I often recall people and stories from my childhood; most deeply imprinted on my brain. These were the experiences that often explain why I make the decisions I do, why I behave the way I do and even why I chose the career path I’m on today.
I attribute my passion for giving back to a particularly memorable event I witnessed when I was eight years old. One hot summer evening my father and I were heading home along a narrow country road after working all day in the fields on our Nebraska farm. We were waved down by a Native American in a pickup truck coming toward us from the opposite direction. The man needed money to replace a damaged chainsaw that was used to cut cedar trees to make posts, which he sold to farmers and ranchers. He promised he’d give my father a great deal on cedar posts if he could help out. We didn’t have much money when I was growing up, so I could hardly believe my eyes when my father reached into his wallet and pulled out the bills. It was a life defining moment. From then on, I had this feeling that my life’s purpose was to help people. My father and mother both cultivated in me and my sisters the innate desire to give back.
Since starting the Profiles book series, I’ve interviewed over 415 highly successful executives and business owners. Through their stories, they have expressed various philosophies, managerial styles and backgrounds. However, I’ve also been curious to identify any significant similarities among these effective leaders…and there have been several. Perhaps feeling nostalgic for my own family – some no longer with me and others spread out around the country – that I found myself noticing how often individuals mention family. I am not alone in attributing my success and best parts of myself to loved ones.
Bob Kipps, the cofounder, CEO and Managing Director of KippsDeSanto & Co., the largest investment banking boutique specializing in the aerospace and defense industry, credits his father for his natural competitive streak and for introducing him at a young age to the language and logic of the defense contractor industry. While discussing his parents, Bob says “Although he can definitely be rough around the edges at times, calling it like he sees it without any filter. I got my work ethic from him. From an early age, he taught me that you have to balance doing the work and getting the work to grow the business.” He describes his mother as the picture of professionalism, intelligence and etiquette who gave him and his five older siblings the freedom to be enterprising and investigate the world around them.
Tracy Kenny is the President of Lift Me Up!, a nonprofit organization that provides therapeutic horseback riding, and also a partner at KPMG LLP, a Big 4 global tax, audit and consulting firm. Tracy is passionate about public service thanks to her parents and grandparents. “My mother, father and grandmother always believed in me and gave me the sense that I could make my own decisions,” she reflects. “They wouldn’t have let me make a critical error that could ruin my life, but they allowed me the space to figure things out for myself, which in turn let me discover that I could believe in myself and my independence.” Now each year, Tracy takes time to reflect on her life by asking herself if she likes what she’s doing, who she’s working with, and if her kids are happy. If the answers are “yes” she keeps going in that direction.
Everyone experiences difficult times at one point or another. Some leaders have shared stories of very tough situations while growing up. But still they appreciate those people and circumstances for instilling characteristics such as resilience that have served them well through life’s journey.
Retired Lieutenant General Frank Kearney grew up in a dysfunctional home with a father who struggled with domestic violence and problematic values. “He wasn’t the best person, and through observing him early on, I learned what I was not going to be as a man, leader and father,” says Kearney. He grew up to serve 35 years in the United States Army and his final active duty assignment was Deputy Director for Strategic Operational Planning at the National Counter-Terrorism Center.
Bobby Christian broke free from the chains of addiction that had shackled the men in his family for generations, including his alcoholic father. “Through the good and bad times in my life, I’ve always had people around me that have somehow pushed me to the next stage of life, helping me overcome obstacles and giving me opportunities I otherwise wouldn’t have had,” he recalls. Bobby realized he wanted to become that kind of person for others. He wanted to share all his mistakes and lessons learned for the benefit of others. Now, as the founder and CEO of iMPACT Ventures his life mission of “breaking the cycle” is expressed by providing businesses the information they need to avoid repeating mistakes and achieve success.
Family and relationships are themes often repeated in the profiles of leaders. When discussing his first official job in business, Todd Stottlemeyer says, “I was really struck by the power of building authentic, mutually beneficial relationships.” The CEO of the Inova Center for Personalized Health credits the support of his high school sweetheart who became his wife.
The network of Profiles in Success is also about relationships. I feel fortunate to have built such a strong community of unique leaders with inspirational stories. I hope those of you who I’ve interviewed have enjoyed the process as much as I have, and that all of our readers will enjoy learning from your lessons. It continues to be my goal that Profiles in Success will inspire and strengthen relationships with family, colleagues, customers and community.
Gordon J. Bernhardt,
CPA, PFS, CFP®, AIF®
President and Founder
Bernhardt Wealth Management, Inc.
Since establishing his firm in 1994, Gordon Bernhardt has been focused on providing high-quality service and independent financial advice in order to help his clients make smart decisions about their money. He specializes in addressing the unique needs of successful professionals, entrepreneurs and retirees, as well as women in transition throughout the Washington, DC area. Over the years, Gordon has been sought out by numerous media outlets including MSN Money, CNN Money, Kiplinger and The New York Times for his insight into subjects related to personal finance.