FBLA Connect Interview – Dawn Larsen

Dawn Larsen is currently the VP of Technology Operations at Starbucks in Seattle, Washington. She was very involved in FBLA-PBL, serving as the 1987-88 PBL Western Region Vice President and 1988-89 PBL National President from Washington FBLA. Before Starbucks, she worked at Ernst and Young and Microsoft. Dawn agreed to sit down with FBLA National President Eu Ro Wang to share her experiences and her tips for FBLA members looking to go into business operations and technology.

What was your overall best memory in FBLA?

It would probably be winning the Washington State FBLA business math competition. It was definitely a surprise for me to win it, and it became a real kind of confidence booster for me as well as. It was the catalyst for what kicked off my next six years of FBLA and PBL involvement. It was definitely the thing that made me want to be more involved and it gave me the opportunity to have all sorts of great experiences. Travel the country and meet new people.

Do you have any advice for the common FBLA student looking to get involved on a higher level, running for national office, state office, or getting more involved in general?

The way I interpret that question is kind of just getting more involved versus necessarily serving as an officer, but for me, I would just say to just start small. When I was in FBLA, there was just lots of avenues to participate different ways, even as simple as going to FBLA meetings themselves. In my age, we did a lot of volunteering to raise money by selling donuts or manning the concession stand at basketball games, certainly signing up for competitions and attending conferences. I think just by doing any of those things you get to interact with lots of different people that you wouldn’t normally get to interact with, get different perspectives and learn new stuff. And so if you just start with something it will become a path and that will become another path, which becomes another path, and so on.

What did you major in college, and how did you choose your major?

I majored in accounting in college, and my thinking processes at that time regarding the decision was I thought it would be a good foundation for any career, not just an accounting career, but any career in business or otherwise. I also liked that it was a skill and there was a certification that went with it, beyond a GPA. It wasn’t theoretical, in other words, it was very practical. And I think I was good at it, so the combination of those three things is the reason I chose it.

Please briefly describe your career thus far.

With studying accounting, I went to work right out of college, working in public accounting. I did that for a year in Seattle, and then I was fortunate to move to Oslo, Norway with Ernst & Young and work as an auditor overseas. After about five years though, I discovered that public accounting wasn’t for me and I made a very large decision to leave it after that and I haven't really worked with it since. I think again back to that basis, of having accounting as a degree and a skill set, I transitioned from that to working at Microsoft, into business operations and system implementation role. And my first job at Microsoft was defining the business requirements for a financial revenue sharing system. So that was kind of how I transitioned, if you will, into Microsoft, and then from there I like to try new things and keep learning. So I worked in more like a business operations role for three, four years and then I transitioned to the technology operations side of the house which is essentially saying I was responsible for the 24 by 7 service availability of Microsoft services such as MSN.com and MSN search which became http://bing.com. After about five years I decided that I wanted to try to transition back to the business side and take both the business and tech together, and I led a business operations team for Microsoft cloud infrastructure and functions like our sourcing and procurement. I was in charge of that mechanism, as well as running the end to end rhythm of business for our division. My last role at Microsoft was really a combination of all those things. I was responsible for the end to end project management which included cost and schedule process and systems for the data center delivery portfolio, so delivering our physical data centers around the world.

What do you do now?

Today I’m the VP of Technology Operations at Starbucks, so with that, I lead our core operations services which includes service management our 24 by 7 instant response for our retail stores as well as our non-retail technology teams. Any of our corporate functions and then service quality and monitoring initiative, along with governance, risk and compliance accountabilities for all of Starbucks technology.

Why did you go into business operations or technology?

I don’t know if that was actually necessarily a conscious conscious choice as much as trying something new. I liked it and then was able to continue to grow my responsibilities and skill sets in that direction. I loved operations in general because I’m not personally somebody who likes to specialize, per se. And so with operations, I have the ability to see a bunch of different things that are happening at the same time. I get to work with different groups, I’m involved with broad face initiative, and I’m able to basically then take that and develop plans for operational support and then make it happen. The execution part of it is really important to me in terms of delivering something of value, and I think business operations or technology operation roles really allow me to do that.

If you're able to share, how did you find your job at Starbucks?

