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Empowering Connections: Networking Strategies for Success

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Show Notes

Welcome to the Executive Connect Podcast with your host, Melissa Aarskaug. Today, with guest Wendy Howell, we discussed the dynamic world of networking and connections, exploring how these vital components can drive meaningful impact in both professional and personal spheres.

Join us as we uncover practical strategies, personal anecdotes, and valuable insights into fostering meaningful relationships and community engagement.

00:00 – Introductions and overview

01:25 – Investing in Meaningful Connections – Prioritize building genuine connections in networking endeavors. Authentic relationships can lead to valuable opportunities and collaborations.

08:18 – Strategic Networking Practice – Implement memory techniques and personal connection strategies to enhance networking effectiveness. Small gestures and genuine interest in others can go a long way in fostering meaningful connections.

15:30 – Balancing Networking Commitments – Strike a balance between networking activities and personal boundaries. Prioritize engagements that align with your goals and values to maximize impact.

20:18 – Networking for Community Engagement – Engage with community-driven initiatives to expand your network and contribute to meaningful causes. Participating in such initiatives not only fosters connections but also allows for collective impact and social change.

27:16 – Use Multiple Networking Platforms – Leverage networking platforms like LinkedIn to expand your professional network and stay connected with like-minded individuals. Actively engage in online communities and groups to foster connections and exchange valuable insights and opportunities.

Whether you’re navigating mentorship, refining your networking skills, or balancing professional commitments, this episode offers valuable guidance to empower your journey towards impactful connections. Thank you for joining us, and we look forward to exploring more impactful topics in future episodes.

Guest Bio:

Wendy Howell is the CEO of Executive Council Network. Previous roles include Chief of Staff at Cisco and executive roles in M&A and Strategy at Symantec and VERITAS.

Wendy is a people alchemist, a true connector, and a community builder “for good”. She is a staunch advocate for giving back. She is deeply involved in non-profit as a Managing Director of Girls In Tech, Co-Chair of 50/50 Women On Boards, a passionate supporter of Code To College, board member of The Kindness Campaign and Wonders & Worries, former chair of Girl Scouts of Central Texas Women Of Distinction, and a judge for TiE Young Entrepreneurs. She is particularly passionate about supporting females, the underserved and the entrepreneurial ecosystem. She considers herself a “rebel with a cause” and is known for her dogged tenacity and creativity to support her passion for giving back! Nothing excites her more than creating a positive social impact and helping to catalyze the next generation of empowered leaders.


About Melissa Aarskaug:

I’m an energetic executive with 15+ years of experience steering companies to new heights of growth and scale. An engineer at heart (I started my career as an engineering manager on one of the world’s largest concrete bridges), I’ve become a trusted leader and business builder in the technology and cybersecurity space.


Narrator 00:08
Welcome to the Executive Connect Podcast, a show for the new generation of leaders. Join Melissa Aarskaug as she speaks to a wide variety of guests that bring new insights into leadership, prosperity, and personal growth. While no one has all the answers by building a community of open minded and engaged leaders, we hope to give you the tools you need to help you find your own path to success.

Melissa Aarskaug 00:38
Welcome to the Executive Connect Podcast, I am excited to have my friend Wendy Howell with us today to talk about making a meaningful impact. Wendy is CEO of Executive Council Network, previously Chief of Staff for Cisco, executive roles at M&A and strategy at Symantec and Veritas. She is a true people alchemist and connector and builder for all things good. She’s passionate about supporting women and the entrepreneur ecosystem, and a staunch advocate for giving back. Thank you so much, Wendy, for being with us today.

Wendy Howell 01:20
You are so welcome. I’m really, really excited to be here. I know, it’s gonna be a great conversation.

Melissa Aarskaug 01:25
I want to talk a little bit about a defining moment, when you realize the power of making meaningful impact on people. I remember my first experience with you, it was very meaningful. So from your perspective, how can people do that?

