I grow meaningful relationships.
If someone were asked what they’re most passionate about, they’d likely have to pause and give it some thought. Not so Jerad. That’s because he’s one of the most passionate individuals you’d want to meet — and he knows precisely why. “At the end of the day, I consider myself a cheerleader,” he says. “I love to cheer people on. Their good qualities seem so apparent to me, and it gives me a lot of personal happiness when I can get them through a tough time or help them realize their awesomeness.”
His glass-half-full nature translates to genuine excitement in terms of building meaningful relationships — not just with family and friends, but also with colleagues and donors. Yes, donors. For the past decade, Jerad has found himself in the noble position of raising money for higher learning.
While his position’s interactions could lead others to form suitably transactional relationships, Jerad sets out to leave each donor feeling better than they did before their communication. “Getting the opportunity to grow meaningful relationships with them is more than just my job — it’s my greater calling in life,” he says. “I get to meet 200-plus people a year, and I believe I can be a light for those people by truly caring about their story and who they are.”
When he’s not helping higher education by building bonds with its donors, Jerad can typically be found outdoors, still seeking that same sense of satisfaction from a job well-done. “I find peace in the outdoors,” he says. “One of my favorite things is getting outside and completing a task. Whether it be running in my neighborhood for a workout or helping my family at their landscaping business, I love to feel that sense of both accomplishment and exhaustion.”
I’m a people professional who specializes in building great companies.
Growing up in Oconomowoc, a small town in southeast Wisconsin, Mike spent summers sailing and racing on nearby inland lakes. A top sailor at 15, he took a job teaching beginner’s techniques to kids and advanced tactics to teens. “Sailing isn’t only fun, but it’s also very peaceful and meditative,” he says. “You learn to be in tune with the wind and make adjustments to best navigate what nature throws at you.”
As you’ve likely sensed by now, Mike’s ability to adjust his sails, to navigate what nature throws at him, has served him well as a mindful executive successfully leading his teams through uncertain times. “Now more than ever, if you invest in people and strive to be a good, moral company, profit will follow down the road,” he says. “We have this moment to shift into great companies, and that shift will be based on people and values.”
A “people professional,” he has built his success by listening to, collaborating with, and inspiring those around him. It’s a quality that’s elevated him from being yet another corporate MBA-bearer into a recipient of the 2015 In Business magazine “40 Under 40” award in the greater Madison, Wisconsin region. It’s the secret sauce behind his rise from DocuSign’s Director of Product Marketing—where he repositioned a nascent, engineering-focused platform into an everyday solution for regular people—to his visionary leadership as CEO of Forkforce, a hospitality employment network specializing in optimizing cultural fits between restaurants and (you guessed it) their people.
“I’m a very social and empathetic person,” he says. “I’m able to read people well, which has been a huge part of developing transformative marketing and user-growth strategies, not to mention identifying new business and partnership opportunities. At the same time, though, I simply enjoy helping those who I feel are humble and morally good people grow personally and professionally.”
When he’s not innovating people-powered solutions for businesses, Mike can typically be found studying those same businesses’ markets and the global economy in which they function. He supplements his focus on macroeconomics with specialties in capital financing, revenue acquisition, and strategic partnerships. “When I step into a company,” he says, “I have a way of seeing the big picture — a dozen moving parts that have to be refined constantly in order to work together, as one. As a leader, if you’re not working holistically, you’ll never take a business from simply surviving to being great.”
Building a Better System of Higher Education
Education serves a purpose. For most, that purpose rarely rises to the level of their life’s passion — let alone its mission. Then again, Ajita isn’t like most. “I’ve always seen education — no, actually learning — as holding the power to unlock the full potential in people,” she says. “Every success story, including mine, is rooted in another person telling you or showing you that something is possible about yourself and the world around you.”
For Ajita, that person was her mother, who first gave her the sense of social responsibility that’s driven her from theory to execution — actively engaging with a system that doesn’t always work as it should. “In some cases, our institutions, systems, and structures need to be rethought, retooled, and repurposed to actually act as the agents of social capital that they should be,” she says. “That’s my job: To inspire people — to show them what can be done.”
Throughout her career, her job — or, rather, her mission — has placed her in critical roles supporting government agencies, higher education institutions, non-profit organizations, and philanthropies. It’s positioned her within the Obama White House, where she served as Special Assistant to the President for Higher Education Policy, leading the Administration’s work to expand college opportunity, affordability, and completion. It’s put her at the nation’s largest community college system, California Community Colleges, where she serves as Senior Advisor to the Chancellor.
Despite her professional accomplishments, not to mention her own journey toward learning — including a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government — Ajita’s passion for building a better system of higher education may be witnessed in its purest form via her personal life. “I’m a crafter,” she reveals. “I love creating beautiful, detailed things through a range of mediums, from origami to painting with watercolor, from cake decorating to creating craft cocktails. I love making things that can stretch the way my mind works, provoke a new understanding, or evoke something within me, whether it’s joy, wonder, or purpose.”
I am borderline obsessed with customer success.
“I know it sounds cliché, but I look at the world from an inclusive perspective. You can’t undermine the value of pure human connectivity,” says Chengetai as he considers the journey that brought him to this conclusion, and how the words of his mother continue to inform both his life and work. “She instilled the values of social awareness, being actively engaged in the community, and having a full understanding of the world at large. These fundamental principles helped me build my personal and professional foundation.”
A self-described “global citizen” who immigrated to the United States from Zimbabwe at the age of 20, Chengetai arrived with a desire to learn about his new environment — and how he could positively contribute to it. Consider his career choice. Some might call it “sales,” and he’s only too happy to correct them. “I enjoy sales,” he says. “However, I am borderline obsessed with customer success, and I get heavily invested in helping clients obtain their objectives and goals by managing deliverables, tracking KPIs, and mastering proactiveness. Gratification, for me, is seeing others do well.”
“To find a man’s true character, play golf with him.” So goes a valuable piece of wisdom courtesy of author/humorist P.G. Wodehouse. Chengetai enjoys repeating it, as it speaks not only to integrity, but also to his personal pastimes: reading and playing golf. The former introduces him to new perspectives and experiences; the latter, as he puts it, is “the most challenging and humbling thing I’ve ever done. In golf, one can only be as good as the amount of work and dedication they put into the game. And there are a few things I’ve picked up on the golf course that I have applied to my daily life, such as the rules of etiquette and always putting my best foot forward.”
Dedication, the rules of etiquette, putting one’s best foot forward — at work, at play, in life. As Chengetai puts it, “There is no greater satisfaction that surpasses being a well-rounded human being.” It’s yet another valuable piece of wisdom in a life well-lived.
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