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On September 27, the Hillman students continued to explore not only the leadership and entrepreneurial characteristics of icons in American history, themselves, and each other, but today they met five real life living serial entrepreneurs who joined us to talk about their winding careers, the impetus for the big changes they made that changed their worlds, and what makes them happy. The answers were fascinating–and not always what you would expect and certainly varied! Below are just a few highlights. In addition to these highlights, the majority of our time together was in small groups, where students had the opportunity to introduce themselves and have in-depth discussions that led one of the speakers to exclaim, “these students are amazing!”
Shahab Kaviani, serial entrepreneur who now works for AARP addressing isolation among low-income seniors, the largest nonprofit in the USA, explained that he wanted to be in a position to make a big difference–and the move to AARP affords him this and speaks to his passionate desire to connect people in meaningful ways.
Carrie Ann Williams, who owns her own marketing consulting firm specializing in supporting companies that are looking to win federal contracts, started her career with the Smithsonian Institute’s American Art Museum, where she found she wanted to be doing more interesting work–so she left to start her own career, taking her former boss on as one of her first clients.
Ian Lotinsky, CTO of LearnZillions, where he leads teams in charge of product design, software engineering, QA, devops, IT, technical support, and digital marketing of educational software, spoke about the joys of knowing that the work he is doing is helping educators, speaking particularly about a regular phone call from a customer who signed off with “thank you so much for LearnZillions.”
Staffan Sandberg, who has had a huge variety of digital marketing experiences with large international companies as well as Montgomery College, said he doesn’t know if he’s a great employee because he is always coming up with new ideas and ways of doing things.
Pam Felix, co-founder of California Tortilla (franchised chain with 40 locations launched in Bethesda almost 20 years ago) and past president of the DC Comedy Improv, talked about walking into a comedy club on the west coast and realizing immediately that that is where she wanted to work. And recently, after selling her shares in the California Tortilla franchise, also shared the zany fun ways they built the business, including holding S’mores events and Poptart competitions.
We are so grateful for the time and energy that our panelists brought to this year’s panel discussion. Full disclosure: the discussions and interactions were so engaging that I forgot to take pictures of the discussions until the formal end of the session. Thank goodness, a core group of students and the speakers remained behind for some valuable one-on-one mentoring! We couldn’t have hoped for a better session!

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