Wendy Howell 01:42
I have one of my favorite stories when I was just like this sort of watershed moment, to I had been, I started mentoring a young girl. And this is, it’s a while ago, but I was on the board of Girl Scouts of Central Texas Women of Distinction. That’s where I met her at one of these events. And she’s like, will you be my mentor? Absolutely. We were working together for a couple of months. And then I did a sponsorship of their robotics team. And fast forward. About two months later, they actually won the state championship of robotics. So I was there, of course, and she came up to me with, like, huge tears in her eyes. And she’s like, we never could have done this without you and your help. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. So like that moment and there’s been, there’s been lots of others. I mean, it was same with you, Melissa. But that moment really just sort of struck a chord like yep. Okay, this is super important. And I need to be doing these things all the time. And I think a lot of that Melissa comes from my, my own background and journey. I I grew up like, lower middle class, I guess, I would say in the midwest, and, you know, ended up making my way into tech leadership with zero technology background at all. So I use that as an, you know, as a story to show girls, young women and women that like really anything is power or power. Anything is possible with the power of tenacity. And I’ve, I’ve lived by that. And my edict is say yes, and figure out how and to use that you as a story for for women or girls, whomever I’m mentoring, right.

Melissa Aarskaug 03:26
I love that. I know that when I first met you, I felt so understood and appreciated and heard and you’re like a magician and doing that when you meet people just instantly connecting with them instantly making them feel special. So what has inspired you to really prioritize making a difference in people’s lives? Because you are doing this all over and the board seat you sit on through 50/50 women, for entrepreneurs for women. Yeah. And you’ve really prioritized making an impact on people.

Wendy Howell 04:04
It’s interesting, that question, I love that question. Because I was thinking through this and was there can I come up with any specific single uber inspiring event? And what I realized is I’ve long time ago, you know, regardless of you know, coming up in you know, lower middle class middle, the, you know, the country. I realize that today I have such a great life. And it came, it came to me that my viewpoint was this is not an option for me to give back and drive impact. It is a responsibility it is. It is my duty, to give back to support to build communities and to drive impact not only locally, which I love to do, because we live in a great place Melissa, but you know, across the globe through, you know, some nonprofits, etc. And if you think about what would our world be like, if everyone were like a you and I and an Avni, and you know, people that really are focused on that is like part of their part of their core, I just think, I just think it should be a part of everyone’s core. But you know, that’s just me.

Melissa Aarskaug 05:15
And you know, it’s true, it’s, it’s having a pay it forward mentality and not being transactional with your relationships, I think we’ve moved into a place where everything’s transactional, you do this, I do that. And I think, to your point, when you’re trying to really connect with people and really impact people, if you look at those things as transactional, you’re going to be heavily disappointed, because people are going to let you down at some point or another. So how does this show up in your, your everyday life for you? Like, how are you mindfully showing up every day making an impact?

Wendy Howell 05:55
Yeah. And also, in thinking about this question to be give you sort of like, you know, behind the covers to be very transparent. This is way back when I’m living in the Bay Area. I, honestly, I was one of those people, where a nonprofit would come to me and say, hey, we’re doing this, we’re doing that. And could you sponsor? Could you do a donation, etc. And I was at Cisco, so I did a lot of sponsorship. And I would like, yep, we’ll write the check. It’s all good. Here you go. But I wasn’t in there doing it and like, like, actually having my hands on it. So while that donation or sponsorship may be very impactful to the organization, it just, I wasn’t touching it, I wanted to really impact people directly. And I sort of determined at that point in my life that I wanted to be the person who’s truly driving impact and touching it myself, my very first nonprofit that I was on the board of was Girls in Tech. And that is sort of where as they say, I found my jam, as soon as I joined that board, and they and I was really involved in all of the events that I was mentoring and helping people and speaking as I realized impact was going to be sort of what I would call the cornerstone of, of who I am. And that’s what drives the activities that I choose to do, or that the boards that I’m on or the you know, just activities in general, there’s, there’s a lot. So we’ll get into that in a bit more detail later.

Melissa Aarskaug 07:23
Yeah, and I think you do it so eloquently and kind of I think of, you know, like a conductor playing an arc, it’s natural for you, like it’s natural for you to follow up with people and take an active interest in their life. Not only that, but making sure they’re moving the needle in their life, whatever that needle is. And so when I think of impact, I think, you know, it’s not just tech, it’s not just women, it’s not just entrepreneurs, it’s if it’s about their family, or their jobs or impact across all pieces of people’s lives. So, you know, you mentioned a little bit about the girl that you had mentored. So how do you continue to grow those relationships and continue to make sure these people are moving, you know, through their goals, while making an impact? I guess the question is more like, how do you make sure that your success and impacting these women are continuing to make ripple effects?

