Giving Thanks To Mentors: My Gratitude To Andy Paine, Jr.

As we live our lives, we all lose family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Sometimes, we lose someone who meant something very special at some point along our life’s journey. For me, that someone was Andrew J Paine, Jr., “Andy” who passed away this week after a battle with cancer. Andy lived a full life, raised a great family and has many great accomplishments as one of The Business Leaders of the Indianapolis community for decades. The Indianapolis Business Journal did a nice job in their tribute here Banking titan Andy Paine dies at age 80

Andy was one of the first people I met when I moved to Indianapolis after Cornell University. He was warm and inviting and we immediately connected on some of his work in the community. He was leading an effort with the Japan America Business Council which led us to long discussions on international business and relations. At that first meeting at my father-in-law, Jim Lacrosse’s house, Andy invited me to join him for lunch at his office. Little did I know that lunch would transform my life.

Andy and Jim were close friends. Indiana National Bank was one of two leading Indiana banks and Andy was, by then, the President (INB is now JP Morgan Chase). But when they met, Andy was the loan officer who ended up pushing through the loan that allowed Jim to buy the $11 million National Liquor Company (Later $1 billion National Wine & Spirits and now part of $8 billion RNDC). Needless to say, they were close, but Andy and I hit it off independently.

When I arrived at the Indiana National Bank tower, I was unaware that we’d be dining in the CEO’s private dining room. At 22, I was wet behind the ears in business, but possessed high ambition and the willingness to do whatever it took to make my mark. I think Andy sensed that and somehow felt a connection and the desire to help channel my raw energy. That’s what mentors do.

At that lunch, Andy said to me,

“Smoke, you need to get involved in the community early on.  Don’t wait until later, do it now. I want you to meet David Hicks (then president of JA of Central Indiana). JA is something you can help with now. I also want you to go through the Stanley K Lacy Leadership Series, but you will have to wait until you are at least 27.”

He talked about the importance of giving back in the community and getting involved early. That it’s an obligation for each of us who do well and thrive in our communities to give back to those communities and to people who need a leg up. Andy appealed to the best in each of us and translated that into action for me.

When I applied to business schools, Andy wrote me recommendations. When I led the Distinguished Lecture Series at Vanderbilt Business, Andy helped me recruit speakers (Hank Schacht CEO of Cummins Engine and later Lucent Technologies and James Baker, CEO of Arvin Industries). When I applied to the SKL Leadership series, Andy was my sponsor. When I later became Chairman of JA of Central Indiana and won a national bronze leadership award, Andy was there encouraging and supporting me at each step along the way. Andy supported my selection as “Forty Under 40” by the IBJ. As we grew our business and NWS, I became CFO to restructure our financing amid a torrid pace of acquisitions and growth. Andy was always around.

I reflect back now on the impact he had on my career and life. The advice he gave me at the first lunch and the later encouragement and support, although infrequent, came at critical moments in time that helped me make better decisions and ultimately become the person I am today.   For all of you who take the time out of your busy schedules to counsel an up and comer from your business or community, I say thank you. Know that a lunch with a bit of coaching and encouragement can make all the difference in someone’s life. Don’t ever think of it as a waste of time or unnecessary. Indeed, it may well be one of the greatest responsibilities we all have as leaders in our respective worlds.

Thank you, Andy. I will never forget you and your legacy continues.

The Power of Choice: A Boy Named Smoke

“Well my daddy left home when I was three And he didn’t leave much to Ma and me Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze Now, I don’t blame him ’cause he run and hid But the meanest thing that he ever did Was before he left, he went and named me “Sue”” – Johnny Cash “A Boy Named Sue”

My whole life I’ve been asked if Smoke is my real name. Born John Smoke Wallin, I’ve been Smoke since memory. This might seem a trivial question, but explaining my name has been a reality for me since as long as I can remember. I attended a Young Presidents Organization (YPO) event last night in West Hollywood and met another member with an equally unique name. We connected on the issue of growing up with an unusual name and the challenges that presented each of us. He explained his story of growing up hating his name, wishing to change it, and then being given a choice by his family. He was offered a color TV or name change and picked the TV. He went on to describe the pivot that happened for him when he chose not to change his name and owning the decision for the rest of his life. “The day after my choice, someone called me a name and we fought. I stood my ground. From that moment on, I owned my name and it empowered me.”