It really came down to networking. When I was looking for my next opportunity, I was reaching out to people that I knew, and I reached out to a senior VP that had been working here in Starbucks technology. I had worked with him years ago at Microsoft, and I simply reached out to him to get some advice on what to look for outside of Microsoft, and to get advice on starting an external job search because I had been at Microsoft for so long. He agreed to see me which was awesome, and it was then he handed me a job description, which he said “hey, you can do this job.” And I was like, “I can do that job,” so I interviewed for it and got it. I think the main thing there is that people are willing to spend time with you if you ask them.

Wow, that’s awesome. So when did you know that it was time to leave your job back at Microsoft?

That’s a good question because obviously, after being there for 22 years you know that was a big decision for me to make. For me, I think it came down to really examining my life and asking myself some pretty good questions about how I wanted to live the rest of it. One of the things I’ve been able to do when I was at Microsoft was to attend Kellogg at Northwestern University, and we had a program there where we were studying a poet philosopher named David Whyte, and we read this article called The Big Questions to Ask Yourselves Throughout Your Life. There were two questions that really stood out to me, and it was after asking myself these two questions that I did make a decision to do something different. The first question was: “Am I harvesting from last years season of life?” In other words, what that question means is ‘if I was a farmer and I tried to harvest what belongs to the previous season, I’d exhaust myself trying to do something that no longer existed.’ And I felt like I’ve been doing that the last years of my time at Microsoft. The second question was: “Can I be the blessed saint of my future happiness by making a bold and courageous decision now that my future self would look back and say, ‘wow, I'm so proud of you for making that decision and being thankful for what I did and opening new life experiences and exposure to great people?’” And so I decided that I could take that bold and courageous move, and really between the combination of those two, I decided that I needed to do something different in life and that’s how I ended up here.

What’s your favorite part about your job right now?

I love being in a leadership role, and one with a big challenge where I get to work with a team of people and great results. I’ll say also personally, you get to know the team’s own aspirations, and in the role I have within Starbucks, there's certainly a lot of opportunity within the space I'm working in to help people achieve some great stuff, and help Starbucks get to the next level in terms of how we look at people in terms of technology and the operations behind it.

What are some tips you would give to some students who would want to be you in their future?

Well I think like with the role I have, I’m just able to come into a role like this because I did have such a broad set of work experiences. When I tried different things, even though I worked at three companies in my career, I’ve done lots of different things within them.  think trying new things, and being open to new experiences, and not just saying “ok, well this is the role or the job I’m going to have for the rest of my life.” It’s possible to move using a core set of skills, and move in a different direction. I think as a result of the experiences I’ve had, I have the ability to see a bigger picture of how things relate, not just what my specific job might be but connecting dots so that I can then say, “ok, well this is really what the problem is” or “the opportunity is and then _______,” and therefore, work to develop a solution more readily. I’d say first and foremost, try to have a bunch of different experiences to continue to learn and grow from. Certainly, working hard helps you as well.

How has FBLA prepared you to succeed in your career and what skills did you learn in FBLA that you still use today?

First and foremost, it’s helped me have a sense of confidence about myself. Through FBLA and PBL, I was able to try new things and practice new skills. One that I use all the time is public speaking. When I first joined FBLA, I’d never done any of that, and so through FBLA I got to give speeches at other schools in front of the Rotary Club, and then eventually on very big stages with thousands of attendees. I use this skill everyday in my work life, every single day. Now, I feel comfortable talking in front of people and crowds, and know that when I’m up there, I have something valuable to say.

Thank you Dawn!

FBLA Connect Interview – Denny Ruprecht

Denny Ruprecht is currently a state representative in New Hampshire, in addition to studying as an undergraduate student at Plymouth State University. In his time in FBLA, he served as a state officer for New Hampshire FBLA from 2014-2017, and he is a three-time NLC competitor. Denny agreed to sit down with FBLA National President Eu Ro Wang to share his experiences and his tips for FBLA members looking to go into government.

Hi Denny! What was your overall best memory in FBLA?

I don’t think I could pin one down! What I look back on most positively are the relationships formed. Being a state officer, I had the opportunity to meet people from all over my state. Going to NLC, I got to do the same with people all over the country. I look fondly back on the 4 years of relationships I built with my state officer team and advisors and the experiences that I was able to have with them at states and NLC. I went to 3 NLC trips, and those were always the highlight of my FBLA career.

What do you do now?

I am now a college student and a New Hampshire state representative. I serve in the New Hampshire House of Representatives!

Why did you go into government?