Wendy Howell 08:27
Yes. And I think that’s a really good question. So one of the things that I try really hard to do, is, you know, look at every one of these relationships, everyone that people or organizations that I’m trying to help, you have to you have to continue to be involved. You have to establish this, this cadence, if you will, for example, I actually, because I’m a dork, and I keep a journal of my success stories, not not mine. But what I have driven with people that I’ve worked with, whether that be individual people that I’ve mentoring, whether that be a nonprofit that I’m very passionate about a nonprofit that I’m on the board of it is continuing to stay involved. And you know, to be quite honest, ultimately, what happened to me is I ended up on six boards. I was on six nonprofit boards, and this is an mentoring if that’s what you see, you really do I had to like have a talk with Wendy like Wendy, you need to think about this. Because if you’re on six boards, you are not giving your your full or your all to every one of those boards and maybe not even, maybe not even any of them. So I’d have a long, long hard chat with Wendy and you know, come to the fact that okay what are boards specifically is what I’m talking about now to, you know, what are your top two boards? And what are the top two things that you’re super, super passionate about? And stop with the other boards, you know, back down from the other boards, but continue to support those organizations in other ways. And that could be, you know, volunteering, speaking, you know, mentoring, whatever that that is. So I had to, I had to really think about that. Because it’s, I do not say no, I haven’t had like, horrible, horrible time saying no, so maybe you can be my accountability buddy, Melissa.

Melissa Aarskaug 10:22
I have got no figured out. So I’m happy to do that for you. And I think you touched on a really good, a really good point, I want to dive a little deeper on. So you know, we’re all experiencing cognitive overload all the time, constantly, there’s a lot at us, there’s a lot of changes in our personal our life as we get older, our parents age, or we’re helping as women, we help a lot of people. And it takes a lot takes a lot from us. And one of the things you’ve touched on keeping a journal of people you’ve mentored and keeping track, I think that’s a really good point in a sense that if you have relationships with people, and you can’t remember their husband’s names, or kid’s names, who they work for, it’s hard to remember all these intricate little things about people. I tend, I’m an Apple person, Apple phone person, I put those pieces of information in my notes part in my phone, so I can keep track of you know, how’s your son Johnny? How’s your husband? How’s your wife, Susie? You know, did you guys move into your new house? And that’s an easy way to remember something special about that person. And I know, it’s happened to me where people have remembered my husband or my son, or different things about me, and I’m like, Oh, wow, how do they remember my husband’s name? And so I challenge everybody listening to think about who has made an impact on you? And what have they done to make you feel special? Was it remembering your, you know, your husband’s name or your child’s name? And I would, I would challenge you to replicate that to others, because it’s one thing to see people and engage people. And it’s a whole nother thing to remember that they like, you know, football or they have children or that they’re looking for a new job. So, you know, talk to me a little bit about some tips and tricks on how you, I know, you mentioned the journal, how you are able to, I mean, you have a massive network of people that you’re constantly impacting and moving, like you mentioned, six boards, that’s a lot in a day is in a day’s work to keep track of and do so any tips or tricks that you have that you can share with our listeners?

Wendy Howell 12:42
Oh, by the way, something that I know Melissa is very passionate about is fine wine, and she’s a foodie. So these are, I call them and this is stolen from the show Parks and Rec friendship nuggets. I’m leveling out right now I put little friendship nuggets in my head, a lot of it is is really just, you know, it’s my memory. And when I meet them online, it’s like when I met you, were gonna be friends, I can tell already. So I have that, that energy and passion to really remember that the little things right, as you said, which makes people feel so special. And then I also do I’m also a user of the notes in the iPhone as well. My issue, Melissa, and as I think you’ve noticed is oftentimes I do not have my glasses with me. And I’m an old lady who’s blind as a bat. So I’m like, I have to hold my phone out here. So I’m thinking of like, maybe I’m going to start to carry an iPad with me so I could see what’s better. But yeah, it’s, I do have a good memory. My husband said, we’ll walk into a room and I was like, he was that one as a that’s Melissa she’s a foodie she likes fine wine. He’s like, who’s that. I’ll be like that’s so and so. They just got a new puppy. So part of that is just part of Wendy. But then, you know, I do like to keep a little extra set of notes on the side for sure.