I immediately realized he described my own experience. Growing up in multiple towns, from Hoboken, Boston, Siesta Key and ultimately Longboat Key. I changed schools and moved 4 and 5 times before entering high school. Each move provided the usual challenges of meeting new kids, introducing myself and getting asked (aka challenged) about my name. Kids generally want to be liked and fit in. Having a weird name always came with this challenge up front. As I’ve described it many times, kids can be very mean and I remember this being very upsetting. I can remember coming home in tears. I always felt like an outsider.

I entered yet another school for 7th grade and declared to my mom, “I’m sick and tired of getting made fun of, I am going to use my given first name at my new school”. Declaring that, and having mom’s full support, I entered Sugg Middle School in Bradenton, FL as John Wallin. The first day of school and throughout my 2 years there I quickly realized 2 things: 1. I did not respond to the name John. 2. There were 7-10 John’s in every class. No one made fun of me and I fit right in and yet realized I did not feel like me.

As I prepared to enter Bayshore High School I declared to my mom, “ok, I’m going back to my real name, Smoke”. I’ve owned my decision ever since. Having a unique name from HS through college through my business career is now a source of strength. I embraced the unique gift my parents gave me at birth. Proudly explain my American Indian heritage (very small) and my likely semi-hippie parents at the time. Everyone remembers my name and me. It is a part of what makes me me.

The power of choice in our lives is all powerful. Deciding something for oneself means you own the decision. The greatest gift my mom gave me was to let me choose.

If you are facing a challenge or problem great or small, think about the choices you have made to be in your situation. Realizing that there are many things outside our control, think about the choices you can make going forward that you do control. Worrying about things outside your control adds no value. Remember, once we have identified a problem or issue we all have these choices: to change it, to solve it or to live with it. Doing nothing is a choice. Once you realize this, you empower yourself and own the decision. No one can take it away from you.

By A Boy Named Smoke.

Finish What You Started

It was the Summer before my senior year in High School when I ran into my Scout Master. He was also our neighbor in the small fishing village of Longboat Key, FL, where I grew up. “Smoke, good to see you. You going to finish what you started?” he asked. Of course, I knew exactly what he was referring to. You see, a few short years before, I was one of the founding scouts of Troop 44 on Longboat Key. As a new troop, I had the opportunity to immediately become a leader. It didn’t take long for a rapid ascent through the ranks; from Scout, to Tenderfoot, to 2nd Class, to 1st Class, to Star, and on to Life Scout by age 16. I only had a few more requirements to achieve my goal of becoming an Eagle Scout, the Boy Scouts highest rank. While Scouting and camping remained something I cared about, sports, school and social activities had begun to take most of my time.

On that hot Summer day while on my way to catch some Mullet with my cast net, Mr. Carmen reminded me, “Smoke, you know that only 4% of boys who start scouting ever achieve the rank of Eagle?”. This had been grilled into us from the first days of scouting. He was reminding me, that in less than a year I would turn 18 and no longer be eligible for advancement. He also knew there was a very good chance I would not finish as he’d seen this happen to many scouts over the years. Wrestling was my priority and I was about to head to Dan Gable’s 28 Day Intensive Training Camp in Iowa. Once the season started, this meant 3 hour practices, 5 days a week and meets and matches on many weekends. Juggling this with school work and applying to colleges would be a challenge as it was, add on all the social distractions that come with senior year in high school and it would be a real challenge to put the necessary time into Scouts. It was a moment of truth. Do I make the commitment to finish what I set out to do or do I take the much easier path and let other things take priority? I remember looking myself in the mirror and asking, “What matters to me?” I decided then and there that I would not let anything get in the way of my goal of Eagle. Looking back, I had no idea of the impact the answer to that question would have on my life.

