Architect of CEO


CEO’s Origins

Craig Lindvahl always said that the success of his work was measured not by the praise or awards he received, but by answering the question, “who will be better because of what I’m doing today?”

Long before the CEO program transformed into what it is today, Craig was asking that question of himself and his students. And before there were thousands of alumni who were empowered with the life changing lessons of CEO, Craig was sharing his own lessons of life. Craig impacted everyone he came in contact with. He respected freely, listened carefully, and empowered gently.

Like Craig, CEO is hands-on, evolving, and focused on teaching young people to own what they do and to live up to their potential, So, as the CEO program became a reality, there really was no question who would guide and shape those original classes. From CEO’s inception, it had to be Craig.

Craig Before CEO

Craig’s career was anything but linear. After graduating college with a degree in music education, Craig took a job as a teacher in Teutopolis school district. Craig wanted to stay in the Effingham area while his wife-to-be, Beth, was finishing up college, but he had every intention of soon pursuing his work as a studio musician elsewhere. 

This “temporary” job changed the course of countless people’s lives, because no one, not even Craig, expected what happened next - Craig fell in love with the kids. 

This would be the start of a 34-year long teaching career for Craig. It turns out, he had a passion for seeing his students grow, not just in their band practice or musical knowledge, but in life.

Taking Students Out Of The Classroom

Craig never approached anything half-heartedly and, after just a few years as band director, he began expanding his teaching to film production.

But he didn’t limit his reach to Teutopolis kids, he began to reach out and work with other communities, as well. His first project collaborated with 150 students from 10 different schools in the area. These students all worked together to write lyrics for a composition of Craig’s, and the result was a music video that was nationally televised. 

Subsequently, Craig and his students worked on a video project titled, “Together We Can,” that emphasized community and the importance of collaboration. The students sent this video to the leader of every country in the world, an action that earned them an invitation to visit the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C.

There, they met the ambassador of the U.S. Marshall Islands, who invited the students to his country to create a student-led, student-hosted documentary about the Marshall Islands’ culture, history, and people. This video was ultimately distributed by the Peace Corps. 

Anyone who heard this story from Craig knows it was not without its challenges. There were questions about funds, a cameraman quitting, faulty tapes, and technical issues, such as their camera breaking – twice. 

But in the end, they made it happen. This was the kind of real-life learning that Craig loved. He saw this as a way for the students to take responsibility, be creative in their solutions, and think on their feet. 

This devotion to his students’ learning and his enthusiasm around their adventures was contagious. Under Craig, the Teutopolis band grew from 45 to 160 students. He was a people magnet - not just because he was doing exciting things. Craig cared about his kids and became well known for the little “Life Lessons” that he would weave throughout his teaching.

Recognition as an Educator and Filmmaker 

It’s no surprise, then, that over the years, Craig was a recipient of the prestigious Milken National Educator Award and was twice recognized as a finalist for Illinois Teacher of the Year. Later in his life, he would be named the Illinois “Teacher-Preneur” of the Year.

In addition to being honored for excellence in teaching by a number of universities, he also received a distinguished educator award from Eastern Illinois University, and a Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Service for his innovative teaching methods. 

But his love for teaching didn’t stop Craig from pursuing his personal work as a filmmaker, musician, and composer. In fact, he later earned national recognition on all these fronts, as well.

For his producing, writing, camera work and composing, Craig received twelve mid America Emmy Awards and eleven Telly Awards. He also received a Studs Terkel award in 2002 in recognition of the unusual and unique storytelling that was evident in his body of work. 

His television work has been aired on PBS stations around the country and has been seen on NBC, CNN, and the learning channel. His documentaries,Let’s Get Ready to WinandCobb Field: A Day at the Ballpark, enjoyed runs on the Major League Baseball Network. 

Through all that, Craig never forgot his “kids.” Like the trip to the U.S. Marshall Islands, his students were part of many of these creative experiences, travelling with him, and learning the art of filmmaking alongside him. 

