Tales From The Road

I spend much of my time on the road, spreading the gospel of CEO, working with communities who want to have their own CEO program, and working with our classes.

I love it.  I get to meet lots of interesting people and see lots of interesting places.

Thought I’d take this opportunity to share some random thoughts and observations from life on the road.

How Do I Look?

It’s 2:00 on a Tuesday afternoon, I’m in a tiny town in southwestern Illinois, and I just found out I’m two hours early for a meeting.

So, like any good traveler, I drive around town looking for the Dairy Queen.  Saw the “Dairy Barn”, which looked like a place that was still on the front end of the ice cream process.  Had a broken down sign by the road that said, “Still Open”.  The fact that the establishment felt it necessary to address that point so publicly made me less than excited about having ice cream there.

Found the Dairy Queen, and the gentleman in front of me, who had to be in his 80’s, with the velcro tennis shoes and everything, asked for the senior discount.  The woman at the counter acted all flustered, like she wasn’t sure he qualified.  She looked him up and down and finally shrugged and said, “Okay”.

I stepped up to the counter to order a medium chocolate sundae, light on the chocolate sauce.  The woman said, “That will be $2.28 please”.  Being the good guy I am, I said, “Are you sure?  The sign says it’s $2.39.”

Without missing a beat, the woman smiled and said, “I gave you the senior discount.”


I said, “So let me get this straight.  Elmer there, who looks like he’s on his way to the funeral home to start the embalming process-you’re not sure if he’s a senior citizen.  Looking at me, though, leaves no doubt in your mind?”

Actually, I just said thanks.  It’s Dairy Queen, after all, and the point is ice cream, not age discrimination.

Am I Bothering You?

Visited a fast food place today.  The girl behind the counter walked up to the register and just looked at me.  I said, “Uuh…can I order?”  She just nodded, ever so slightly, and blinked slowly.

So I told her what I wanted, and she said, “Is that for here?”  I said yes, and she said, “Go ahead and order.”

Sure.  Just wanted to make sure I prefaced my order with, well, my order.

I received 96 cents in change, and she gave it to me in nine dimes, a nickel, and a penny.  No “sorry about that”, just dumped it into my hand.

She eventually placed the food on a tray and slid it to me.  I said, “Ummm, could I have a fork?”  Same slow blink, and a fork appeared from beneath the counter. ‘”Thanks, and maybe a cup?”

I said, “Would it be okay if I thumped you in the middle of the forehead? Would that help you? If I shaved my eyebrows and shouted, ‘You Can’t See MEE!!!’ would you awaken from your stupor and join the living?”

Actually I didn’t.  I thanked her.  Again.

And she responded by looking at me, and blinking slowly.

I Don’t Wanna BE Your Kitten

At dinner tonight, the waitress said, “Everything okay, my kitten?”

Indeed.  Nice, I guess…but…I don’t want to be her kitten.

The girl who checked me in at the hotel was named Oceania, and I would have considered being her “sea turtle”, if asked.

You’re Gonna Sit Next To Me???

I had just boarded a flight from Atlanta to Spartanburg, South Carolina.  Packed flight, but it appeared as though the only empty seat on the plan might be next to me.

Then, a woman, late middle aged, dressed very nicely, made eye contact with me in the sort of,  “sorry, that’s my seat” look people give one another on an airplane.

I stood so she could take the window seat, and as she moved past me, she said,  “I owe you an apology.  I st…”

At that instant, a horrible stench wafted over me.  Wow.  Pungent, thick, the sort of smell that sticks on your skin.

“…ink.   I just threw up all over myself as I ran from my last flight.  I had to decide whether to get cleaned up or miss the flight, and I decided to catch the flight.”


Madame passenger evidently got hold of some bad pizza in Denver, and that pizza decided to ask for a return ticket as she ran through the airport in Atlanta.

As we prepared to land, she leaned over to me and said, ‘I think it’s coming back for another round.”


Hope she understood why I parachuted outta there.

Mystery Solved

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked myself, “Where the heck do they keep the best in food, and where can I get it in short order?”

Well, it’s in Hutchinson, Minnesota.



Mystery solved.

Framework Photography!

IMG_3888framework full logo blue

Nick Smith (Sangamon CEO, 2014) and Andrew Gochenour are the co-owners of Framework Photography in Springfield, Illinois. They started their business before Nick entered the CEO program, but it has changed radically since then. The business has grown exponentially, and they have rented an older building and are now completely renovating it.




They actually had an impromptu ribbon cutting on the last day of CEO class in the Spring.

That’s what makes CEO real, by the way. Students aren’t engaged in pretend activities and worksheets, they’re building real businesses! Framework Photography’s revenues in the first few months of 2014 exceeded their total revenues of 2013. In fact, they just booked a wedding that exceeded their total 2013 revenues.



kate studio-1Nick credits CEO and the network he developed for that growth.  At the CEO trade show alone, for instance, they gained over 80 potential customers.





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Nick’s mentor, Sarah Petty, who is a very successful photographer and New York Times bestselling author of Worth Every Penny, played a huge role in helping this business. Jeff Stauffer, a local CEO board member, is creating all of the signage for the company and has worked closely with Nick and Andrew as they’ve built their business. That’s the real magic of CEO-building an ecosystem that supports young entrepreneurs as opposed to just feeding information about entrepreneurship to students. It transforms everyone, and that’s what I love about it.

Business incubation in a small town!

My home area of Effingham County, IL is a place rich in entrepreneurial history. There is evidence everywhere you look of companies and businesses started by local residents who started with little more than vision and passion.

