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Paul Harral
Paul is a lifelong journalist with experience in wire service, newspaper, magazine, local and network television and digital media. He was vice president and editor of the editorial page of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and editor of Fort Worth, Texas magazine before joining the Business Press. What he likes best is writing about people in detail and introducing them to others in the community. Specific areas of passion are homelessness, human trafficking, health care and aerospace.

One of the most difficult conversations Texans can have is explaining homemade pecan pie to neophytes. If you ain’t had it, you don’t know about it.

Business is a little like that.

But seven successful CEOs have agreed to give it a shot and share their thoughts on business.

They talk about things they know now that they wish they had known earlier, mistakes they made or see others making, some incident or conversations that triggered a change and what they would say to someone who wants to follow in their footsteps.

All have extensive experience in business and one in non-profit leadership.

Four are associated with Leadership Fort Worth’s LeaderPrime program for CEOs new to the area or new to their job as CEO.

John Avila Jr., is on the LeaderPrime steering committee and was recognized as a Forum Fellow by the organization in 2005; and Rachel Marker, Charlie Fowler and Ann Sheets, completed the LeaderPrime program. Fowler is now a member of the LFW board.

Doug Parker

Chairman and CEO, American Airlines

What your company does: American Airlines is the world’s largest airline and we are proud to be based in Fort Worth.

City of birth: Indianapolis, Indiana

Current city: Dallas

When did you come to North Texas? In 2013 following the merger of American and US Airways. But I began my career at American in Fort Worth in 1986, so it was nice to come back.

Education: Bachelor’s degree from Albion College in 1984 and an MBA from Vanderbilt University in 1986

Something you know now that you wish you had known when you started your career:

Early in my career, I was very much focused on myself and trying to stay ahead, which I suppose is understandable.

My career really started to take off when I shifted that focus and began looking at how to take care of those around me. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m in the position I’m in today because of this change in my mindset and leadership philosophy.

At American, we try to lead in a way that lets our team members know they are cared for and their work is appreciated.

A mistake you made or see other people in positions similar to yours making:

For a long time, we managed our business and made decisions with very short-term priorities. For example, looking only to the next quarter instead of the next three to five years.

That’s not so much a mistake as it was a necessity at the time. A lot of airlines, including American, were simply trying to stay afloat and survive. But now our industry is healthy and we’re able to take a much different approach.

The mistake comes if people aren’t recognizing that we’re operating in a different environment now and consequently changing the way we lead. At American, that means revamping our culture and making decisions with the frontline team and the long term in mind.

As a result, we’ve made some decisions that Wall Street hasn’t agreed with but that we know are in the best interest of the company over the long term because we’re playing the long game and building an airline people can count on for decades.

Advice you would give to someone just starting out who aspires to a job like yours:

Focus on building trust between leadership and the rest of the team – particularly in a service business like the airline industry. We realize we still have work to do and a lot of history to overcome, but we are encouraged by the progress we have made so far.

The way we’re building and restoring trust at American is by consistently doing trustworthy things. We’re focused on being servant leaders, letting team members know they are appreciated and ensuring that our team members have the tools they need to do their jobs well and take care of our customers.

Was there a single event, situation or learning event that stands out in your mind that you now consider pivotal?

I was named CEO of America West Airlines 10 days before 9/11. It goes without saying that event forever changed the industry. As a smaller airline, America West just didn’t have enough capital to make it through the financial challenges after 9/11. In the months following, the team and I spent a lot of time in Washington seeking an emergency loan from the government just to keep our doors open. After being denied the loan, I thought we were done.

On my flight home to Phoenix, I had a conversation with one of our flight attendants that changed my life forever. She asked me how things were going for the airline and I hinted that there may be some trouble.

She looked me in the eye and told me I couldn’t let that happen. She had arranged her life around this job and depended on me and the rest of the leadership team to make sure the airline – and her job – was still around.