I have always been interested in business as well as government, and there I see a lot of overlap. They are closely intertwined, and I have had a longstanding passion for the two. I always saw myself going into business – and I still might – but in the past few years have become more interested in government and politics. I got involved pretty serious into politics in 2016, when I got in contact with two of my state representatives about political issues. Through that, I build a relationship with my state representative. She suggested I get involved with a committee within the state legislature and the youth advisory council, and I then got involved with a presidential campaign pretty seriously. Because New Hampshire is such a small state, New Hampshire politics is even smaller, so I was able to manage a state senate campaign twice as well. Building relationships lead me to run for office in 2018, and here we are now! It has been a good few years!

What is your favorite part about working in government and the state legislature?

My favorite parts are definitely the relationships and the problem solving. I think that a lot of the issues we face can be pretty intimidating, but I am someone who always gets excited about solutions. One of the things I love most about this is that business is a mechanism to solve problems and make money off of it as well. I always look at “doing good” and “doing well” philosophy that a business can make a lot of money while serving a need in society, and form a business lens the government does this as well. My favorite part about it is solving problems that people need in the real world, and again the relationships that I began building in FBLA have helped that happen.

What should people do to prepare for a job in government, whether they want to learn how to run a campaign or become a legislature?

Since we’re talking about FBLA students here, I think that FBLA is a great starting point! FBLA really teaches people the soft skills that are important, like how to introduce yourself to somebody, how to write a résumé, how to interview, and all of the small things that you have to do. Following up with people and these small personal things are what make a big difference, so the best thing to do is to learn how to interact with people, and FBLA does a great job of teaching that!

What are some struggles with working in government?

It can be incredibly frustrating at times because of the system itself. For example, I serve at the state house as one of 400 representatives, and it can be very challenging to feel like you are making a difference at times in that crowd. It is important to work from that frustration and remember that you are there to solve problems and represent people. The biggest frustration is that government works in a very different way from business at times. It can be a lot slower and less responsive, but at the end of the day the system is designed that way for good reason. When we look at the gridlock, especially on a federal level, we see that our system is designed for consensus and the best possible outcome.

One final question: What are some tips you would give to FBLA students who are aspiring to be in government and take on roles like you have?

The most important thing is to just show up, and that is half of the battle! Whatever opportunities are available to any student, like there are in New Hampshire because politics and government are so accessible, should be taken advantage of. At the local level, you should show up to your local school board meetings, your local party meetings, and contact your local legislature. Even getting involved on a campaign on the grassroots level and volunteering is a way to show up and be noticed and climb as you do it!

Thank you for your time, Denny!

FBLA Connect Interview - Ron Pierce

Ron Pierce is currently the President and Founder of RSA Consulting Group, LLC, a lobbying firm in Tampa, Florida. He has been very involved in FBLA-PBL for his entire life, serving as the 1995-96 PBL Southern Region National Vice President and the 1996-97 PBL National President. He is still involved with the organization, serving as the Business & Industry Representative on the Florida FBLA-PBL Board of Directors, and as the Business & Industry Representative and Board Chair Elect on the FBLA-PBL National Board of Directors. Ron agreed to sit down with FBLA National President Eu Ro Wang to share his experiences and his tips for FBLA members looking to go into politics.

What’s your best memory of FBLA?

My best memory of FBLA or PBL would be winning the Rob Kelleher Memorial Award, which is like the Member of the Year in PBL. I think one of the reasons it was so meaningful was at that point in time, I was a State President and in the process of running for national office in PBL. My mom and dad came to that leadership conference and meet the Kelleher family. Rob Kelleher was a PBL state officer who was killed in a car accident in 1971. His mother, Molly Kelleher, used to come to every conference. The last conference that she was able to attend was the year I received the Rob Kelleher Memorial Award. Having her meet both my parents and I was a very special moment.

From serving in multiple leadership positions, do you have any advice for the common FBLA or PBL students looking to get more involved on a higher level?

I think first and foremost is get involved, take advantage of every opportunity that FBLA gives you. This organization offers you so much. It could be from getting helping with a competition, to volunteering in a community service project, to running for a local, district, state, or national office. The organization offers so many different leadership opportunities and many service opportunities, but a person needs to be motivated to take advantage of those opportunities.

Talking a little bit more about you specifically, what did you major in college and how did you choose your major?

I was an English major with a minor in political science. I selected that major because I thought I wanted to go to law school — I wasn’t sure when I started down that path, but I knew that no matter what I was going to do, having a strong communications background, specifically a writing background, would be very beneficial. I ended up not going to law school, and getting involved in a political campaign, and then working in the political process for several years.