Melissa Aarskaug 14:02
I love it. Are you familiar with Jim Quick at all his memory? I’ve read his book a few times. And if you haven’t, and you don’t know Jim, Great. It’s a great book to read for those that struggle with names or things they have to do. He has a really quick YouTube channel on how to remember things. So when you walk in a room and you like you mentioned, your husband doesn’t remember names. It’s a really interesting way to tie you know, people’s personalities or the way they look back to their name. So you remember so he’s really great. If you haven’t read his book or listened to any of his audio on YouTube. He’s a great person.

Wendy Howell 14:45
So for the audience hello, fun fact and great. Great, quick, quick trip. And I guess hence the name. Jim quick. Is that his real last name?

Melissa Aarskaug 14:54
Yep. It’s his real last name. Right?

Wendy Howell 14:57
Yeah, my husband, my husband’s getting it next

Melissa Aarskaug 15:00
Yeah, go go get it’s a great book. He had a brain injury, actually. And he wasn’t. So his story is fascinating to learn about how he ended up in where he is and writing the book, so it’s a great, it’s a great. It’s a great book to pick up. But does he have a TED talk? He has, I think he has done some TED talks as well.

Wendy Howell 15:23
It’s sounding familiar now that you’re telling me the story.

Melissa Aarskaug 15:30
So when you first tying back to what we first started with, when you first meet somebody, you don’t know them, you don’t know their name, you don’t know where they’re from you know nothing about them. What walk me through what, what happens for you, when you’re first meeting somebody for the first time you’re trying to connect with them make an impact? Like how do you go go about, you’re in a networking event you see, you know, a person walk me through your process of meeting and connecting with people?

Wendy Howell 16:00
Yeah. First of all, I am the world’s biggest extrovert. So it’s, it’s very easy for me to feel comfortable in, you know, large crowds or small, intimate, and I, and I’m a hugger. If I meet someone who knows someone else, I think I probably hugged you the first time I met you. That’s just me, it’s just part of Wendy. And, but what I do is I try to go like that, just like it’s about you, the person that I’m speaking to tell me about you. What’s your background? What’s, you know, what are you doing? What’s your focus? What are your passions? I always ask about that as one of the very first questions, because instead of what company do you work for? And what do you do? That’s not nearly as personal as tell me what your passions? Are you a dog person? Tell me oh, here’s my line when I’m talking to maybe someone new who’s thinking about Executive Council Network, as well. Let’s talk you to tell me tell me about you. And let’s start with personal dogs, cats, kids family, goldfish, tell me about that. That’s, that’s like my one liner. And I use that all the time. And people usually laugh when you throw the goldfish thing in they’re , like, and one person has actually said, Yes, I do have gold fish. So that I thought was really, really funny. That’s just a weird little, I don’t know, I guess a pneumonic that I use just like, trying to get personal, you know, without being in someone’s face. And, and for the most part, even, you know, obviously, because I’m so extroverted and you’re talking to someone who’s like really quite introverted or shy, could be in some sometimes uncomfortable. But that even works with someone who’s an introvert and shy when you just throw out that, you know, tell me about your passions and like your family and dogs, cats, kids goldfish, that seems to really just like break a wall down. It has for me, I don’t know whether it works in all instances, but it’s, it’s been great for me.

Melissa Aarskaug 17:54
And that’s a great, great point. So if you’re not extrovert, I’m a I’m a recovering introvert. Now extrovert. And so I think for people that aren’t extroverted, Wendy makes a really good point is having a question that you’re comfortable asking, so something that you’re comfortable asking people. You know, I used to be one of those people that would walk in a room and stand by myself until somebody would walk up and feel bad for me and talk to me. And I really had to force myself out of that comfort zone. And I, I lead with, you know, why are you here at this event? What brings you to this and why are you involved in this association? Or how did you hear about it? So I think she made a really good point coming up with a question and I’m similar personality, I think everything’s gotta be fun and funny, and I’m in right and so, if you’re, if being fun and funny and spunky is not your thing, pick something that is your thing. Pick pick something that’s true to you because it will come across authentic to the people that you’re talking to. And trying to to build a relationship and impact through your conversations and you know, I I always this happened to me for me years ago, when I was first working in it as to become a better networker is putting myself in these situations that make myself uncomfortable and that saying, you know, you’re the average of the five people that you spend the most time with has always resonated for me. So I’d always wanted to be an extrovert so I always hung out with extroverted people. Over time I became an extroverted person. So, you know, tying this kind of all back together, I think, you know, you really are a masterful networker and not because you are an extrovert because you care. I think that’s the one thing I about you that I love as you’re truly care, you don’t ask about people’s dog, cats and goldfish. You do that to get them to open up, which will lead you kinda to the second layer. Okay? They say they have no animals, and then you’re going to ask them something else about to get them answering. So you can connect with them right away. I think you do that fabulously and naturally is oh, you have a UT sweater on? Did you go to University of Texas? Are you a Longhorns fan, you find something to connect, no matter what the situation is with people.

