A volunteer exclaimed, “Speaking with these students today has completely changed my outlook on the next generation.” This comment followed the JA Business Week Entrepreneurship lunch where more than 20 entrepreneurs sat at tables full of business week students and shared their experience and provided mentoring to young people hoping to run their own businesses someday.
The maturity of the students at JA Business Week is impressive, and it’s easy to forget that most are still 15, 16 or 17 years old; they come ready to collaborate and do their best work. The students display leadership, and a work ethic that I certainly did not possess when I was a student.
To give students an opportunity to hone their leadership skills, each company appointed a CEO. At the beginning of the week, Company Advisors like me were given instructions for how to choose a CEO. Some teams chose to have elections, other teams opted to nominate specific individuals, and some CEOs were chosen directly by the Company Advisor. In my company, there was an obvious leader after the first two meetings. She did a great job of listening, respecting her team and communicating with each group member. When it came time for the students to choose a leader, I simply asked the team, “Do you feel as though there is one individual who stands out as an obvious leader?” Their response, “No. Is there someone that you think stands out?” I said, “I’ll give you a hint, we are all looking at her now, even though I’m the one talking”. I was pointing out that even though students had scattered themselves around the room, everyone’s focus was on one person who was clearly the leader. The team chose her as the CEO without even a vote.
As a CEO she displayed maturity that I haven’t seen in senior-level executives. One of the perks of being the CEO was that she had the privilege of cutting in line for breakfast, lunch and dinner. She never felt right about that, however, and she opted to wait with her team. How many times have you flown with a boss who opted to board the plane earlier than you because they had medallion status that you did not? It caught my attention, and is a trait I hope to embody as a team leader.
The maturity of the students was not limited to the CEO, and the rest of the team demonstrated dedication and a strong work ethic consistently throughout the week. Of course, there were moments when the students lost focus and sent Snapchats to their friends or played and shared music rather than working on their project. During these moments I had to remind myself that they were high school students. It’s rather amazing that this kind of behavior didn’t dominate the week, and that’s why JA Business Week students are unique.They are engaged, motivated and driven to succeed.
I appreciated how hard my company worked to create an Otterbox proposal that they could be proud of, and I’m lucky to have had the chance to watch and guide them as their advisor. When you see how hard the students work and how much fun they have, it’s really easy to forget that these are high school students on summer vacation.
Supplier Marketing Manager for Arrow Electronics
JA Business Week Company Advisor