It was this conversation that helped me to realize how big the situation was. While I would have been able to find work elsewhere, it would have been much harder for this flight attendant and thousands of others who worked for the airline.

So I got the team together that night and we worked through the weekend on another application for the Treasury Department. After three months of lobbying, the loan was approved. This was a huge turning point for me and for our leadership team.

From that point forward, we have been doing our jobs in a way that is bigger than us and leading with the purpose of serving others.

Is there a comment or phrase from someone that repeatedly comes to mind when you are facing a decision?

I always go back to Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines, who has been an important mentor to me through the years. Herb showed everyone in the airline industry what worked, and he created the model we’re working to emulate at American.

There is a case study for airlines that shows that if you take care of your people, they will take care of your customers, and the company will be successful – financially and otherwise.

Herb instilled that philosophy in me, which drives a lot of what we do at American today. We always make decisions with our team in mind, because if we take care of our team, everything else will take care of itself.

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John Avila Jr.

Chairman, Byrne Construction Services

What your company does: General contractor / construction manager

City of birth: San Antonio

Current city: Fort Worth

When did you come to North Texas? 1979

Education: Bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering, University of Texas at Austin

Things you know now that you wish you had known when you started your career:

¬– Everyone you meet is an eventual member of your network.

– Spend time in all the major disciplines – departments ¬– in your field of work.

– Engineers can sell.

Mistakes you made or see other people in positions similar to yours making:

– Overextending their expansion in markets.

– Not properly vetting key position hires.

– Not keeping a frugal eye on overhead and general administrative costs.

Advice you would give to someone just starting out who aspires to a job like yours:

Spend time in all the company disciplines to determine your advancement path. There are projects that look “shiny” but better to pass than build a monument to yourself. Stay current in industry advancement, technology and trends.

Something that happened during your career that is amusing now but looked like a disaster back when it happened:

Pouring a concrete elevated slab in the winter when the temperature was dropping. Had to run around gathering heaters to place on the floor below to keep the slab from freezing before setting up.

Was there a single event, situation or learning event that stands out in your mind that you now consider pivotal?

The award of the four-year construction management contract for Dallas Fort Worth International Airport in 1997, two years after purchasing Byrne. It was huge for our growth and reestablishment of the company.

Is there a comment or phrase from someone that repeatedly comes to mind when you are facing a decision?

You can mull it over for days or you can gather the immediate facts and make a decision. You will be right 80 percent of the time. If you mull it over for days your odds remain the same, but you lose the initiative.

One from Gen. George S. Patton Jr.: “An adequate plan violently executed now is better than the perfect plan executed next week.”

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Larry Kamp

Chief Operating Officer, Kemp & Sons General Services

What your company does: Commercial building maintenance

City of birth: Bonham

Current city: Fort Worth

When did you come to North Texas? As an infant

Education: bachelor’s degree in business administration, University of Texas at Arlington

Things you know now that you wish you had known when you started your career:

– Failure is part of the journey to success.

– People never notice what has been done, they only see what remains to be done. Whatever you do, do it in excellence.

– A clear and absolute vision makes your road to success a lot smoother. Create a map, a business plan, even if it’s a one-pager.

Mistakes you made or see other people in positions similar to yours making:

– You must sweat the small things; small things turn into big things.

– Don’t just focus on the bottom line; focus on the entire balance sheet. Take accounting courses; learn what it all means.

– Progress is impossible without deviation from the norm. Zig when others zag.

Advice you would give to someone just starting out who aspires to a job like yours:

– Don’t let success go to your head but also don’t let failure go to your heart.

– To be truly successful you must be willing to give up one thing, that’s everything. Sacrifices in so many areas may be needed in order to accomplish the goal and they must be timely.

– Opportunities will come and go. Seize the moment. Don’t let that window of opportunity close. The bridge between your dreams and success is work and more WORK!

