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Networking Essentials: Strategies for Professional Growth

Summary Keywords

benefiting, connection, conversation, genuine, hone, learn, linkedin, love, meaningful connections, networking, open, opportunities, path, people, person, relationships, role, susan, talk, thinking

Speakers

Melissa Aarskaug, Narrator, Susan Stoklosa

Show Notes

In this episode of the Executive Connect Podcast, Melissa Aarskaug spoke with Susan Stoklosa, Vice President of Planning and Allocation for GIII Retail Group. They dove into the topic of networking and its importance in today’s professional landscape.

Susan shared her insights on the critical role networking plays in professional growth, emphasizing the value of genuine connections over traditional networking approaches. She discussed various strategies for expanding one’s professional network, including:

Topics included:

  • Show Genuine Interest: When expanding your professional network, focus on showing genuine interest in others rather than solely seeking benefits for yourself. Ask about their interests, goals, and experiences to build authentic connections.
  • Define Networking Goals: Take time to define your networking goals. Determine what you hope to achieve through networking, whether it’s career advancement, mentorship, skill development, or industry insights. This clarity will guide your networking efforts.
  • Utilize Online Platforms: Leverage online platforms like LinkedIn to expand your network and engage with industry professionals. Share valuable content, participate in discussions, and reach out to potential connections with personalized messages.
  • Attend Networking Events: Attend networking events to meet new professionals and expand your circle. However, prioritize quality over quantity. Focus on building meaningful connections rather than collecting business cards.
  • Follow Up Consistently: After making initial connections, follow up consistently to maintain relationships and explore potential opportunities. Send personalized follow-up messages, schedule coffee meetings, or invite connections to industry events to nurture your network over time.

Susan and Melissa both shared personal stories illustrating the unexpected career advancements and valuable partnerships that arose from networking, emphasizing the significance of seizing opportunities and maintaining authentic relationships.

Thank you for joining us on the Executive Connect Podcast, where powerful stories shape meaningful connections!

If you have any questions about today’s show or have a topic you’d like us to cover, reach out to me at executiveconnectpodcast@gmail.com.

Please subscribe so you can catch all our future episodes.

About today’s guest:

Susan Stoklosa is an accomplished leader in the Retail field with expertise in Merchandise Planning across renowned companies such as Tory Burch, The Frye Company, Estee Lauder, Cole Haan, and West Elm to name a few. She is currently Vice President of Merchandise Planning & Allocation at GIII Retail Group where she oversees the Direct-to-Consumer business for iconic brands DKNY, Donna Karan & Karl Lagerfeld Paris.

She is recognized for cultivating thriving relationships & building professional communities to stay abreast of industry trends and best practices. Her exceptional business acumen and leadership have garnered respect from peers and Senior Leadership establishing her as a true expert in her field.

Susan is also a member of CHIEF, a private membership network for senior executive women with a company mission to change the face of leadership. Founded in 2019, today, the Chief community spans the U.S. and UK with 20,000+ executive members from VP to the C-Suite.

www.linkedin.com/in/susan-l-stoklosa-1517593

About me:

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.

www.linkedin.com/in/melissa-aarskaug

Transcript

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’m so excited to have my birthday sister and friend here with me today, named Susan, Susan, would you introduce yourself to the listeners?

Susan Stoklosa 00:50
Yes. Hi, Melissa. So excited to see your face today. I’m Susan Stoklosa, I am currently calling in from New York City so I’m happy to see my birthday sister here on on on live stream, you know, in Austin, Texas. I currently am in New York City and I work in corporate in a retail environment. I am a Vice President of Planning and Allocation for GIII retail group and GIII is really known as to be kind of a powerhouse about 30 owned and licensed brands where they’re manufacturing, designing and distributing to lots of major retailers. And I’m focused in on our retail business, which oversees our stores and ecommerce. But I’ve worked for companies such as Tory Burch Westown, Cole Haan, just to name a few of companies in my background, but all in the same type of role.

