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Pay It Forward: Teaching Kids Entrepreneurship

Co-founders Amy Lucas and John Staley

Guest Post by By John Staley

Co-founder of Presenting U, a coaching and consulting business that trains high performers in the areas of presentation skills, storytelling for sales, and executive presence.

My dad was 35 years old when he took a job at Marathon Electric in Wausau, WI. He was already working as a manager in the fledgling world of data processing and was a natural fit in his new position as a systems analyst. He had a wife and four young kids to support and his new job was a good one: decent salary, benefits, vacation time and, most importantly, security.

Over the next 23 years, my dad was promoted and his responsibilities grew. He had money in the bank, a nice house in the suburbs, and my three sisters and me in private school. I don’t ever remember feeling a lack for anything. My dad, along with the rest of my family, just assumed he would retire with a nice pension and spend his days writing books.

Until the morning his boss called him into the office and told him he was being let go. The company had been bought out and they were downsizing. My father’s position was being eliminated and so his services were no longer required. And just like that, after 23 years, at the age of 58, my dad was unemployed. While he received a pension and six months of severance pay, it was no coincidence that they let him go two years before his 60th birthday when he could have retired with a full pension.

The company did offer to put my dad into a six-month career development class. For an entire year, he submitted his resume to every job he could find that fit his skill set. After several interviews but no offers my dad made a life-changing career decision—he would start his own consulting business. Although my dad had never thought of himself as an entrepreneur, he knew he had the background and experience to be a consultant and now, with the help of the career development class, he had some knowledge of how to branch off on his own.

He took the leap and launched his business. It turned out to be one of the best decisions he ever made. During the next seven years my dad consulted with dozens of companies in California and the Midwest and made three times the income he did working for Marathon Electric. He looks back on his consulting business as the most fulfilling years of his career.

I watched my dad make the transformation from a 9-to-5 company guy to a man in charge of his own destiny. The example he set gave me the courage and inspiration, years later, to start my own businesses. I was a young actor at the time, new to Los Angeles and making the rounds like thousands of other wide-eyed kids. Like my dad, I never envisioned myself an entrepreneur, but when my son was born I knew it was time for me to take charge of my future.

With the help of some incredible business coaches, I founded a performing arts academy that trained thousands of kids from K-12. My mission was not only to teach our students acting, singing, and dancing but also to show them how to be leaders in their future careers and in life.

I believe that the skills I learned, and that my dad learned, shouldn’t wait to be acquired until after college or middle age, but as children. In this era of social media and 24-hour news cycles, kids are more dialed into the world than ever before, and also more susceptible to unhealthy influences. What better way for them to stay focused on positive endeavors than to teach them life and leadership skills?

My experience includes my acting training, as well as an executive consulting background focused on coaching corporate executives on communication, presentation, and leadership skills—skills I feel are highly useful to learn at a young age. So I decided to teach a class to see if the kids would enjoy it. I taught my first class of twelve students (ages 12-16) once

a week for ten weeks. Individually, they chose a project they were passionate about, set goals, enrolled other people for assistance, and then managed and led the project to the desired outcome. Along the way they discussed their projects, problem solved collaboratively, and cheered each other on to success. The kids raised money for charities, ran clothes drives, fed the homeless, and some, with the help of family and friends, started their own businesses. It was truly inspirational.

At our last debriefing meeting, I asked about their greatest takeaways from the experience. These were their top 5 answers:

1. Self-Confidence: The students overwhelmingly reported that they surprised themselves at what they could accomplish, especially in such a short time. Even the kids who said they were the most nervous and shy were anxious to start another project.

2. Empowerment: The students felt like they could conquer the world. One of my 16-year-old entrepreneurs told the class she had already begun her next—a non-profit!

3. A Sense of Community: The class was heavily focused on making a difference in the world. Some kids raised money for international charities while others worked within their neighborhoods. All of them said they found a sense of being connected to something greater than themselves.

4. Courage: Most of the students admitted to being nervous when they first began their projects. However, as the weeks added up, every single one of them found the inner strength to overcome their fears and see their projects through successfully.

5. Financial acumen: These young business leaders were responsible for raising the money needed and setting fundraising goals. They saw how the leadership and management of their projects directly affected the bottom line.


We believe the world needs passionate and purposeful leaders to step into their power and be agents of change.

For more information about Presenting U or our upcoming leadership classes please call us at 323-382-1141 or email


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