This post is part of an occasional series focusing on Leadership Development Academy graduates and what they have done, personally and professionally, in the years following their LDA experience. Please contact us if you would like to be profiled here, or would like to recommend a graduate for us to feature.
What are you doing now?
In 2013 I founded Why The Fuss? Technical Solutions, a one-man digital agency based out of my home. I specialize in WordPress website design, development, maintenance, and hosting.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I was a pretty good student and everyone told me I could be whatever I wanted to be. This was overwhelming and I turned into the kid who didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up.
I went through a phase of wanting to be an archaeologist, and later went to college thinking I would one day succeed Dan Patrick as the face of ESPN’s SportsCenter. That didn’t last long!
It was during college that I found this thing called the World Wide Web and taught myself how to design and code websites. It took me 13 years after graduation and several career changes before I figured out how to turn this hobby into a career, but here we are.
How did LDA help you on your journey?
I admired the program from afar before participating. I came to Janesville in 2005 for a job as a newspaper reporter (and later, editor). I wrote several stories about LDA projects as they were developed and presented to the community.
I jumped at the opportunity to participate after I changed careers. I really grew personally and professionally during my LDA year and in the years since. LDA taught me not only leadership skills and how to work better with others, but also a lot about myself, my personality, and how I am wired.
Back then we took the Myers-Briggs assessment, which helped me finally understand myself and personality. Upon reading about the ISTJ personality type, I for the first time realized there were others like me.
I am a music lover and believe that any style/genre can be done well, so I appreciate and listen to a wide array of artists. But when forced to narrow it down to one, I have to go with Sublime.
Bradley Nowell was a musical genius who blended so many different styles and inspirations into his music to create something so personal that others cannot possibly replicate. Numerous artists across a variety of genres cite him and Sublime as major influences on their music.
If forced to choose a favorite Sublime song, it’s likely a tie between “STP” and “Same in the End.”
What piece of advice would you give a new LDA participant?
Go in with a positive attitude and take advantage of all the opportunities the program provides. You’ll find yourself in the same room for 8 hours once a month with 25-30 other professionals from all walks of life — use that to your advantage.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
My wife, Katie, and I love to travel and experience new things and places, whether local or far-flung, and often involving music. I also am very interested in American history, so we try to incorporate historic locations/experiences into our trips. Before the pandemic we had a trip planned to Washington state and Montana, where we were to explore parts of the Lewis & Clark Trail.
We hope to one day take that trip, but last summer we found another “project” in the form of an overgrown and neglected blufftop property 400 feet above the Mississippi River near DeSoto, WI. We’ve put a lot of work in already, but have a long way to go in restoring this gem to its past and rightful glory.
Favorite Rock County event:
The third Sunday in August is the Friends of Riverside Park Music Festival and the Lions Club Chicken Roast (although it was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic). It’s a great example of two community organizations working together to put on a day full of entertainment, food, and fun in one of Janesville’s most scenic — and perhaps underappreciated — locations along the Rock River.
Where do you volunteer?
I am a member of the Janesville Noon Lions Club, for which I am the vice president and will take over as president in 2021-22, our club’s 100th anniversary year.
Within the Lions, I am involved with many programs and services, including our annual vision-screening program for all Janesville P4J and kindergarten students, and transporting Blackhawk Pioneers, a group of local, visually-impaired adults, to their monthly activities.
I also am very involved in the WordPress community and run a monthly meetup group and serve as a speaker at various WordPress-related events and conferences.
If you could trade careers with any local person, who would you trade with and why?
Steven Theisen, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation employee who has been in charge of communications for the I-39/90 expansion project.
I think it would have been amazing to document that project first hand from beginning to end, in all seasons, from the ground, air, and beyond. The size of that project and the amount of coordination and communication it has required boggles my mind.
When you reflect on your LDA experience, what is your fondest memory? Scariest memory?
My fondest memory involves the many long-lasting friendships I made, and how our entire class learned and grew as the year went on.
From the ropes course and the overnight retreat, to the monthly sessions and community tours, to the process of planning and executing our collaborative projects, I think everyone in my class grew in ways they could not have imagined when they filled out the LDA application.