So, what do you do right now?

I am a lobbyist and own my own lobbying firm here in Florida. Basically, I am a contract lobbyist which means people hire my firm to represent their interest before state and local governments. What I mean by ‘their interests’ is that they have an issue before local or state governments they are either for or against. They may be looking directly at some type of appropriation or public policy related issue. They hire us to be their voice and advocate for them before those local or state elected officials. The majority of what we do is about 80% before the state legislature and about 20% before local government. People hire lobbyists for two reasons: number one — because of our knowledge of the political process or the public policy process, and number two — because of the relationships they have in that process. Just like any other profession, relationships really drive the political process. For the public policy process, I am very blessed because I spent eight years on the staff side working for several elected officials at the state level. In that time, I built up a lot of relationships in the process which were in a high level and I had to understand the public policy process. Having that background has been beneficial to growing my firm over the years.

Why did you choose to go into lobby or governments, and what inspired you or motivated you?

That is a great question because I can tell you when I was in the process working as staff, I thought I was going to run for office one day. If you had asked asked me when I was a staffer in the Senate, I would never have told you that I would become a lobbyist someday. What I discovered over the years is that people approached me because of my relationships and knowledge of the process to help on different projects or possibly to work with them on different issues they have in Tallahassee. When I left the Senate, I went in house with the Tampa Bay Lightning and spent three years working as their Director of Government & Community Relations. It was an absolute unbelievable experience that I would not trade it for anything in the world. When I left, I started my own lobbying firm, RSA Consulting Group, because I had an opportunity to leave the Lightning, start my own business, and have the Tampa Bay Lightning become my first client out of the gate. They are still a client today. I think everybody dreams about the ability to start your own business, to be your own boss, and I was presented that opportunity and took both advantages. In April of this year, RSA turned 10 years old.

What’s your favorite part about your job and what are some of the struggles that you face working as a lobbyist and working in the government?

I think what I like most about it is there is something different every day. We have so many different clients and deal with a variety of issues, from education to transportation, economic development to health care. On a daily basis, I am constantly dealing with a variety of different issues. I think what I like most about it is in many cases, you are on task to solve a problem. It starts with a phone call from a client saying an issue’s come up. From there we have to decide what is the best way to address the issue and then work with my team to develop a plan, execute the plan, and hopefully get to the end goal. I travel a lot, so one challenge is fundamental work- life balance, and being very diligent with my time from a family standpoint, due to so much traveling. When I am home, it is very important to spend quality time with my family.

What should people do to prepare for a job in lobbying or government, and what are some tips you would give to students who want to get into lobbying, political science, or government?

I think two ways. First is get an internship. You can have the opportunity as an FBLA member to get an internship with a local elected official, state elected official, a local lobby firm, or a business or organization that work from a public advocacy standpoint. Getting involved and engaged from an internship standpoint is a great way to understand the process and learn firsthand. Number two is get involved in campaigns. You know this is our democracy, and so I think students at a young age should learn about the political process. Republican, democrat, independent, it does not matter where they fall in the political spectrum. If you have the chance to go out and get involved in a political campaign to help somebody get elected, that is a great opportunity to learn about the political process and issues that are very important to their community. On the campaign trail you hear a lot about different issues very specific to the area that candidates have to address, and that people want to hear about. Maybe it’s a transportation issue, or it could be health care related issues, or education — whatever it may be, they can learn about those issues as part of the campaign process.

Do you have any final words of advice or tips for FBLA members about anything?

The one piece of advice I have is to get involved and get engaged and take advantage of every opportunity that FBLA has to offer. My success as a professional today is directly related to my time in the organization. My time, all the leadership skills, all the opportunities that I took advantage of in FBLA-PBL prepared me for that transition from school to work. From a public speaking standpoint, being able to network, being able to think strategically, all the things I learned as a student leader really positioned me well to become successful in the workforce. I tell student groups all the time that my time in FBLA-PBL truly prepared me for my path to success as a professional.

Thank you for your time!

FBLA Connect Interview – Donnie Iorio

Donnie Iorio is currently a Senior Programs Manager at Amazon Logistics. He was a very involved member in FBLA-PBL, serving as the 2010-11 FBLA Southern Region Vice President, 2012-13 PBL National President, and 2013-14 PBL National President. He has worked at Amazon since 2015. Donnie agreed to sit down with FBLA National President Eu Ro Wang to share his experience at Amazon and his tips for FBLA members looking to go into supply chain management.