Wendy Howell 20:24
And that’s, that’s just so it’s so fun. I mean, it makes actually needed the dreaded quote, unquote, networking, so much fun. And there’s, there’s such a difference between, you know, I think people who are maybe trying to get on board seats and stuff like next week, we do this event all the time with ECN. And there’s like, there’s networking, like, you walk into a room with 1000 people, there’s that. But then there’s really, there can also be I use this concept of very intentional networking, you know, when if you go in with a, this is what I’d like to accomplish at this type of event on this day, you know, as opposed to just I’m just gonna go in and meet 1000 people that I don’t think that’s necessarily for me, only for me, I don’t think that’s necessarily as productive. As you know, the event I was at last night where I was speaking on a panel. And I was very specifically wanting to meet other community leaders that I hadn’t met yet. Like, there was five people on the panel and YJ, from Dell. To I knew all them as community leaders. But I went out and met, I don’t know, at least five, eight other community leaders that I hadn’t yet connected with and began South By, right. So it’s more than just our Austin crew, which I love. Love our network here in Austin. But that’s an maybe being intentional, I think, especially if you’re an introvert, I think maybe like doing some very intentional networking, like, I want to try and meet two people who fill in the blank, or two people that fill in the blank that I think might make it less overwhelming for someone who’s not like that, like Wendy. So endless.

Melissa Aarskaug 22:05
And that’s a great point. I think, you know, if you’re going into a networking event, you know, nobody setting like you said, I want to meet two new people and having prepared in your brain what you need. So maybe you’re looking for a job or you’re new in town, and you’re looking for a network of people to connect with being mindful and aware of what you want out of that event. I like to connect with two people. I’m new to Austin, I’d like to build a community around me. And when you meet somebody telling them that. Hi, I’m Melissa, I’m new to Austin. I’d like to learn the best places to eat in Austin, and I’m interested in tech, who should I connect with here? When you ask that in networking, and in the community, people are more than happy, in my experience to help you get whatever your ask is. And if they don’t know, they’ll probably point you in the direction of somebody else that might know.

Wendy Howell 22:58
Absolutely. And I think I think that’s a brilliant point. And I come from, I’m not from originally but I we spent a lot of time in the Silicon Valley, my husband and I both working in tech companies, large lot of tech companies and but I was forever just fascinated and impressed when we moved here to Austin, about the difference in the personality or culture of that space. In an I’m not slagging the Silicon Valley, but I am. You know, there it is all about how can I beat you? How can I compete with you? How can I do this drive, drive drive fast, fast, fast. And we all do that? When I get to Austin, and that was one of the things that just made me so happy here. It’s it’s sort of a natural networkers. People come up to me like, hey, fun, I’m Bob, how can I help you? How can I partner with you? I was amazed by that here. And I think if we could replicate, there’s something special about where we live. I think if we could replicate that. And I was I was slugging Silicon Valley last night on my panel, I’m not gonna lie. It’s like, like, we have a really special sort of community here. I think, regardless of whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, it’s, there’s there’s people for everyone here. I guess he’s what I would say.

Melissa Aarskaug 24:12
Yeah well said and I think I want to plug back into another thing you mentioned at the beginning was, you say yes, a lot. And I think that’s another good quality to to do is to say yes, to get out of your comfort zones to try different foods you never tried, to go to different events you’ve never gone to. And I always say like say yes. Within boundaries. Don’t say yes to being on a board if you know you don’t have the time to be on the board. You got to say yes to things that you know you have time to do and you can show up and be present and those things.

Wendy Howell 24:48
I think my point, yeah, not having, you know, having said yes, even too much, you know, I’m a recovering yes person too. It’s not that I’m gonna say no to everything, but I just tried to be more focused, so I can make sure I can give you 100% to those things that I’m involved with as well.

Melissa Aarskaug 25:07
Yeah making sure you’re gonna, you’re gonna be able to keep your commitments and, and do what you say you’re gonna do. So top three things for people that are either extroverted or introverted, or if they want to work on making an impact on people and having better relationships. From your perspective, what are like maybe top three things they could work on? Or do?