I don’t really have any “scary” memories, but as a strong introvert I remember being nervous about attending the orientation session because I only knew one other person in my class, and I did not know her all that well. My anxiety was put at ease almost immediately, as the facilitator led us in an effective ice-breaker exercise and I realized that most, if not all, of my classmates had similar feelings.
Future goal or dream:
I had always dreamed of being my own boss, and that one came true!
I hope to continue that dream for a couple more decades, and that my wife and I both stay healthy into our Golden Years so we can enjoy all the hard work we put in during our careers. If I have my way, we’ll spend summers gazing at the Mighty Mississippi from our breathtaking, future blufftop home and winters somewhere warm enough that my wardrobe consists entirely of shorts, T-shirts, and sandals.
I don’t believe in them and do my best to keep that word out of my vocabulary. Rather than wish I had said or did something differently, I use those experiences as a lesson learned and an opportunity to be better the next time around.
That being said, because the pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA College Basketball Tournament I wholeheartedly regret not driving to Madison on Saturday, March 7, 2020 to welcome home the UW Badgers men’s basketball team from their Big Ten title-clinching trip to Indiana.
Why have you stayed involved with LDA?
After graduation I spent six years on the board, including a two-year stint as president. It was a time of change, as LDA shifted away from using third-party organizations for facilitation and administration services and brought those tasks in-house, ultimately hiring our first executive director and program facilitator.
Board members at the time knew these moves were vital to LDA’s long-term viability and sustainability. It was a rough, up-and-down couple of years as we found our footing and put the foundation in place for the program it is today. I was honored in 2018 when the LDA board named me as its inaugural Alumnus of the Year.
As the years pass I enjoy watching LDA blossom into what we always knew it could be, so it is very rewarding for me to stay involved as a sponsor, presenter, donor, and supporter.
“A truly strong person does not need the approval of others any more than a lion needs the approval of sheep.”
— Author & philosopher Vernon Howard
What was your LDA project? How did it impact your experience with LDA or in life?
Our group produced a 5-minute video to promote tourism and attractions on and near Palmer Drive and Main Street, a corridor that had been dubbed “The Janesville Mile.” However, this was not our original project.
We were thrown a curveball in February when, out of left field, the organization with which we were working pulled the plug on our project after much of the work was complete. This ended up being a very important lesson to learn; that, even when you think you have done everything correctly there is still a chance that best laid plans go sour.
Our group learned a lot about picking up the pieces, moving forward after disappointment, and the importance of having a strong “Plan B” at the ready.
If you could choose a community project or need to help out with today, what would it be and why?
I realize this is a very large issue, but we need more education and services related to mental health.
In the past few years have I learned the difficult lesson that you need to take care of yourself first, and not to ignore what is going on inside your head. Luckily I was in a position to find the help I needed, but not everyone is, nor do others around those with mental-health issues know how to support those who are suffering.
If and when these issues go unchecked, they can spiral into other problems and ultimately end up affecting the entire community, whether that be economic, public safety, homelessness or otherwise. We cannot succeed as a community until we take care of those who are vulnerable and in need.
Who do you look up to as a community leader/mentor?
Former Janesville City Manager and LDA facilitator Steve Sheiffer. He showed steady leadership during the good times and bad, such as the city’s economic growth of the 1990s and 2000s, and also when General Motors made the decision to shutter its Janesville facility.
I believe Steve’s involvement in LDA helped make it what it is today, both as a member of the group that founded the program, and returning years later to serve as facilitator. He taught me a lot about leadership, through our conversations as well as watching him operate in various roles within the community.
Do you know of any new non-profits that might need community support now?
While they are not new, I believe that participation in our community’s various service clubs is very important.
Whether it be the Lions, Rotary, Kiwanis, Optimists, or any of the other clubs, all have their own missions and areas of focus. They provide leadership opportunities on the local level, as well as within their respective state, national, and international organizations.
Service clubs are a great place to make a difference, network with others, and make lifelong friends — just like LDA!