Hi Donnie! What was your overall best memory in FBLA?

My best memory in FBLA was back in 2011 at the NLC Opening Session in Orlando, FL. I was a national officer, and it was our last conference as a team. There was the lights, music and tens of thousands of people. A lot of work was put into seemingly unattainable goals, and we really had a successful year. It was cool to see all of that work and my time culminate at the NLC!

Do you have any advice for the common FBLA student looking to get involved on a higher level?

The first step is to get out there and out of your comfort zone. When I was a freshman, it was the first year of my school’s chapter and I just started as a regular student who competed in an event. The next year I did some fundraising and became an officer and decided that I really wanted to get involved on the State level after having fun and learning at the State Conference every year. Although nobody at my school had been a state officer before, we just did what we felt was right and then through conversation with my advisor decided that I should go for national office. It was 15 years since my state had last had a national officer, but I got out of my comfort zone and put myself out there to keep growing. There isn’t really a secret sauce to it other than that!

What was your major in college, and how did you choose your major?

I had two majors. The first major we call GSCOM, which stands for Global Supply Chain Operations Management, and the other major was marketing. I was always passionate about marketing and getting behind the science of how consumers choose products and how companies target those consumers. GSCOM, though, came out of the blue when I was a freshman at a major fair and the representative talked about the growth in the field and high rate of job placement for graduates of that major. In fact, 98% of graduates of GSCOM at my school, the University of South Carolina, had a job offer before graduation.

What do you do now?

I am currently a senior operations manager at Amazon! I am based in a fulfillment center just south of Tampa, FL. I lead a team of operations and area managers/associates that take inventory into our building through our supply chain, stow and keep inventory of all items, and then later pick those items to be packaged for you.

Why did you go into supply chain management?

The number one thing with management is that you have to have the ability to lead people, which I learned a lot about in FBLA. As a national officer, you don’t get to see your team often and you have to inspire your teammates to produce results based off of an overarching mission. Management is so fun because it’s all about how you lead and inspire a team to perform safely and with high quality to deliver for the customers. I knew I wanted to work with people and Amazon had a great opportunity to lead right out of the gate.

How did you find your job at Amazon?

I went to the career fair at my university and met my recruiter, whom I explained a little bit about myself and my involvements in student government, Phi Beta Lamba and other relevant jobs. Throughout the next few weeks there was a series of phone interviews and then I was flown out for another, ultimately ending in an offer to work in Florida! I had the opportunity to move somewhere that I had never lived for an work with an amazing company that I had the opportunity to grow with, and that’s where it started.

What’s your favorite part about your job?

My favorite part about my job with Amazon is that I get to work with people and process, which goes back to why I went into management. We deliver for millions of customers every day and the only way we can do that is by focusing on our people. We get to bring people the items that they really need in an amazing two days and bring them a smile with it. That’s my favorite part!

What should people do to prepare for a job in management, or who want to be the next “you”?

If you are looking to get a job in management or any job leading people, it is important to be humble because you aren’t going to know everything from the start. There are so many moving parts that even if you become an expert today, tomorrow you won’t be an expert anymore. Being able to come in humble and willing to learn from your peers, your supervisor and most importantly your teammates by taking feedback is essential. At Amazon, our biggest innovations have come from this. You also have to be able to hold your team accountable and work with other teams that are outside of your personal scope/area.

What are some of your struggles working supply chain management?

The biggest thing you have to overcome in a big company is that there is a lot going on! People have different priorities and have been assigned different tasks and when you are working in a management role you have to be able to advertise your mission to get other people on board with what you are trying to do. If you’re the boss, telling people that work for you what to do all the time won’t get them bought in to the process but if you’re able to get them on board with your vision then you will see a better result.

Our final question: What are some tips you would give to students who want to get into management? Is there anything else you want to tell members?

Of course! As someone that hires college-level applicants for Amazon there are a few things that we and other companies look for. Most importantly is taking the initiative when you are in school. What opportunities did you take to lead and show that you can be an impactful leader in school? FBLA-PBL does a really great job of showcasing its members’ leadership, and this is extremely important!

Thank you so much for your time, Donnie. Much appreciated!