For Craig, It Was Never About Awards

All of his accolades are worth mentioning, as they help paint a picture of who Craig was as an educator, filmmaker, and as a person. But if you were to ask him, the awards and accomplishments were never what it was about.

Of these accomplishments, Craig was most excited for the celebration and recognition around his students’ work.That in and of itself speaks powerfully to what was most important to him. 

It was about empowering the people around him. Craig knew that years down the road, what remained with his students would likely be little of what he taught them about music, or band, or filmmaking. What they would remember most is what they learned about life.

The Beginning of CEO 

In 2007, community leaders in Effingham County began discussing the novel idea that would become the CEO Program. 

The truth is, from the beginning, there never was a conversation about CEO that didn’t include Craig. When discussing an innovative approach to education that focused on real-life accomplishment and empowering young people with the skills they need to thrive in life after school, who better than Craig? The interactive nature of the idea fit how Craig had been teaching for years. 

The community leaders had the concept, but they needed Craig to figure out how to do it. Craig, intrigued by the idea of this real-life approach, agreed to help develop the program and began researching existing entrepreneurship programs to see what was already in practice.  

He didn’t like any of it.

What Craig saw was all pretend – it was prescriptive, hypothetical, and, surprisingly, disconnected from real businesses. 

So, he decided to create something new. And the best way to do that was by doing. 

In the fall of 2008, Craig began facilitating the very first CEO class. It was him and 20 high school students, tasked with figuring out what this thing called CEO might look like and what it might become. 

This group, in the most truly entrepreneurial way, tried and failed, and tried again. They got out of the classroom and into the community. They connected with their local business owners, were assigned mentors, and owned the work they were asked to do. 

They figured out what worked. The students even created the name “Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities,” and the foundation for the CEO Program was born.  

Craig and his students found that they had created something incredibly powerful. The students who completed this program had tasted real life, and they were completely changed. There was no textbook, so they had to think out of the box – in a way that they didn’t have to do in school. They became the ones to guide the learning, and the result was extraordinary.

CEO Begins to Grow

It didn’t take long before neighboring communities heard about CEO, and the spread of a movement began. 

The following year, The Midland Institute of Entrepreneurship was formed to support the expansion of the program to additional communities. It was only natural that Craig came on board as the Executive Director, and with him leading the cause, CEO began to grow.

Craig became a highly sought-after speaker and traveled all over the country to share CEO’s unique approach to education. He joined the Illinois State Board of Education and worked tirelessly to spread this re-envisioning of education. 

In 2013, CEO had grown to 5 communities in two states. By 2014, there were 12 programs in three states, and by 2015, 27 classes existed in four different states.

During this time, Craig sat down and recorded the life lessons he had so often shared with his students, which evolved into his highly successful book,Things You Wish You Knew Yesterday, the only “textbook” that is required in CEO Programs to this day. 

CEO was clearly a success, but more importantly to Craig, he was able to see hundreds of students grow into the type of people they wanted to become. “It’s at the heart of why I became a teacher,“ he said,  “because it helps people, and it gets at the heart of how kids learn.” 

Leaving a Legacy


  Craig approached his role in CEO the same way he did each of his projects, realizing it was bigger      than him or any one person, and he pursued it with his guiding question at the forefront of it all,         “Who will be better because of what I do today?”

 Thousands have been made better by the work Craig did each day. 

 Craig passed away on January 2, 2020 after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He remained   active in the Midland Institute’s day to day operations as long as he was able, offering guidance,   wisdom, and direction to its growing team. 

 Even more so, there wasn’t a day that went by that he wasn’t in communication with his former   “kids,” catching up, offering advice, and reminding them of their potential. 

 As first facilitator of Effingham County CEO and a key player in its formation, Craig Lindvahl remains   a pillar of the CEO Program. Today, the CEO Program has grown to 56 communities in 6 different   states. Thousands of students have gone through the program, and even more have been impacted   by its foundational pillars. 

 The 62 years of life Craig lived on this earth influenced  tens of thousands of people. He leaves   behind him a remarkable legacy, and his spirit will always be a part of CEO.