Melissa Aarskaug 01:40
I love it. And when I think networking, I think you Susan, which is why today I’ve I’ve asked you to join and we’re going to talk a little bit about networking. So in your experience, how crucial is networking in today’s professional landscape? And what specific benefits have you witnessed or personally gained from nurturing professional connections?

Susan Stoklosa 02:04
Yeah, no, I mean, I think it’s very important, it’s really critical for everyone. And honestly, for myself, I’d never really thought about it as networking, it’s really just a bit about making genuine connections. And I think, for me, that that’s just kind of come a little bit naturally about making sure you know that I’m connecting with people that are really supporting me in every environment that I’m in. But I think what I’ve found over time is that some of the opportunities that can come from networking with people is really job opportunities and career advancement, I definitely have myself recommended people for job opportunities, or recommended them to people that they should connect with if they’re thinking about transitioning within a role. I also myself I’ve gotten roles and a lot of career coaching, through networking and a lot of different environments. I think there’s learning opportunities also as well, you know, coming, talking to people in different industries, really connecting with people across the horizon, lots of different perspectives also to that you can learn from that. Some skill development, like you might not even think that you need some different skill development and soft or you know, some kind of technical skills that you may need that will really come from networking, some problem solving, and collaboration, it really helps you really hone in on, you know, things that may be happening in your existing role that you definitely want to make sure that you can talk through with someone, there’s a person there, there’s some also access potentially to resources, things that you didn’t maybe not know that were available to use certain courses or online information that you can go through that actually would really help you. There’s a lot of different ways that I think networking is really crucial and can help people but for me, it’s been really about making those genuine connections just all along so that you feel really natural in terms of connecting with people. While you’re in on your journey.

Melissa Aarskaug 03:58
Well said, I love that. I agree. I think I myself have also had a job come to me through somebody I had networked with, and had I not been friendly and engaging of them, I would have never taken a role. So I think that’s a really important point is you never know, when you might need a connection or connector to other things which may be interested in the future. So when you’re out networking, can you share some strategies or approaches that you have personally when you’re expanding your professional network, and that helps you create meaningful connections with those that you’re meeting?

Susan Stoklosa 04:40
Yeah, I mean, I honestly think, for me, it’s really again, as I mentioned, genuine relationships that I’ve been building over time, but even when I’m meeting, someone new specifically is really just about interest in the person, you know, kind of their overall life. I mean, we are real people and we want to help real people. So I definitely feel making those genuine connections and relationships and keeping in contact with people in that way really kind of starts the whole thing going, which I think especially after what we’ve been through over the last several years, the human connection has really been kind of the best part about coming out of this for everyone as well. I think there’s also opportunities just in defining your goals about connecting. So even if you’re making these genuine connections, it’s like what is it that you’re really want to hone in on? What are your goals? Is a career advancement? Is it advice is it mentorship, different things like that, that I think that will help you define what type of networking that you may decide that you are looking for? Online presence in terms of LinkedIn, not everybody’s as familiar with posting on LinkedIn, different types of things. But there’s a lot of people out there who read people’s LinkedIn posts, it doesn’t even have to be specific to your industry, it could be an insight that you came across some industry news where you can actually collaborate with people within your industry to learn more about what’s happening out there that I think that that’s been another really good way as well. The tried and true attending networking events, for sure has been one thing that people automatically go to, but I put that towards towards the back. And not that that’s not important, because it is but I think, you know, it becomes a hyper environment for you to feel like you’re making connections and and some people feel uncomfortable in that way. So I like to try and make sure that people do it on their own path about how they feel most comfortable. But I think networking events also is a really incredible way to make meaningful connections with people. And then as I mentioned that slightly before is a mentorship opportunity, there might be just someone within your organization that you’d like to mentor or be a mentee for that, you know, for someone to really help kind of elaborate and pull out some of the skill sets that you have, and really hone in on maybe where your career direction could be going, maybe an opportunity that you didn’t think of for yourself, that could be a potential blind spot. So I really think there’s a lot of ways to make meaningful connections. That’s not just your tried and true networking events, but it’s really kind of looking at the landscape of what are you looking to do? Where are you looking to go? And kind of honing in on how you can start chipping away at that. And I found that people are very receptive. When you do go and talk to them. And try and you know, just just really be a little bit clearer about your objectives that I found people are very open to definitely leading you in the proper direction.

