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Austin Brooks Talks About Curiosity and Connections

'The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.' -J.P. Morgan

Like Cheryl said, my name is Austin. I was never actually in the (Midland Institute CEO) class. But I feel like I lived a very similar experience to many of you alum or to the prospective students you’re going to see in the upcoming year.

And so what I thought about before I got up here today is why are all of you here?

I knew there would be a lot of alum and future students, but I didn’t realize there would be such a great turnout of parents and investors.

I wanted to let all of you know why I am here. Genuinely I am really excited to meet you guys at this event and tomorrow. My wife and I will be at the National Trade Show, and I look forward to having conversations with all of you.

A little bit about me, I feel like this will help. My wife actually tells me that I’m a little bit of a CEO fangirl. I want to tell you up front that I am a huge fan of the program. Even though I was never in the program, I just love everything that I see.

But I’m not a fan of the program for typical reasons. My relationship with the program, my wife was in the first class, my brother was in one of the classes and my brother-in-law, last year, just graduated from the program here in Effingham.

And so as I’ve watched them go through the class, one statement that I hear made to them is, “I wish I would have had the class.” Some of you parents out there, when you see your kid go through the class, you think, I wish I would have had that.

That’s not the case for me because I had a similar experience. Craig Lindvahl was one of my teachers for a couple years, and I was also, even though I didn’t have the class, I pursued networking and connecting with the community leaders. For me, I am such a fan of the program not because of what you guys experience, but to see what each and every one of you do after the class.

When you guys are done, that’s when I get excited because the rest of your lives is what you have ahead of you, and what this class teaches you is what I really enjoy watching.

I wrote a few notes here, and I really like how my brain was processing when I wrote this, so I am just going to read it straight off the page.

For those of you who have been at the class what we all can clearly remember is what the program taught us: that the entrepreneurial spirit that drives the class sticks with many of us today. But the real take-away I want to talk about today is your ability to be curious and to connect with others.CEO allows us to not only engage with leaders of all industries, but to become the starters and leaders in our own communities.

I want to break down the statement I just said of curiosity builds connections. For me, this is just a mathematical equation; it’s just how I live my life. So let me preface here. I want to be careful not to make the mistake of framing curiosity as simply asking questions.

Have you ever met someone who it seems more like they are interrogating you than actually listening to what you’re saying? When I was a high school student going into college or a college student going into the workforce, you would hear a bunch of questions like, “Where are you going to college?” or “What are you studying?” or “Where do you work?”

And it’s not that these questions are bad questions, but I think we can all pick-up and notice when they are being rapid-fired rather than genuinely asked. So to me, the difference in curiosity and questioning is authenticity.

Authenticity is one thing I believe will build great connections. You’ve been part of the vision with a program like CEO; it’s taught you the way to look someone in the eye, shake their hand and build that connection.

My challenge for you today is to continue after you’re out of the program.

Authenticity is something I believe builds great connections, but your capacity to care is what distinguishes you.

When you think about someone who is genuinely interested in listening to you, someone who listened to what you had to say, someone who was really engaged in the conversation, how did that make you feel?

As I’ve lived my life as a connector, someone who has talked to a lot of people, I want you to just think about those two scenarios: people who don’t listen or people who don’t listen well. And who are you in conversation?

I want to tell you a little bit about my story briefly. I’ve had a lot of really cool jobs. Even being a young man; I’m only 28 years old. To me age doesn’t matter, but the reason I tell you my age is because I look at myself as maybe one-step ahead of some of you. And truthfully, some of you may surpass where I’m at quicker because you went through this program.

This put into my mind how connections really matter and what they can turn into. It was 2012, I was in Columbus, OH working a sales related job. I made good money, I loved the job, but I stayed curious about who was around and what else was out there.

The office I had at the time was next to a lot of other offices. There was one day I chose to knock on the door. It was for a company called EVC, Event Video Company. I knew nothing about the company, I just knew they were production related. I had gone to college for cinema television. I loved filmaking. Even though I was working in the sales world, I thought I’m going to knock on their door.

That curiosity just stirred in my mind. Little did I know that as I walked through the door I would not only find my next job, but I would get to know these people and they would become lifelong friends.

I learned what they were about and I listened. After I left their office that day, they said, “Our President is not here today, but you have to come back and meet him.”

He didn’t only become my boss, but he also became a good friend. We invited him to our wedding. He’s someone that four years later we still talk regularly on the phone. And even though neither of us are with the company anymore, it was a relationship that became deep because I wasn’t afraid to knock on the door and build a connection.

I realized that I had no intentions of looking for a job, I just knew that I wanted to make a connection. You guys have been so blessed with the fact that you got to go to all these businesses for this class. But just because you’re no in the class, do not stop pursuing these companies that interest you or that you believe in their values.

You have the capability and the confidence now that you’ve been in the program to do exactly what I did.

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