FBLA Connect Interview – Niel Patel

Niel Patel is a 19-year-old currently residing in Minnesota and working passionately on his team startup, Runerra. He served as the 2016-2017 FBLA National President where he focused on the message “We are the Future,” and now lives this message through his entrepreneurial work with Runerra by increasing delivery efficiency nationwide. He is currently on a leave from the University of Minnesota to work on his startup and other projects. Niel Patel spoke with current FBLA National President Eu Ro Wang to give advice on startup entrepreneurship and FBLA leadership to the FBLA members hoping to follow a similar path to success.

Tell me about what you have been up to after high school.

After finishing up the end of my FBLA career and high school, I was going to the University of Minnesota for college. My parents convinced me to stay home the last summer, and I used that time to do some digging into my interests and get a jumpstart on my college preparedness. I knew Minnesota was very much into healthcare and I wanted a job, so I figured I would become a pharmacy technician for Red Cross! Since I was going to the Carlson School of Management, I wanted to start building my business portfolio as well. Earlier that year, I connected with a State Farm agency for an FBLA sponsorship and the regional director came back to me and offered me an internship with them for the summer! Through that, I was recommended to sell insurance with a basic license and soon become the youngest insurance agent in Missouri, which was cool.

After your exciting summer, what have you been pursuing in college?

One of the biggest questions I received after I arrived at the University of Minnesota was “Why did you move to Minnesota after living your whole life in Missouri?” There were a couple reasons:

1.     It sounds crazy, but I love the weather!

2.     More importantly, I love the people, and wanted to be in an environment where I was encouraged to be myself. I received offers from other colleges, but Minnesota was the right place for me.

But after  that, I received my property and casualty insurance license, a company called Northwestern Mutual reached out and asked me if I was interested in selling health and life insurance with them, and it was an amazing opportunity helping families find financial stability.

Since I was working on surrounding myself with the right people, many of them were entrepreneurs. We did some digging into the delivery industry and found that on average, delivery is $12 with the restaurant and consumer paying some in an inefficient system. To solve this inefficiency, we wanted to create delivery density and have more people order from an establishment at once. By asking others if they want something from somewhere you are already ordering, the cost of one delivery is driven down. This is how the startup Runerra was born, and I made a huge commitment to take a leave form school and leave Northwestern despite loving my job. I have learned a ton from the experience, and that brings me to today!

© Runerra

© Runerra

This interview is for FBLA members to get to know your story and also for FBLA members who are interested in starting their own business for guidance. What is your favorite part about working in a startup?

My favorite part would definitely have to be the learning. In other occupations you are doing repeated tasks but in a startup you are building something from scratch and place your mind in a strategic perspective to understand the marketing and development of your project. There are so many bits and pieces that come together to form one company and put one idea into the world. There have been entrepreneurs that do it all themselves, but in my case working with the team dynamic, each person is responsible and accountable for a specific department where their expertise lies to make the goal. You wake up every day and know that you are trying to do the right thing to make the world a better place through your product, and it feels good! You fail many times, but there is a beauty to that failure and you can learn so much.

What should people know before getting into entrepreneurship and what should people do to prepare if they want to be an entrepreneur or create a startup like you did?

Everyone should keep in mind that it’s hard. Just hard, and you should know you are going to fail not once, but multiple times. You should be prepared for that! Having the correct mindset and learning from failures helps you build a character as you go through that, and you will ultimately do what is right rather than what is easy. There is no elevator to success in a startup, and you will have to take the stairs one step at a time!

Are there any specific steps people should take if they want to start their own business?

Of course! Besides the character building I mentioned before, something specific people want to do is get familiar with business structures and the in-and-outs of business. This includes simple concepts like how to corporate something, get your EIN number, build websites and building out different unit economic models. A lot of this comes from networking and reaching out to people who already have the knowledge in these areas. I did not know much of it when I started, but there were many small things that I had to pick up as I went. Other necessary knowledge that comes to mind is pitching and public speaking, which FBLA encourages through competitive events and is super essential to translating your ideas and earning fundraising and accessing your market. Additionally, creativity is always essential to startups without huge budgets!

You mentioned a little bit about failures. If you are comfortable sharing, what are some of the struggles that you have personally faced and how have you overcome them?

Sure. For Runerra specifically, we had a big launch in October and tried to get a bunch of sign-ups that ended up in about 200 users at the end of the day. In a campus of about 50,000 students, we hoped to reach 10-12% of the market and went through a long period where the things we were trying were not giving us more users. That 3-week period was hard to get through, but by putting our heads together and pushing through it, we offered deals to users through the platform and by just the end of the year we had over 1,000 users!

As someone who has served as the National President, do you have any advice for the common FBLA student looking to get involved on a higher level, such as taking on more roles and leadership?