Melissa Aarskaug 07:25
Yeah, well, very well said. I, I want to hone in on something you mentioned LinkedIn. I think LinkedIn is a must, must, must professionally, whether you love your job, looking for a job, or engaging and keeping and maintaining relationships. I know I personally have not always been a fan of LinkedIn and getting out there all the time. But I’m reading articles to stay aware and abreast of what’s going on in my industry and the things I’m interested in. And so I find that sharing those articles, people or people don’t have time to go through all kinds of media and, and look through things when you find something that’s really, really great sharing it out with your network or other people is huge. I’ve had people that I don’t know, of halfway across the world, and I’ve shared a random article. They’re like a third connection, right, that are now or like a first connection, because they’re like, Hey, this is great. I didn’t know this. So I think you’re you’re spot on with LinkedIn, like it’s a must connect with people use it, and build and maintain relationships off that tool.

Susan Stoklosa 08:34
No I agree. I honestly, that was the last thing I think I would leverage in the past. And I’ve just started dabbling in it this year. And I found it to be really rewarding moreso than I thought. And I really continue to support people that are out there putting out the content, because it can feel scary, especially initially putting that out there. But I really feel like people are looking for those types of connections. And I think that it’s really important to continue down that path, either within your industry, if you’re wanting to learn about something new and engaging in any of those conversations.

Melissa Aarskaug 09:04
I love that you said that because I too, have been dabbling, and I’ve just increased my dabbling to like full time dabbling, in LinkedIn. So I love it. So from your perspective, what challenges or misconceptions do people often face when it comes to networking? And how can individuals overcome these hurdles to establish genuine genuine and mutual connections with people? So it’s one thing to like, like a post and it’s a whole nother thing to like, have an actual conversation, right?

Susan Stoklosa 09:35
No absolutely. I feel like there’s both challenges and misconceptions. I’ll talk about the challenges initially, I think a lot of people are fear judgment or being rejected and that kind of thinking like if I put myself out there either, like face to face with people in person on LinkedIn that they may not be interested in my content, or I might be bothering this person on I think that’s something that we kind of have to put that in the back seat for a little bit and you just really be clear about your reasoning for reaching out, or you know, also engaging with that person. I think that’s one of the challenges most people find, for sure. Lack of time, we’re all so busy, super, you know, all like everything going you have children, you have family, you have work, you know. So I think that that also is a hindrance for people, but also just carving out time just like you do for meetings, actually, 20 minutes, five minutes a day will actually really help you in terms of creating that time, and you’ll start to feel energized, and it’ll increase increase more over time. I definitely feel like potentially to, you know, honing in on your communication skills, this actually will really help. But I think some people feel like I may not have the right words, I don’t know exactly what to say. I think just starting with something very simple. Because if people have lack of time, it’s great to get them to hone in on a one two three sentence type reach out. So I think that that’s another thing not to necessarily be afraid of, or have a challenge for you. And just follow up, like, you know, some people reach out, and then there’s a lack of follow up. That’s just also another crucial point for people making sure that they could continue to stay connected, I think that you put it out there. And then you start to feel again, like, Oh, I’m being rejected or judged by what I put out there. But just following up and having another simple follow up, I think is really critical as a part of some of the challenges that I’ve seen. From a misconception perspective, I think people think networking is just only about getting something like, I’m coming to you because I want something and there is sometimes there is that transactional piece to it. But I also think that there is it’s a two way street and that you may learn something from someone who’s reaching out to you from a networking perspective that you did not realize was, which was coming. So I think there’s a lot of beautiful benefits out of that. So I think that people also should get that misconception, misconception out of their brain. And then networking is for extroverts is another thing that I’ve come across, I technically, am not an extrovert, but I am energized by people. This is me personally. So I think that there is a lot to learn from that, that you don’t have to be an extrovert to to network, it can come from any place, there’s so many different avenues of information coming towards people with social media. LinkedIn, as we mentioned, before, day to day connections with people that I think there’s you will be able to bring something to the table, even if you feel a little timid about talking to the person, as an example. And I think also networking people think is just for in person events, or attending events only, like, Oh, I’m only going to go to this specific, you know, retail event where actually that’s not the case, you can network no matter where you are, at any point in the day in terms of having good and concrete conversations with people, which I think is fantastic. And just again, that networking is transactional, because it’s not, and I don’t think it really ever fully ends. I think it continues to evolve over time with people, even if your connectivity maybe takes a takes a little bit of a break, I think you can always kind of come back to that person. At any point, if you’ve made that genuine connection. And you both have gotten some really valuable feedback or conversations out of it, anybody people are open to kind of coming back to that at any time. So I think that those, those are some of the misconceptions that I’ve kind of come across.

