an adult: 21 years old. Though I feel good about what I have accomplished, it is important to recognize that I didn’t do it alone (and that there is a lot of learning left on the horizon.)
So, in chronological order, THANK YOU to the 15 most influential people in my career.
1 – Keith Julio
I failed Algebra. Not kind of, but dramatically. As in, I did not submit any homework or show work on any test beyond the first grading period. I was bored, so I rebelled. Keith Julio was the teacher of that class. After a few failed attempts at motivating me, he opted to invest his energy on students who were willing to accept his advice.
Mr. Julio deciding not to invest in me is not why I want to thank him. Where I do want to thank him is because he was the same teacher who delivered the Advanced Computer Programming class that I wanted to take the following year.
Based on the course prerequisites I was supposed to have completed the Algebra with an an A-average. I think I was in the 5th of 6 failing grading periods when I approached Mr. Julio about signing the prerequisite waiver. He did. Maybe he saw something.
I aced the programming class the next year and started my business a month after doing so.
2 – Bob Bazylack and Debbie Lepley
They say you never forget your first (pitch.) I know I certainly won’t forget mine. At the age of 17 I pitched my first client, a motorsports consortium in Pennsylvania. The product? A new fangled thing called an eCommerce platform that was guaranteed to drive new revenue by generating leads for motorcycle and ATV sales as well as generating an additional $40,000 per month in online parts and accessory sales.
I was nervous, sweaty, and wearing a suit among a bunch of motorcycle people.
I have no idea why the said yes, but Bob and Debbie gave me the opportunity to develop the platform and to explore this new avenue of business.
At its peak we were generating over 100 leads per month and about half of the projected revenue from online sales.
This success opened the door to implement the platform with many other power-sports and auto dealers in Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Minnesota.
3 – Bill Holliday
After selling a good portion of my ISP, hosting, and e-commerce business I joined the Army (because, clearly, this technology thing wasn’t for me. I was an athlete!) where I was able to maintain a small portfolio of clients. At the end of my first deployment I was wounded in combat, and subsequently retired.
As I began searching for my next opportunity, I’m not sure I realized how odd my portfolio looked. I was a newly separated (enlisted) veteran with 10 years of technology experience.
While many certainly put my packet aside thinking “I don’t even want to ask” Bill Holliday was intrigued.
Bill gave me an opportunity that I started a few weeks before my final out-processing date. This pivotal time at VeriSign introduced me to Silicon Valley, big-tech, big-systems, big-data, and M&A.
Bill and the entire VeriSign team became family and forever changed my perspective about how great the culture of big business could be.
4 – Kip Fulks
After my time at VeriSign and a contract with the Federal Government, I was presented the opportunity to learn about tech-first consumer products businesses, digital business integration, and Product Management.
Kip afforded me the opportunity to apply all that I knew about tech to a consumer products business, with great results. Though, what I most appreciate about Kip is that he taught me that being a founder (and Billionaire) didn’t mean that you had to look or act a certain way; that no matter what you achieved you could always remain humble, approachable, and hungry to learn.
5 – Adam Silva
Leading with Love is a concept that not many have experimented with within the workplace, but because of Adam, it is a practice that I will always employ.
Adam taught me that no matter how audacious of a goal a team is facing, no matter how hard the days may get in its pursuit; the best path forward is to always lead from a place of empathy and deep caring.
6 – Kevin Eskridge
I won’t pretend that Kevin and I always had the best relationship, but I certainly learned a lot from him. That alone is a great learning.
More directly, Kevin embraced the philosophy of giving teams lofty goals, establishing guardrails for execution, and complete autonomy to execute. It takes a certain mindset to thrive in this environment, and I learned that by building a team who does, the result will consistently exceed target.
7 – Helena Kaylin
Helena is an amazing person on so many levels, but the single most impactful thing she taught me was the importance of an unrelenting focus on the customer.
I will never forget the first meeting I was in when she referred to the customer as “her”, in every context. Helena was constantly considering “her” needs, “her” aspirations, “her” comfort. In modern frameworks we consider this approach “human centered design”, and even though I have since explored this topic in-depth, I always go back to Helena and her “her”-focused design sessions.
8 – Nico Johnston
Creativity is a skill that can be learned, not always a trait that one is born with. Nico and I had a lot of things in common: a no-BS approach, a similar chip on our shoulders, a shared military background, and an insistence on perfection.
Where Nico helped me grow was in understanding that you could be all of “those things” and also deeply creative. Because of this learning I have been able to adopt a brain-ambidextrous approach to problem solving.
9 – AJ Zito
There are friends who you make in life that no matter how much time passes, or how much distance separates, you remain close. That is how AJ and I work.
AJ is probably the one person that I know who has started more businesses than I have. AJ is also more persistent. No matter how many challenges pop-up, no matter how hard the category, no matter what others say, he persists.
AJ is “living his best life”, and on his own terms. I think we can all take a lesson from him.
10 – Steve Davis
Can you be both a capitalist and a great person? Yes.
The proof? Steve Davis.
Steve is a ruthless and unrelenting business person.
Steve is also relentlessly dedicated to his family and community.
He is always a caring person.
In my career I have often struggled to balance all of these things. It seemed that in pursuit of one, the others suffer. Steve has shown me that, though not always easy, it is certainly possible.
11 – Andrea Thompson
It can be lonely at the top, especially at the top of a large multinational enterprise. Many often forget about the “people” who comprise the machine and focus primarily on outcomes and revenue targets.
Andrea is inspiring in that though she is a Senior Exec. in a large multinational firm, she is also keenly focused on how her decisions impact the people. Andrea cares deeply for her team, and is empathetic to the emotional effects of change saturation.
12 – Meredith Hewinson
Bring your whole-self to work. Meredith is a passionate, creative, free, and amazing human.
She is also keenly focused on honing her business acumen, learning, and leading.
Though many would say that these qualities reflect two distinct people, Meredith owns all of her qualities in whole. It is a quality that is inspiring and motivating to everyone around her.
She inspired me to own my whole story. Even if it is a little rough.
13 – Andrea Martinez
I first met Andrea when I was consulting in Honduras. At that time her career was vastly different than it is today. During our interaction, she saw something that was inspiring to her, and she wanted to chase it.
Andrea may be the very first Agile Coach in Tegucigalpa, and she is because of her own motivation and drive. She reminded me that if you want something, go get it.
14 – Melissa Dahl
I have never met Melissa, but her book “Cringeworthy” has had a profound impact on me. As mentioned before, I have often struggled with where I come from, where and how I was educated, my military service, and my divorce.
Melissa’s book reminds me that we all have a history, we all have a story, and that none of us is perfect. What is empowering is to learn to love who you are, to embrace your story, and to leverage all of the things that have brought you to where you are, to take you where you want to go.
15 – Neville Poole
Neville and I first met at a startup six years ago. Her energy and authenticity are something that I have never seen in another person. As the years have passed, Neville has grown into many different roles of increasing responsibility, exposure, and pressure.
You know what hasn’t change? The fact that her energy and authenticity are still her guiding force, and strongest tools.
I have learned over the years that it does not matter if you’re the smartest person in the room, or if you’re right, if you aren’t also making people feel good. Neville constantly reminds me to lead with kindness, even when sharing hard news. We’re all people, and if we don’t lose sight of that, together, we can overcome anything.
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