91. Asheesh Advani: Removing Obstacles

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On the podcast today I am pleased to introduce Asheesh Advani, the CEO of Junior Achievement. Junior Achievement (or JA) is an organization that provides children and teenagers around the world opportunities to learn about work, entrepreneurship and financial literacy through experiential learning. Asheesh believes passionately in the mission of JA, not only because it is his job, but because at the age of 14 Asheesh was made “CEO” of a T-shirt company through Junior Achievement, giving him hands-on experience and insight into how a company (even on a small scale) must operate to survive. It was an enlightening experience for Asheesh, and cracked the door for him to be interested in entrepreneurship later in life.

“I studied finance [as an] undergraduate, and I at the time really thought I was going to be a lawyer. I’ve always been entrepreneurial, and I went through Junior Achievement…and it was an example of something which got me interested in entrepreneurship, and people kept saying, “Oh, you’re such an entrepreneur.” But in my mind you didn’t study to be an entrepreneur, you studied to be a lawyer, and it was a (quote) “stable job.” I went to Wharton at Penn, and I started to meet other entrepreneurial people and I thought, “Oh my goodness, maybe I don’t have to be a corporate lawyer, maybe I can actually start my own business.”

Asheesh went on to start more than one business, successfully selling one to the Virgin Group and another to Interactive Brokers, one of the largest online brokerage firms in the world. After over twenty years of experience Asheesh has learned much about what makes a successful company work, and the true role a CEO plays in its success.

“My job as a leader was almost to make sure everybody’s heard and to get out of their way as they want to get things done as opposed to having the best idea in the room or be the smartest in the room…the best role for CEO at times is just to be the person who removes obstacles so other people can succeed.”

With JA celebrating its 100th year as an organization, Asheesh is excited to remove any obstacles standing in the way of his team so they can take the opportunities JA provides to a whole new generation of students. Join us as we discuss the mission of Junior Achievement, the early turning point in Asheesh’s life, and the not-so-successful business idea Asheesh embarked on as his first entrepreneurial venture (and what he learned from the experience).

And before I forget, Happy New Year, my fellow disruptors! Are you as excited as I am for 2019?  We have some great things planned for the podcast, and I hope that you’ll be inspired—not only today, but throughout the year—to look for ways that you can disrupt yourself and keep moving up your learning curve.

Listen to the episode in the player below, or download and enjoy it on iTunes. If you’re so inclined, please leave us a review!

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Takeaways from this episode:

  • Having a powerful model can have a major impact on a child. First, Asheesh’s brother going to college was a strong model for him; then to meet Ben Johnson, a fellow immigrant, track star and stutterer, showed him that he could choose to do anything, despite what might be perceived as disadvantages.
  • If you aren’t thriving, see if there are ways that you can change your environment. Changing where we go or how we live gives us a new perspective, and the opportunity to forge a new identity.
  • Failure early in his career taught Asheesh that doing testing and market research before focusing on marketing is crucial in the launching of any new business venture.
  • An important lesson for leaders: It doesn’t have to be your idea for it to be a good idea.
  • “The best role for a CEO at times is just to be the person who removes obstacles so other people can succeed.”
  • Be aware of what you say to youth—a comment from a person who has credibility to a young person can fundamentally change a life.
  • Happy 100th birthday to Junior Achievement! If you’d like to volunteer or learn more about the program, visit ja.org or email asheesh.advani@ja.org.

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