Wendy Howell 25:31
Yeah, well, one, and we were just talking about it is, but for me, it’s like, what are your absolute top passions? I mean, if you put it in a little sentence, or winning is more passionate about making connections and building community than maybe anything like that’s like my top top. So everything stems down from there. So I would say, figure out your top, one or two, maybe three passions, and focus in that area from both a networking perspective, from a where you want to give your time back to IE, if it’s, you know, Girls in Tech, while there’s a big global Girls in Tech nonprofit that you can go and spend time with and give back. And, and I guess I would say, thirdly is you don’t, and we just talked about, I think those are the top three, don’t over commit your time, because then you will not be providing the value that you truly could if you’re if you’re a little more balanced. And, and in our world today, as you all know, Melissa, it’s like, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, everything’s going 1000 miles an hour. And to your point, we have, we have careers, we have families, we have dogs, we have aging parents, we have all those things, to actually, Brooke who works for me, she always like she talks about the word boundaries a lot. So just just know, you can do tons and you can give back and, you know, connect and support the causes that you like, but you still have to maintain your own personal and family boundaries. I guess it’s something that I’m working on. And I’m not very good at it. But I’m trying.

Melissa Aarskaug 27:11
We’re all a work in progress. We’re all working on something.

Wendy Howell 27:15

Melissa Aarskaug 27:16
Thank you so much for your insights today. Wendy, how can listeners connect with you keep in touch with you tell us about you?

Wendy Howell 27:27
First and foremost, LinkedIn. I really don’t do very, any other social media anymore. I do everything really on LinkedIn. Then I just had to get back on the Facebook to help my daughter find a new flat in Dublin don’t even. So it’s just yeah, I mean, just, you know, live life, knowing that the more that we can give back, the better, like the human races, but yeah, so LinkedIn is where to find me, I do run an organization called executive council network that’s really all about connections and community, and lifelong learning, and, you know, speaking opportunity, all all sorts of great things that we do for our members. But the the fifth core value that we have at ACN, and not in any particular order, but the next core value that we have is social impact is driving impact in the world. So that’s, I mean, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Those are where my passions lie.

Melissa Aarskaug 28:25
I love it. Thank you so much for being here today. And that’s Executive Connect.

Narrator 28:33
You’ve been listening to the Executive Connect Podcast. If you have questions or ideas on how to bring leadership to the next level. Email us at executiveconnectpodcast@gmail.com And don’t forget to subscribe so you can catch every new episode. Until next time.

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Bryan Hancock Headshot — Founder of Integrity Development

Bryan Hancock

Founder of Integrity Development

Integrity Development

Executive Biography

Bryan Hancock has been managing real estate investments—and overseeing development and construction projects—for nearly two decades. He has deep roots in Austin, Texas, and comprehensive knowledge of the opportunities and challenges in this fast-growing market.

Through his development and syndication companies, which he built from the ground up, Bryan has developed 50+ urban infill projects and managed $25M in real estate sales with approximately 35% return on investment at the project level. He also co-founded two private equity funds.

Bryan brings in-depth industry awareness, sharp business acumen, and extensive in-the-trenches experience to his work as co-founder and principal of Integrity Development. He partners with a team of professionals and industry experts (many have been involved in Austin real estate for 40+ years) to identify value-added and opportunistic investments that protect capital and reduce risk for lenders—while delivering outsized returns for investors.

Earlier, Bryan founded and directed Inner 10 Development, a residential development firm focused on Austin’s top zip codes and surrounding communities, and H2i, LLC, a real estate syndication company. He steered these organizations for 17+ years, overseeing the acquisition, buildout, and sale of single-family and multifamily properties, including a 350-unit urban infill joint-venture project.

Bryan was successful in delivering strong returns while minimizing risk for bankers and investors by taking a targeted, data-driven approach to opportunity analysis, due diligence, and strategic decision-making. He zeroed in on potential risks and developed proactive mitigation strategies to protect and grow investments.

Concurrent with his work at Inner 10 Development and H2i, Bryan established Gentry Lending Group, a private-equity debt fund. He also served on the board of Bullseye Capital Real Property Opportunity Fund. These experiences provided Bryan with a grasp of both investor and banker viewpoints, including an understanding of risk and liability on the lending side. This aspect of his background continues to shape his real estate decisions to this day.