Although it may sound vague, I think the most important thing to do is explore. If there is something you are interested in, take the time, open your laptop, research it, and explore. There will always be things you don’t know, and I am still trying to develop the motivation to constantly be learning. Constant learning is key! For instance, I was interested in stocks for a long time. I contacted a friend who made a business in the field and invited him over. For 4 hours we sat down and he showed me exactly what he did, which was mind-blowing. If there is something you are interested in, just do it while you have the time!

You mentioned podcasts earlier. What kind of podcasts do you listen to?

Podcasts are great! For someone interested in entrepreneurship, Indie Hackers is amazing! They talk with companies that bootstrapped their businesses and did not have a lot of money to begin with, and I find it really interesting. Another good one is The Knowledge Project. If you are interested in keeping up with politics, NPR puts out a 45-minute podcast every Thursday to keep you in the loop politically. It’s not a podcast, but I read The Morning Brew (economics and investing subscription) every morning to get a brief business rundown of everything that is going on each day. Overall, Indie Hackers is probably my favorite, though.

Looking back from the perspective of a National President, what can members do to get more involved in FBLA if they are aspiring to take on more responsibility at the chapter, state and national level?

One of the things I did was talk to the individuals that have already done it. Amber Raub was the Missouri State FBLA President and was in my chapter, so I asked about her about her campaign and for connections to the state advisor to network. This gives you a head start through shared knowledge. Another thing is having a purpose behind your actions, such as when campaigning. I chose “We are the Future” because I believed in that motive and wanted to spread that message through my service as an officer.

Do you have any final tips or advice for FBLA members or anything you want to add?

Someone told me this just this week: Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call! Whether it is me, current national officers or not an officer at all, pick up the phone and call people. Nowadays, social media, texting and the internet are great, but there is something about having an enriching conversation with a person that is amazing. Whether you are looking for a leadership role or to start your own company, pick up the phone to share ideas and explore because working together is powerful! As always, if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me!

Thank you so much for your time, Niel!

Awesome! I love taking the time to talk to you all, thank you!

FBLA Connect Interview – Nikolas Lazar

Nikolas Lazar is a freshman at Emory University, studying finance and international studies. He graduated from Newton South High School in Newton, MA, and he served as the 2016-17 FBLA National Treasurer. During his time in FBLA, he placed three times (Entrepreneurship in 2014, Global Business in 2015, Banking and Financial Systems in 2016) at the National Leadership Conference, served as chapter president, and served three terms as a state officer. Nikolas agreed to sit down with FBLA National President Eu Ro Wang to share his experience with case competitions in college and his tips for FBLA members looking to get more involved.

So, tell me about your experiences with case study competitions in college, and how are these influenced by your experiences in FBLA?

Through FBLA, Nationals provided a really unique opportunity to get an idea of what case studies are all about, both in terms of content and techniques I learned. These have carried over to the beginning levels of doing cases in college. Also, the raw preparation in terms of working with team members, often on very little hours of sleep and in high pressure situations, really helped me prepare for college-level case study competitions. In college, we all really want to win, and create a lot of interest in team dynamics, so having opportunity to experience that in FBLA and hone those skills then has really helped me a lot in preparing for competitions at the collegiate level.

Tell us about what kind of case study competitions you do in college.

Yeah! What’s really neat about university is that there’s a really wide variety of competitions. Really any interest you have, there is usually a competition for it. Personally, back in the fall, I competed in a competition where we were researching Wal-Mart and trying to figure out how to fend off Amazon’s e-commerce presence. This weekend, I’m working on a sustainability competition where we are pitching a proposal that will help Atlanta reach 100% clean energy by 2050. These are two very different topics which may not have seemed interesting going into but have been really great experiences to learn more about.

What got you into these case study competitions?

One thing I loved in high school was having the opportunity to compete and travel with the folks I had met in FBLA, such as going to Nationals. Having these opportunities really compels you to keep on doing them more and more. Now, doing it at university and having that same camaraderie and solving puzzles for each case has kept me doing it.

What have you learned from these case study competitions in college?

We learn everything! For the Wal-Mart case study, I learned everything from random facts about Wal-Mart to tangible skills that will apply in other fields. Everything from how to work PowerPoint and Excel to how to develop frameworks for organizing your ideas. All of those skills, both hard research skills and soft skills, are useful in further studies.

What skills in college do you notice you use often, which FBLA helped develop?

