Wednesday’s Power Breakfast event promised attendees they would hear from five of Wilmington’s “most intriguing people of 2014,” one of whom was a mystery speaker.
It turned out there were two surprise guests.
The planned mystery speaker was Kevin Keatts, new head basketball coach at University of North Carolina Wilmington. He joined Kurt Taylor of Next Glass, Julie Wilsey of Wilmington International Airport, Shane Fernando of Cape Fear Community College’s Humanities and Fine Arts Center and district attorney Ben David on the podium at the Wilmington Convention Center Wednesday morning. Each chose a topic and, in a TED Talks-style format, spoke for about 10 minutes to a audience of several hundred.
When David’s turn came to talk about his subject -- hiring -- he introduced Don Croteau, CEO of Vertex Rail Technologies, and invited him to the podium. Croteau, who had arrived in Wilmington minutes earlier, talked about his commitment to hire roughly 10 percent of his company’s projected 1,300-person Wilmington workforce through Hometown Hires, a private sector initiative to extend job opportunities to people with obstacles to employment.
In his brief remarks, Croteau (center, shown speaking with attendees after the program) said he has two messages for businesses.
“We have to be good: make our goals and hit our targets, which can be daunting from time to time. But we’re obligated to do good as well. We have to try every day and do our best. If we do, something will come of it," he said.
His comments came at the end of David’s talk, in which the district attorney for New Hanover and Pender counties charted the progress of Hometown Hires, which was launched less than a year ago as the business community’s strategy for tackling the cycle of poverty that spawns gang violence.
Keatts, who was recruited from University of Louisville to turn around UNCW’s men’s basketball program, recounted several experiences that taught him the importance of infusing players with a common vision and purpose that motivates them to strive for seemingly unattainable goals.
“Bringing people together with a shared vision is the best thing you can do,” he said. “I am asking this community to support the team. If there is strong community support, it doesn’t matter who the coach is.”
Taylor related his startup’s work over the past two years to create a scientific taste profile of wines and beers and the choices Next Glass had to make at each fork in the entrepreneurial flow chart. Having good people at the company has been key to its success, he said, enumerating the attributes that he believes can help attract good people to Wilmington.
“You have to have a compelling product; smart, likeable people; a good work environment and company culture," he said, adding that it's also important to compensate people fairly - above the usual Wilmington standard.
Taylor also announced that in the three weeks since Next Glass’s app officially launched, it has seen about 250,000 downloads.
Wilsey, who will become director of ILM on Jan. 1, spoke about the importance of teamwork. She built her talk around her experiences at West Point, where she was on the women’s softball team. Her freshman year, the newly formed team went from nowhere to league champions, thanks -– she said -– to the leadership of their coach and his guiding principles: 1) Focus on what you have; 2) Communicate and execute; 3) Make something happen; and 4) Always go down swinging.
“I refer back to those rules time and time again in my personal and professional life, and I would not be here today if not for coach Flowers,” she said.
Fernando, hired in April as the director of CFCC’s new Humanities and Fine Arts Center, spoke of the importance of the arts as education. He encouraged his audience to avoid “compartmentalized thinking” that separates different disciplines rather than seeing connections among them.
The new facility – scheduled to open next fall – will house classrooms and studios as well as a 1,500-seat auditorium. Fernando said the curricula it will support will allow students to learn experientially and gain career-related skills through their exploration of the arts.