Something that happened during your career that is amusing now but looked like a disaster back when it happened:

When I was asked to leave my corporate position at IBM, forcing me to become uncomfortable.

Was there a single event, situation or learning event that stands out in your mind that you now consider pivotal?

Losing everything almost three decades ago was the best thing that ever happened to me. There was no place but UP!

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David C. Goodroe, SR, CR

President/CEO, Designs for Living

What your company does: Custom residential remodeling and new home construction

City of birth: Columbus, Georgia

Current city: Fort Worth

When did you come to North Texas? 1978

Education: Southern Methodist University, business. Working got in the way of my graduation

Things you know now that you wish you had known when you started your career:

– Take the ancient path and the good way.

– Fear gets in the way of growth.

– The obstacle is the way.

Mistakes you made or see other people in positions similar to yours making:

– Impulsiveness can get you in trouble.

– Not inspecting what you expect.

– Assuming teammates are on the same path you are.

Advice you would give to someone just starting out who aspires to a job like yours:

– Be thorough.

– Making a profit and collecting it is part and parcel of entrepreneurship.

– Hire them right and fire them right, slow on the hire and fast on the fire.

Something that happened during your career that is amusing now but looked like a disaster back when it happened:

When I was promoted over everyone at a Fortune 500 company after being employed around six months, elevated to national sales manager and those who hired me were now working for me, I wanted the position, but it scared me to death. It turned out to be the best corporate move of my life for the company and me.

Was there a single event, situation or learning event that stands out in your mind that you now consider pivotal?

I grew up in a family of self-employed folks. They owned many companies and I was taught the value of hard work and a work ethic.

One of my first jobs as a teenager in 1969 was a summer job working in the commercial construction company they owned. I rode to the job site with the general superintendent of the other construction superintendents.

I thought I was going to be a Junior Boss. When we arrived, I was given a flat-blade shovel, a wooden 12-inch stake that had a pencil line four inches from the flat end, taken to

a field where laborers had set string four inches off the ground between stakes over that whole field.

I was introduced to and assigned to the head laborer. The general superintendent, Mr. Salter, instructed me to level that field four inches below those strings.

The purpose? He said my family was going to pour concrete on that field for a new building and that that concrete was engineered and had to be four inches everywhere. Otherwise, the integrity of the building would fail.

Moral? The mundane and the little things that seem unimportant are most times the very things that the whole building relies on. They matter the most and those who are doing them are really the most important cogs in the wheel and not the self-important Junior Boss.

Is there a comment or phrase from someone that repeatedly comes to mind when you are facing a decision?

When it is time to let an employee go, I recall a 1972 conversation with my district manager at the time, Warren Wilson.

If I as manger have done everything possible to make sure the employee or sub understands the task at hand, have given him or her the right tools and so forth and they refuse to do it the way asked, then I sever the relationship. I have not fired them.

Simply put, as Warren said, “They have chosen to realign their [own] future and have taken me and the company out of it.” I have never fired anyone, but I have helped a few over the years to realign their future. And that has been good for them as well as me. Unhappy people don’t perform well.

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Rachel Vogel Marker

Principal and partner, Arcturis

What your company does: Arcturis is a 41-year-old woman-owned commercial architecture, design, landscape, planning, lighting and graphics firm headquartered in St. Louis with offices now in Fort Worth/Dallas.

City of birth: Miami, Florida

Current city: Fort Worth

When did you come to North Texas? 1998

Education: I hold three business degrees, one from Southern Methodist University (Graduate Marketing Certificate Program) and two from the University of Iowa. I have also completed a three-year apprenticeship in design and construction.

Things you know now that you wish you had known when you started your career:

– People are your greatest asset; treat them well (team members, clients, vendors, EVERYONE). Be grateful, be humble.

– Listen more. There is a lot to be learned when you are not thinking about what you are going to say next as your words will come naturally when you listen.

– Take time for yourself and listen to your body. A clear mind makes much better decisions.