Melissa Aarskaug 13:13
I love it. I remember the first time I was networking, in college as an engineering student, very introverted, very uncomfortable walking into a room by myself. So I would be the one that would walk in a room and stand by myself and, and I, you know, would drink my drink and eat my food, kind of stand there. And I think the older I got, the more comfortable and maybe the right word is confident I got with walking in the room and walking up to another person standing by himself. Hey, I’m Melissa, what’s your name? And have you been to this event before? No, my first time too and just breaking the ice that way just name or have you attended the event? or Yes. Are you part of this association and just really, like you mentioned already, genuinely get to understand and know people. And, and I think when you keep an open mind, and it’s genuine people will meet you, like you mentioned halfway there. And who knows. I think of this one networking event, I’m talking about one of the people that I had approached they I still talk to them today, even 20 years later after college exactly both absolutely nervous, both engineers know, he is he was older, going to school older, and I was younger, nervous and we’re still best friends over 23 years later, I’m still still talk to him regularly. And that was two people that were nervous to talk to each other at a networking event. So you never know how and what will come up of it.

Susan Stoklosa 14:52
No, exactly. I mean, we met at a networking event you and I and it was just like, you know, I was also at the start of that like, Oh, I’m gonna go in and just just start talking to people. You don’t never know how that goes. And here we are today.

Melissa Aarskaug 15:03
Yep it’s so true, I think. I don’t know who said it. So I didn’t make this up. But they but somebody much smarter than me came up with this, this quote, your your network is your net worth. So if you want to be better at anything, whatever, whether it’s speaking or your business, or you want to be a better family person, it is important to find those people that have what you want, and network with them and say, Hey, I’m thinking about doing x. Right? I’m kind of nervous. Can you shed any information? I think most times when people have approached me regularly, hey, can you help me with this? I’m always open to giving people time, if not, at that moment, scheduling it down the way. So I think asking too, is another important part.

Susan Stoklosa 15:57
No, absolutely asking the question, very critical part.

Melissa Aarskaug 16:01
So I kind of gave a little example. So from your perspective, is there any, when you’re not working anything that’s come up unexpected or like a significant career advancement or partnership or any opportunities that have come up for you or a story you can share with our listeners that may that happened to you?