There is another unique aspect to Bryan’s career—a corporate history that differentiates him from other investors and developers in this field. Bryan has built organizations, controlled multimillion-dollar projects, and supported billion-dollar programs for some of the world’s largest companies: Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Dell, CACI, and Charles Schwab. He managed teams and vendors in the US, China, France, and India, and often balanced up to 10 projects at a time. He was trusted with a Top Secret Security Clearance from the United States government.

A business-savvy leader and lifelong learner, Bryan holds an MBA in Finance and Entrepreneurship from Texas Christian University and a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.

Bryan founded the Wealth Investment Network, co-founded RealStarter (a crowdfunding platform for real estate investors), and was a member of the Urban Land Institute and Central Texas Angel Network. He has been a guest speaker at 20+ national events, including conferences and meetups through the Information Management Network (IMN), SXSW, Rice University, Bay Area Real Estate Summit, Soho Loft Conference, Texas Entrepreneur Network, and many others.

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Melissa Aarskaug Headshot — Founder of Executive Connect

Melissa Aarskaug

Founder of Executive Connect

Senior Executive, Board Member & Advisor

Vice President of Business Development
Bulletproof, a GLI company

Executive Biography

Melissa Aarskaug is a global executive and business leader at the forefront of the technology/cybersecurity industry. She shapes strategy, leads teams, and partners with Fortune 500 companies and other enterprise clients to protect their organizations from risk and noncompliance—while improving operations and accelerating growth.

For 15+ years, Melissa has taken the reins to propel organizations to the next level of performance. By combining business acumen and revenue optimization with the sharp mind of an engineer, she uncovers and seizes opportunities for profitable growth in the US and around the world.

Melissa has established a distinguished career with Gaming Laboratories International (GLI), where she is a key member of the senior executive team. Throughout her tenure, she has assembled teams, developed new markets, and influenced P&L impact, ultimately positioning GLI as the #1 provider of testing, certification, and cybersecurity services to the global gaming and lottery space.

After achieving this feat—a big win for GLI and game-changer for clients worldwide—Melissa steered both GLI and Bulletproof (acquired by GLI in 2016) into untapped verticals: finance, government, healthcare, higher education, hospitality, and retail. An enthusiastic, knowledgeable growth driver who cultivates partnerships and rallies teams, she led GLI/Bulletproof to dominate these markets as well.

Before joining GLI, Melissa shaped and executed strategy as Vice President of Business Operations for LV Investments, where she built and optimized a portfolio of commercial and industrial properties. Earlier, in a very different role as Project Engineering Manager for Fisher Industries, she directed and mobilized a team of 550 employees and contractors to develop the world’s largest concrete bridge. Previously, she headed a major engineering project for Pacific Mechanical Corporation.

A curious, lifelong learner, Melissa holds dual Bachelor of Science degrees in Civil and Environmental Engineering with minors including Business and Mathematics. She is a Karrass Master Negotiator and C4 Executive Coach who actively pursues ongoing education and inspiration as a member of Chief, Austin Technology Council, Austin Women in Technology, and Toastmasters International. In addition to her own personal and professional development, Melissa is committed to helping other people thrive both inside and outside of the workplace. She actively mentors and empowers team members at GLI/Bulletproof, and is an executive leader and coach for Global Gaming Women. She founded Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) Austin and is a current or past board member of many organizations, including Emerging Leaders in Gaming, Ballet Austin, Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, the Society of Women Engineers, and the American Society of Civil Engineers. She has been a Junior League volunteer in Austin, Las Vegas, and Reno for 15+ years.

Throughout her career, Melissa has inspired individuals, teams, and entire organizations to think differently about innovation, cybersecurity, leadership, and business development. She was honored as one of the “Emerging Leaders in Gaming: 40 Under 40” and she continues to share her ideas and expertise through publications, podcasts, webinars, and presentations.

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This is the Executive Connect

A show for the new generation of leaders. Join us as we discover unconventional leadership strategies not traditionally associated with executive roles. Our guests include upper-level C-Suite executives charting new ways to grow their organizations, successful entrepreneurs changing the way the world does business, and experts and thought leaders from fields outside of Corporate America that can bring new insights into leadership, prosperity, and personal growth – all while connecting on a human level. No one has all the answers – but by building a community of open-minded and engaged leaders we hope to give you the tools you need to help you find your own path to success.