Mistakes you made or see other people in positions similar to yours making:

– Don’t make assumptions about what an employee’s greatest strengths are. Ask them. You may be missing out on a lot of intellectual capital that already exists and is being overlooked.

– Executives are not willing to adapt to new technology for various reasons.

– Executives underestimate the influence of the millennial generation and their work ethic, and by discounting their relevance they are losing large market shares and the fastest growing workforce sector in our time. If you do not have millennials working for you and with you, you are standing still and falling behind.

Advice you would give to someone just starting out who aspires to a job like yours:

– Become active in your community immediately with organizations that YOU are passionate about.

– Always do the right thing by your employees, clients, acquaintances, family and friends. There will be a time when you will need to lean on them and it makes the hard times much easier when you are transparent.

– Do not look at your competitors as competition. View them as potential partners and always keep your options open.

Something that happened during your career that is amusing now but looked like a disaster back when it happened:

Twenty years ago, a former employer insisted (to the point of threatening I would lose my job) that I give a prospective client a chocolate gift from “their” favorite chocolatier after a project interview with them.

Ironically, the client was a manufacturer of chocolates and took great offense because our gift was not from their company. We did NOT win the project and the razzing I received from the client’s broker continues today (in good form, of course).

I knew with every ounce of my being that I should not have sent out the gift. Today, I would hold my stance, no question there. It was the wrong thing to do.

Was there a single event, situation or learning event that stands out in your mind that you now consider pivotal

I had Guillian-Barre in my early 20s and became a quadriplegic for a year. I ultimately recovered to the point that you cannot tell today that I was afflicted with this disease. Because of that, I vowed that I would not let any one experience define me, and, most importantly, I would learn from that experience and help others in need without question.

Live your life with adventure, as you never know when your health might be compromised. Today, I am proud to have visited 57 countries and all seven continents to further understand people and culture. And, let’s admit it, a little adventure was to be had on that 500-day experience.

Is there a comment or phrase from someone that repeatedly comes to mind when you are facing a decision?

“Hesitation kills.” — Bernie Appel, former chairman of the board of RadioShack, may he rest in peace. Also, if you’re the smartest person in the room, you are in the WRONG room.

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Charlie Fowler Jr.

Principal, Stantec Consulting Services Inc.

What your company does: Stantec is a global design firm offering full architectural and engineering services.

City of birth: Austin

Current city: Fort Worth

When did you come to North Texas? September, 2014

Education: Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, Texas A&M University

Things you know now that you wish you had known when you started your career:

– To be more active in the community.

– Follow your instincts.

– Build a network of advisers on business, relationships and life.

Mistakes you made or see other people in positions similar to yours making:

– Don’t let the situation become emotional.

– If something or someone is not working out, make the decision to change it quickly. Prolonging or avoiding the decision only makes it worse.

– It’s OK to say NO. You can’t do everything for everyone.

Advice you would give to someone just starting out who aspires to a job like yours:

– Have FUN! Life is too short not to.

– Push yourself outside your comfort zone.

– Make sure you spend quality time with family and friends.

Something that happened during your career that is amusing now but looked like a disaster back when it happened:

My partner and I were negotiating a contract on a project that we really wanted. After weeks of defining scope and negotiating the fee I had come to terms with the client.

My partner, who has a flare for the dramatic, walks in and doubles down on a comment he made to the client that we would take the project for $1. Fortunately, the client wouldn’t accept that offer but we did slash our fee 50 percent. I was beside myself at the time and worried myself sick on how we were going to perform.

A dozen years later, we are still working on the development and have made that initial investment back many times over.

Was there a single event, situation or learning event that stands out in your mind that you now consider pivotal?

I was taking a break from college and wanted to make some good money, so I decided I was going to be an underwater welder. My parents were not too happy about this decision and I can still hear my dad say, “Son, you can’t weld very good above ground. What makes you think you can do it underwater?”

