Words of Wisdom: Austin Under 40 winners inspire at YWA’s August General meeting
By Chantal Espinoza
Past winners Jonny Rodgers, Chelsea McCullough and Mousumi Shaw inspired members by explaining how they have lead successful careers and been able give back to the Austin community — all at the same time.
Chelsea, AU40’s 2015 Technology and Science winner, and co-founder and director of Wake Up, described feeling selfish for her love for community service, because she feels she receives more than she gives. Some of the organizations dear to her heart include Leadership Austin and Seton Medical Center.
“The people are so passionate and purposeful,” she said at the meeting. “I almost feel like a little bit of an addict, because I just want to support so many passionate social entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders who are putting their time and talents to make their world, community and city a better place.”
Jonny, AU40’s 2015 Austinite of the Year and partner at DEN properties, is deeply involved in partnering with Young Men’s Business League’s Sunshine Camp, which provides children the opportunity to have the camp-experience, followed by an evening of family fun at a carnival. Mousumi, AU40’s 2014 Business and Entrepreneurship winner, and founder and CEO of Sikara & Co., is heavily involved with March of Dimes and other foundations.
While these AU40 winners seem to have found their niche, this was not always the case. All three speakers have experienced career changes at some or various points in their careers.
For Chelsea, she describes her multiple career changes as “Mountain Disease.”
“I really love participating in the creation of things that don’t exist,” she explained. “In the early stages of your career, you don’t see that pathway quite unfolding — it feels really frenetic and it feels like you’re saying, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just stay still and have a career path like everyone else does? I should be an account executive at a GSD&M or an account manager or whatever that prescribed path was.”
Chelsea explained jumping to different jobs to new opportunities was great for her. After dipping her feet in multiple places, she was able to find what motivated and made her happy.
For Jonny, however, his career change was not caused by multiple opportunities around him. His change came from an economic downturn and having to make the best of a bad situation.
He was laid off a title company that he was running in 2010, causing him to have to figure out what would be the next steps to rebuild his career.
“Tough times don’t last, tough people do,” Jonny said when describing a plaque his family shares with each other during times of trouble.
Having a great deal of local contacts, he knew he had to take advantage and go into real estate. Things happen for a reason though, because of his now flexible schedule, he was able to dedicate more time to the Austin Young Chamber. As that grew, his business also continued to grow.
He credits joining organizations like the AYC to facilitate his career change. Mousumi, expressed that life is a journey and there are various chapters to one’s life. Which is very reflective in her career.
As a child, she was interested in politics and government, getting involved in un-paid internships which led her to work retail to help pay bills. Watching her mom run a jewelry store in Corpus Christi, she never had any interest in owning her own store. Which she now says is quite ironic.
After her undergraduate degree and internship at the white house, she realized politics was not the right fit for her. She started her first start-up company in her early 20s, and after months of traveling and business school at Harvard, she participated in a seminar in San Francisco that made her realize something that would eventually drive her to where she is now.
“If someone like Bill Gates — not that I’m going to be Bill Gates — and George Roberts hadn’t started their companies they wouldn’t have made multiple impacts in their communities,” Mousumi said.
She went back to school and asked herself to combine her passions and knowledge, love for business and community service, and that’s how the concept of Sikara, her jewelry collection, was born.
Starting a business isn’t a walk in the park, though. Chelsea described it as the most challenging, humbling experience.
She explained a few steps she thinks about when deciding if she should go forward with a business venture or not starts:
1. Am I able to make the world a better place?
2. Am I able to add value to someone’s life if I do this?
If the answer was yes for each question, it was no longer a question — Chelsea knew she had to keep moving forward. And she credits this as being the reminder when things went south with a project, why she started it to begin with: passion.
That sentiment is also something Mousumi says drives her decisions. She also recommends not being shy when connecting with someone you feel could be a mentor to you.
“Success is getting what you want and happiness is wanting what you get,” said Mousumi in conclusion.