Susan Stoklosa 16:21
Yeah I mean, I there’s like countless, some I’m going to talk about right now are really related to my career growth over time. One was, when I was very young junior, I was interviewing for a role that I didn’t get, actually, I mean, but they really liked me, they wanted to place me within the organization, they thought I’d be a real value add, but I it wasn’t the right role. And as disappointed as I was, I was just kind of like, okay, well, it didn’t work out. And when you’re younger, like that, you may not fully really think through what that could happen, that would that could be really in the long run. Turns out that this recruiter really remembered me the whole time, that I after I interviewed and came back to me for a role that was a perfect fit for me a year later, and was like I’ve had you in mind this whole time for a role that I think would be really beneficial for you and and actually really launched my career into exactly what I’m doing right now. And if I didn’t have that really robust conversation with him at work field, you know, disappointed that I didn’t get the role and not want to talk to this particular company anymore, it could have sent me in a completely different path. So I think I view these things as when the door opens, kind of moving forward from a networking perspective that that does really help you. In another perspective to same with another boss that I had who’ve I’ve now work for, at three different companies that she has been very valuable in not only my career growth, but really in coaching and development, which sometimes come you know, as a piece that comes along with the networking that does really help people excel in their career in a very different way. I definitely give her a lot of, of a thanks for the help that she’s been to me. And she’s still a confidant all along. We’re friends now. And that’s another beautiful part that comes a part of networking and meeting people that you don’t really expect kind of what’s coming, but she now is a friend and a trusted partner for me that I can go to, for a lot of different things. I think there’s a lot of different value, along with advice that you may meet with someone you’re like, I’ve been thinking about X, and they come back to you be like, Hey, here’s two people that you can actually talk to, when you think that they’ve they’re done with the conversation they’ve moved on. I mean, people are people really do want to help you. And they’re thinking about you after the fact. I don’t think anyone really wants to, you know, have a conversation with you where there might be an ask or a genuine connection and conversation and not come back to you with something. So I think that people really need to remember that. And also, again, just following up with them great conversation, even if it’s not really with anything at the very end of it in terms of just making sure to know that that you value their time and their conversation.

Melissa Aarskaug 19:04
I love it. One. One point you made. So the door was opened for you and you walked through it. I think it’s one thing to just hear the opportunity and it’s a next next kind of piece of as a walk through the door explore the opportunity, whether it’s right or wrong. We don’t know now, right? So sometimes opportunities present themselves. What do they say when the students ready the teacher will appear. When a random opportunities present themselves or people come into your life for a reason for a purpose. And it’s up to us to make the connection and even ask people sometimes is there anything I can help you with? Is there anything you’re looking for in your life right now? And you know what they’re gonna do? 90% of the time, I would say they’re gonna say back to you, “How can I help you?” So when you give first you’ll find I think that it’s reciprocated, I think, as well when networking.

Susan Stoklosa 20:05
No, I absolutely agree. And I think one other thing that people don’t realize is that your connection goes on, meaning you’ve had a great conversation with someone, they are going to not forget you, they’re probably actually going to pass you on to someone else. Or let me this, so it keeps going. Another thing that I like to do is also bring my connections together. Like, let’s just all meet up, we’re in the same industry, you guys don’t know each other from this company or this company. But I think we all have the same types of opportunities ahead of us. Let’s just get together. So I also am not afraid to mix my network and my connections up. I think that that actually was really important for everyone’s learning along the way. And I actually really enjoy seeing the fruits of that kind of come through on the other side.

Melissa Aarskaug 20:48
Oh, I love it, paying it forward. I love it. Love it. Now, one kind of similar question, what valuable lessons have impacted your life from networking as far as building these relationships and seizing the opportunity? So you mentioned that your job apply opening the door or walking through? Is there any other maybe experiences or lessons you maybe thought one way negative positively or negatively, I leave it open ended and and they turn into something better? Maybe? Maybe somebody crossed you in a weird way? You’re like, oh, that’s awkward. So I guess my question is, it’s a long winded question, is there any key lessons that you can share with our listeners with the top takeaways from networking, from your perspective,

Susan Stoklosa 21:43
I think it’s been my common thread through is that relationships really do matter. Professional, personal connectivity with people. I think sometimes when you’re talking to people, we we live in a busy world, you make people feel like they’re disengaged, you’re not listening, they’re not getting your full story, when matter of fact, they probably actually really are. So not to let that discourage you, I think we get discouraged because we kind of live in our own brains and our own minds about what we think is right for ourselves. But I think there’s things unfolding for you that you may not yet see. And so I think always about kind of time and truth are friends, meaning that like the time is going to come where where you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to do, we’re going to come together. And I think that you have to just really be encouraged by that you’re going to be on that path. So stay on the path, continue to the authenticity that you’re having in your conversations, utilize your professional development, your network, LinkedIn, your college network, as well as some places for you to continue to leverage people in any opportunity that you may have. And the continuous follow up. And I’m gonna call it maintenance, which is not really maintenance, but just, you know, on the relationships that you currently do have. So I think there’s so many beautiful avenues to the networking piece that I don’t think everyone really realizes until you’re actually fully on the path forward with it.

