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TAYLORVILLE– Students in the Christian County CEO class went to Chicago in mid-October to visit Dan and Bill Berry in Chicago, Il. to learn about different opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Over two days, the students in CEO got to visit Bill’s home, go to Dan and Bill’s businesses, listen to guest speakers from both companies, and see sights in the city.
Audrey Curtin, the Google Drive manager of CEO, said the trip was an opportunity to learn about networking and talk with younger interns in the company.
“I think talking to some of the interns was really helpful for a lot of us because some of the people that work at Draper and Kramer and Antares Capital weren’t much older than what we are,” Curtin said. “It was kind of eye opening that we don’t have to start so low, if we work hard we can get to where they’re at, as quickly as they were able to.”
The class’s goal is for students to start their own small business. Curtin said Dan and Bill gave the class helpful advice on how to start out.
“They really drove home the point that networking is important and expanding your circle,” Curtin said. “That’s something that we’ve talked about a lot in class, and how different kinds of people need to work together because if you have multiple people with all the same mindsets, you’re not going to have unique ideas come out of brainstorming. I think that that would be the main thing that we took from the trip.”
She added she isn’t sure what her small business should be, but for now she’s leaning towards jewelry.
Bill and Dan first began inviting the students to Chicago two years ago. Both are active alumnus of Taylorville High School, showing support for the school’s programs whenever they can. Bill said they came up with the idea because he didn’t have the same opportunities in school.
“We didn’t have some opportunities like this and I thought it would be a nice opportunity for them to get away for a night and see other things,” Bill said. “If you’re in Taylorville your entire life, maybe you don’t get exposed to some of these opportunities, so we thought it’d be great. In all honesty, my brother and I enjoyed having the students for the day that they were here.”
Curtin said the visit helped open her, and her classmate’s, eyes that they don’t have to go to big name schools or colleges to be successful.
“I think a lot of kids in my class were under the impression that you have to go to certain colleges to get to where they are, and one of the employees at Draper and Kramer went to a really small college up in Northern Illinois,” Curtin said. “I know, for a lot of kids in my class there that was kind of eye opening for them because they were under the impression that you had to go to like the U of I or Purdue. It showed us they are people like us and we can do what they’re doing.”
Bill, Senior Vice President for Draper and Kramer, said after graduating from the University of Illinois he moved to Chicago. While he was adjusting to the city, Bill said he always wondered if he was well prepared to work in large towns or a city.
“I was always wondering: ‘Okay, I’m coming from a small town here in central Illinois, am I well prepared to pursue an education at U of I?’”
Bill said. “I told them [the students] they are very well prepared. Taylorville has a great educational program, a great high school, great teachers, that they are more than well prepared to attend any, any college, any university, any trade school, that they want.”
While the students were in Chicago, they visted Bill’s home, where he introduced them to his family and hosted dinner.
“I enjoyed meeting the students, and I think out of all the people that enjoyed meeting them, my five year old daughter enjoyed them the most,” Bill said. “She loves having the big kids around and showing them around our house. They played games with her too, so it was just a great experience all the way around.”
Dan, a former senior managing director of sales for his company Antares Capital, started out working for another company in Chicago when he and 11 other individuals decided to quit and create their own financial services firm.
“I had three children under five at the time,” Dan said. “We had a good partner to help us with some of the financial needs that we had. We put our own money up. It was scary, but I trusted these individuals that I was with. I worked with those people for at least five or six years. I trusted that they were willing to work hard, but it wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination.”
Luckily, they had clients they had known from their previous company to work with. Soon after they started Antares Capital, they signed their first deal and expanded the company quickly.
Currently, Dan is retired from the company.
Dan and Bill said they both enjoy talking to the students and getting to know their backgrounds.
“It’s just good to get to know them and get to introduce myself to the kids, but to get to know their stories and what their goals are too,” Dan said.
Dan said he tries to find a few interns and employees who have come from smaller schools so the CEO class can hear stories similar to theirs.
“Each of us have people from our offices join and give their backgrounds on how they ended up coming to my company, which is Antares Capital and we’re a financial services firm that does private credit,” Dan said. “I have people who are more in the younger ages, anywhere from associates to the SVP [senior vice president] level, kind of tell them where they grew up and how they ended up coming to Antares.”
The brothers hope by inviting students to their offices, the class can see there are opportunities for them in and outside of Taylorville. Dan said his advice for students is to follow their passions.
“I think, in all the different times in your life, if you believe in yourself, and you have the passion to do something, then go for it,” Dan said. “I think if you have passion and work hard, you will become successful.”
For now, the brothers plan on continuing inviting students in the CEO program to Chicago to visit.
“As long as they feel like they’re getting something out of it, I think it’s a great opportunity for them,” Bill said. “They get exposed to a different environment than they are in Taylorville.”