They’ve grown to be businesses of all sizes, and serve a global customer base. It’s a pretty amazing thing, and students in our CEO program have the opportunity to meet dozens of these entrepreneurs. Many of the entrepreneurs talk about their early struggles with finding a “place” to do business.

It’s great to see our county take another bold step in support of entrepreneurs. Through the newly launched Effingham County Incubator Network, new and expanding businesses now have easy way to access professional office, retail and manufacturing space at a cost effective price.

Working with communities across Effingham and neighboring Jasper County, the ECIN has three separate spaces now available for individuals or business looking for new space.  With locations in Altamont, Effingham and Dieterich (and coming soon – Newton), each location offers professional office space, meeting rooms, staff break areas and other amenities.

In addition, the Effingham space offers free internet broadband services to occupying tenants.  Rental rates start as low as $50/month.

As I visit CEO classes around our network, I often hear “I wish I’d had something like this when I was younger!!!” I’m sure a lot of established entrepreneurs will say the same thing about the Effingham County Incubator Network. It’s a fabulous idea, and comes at just the right time.

Ted Gonder and Moneythink


I had the opportunity to spend a little time with Ted Gonder a couple of weeks ago.  This is a guy you need to know about!!!


nv1dgcgjqrihv52g7bjhHe’s a member of the resident’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans and has served as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, advising the Obama Administration on immigration policy for foreign entrepreneurs.  He also worked with the Kauffman Foundation and the Chilean government on transnational entrepreneurship initiatives, and published research with MIT Press and McKinsey.


His work has been featured on MTV, and the Wall Street Journal, and has spoken at the White House, the U.S. Senate, New York Stock Exchange, and TEDx.


He is the executive director of Moneythink, an exciting initiative providing financial education to young people.  Among the startling facts on the Moneythink website are these:


•          More than half of U.S. adults have subprime credit scores

•          The average U.S. borrower carries almost $11,000 in credit card debt

•          39% of U.S. adults have no non-retirement savings

•          33% of U.S. adults do not pay their bills on time



His innovative model uses college and university students as mentors who provide the financial skills for students in schools around the country.  Thirty universities in ten states around the country participate in the program.


Ted recognized that financial literacy is a critical part of preparing young people for life.  I love that he took his concern for young people and took action.  He is an incredibly dynamic young man, and his approach to teaching has value far beyond the financial how-to’s covered in the program.


Like CEO, what Ted does is life changing for both mentor and student, and has an impact on the trajectory of all their lives.


Ted told me that Moneythink and CEO share an approach that is “transformational, not information”.  How I wish more people understand the power of that!


Check out Moneythink’s website as well as Ted’s personal site.  I know you’ll be as excited about his work as I am!

The CEO Network is Growing!

We’ll have more than a dozen CEO classes this fall, spread throughout Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota.

CEO network 2014







We brought all of our teachers together recently to learn more about facilitating a CEO class.  It takes a major league teacher to facilitate a CEO program, and fortunately we have a major league group to do it.





IMG_2784We spent time learning about True Colors, the fabulous personality assessment that changes the way our students view themselves and others.  It’s cool to see high school students change their views, recognizing they need people around them who are different from themselves.






IMG_0877We did teambuilding exercises that facilitators will use with their students, and explored the methodology CEO uses to allow students to guide and “own” their own learning.  CEO classes typically involve students from multiple districts, and it’s critical they feel comfortable in the class.










CEO alumni shared their passion and enthusiasm with the group, along with specific guidance for working with young people in this transformational environment. They shared what they felt were the most important aspects of CEO, and answered a myriad of questions from our teacher/facilitators.

It’s important for our teacher/facilitators to bond.  They’re on the front lines of a revolution in learning, and they lean on each other as they work in this transformational experience.

2014-2015 is going to be a fantastic for CEO students all through the CEO network.  Best of luck to all our new programs!


A CEO Business Comes Full Circle

CEO is a very intense experience, and it transforms everyone who participates in it. It’s so exciting to watch as students learn by doing. They leave CEO with knowledge that can’t be learned any other way. It’s even more exciting when they take what they’ve learned in CEO and build on it.


IMG_20140608_0001Keith Sutterfield, CEO ‘10, is a recent graduate of Eastern Illinois University. He started a video production company while in CEO, and has carried on with his work during college.









Back of Business CardJust last week Keith launched Sutterfield Media, a full service video production located in Effingham. It specializes in corporate video and video for not for profit organizations for use in training, marketing, and fundraising. Sutterfield Media assists its clients in communicating their message online through their website, social media, and broadcast.



CEO is not just a transformational learning experience, it’s a long term effort in economic development. More and more economic developers understand the importance of growing local businesses, and CEO produces young people who understand the entrepreneurship isn’t something one studies, it’s something one does.

Keith’s experience in CEO provided him with experience, knowledge, and a network of contacts. “My experience in the Effingham County CEO Class opened my eyes to the great business community here in Effingham. When deciding to start my own business, it only made sense to come home to this community to do so,” he says.



“Before CEO, I did not consider entrepreneurship as a possible career. I can point to few other experiences in my life that have had such a permanent and meaningful impact on my future.”





photo-1Keith is a terrific young man, and all of us in the CEO community are very excited about having him back in Effingham. “This community shaped me into the person that I am, and I’m really excited to come back and be a part of it. It’s both exciting and terrifying to be starting out on my own fresh out of college, but I feel very lucky to be pursuing my passion so early in life.”




That’s what CEO is about, and everyone in the CEO family congratulates Keith and wishes Sutterfield Media the very best!

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