Melissa Aarskaug 23:06
Yeah and fortune’s in the follow up to like that connection may not reply, respond, engage reply at that moment, it doesn’t mean they are disengaged, or they’re not interested, people get busy, they open emails accidentally, they open messages accidentally. They mean to text like, I know, I’m guilty of this all the time, I mean, to send something out, if someone calls me and I goes into my draft, and I forget to go back yet. So I think, to your point following up and, and, you know, don’t just do it one time and give up if it’s something you really, really want. Maybe it’s a job, maybe it’s help with whatever you’re going after, don’t just give up after one message, I would say follow up and say, you know, Hey, Susan, I sent you a message last week was great to meet you at the networking event. I’d the calendar some time to explore XYZ and here’s why I give them make sure they know why you’re connecting with them. Absolutely. I met them last week at XYZ and, and you they mentioned something that was particularly interesting. And we’d like to explore it further with them. So I think being clear, like you mentioned earlier with what your intentions are genuinely and how you’re going to support them as well.

Susan Stoklosa 24:21
Yeah, consistency is key, like keeping these, you know, like even if you simple it down to a 123 These are the three steps that I’m going to do with follow up being one of the steps, the connections being one and the you know, all of that connected. I think that that really makes a huge difference to just simplify it for yourself. But to also you know, make sure that you’re staying consistent in your connection with the existing people that you’ve been connecting with in your network or even new people as you come along. down the path.

Melissa Aarskaug 24:49
Yeah I think I also think like a board of directors so you’re out networking, maybe you’re we’re coming to the end of the year we’re getting close taxes are upon us. Maybe you need a new CPA and you’re out at a networking event. And when you’re talking to people, hey, you know, do you know any good CPAs in the area, I think keep up your board of directors and things you need not just professionally but personally in your life is key. And asking people for referrals as well. When networking, whatever you’re looking for, right referrals for a doctor or, you know, babysitter, whatever things you’re looking,

Susan Stoklosa 25:29
You do that in your personal life, I need a dry cleaner, I need a you know, a seamstress, I need you know, all these different things, you know, what’s the best grocery store to go to those also translate into these type of professional development opportunities.

Melissa Aarskaug 25:42
Yes, well said. So in closing up any final thoughts or any snippets you want to share that we haven’t covered so far on our podcast today?

Susan Stoklosa 25:55
Yeah I just want to say that it is a, it’s a great journey. Like I’ve been on this path of networking, which I didn’t realize that that’s what I was doing. But because I just like social connection and meeting people. But it’s been such a great reward back to me of connecting people or being connected or pushed in the right direction that I’m so thankful for. And I feel like if I stayed in my introvert self and not really wanted to push myself out there that I would not be benefiting in the way that I am right now. And not just benefiting for myself but benefiting to see others in the connection. So it’s really full circle for me and it’s been an incredible, incredible journey for me and I encourage anyone to continue to do so for themselves.

Melissa Aarskaug 26:37
Do the things we fear right we’re into the new year new rules, new goals, so maybe adding that work to one of your to dues next year one networking event is key. I want to thank you so much for being here today. I adore you I love you. I’m so glad to call you my friend

Susan Stoklosa 26:57
I’m so feel the same.

Melissa Aarskaug 26:58
Ah so if you could just share with the listeners if they how would they connect with you? If somebody something resonated with what you said, how can people connect with you best?

Susan Stoklosa 27:07
Yeah, I think the best way to connect is via LinkedIn. Susan l Stoklosa. Sto que llsa As you see on my podcast here below, that means best way to connect with me as well.

Melissa Aarskaug 27:21
Thank you so much, Susan. I appreciate you being here. And that’s it for today on the Executive Connect Podcast.

Narrator 27:30
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 Don’t forget to subscribe so you can catch every few episodes. 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.