Eleven months later, I completed my Eagle project. We cleaned up part of the beaches on Longboat Key and built a small foot bridge at the LBK Youth Center. I finished right before my 18th birthday. My brother Clay followed suit, earning his Eagle rank a short time later (but also right under the wire). In the end, it was up to me to do the hard work and complete the requirements. I never would have made it without the support and encouragement of my family and the adult leaders in the Troop, when I needed it most.

Today, I reflect on this story to share one of the many lessons I have learned: finish what you start.

Building the internal fortitude to bear down is hard when there are many other distractions. This is something you cannot teach, but rather one must learn from experience. Looking back on my years since, finishing my Eagle changed my whole life.

The willingness to step up and complete what one begins is an essential element for success in business, industry and community activities. I moved to Indianapolis upon graduating from Cornell University and read about an Eagle Scout leadership dinner in town. This is where I met some of the community’s biggest business and community leaders at the time, including then Senator Richard Lugar. At 22 years old, I was networking with a Senator and CEOs of some of the biggest businesses in a town. Prior to this, I only knew a handful of people in Indianapolis. Being an Eagle Scout has opened many doors for me along my personal journey. A few years later, when I was in position to hire talent for my businesses, a candidate with Eagle Scout on their resume would always make my interview list regardless of other experience. It’s the one thing from childhood that has come up time and again throughout my adult life. This would not have happened had I not finished. No one recognizes a Life Scout.

When my two sons Skye and Cameron joined Scouting, I told them this story. We had many adventures in Scouting together including hiking on the Appalachian Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Philmont Scout Ranch and the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska. As they got older, when time was running out for their Eagle, I had to remind them of it. There was a good chance they would not finish, but fortunately there were many adults and fellow scouts who helped push them when they needed it most. (Scoutmaster Clifton, Mr. B, the Johnsons, the Stewarts, and other parents, in particular Diana Church). When one starts anything new, it is easy to say, “I’ll finish and reach my goal.” It is a lot harder to actually do it. I’m proud that both sons also went on to earn their Eagle rank.

Throughout my career in business as a serial entrepreneur, I’ve encountered many setbacks and roadblocks to achieving my goals. It is how one responds to adversity that determines success. There is a confidence one develops knowing whatever it takes and no matter how difficult the situation one can persevere.

When you have the opportunity to give an extra push or words of encouragement to someone you know who is struggling or has lost sight of their goal, do it, even if it is not what they want to hear. Your encouragement could be the thing that gets them over the top to rededicate themselves to achieve their potential. It takes caring people to bring out the best in each of us. Sometimes, one person asking, “are you going to finish what you started?” is the final catalyst needed for action.

At the end of the day it is up to the individual to do what it takes. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. When you feel most like giving up, that is the time to bear down and do what it takes to finish what you started.

If you enjoyed this read, please follow me on twitter @smokewallin or on and you can read more on my personal website If you know someone how needs to hear this message, please share.

Giving Thanks

Giving thanks to all my family and friends. Cheers to all.

Morning Prayer

Let me awaken every morning and be thankful for what God has brought me.

Let me awaken every morning knowing things are as they are meant to be.

Let me awaken every morning knowing life is a journey and I am just a part.

Let me awaken every morning knowing the day will
bring challenges, opportunities and learning experiences.

Let me awaken every morning with self-love and self-acceptance, so I may be more tolerant of myself and others.

Let me awaken every morning with an open heart, so love may rush in and out like the tide of the mighty ocean.