Especially when you know you can serve and compete at Nationals, it develops a really strong work ethic, both individually and in a team environment. I keep my teammates accountable and keep my classmates accountable, and I think developing that work ethic has really helped a lot in college. Building off that, through FBLA you have a lot of opportunities as a state or national officer to really implement change. When you start over in college, you don’t have the same positions of power, but that desire to create change is still there, and you still find opportunities to do so.

What is something that people should know if they are interested in doing these case study competitions in college?

The most important is to find a group of people that are great teammates, and kind of ride with them the whole way. Even if you don’t win one competition, either in FBLA or in college, stick with that team and know them well instead of jumping from person to person trying to win.

For FBLA students that are entering the college admissions process, what do you believe is the most important message to keep in mind?

I think the biggest area where a lot of students struggle is communicating their message and what they have done in FBLA. Something that I have heard from college admissions officers in my own process, is this: there are nearly a quarter-million FBLA members, so while it is great you are in FBLA, you need to distinguish yourself. It might be great that you achieved the Community Service Awards or the BAA’s (Business Achievement Awards), but really what makes you stand out is to say “as chapter president, I implemented this [specific] program”. They want to see that you took your position and you did something with it, and didn’t just serve in that role for a year. Communicating those experiences, when you learn something from creating new programs and developing them as a team, that’s what college admissions officers really want to hear.

You’re studying finance and international studies in college. In FBLA, did you compete in finance-focused competitions? If so, how did these competitions in your career focus contribute to your college preparedness?

I did. I started competing in Global Business in my first two years, then dove into finance my junior year competing in banking financial systems. I am really glad I did three events from different categories because when you start to do events of similar type you learn a lot of the same information and same skills. This is great, but you’re not really diversifying. Now, when I have class about either comparative politics or political violence, I am able to go in each of these classes and apply my learning from FBLA because I got to learn about so many different topics.

What’s a piece of advice you want to offer to students who are struggling to find the perfect college for them?

I would definitely urge students to focus on finding a school that fits them. Once they narrow it down to 3 or 4 schools, I would encourage them to look up what the employment accounts for those schools are. That tells you a lot about the student body, and if you are making such a big investment (for college) it is important to look at what the return you will get on it is. You can Google ‘Emory employment statistics’ or ‘career outcomes’ and find out where people in your major go to work and can tell you if that is a school that is really focused on people into banking, nonprofits, or your major. You can tailor what you want to get out of your education by looking at that in your college decisions.

Do you have any advice for the common FBLA student looking to get involved on a higher level, from your experience as the former national treasurer?

Yeah, something I looked for in applicants for my national council was not really “were they a state officer?,”“were they a local officer?,” “were they president?” Instead, what was really interesting to me was: “in their applications, were they able to stress that they had used their time in FBLA to do something [impactful]?” I had a few members on my council who weren’t state officers and weren’t national officers, but in their chapter they created a program and were really passionate about the program they created. That, to me, as an interviewer, really stood out and that is what got them into my council over people with much higher positions than them.

What was your overall best memory in FBLA?

It’s hard to pinpoint one specific memory. It’s all of the memories you make over those four years, but since I had such a close-knit chapter, competing with them for four years was such an honor and that’s something I miss in university.

Can you describe your term as national treasurer in 3 words?

Sleepless, but quick!

What is the number one lesson you learned through your work on the national level?

When you have had these opportunities to serve in a position, it is really important to make the most of that year. Your national or state officer year goes by so quickly, and the biggest regret most national and state officer alumni have is that they didn’t do enough with the position they had for a year. There are so many officers that come back with regret. I came in running my campaign and passionate about these things, and you want to get as much done as you can in that year and create tangible programs. The officer teams after you don’t care as much if you increased membership or BAA participation, but will care and will benefit if you create programs and structures to help them succeed.

This is the last question. What do you believe pushed you to be elected national treasurer, and what made you successful once you were there?

The biggest thing that pushed me to get there was the great support system, like our state advisors Mr. Paul and Mr. Reynolds, every step of the way from being sophomore state officer and pushing me to take the next step in my FBLA career. Having a great support system is really crucial to getting elected, especially from such a small state as an officer. Once I was there, the same support system was again crucial. Having a great national officer advisor, Mrs. Smothers, was really crucial and having the encouragement from Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Paul when I had an idea at the state level brought me encouragement to execute my ideas at the national level.

Thank you so much for your time, Nikolas. Much appreciated!