The Ottumwa Courier

Opinion

May 2, 2012

Guest speakers: Know thy audience

Guest editorial

OTTUMWA — I want to compliment Indian Hills’ Dr. Jim Lindenmayer, Tom Rubel and his Advanced Technology Team for a wonderful celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit Friday night at the inaugural “Vision Awards.” That evening we recognized, honored and celebrated some pretty extraordinary folks — including a minority-owned business, a teenager who has opened a steakhouse and a manufacturing company that has hired more than 50 people in recent months. And, of course, a delicious meal prepared by Chef Gordon and his team.

Then the evening took an interesting turn when keynote speaker — blogger and serial entrepreneur Penelope Trunk — took the audience on a fantasy trip to a land called Oz. Not that the audience wasn’t warned in advance that something was amiss when she refused to use the podium and microphone, then pulled her talking points out from her front pocket on what amounted to little more than a napkin. Nonetheless, the journey began in a place where no one really works — because hourly work isn’t fulfilling and those who do hate life while punching a clock and have no dreams. 

Instead, everyone in Oz sits around coming up with “ideas” that are peddled to other people with ideas and hope that someone — venture capitalists — invest in those ideas. Admittedly sometimes those in Oz don’t even understand their own ideas as Miss Trunk shared her own story where “… I stayed up hours at night studying to learn more about what I was actually trying to sell.” And then when those ideas fail spectacularly, we all head down to the Oz Tavern and slap each other on the back celebrating yet another “failure” and earnestly begin discussing ideas for the next failure.

Meanwhile, the kids love Oz because going to school isn’t important, nor a key factor to success. And studying for good grades — especially As and Bs — is like, you know, such a waste of time. Our journey ended contentiously when Miss Trunk scoffed at the notion of a “young professional’s organization” as being important to bringing young people back to a community and poked fun at a good work ethic, also calling it a waste of time, as Miss Trunk proudly declared — “a strong work ethic? I’m just not into it.” I’m not making this up.

Then in a moment of poetic justice, Miss Trunk noted how having a mentor is so important in entrepreneurship — then lamented how her own phone never rings. After hearing her “advice” to a budding entrepreneur in the audience, who also happens to be a current student at Indian Hills, it’s no wonder.

Here in the real world, I’d like to introduce Miss Trunk to Ottumwa and southeast Iowa — where a good solid work ethic is alive and well and has been for decades. It’s a place where people want to work as evidenced by the big turnout at last week’s job fair. This is a value very much appreciated by local employers such as John Deere, Cargill, Al-jon, Regionalcare, Elliott Oil, O’Hara Hardware, The Canteen and the hundreds of other employers who have chosen our region to locate their business, including the entrepreneurs celebrated earlier in the evening.

Furthermore, in Ottumwa, a good education is important to all of us, especially our kids, and a critical key to any success we hope to have now and in the future. Not lost on me was the irony that exactly one week ago, in the very same room, at nearly the very same time, I was part of a celebration of Ottumwa High School’s “Top 10 Percent Seniors” banquet sponsored by our local Kiwanis groups. To say pride was in that room of 135 folks doesn’t do it justice.

And a special thanks to companies like John Deere — who Miss Trunk relentlessly singled out as a company who does nothing more than “take cash from farmers.” For some unexplained reason it was OK for Trunk to make “lots of money” and lose other people’s money. Deere on the other hand was the evil empire. Thank you John Deere for sponsoring events such as the Vision Awards and for the millions of dollars you have invested not only in Ottumwa but in cities and communities all over the country. 

So again, many thanks to Indian Hills and their team who put on a wonderful evening and for giving us a speaker who challenged our thinking, but at the end of the day affirmed for me my belief that a good work ethic, a good education, learning from our failures and celebrating our successes in a place where folks are committed to showing up and doing the work is a place where I want to call home — a place called Ottumwa, Iowa.

Brad Little is the president/CEO of the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation in Ottumwa.

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