I was still determined to do it and my future wife and I went and toured the school, went through enrollment and I was about to sign up for financial aid when I realized I was going to borrow more money to learn to weld than it would take to finish my engineering degree at A&M.

I put the pen down and walked out of the building. On the way home, I called my adviser at A&M and he helped me switch degrees and finish up college.

Is there a comment or phrase from someone that repeatedly comes to mind when you are facing a decision?

There were several mentors that had variations of the same quote: “Make a plan and then work the plan.” If you take the time to plan things out – daily, monthly, one year, five years and so on – the decisions are much easier to make because you know what you want the outcome to be.

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Ann Sheets

President/CEO, Camp Fire First Texas

What your organization does: Youth development

City of birth: Henderson, Texas

Current city: Fort Worth

When did you come to North Texas? 1977

Education: bachelor’s degree in music education, East Texas State University; master’s degree, George Williams College of Aurora University

Things you know now that you wish you had known when you started your career:

– More about accounting and financial management.

– The value of being involved in a professional group. You can’t beat networking with others who have the same type of job.

– There are generally just two answers – yes or no. Never be afraid to ask, because if you don’t ask the question, then you may never know the answer.

Mistakes you made or see other people in positions similar to yours making:

– Not recognizing that nonprofits are businesses and should be run like a business.

– Knowing when a program is past its useful life and needs to be eliminated.

– Starting new programs without adequate staff and/or knowledge to provide a high-quality experience.

Advice you would give to someone just starting out who aspires to a job like yours:

– Read. Read the local newspapers, read the major D.C. and New York papers, read newsmagazines, and read professional journals; make a point to keep up with current events and trends that could affect your business, your industry or your job.

– Get involved in the community. Find a nonprofit that addresses something you care about. Give your time and a reasonable amount of your money to help your favorite cause.

– Be kind. My dad, a school administrator, always told me that you can never go wrong by being kind. I think of his advice often and strive to always be kind, regardless of the situation.

Something that happened during your career that is amusing now but looked like a disaster back when it happened:

My first job with Camp Fire was as the camp director at El Tesoro in 1977. Back then, we used cotton shower curtains in the bathroom and shower stalls at camp. At the end of the season, one of my jobs was to bring all 100 of the shower curtains to Fort Worth and have them cleaned.

I took them to the laundry we had always used, a place on the south side of town called Snow White Laundry. A few days later I was watching the local news and the lead story was about a south side laundry burning to the ground in a five-alarm fire. My worst fears would soon be confirmed – Snow White was indeed the unfortunate laundry, and our 100 shower curtains were no more.

At the time, I had a new boss – Zem Neill, my predecessor as CEO at Camp Fire. I was afraid to tell her of what seemed at the time a terrible loss. I worked up my confidence and went in to her office the next morning and told her my sad story about the five-alarm fire and our curtains.

I’ll never forget her response: “Did you call Snow White?” While this struck me as an odd request, I had to admit that I hadn’t tried, explaining as best I could that it was unlikely that Snow White’s telephone had survived the five-alarm fire. Being the dutiful young employee, I called and sure enough, Snow White did not answer. We have laughed about this over the years and occasionally, out of the blue, one of us would ask the other about calling Snow White.

Was there a single event, situation or learning event that stands out in your mind that you now consider pivotal?

I was working as a camp counselor at the Camp Fire camp near Washington, D.C., and had shared with the director my desire to become a camp director. Her advice was to get some leadership experience at a couple of different camps so I had a broader view of what camp could be and what other Camp Fire councils were like. I did what she suggested and have never regretted it.

Is there a comment or phrase from someone that repeatedly comes to mind when you are facing a decision?

“No guts, no glory.” This was one of Zem’s favorite sayings and it has always had multiple meanings for me: don’t be afraid to make a tough decision; do the right thing, no matter what; and be open to doing things differently.

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