Thrive Under Pressure

Thrive on Pressure

I’ve been thinking about the concept of pressure after a conversation I had with several recent college graduates who are at the beginning of their careers. What is pressure and how do I handle it when I feel it? When I think about this topic, I immediately think about sports and how the great competitors face incredible pressure at specific moments. Yesterday’s PGA as Jason Day closed in on his first major win with Jordan Spieth on the hunt. Day has had so many near misses, putting those nagging doubts out of his head and playing strong for a record breaking 20 under major was incredible to watch. How does one do that and what can the rest of us learn from it?

jason day pga

I decided to go back to a classic and highly motivational book I have gone to since my days of Cornell wrestling, The Edge, by Howard E. Ferguson, 1982. Here is the legendary coach of one of wrestling’s greatest high schools, St. Edward of Lakewood, Ohio take on pressure:

“Time’s running out. Your team trails by one basket. The noise of the crowd is deafening.

What do you do? Do you hide, or do you break from your opponent and come out to get the ball for the last shot?

If you’ve prepared mentally and physically as we have mapped out, you’ll never need to worry about pressure; in fact, you’ll go out of your way to put yourself in pressure situations. You’ll be the type of athlete who thrives on a close game, a tight match. Pressure is something you put on yourself when you’re not prepared. If you don’t have faith in what you are doing and you fear the unexpected, then its something for which you didn’t properly prepare. All pressure is self-inflicted and, like anything else in life, you can look at it in several ways. You can look forward to it or you can cringe in front of it. … If you welcome pressure, you’ll be amazed at how successful you’ll be. When the situation gets tight, you’ll have the edge because you’ll know: 1. There’s just as much pressure on your opponent, 2. Exactly how to handle it, and 3. Chances are he(she) won’t.

No matter how confident you are though, sometimes you’ll find yourself caught up in a pressure situation and little doubts of your ability will creep into your mind. No need to panic, no need ot think its unnatural. Even the great ones have moments of fear. The secret to their success is that they know exactly how to handle these moments – they know they can’t avoid them, so when the pop up, they don’t lose it – they handle them. They slow it down a little, they go back to their very fundamentals of their particular sport and they concentrate. Slow it down. Get your confidence back. Get your edge back. Then face the pressure head-on.”

In business, just as in sports, you make a choice in a “pressure” situation. You can either embrace it with the confidence of preparation and a belief in your ability and your content or your can let it get to you. I’ve probably given 1,000s of presentations or speeches over the years to important audiences, customers, and business leaders. In every one of these situations, even early on, I felt the pressure in the form of adrenalin.   I grew to feed on these situations. I embraced them. Even early on, these were the situations I sought and thrived on. Whether it was getting a meeting with Walmart’s Sam’s Club at 23 years old and traveling to Bentonville, AK to present on my own, taking the lead on presentations to our major suppliers or going out to the investment community and raising $100s of millions while still in my twenties, I put myself in “pressure” situations. While there were always ways in which I could have improved or done better and each of these experiences could have been terribly nerve racking, but instead they where incredible learning experiences in which I thrived.

As a person starting out in the business world, you will have opportunities presented to you to take a lead on a project or to represent your company in a meeting. Take them and embrace them. These are the moments that separate the performers from the rest. These are the moments that enable one to stand out from the crowd. Feeling it is natural, even with proper preparation.

Smoke with Kyle Dake - Cornell Wrestling 2013  kyle Dake

“Pressure is something you really put on yourself. If its not real, why put it on yourself?” -Kyle Dake

Kyle Dake is an American former collegiate wrestler at Cornell University. He won four NCAA Division I national tittles in four different weight classes. With his fourth title in 2013, he joined Cael Sanderson and Pat Smith as the only four-time NCAA champions.

larry bird

As NBA legend, Larry Bird put it back in his playing days, “In the closing seconds of every game, I want the ball in my hands for that last shot – not in anybody else’s, not in anybody else’s hands in the world.”  I look at business situations similarly.

While no one expects a new entrant to the workforce to excel in every situation right from the start, you will have opportunities to put yourself into a “pressure situation”. Seek these out. Always be the one who raises their hand and steps up. Don’t fear failure. Take the chance and be willing to put yourself into these situations. You may not realize it at the time, but your boss and other senior people in your organization will notice. More importantly, you will gain experience and confidence by going through these experiences. The more you do this, the more you will have confidence and never get rattled.

“Courage is grace under pressure.” Ernest Hemingway



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