Gary L. Easterling – President & CEO, United Federal Credit Union

Gary L. Easterling has been serving as president and CEO of the United Federal Credit Union since 2007. He has more than 30 years of credit union experience, most recently as CEO of Century Credit Union in Cleveland, Ohio, and Wright-Patt Credit Union in Fairborn, Ohio, where he held leadership roles in almost every functional area. He holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, as well as an M.B.A. from Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana. His certifications include the CUES Institute’s Certified Chief Executive designation and CUNA’s Management School—Part I and Part II.

1. How do you define success?
Success is bringing your best to the game, the meeting, the event, the role, and the mission.

2. What is the key to success?
Aligning your opportunities with your skills. Stretching beyond past performance without stretching beyond your capabilities. Achieving your personal best.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
There are no guarantees, but I have always been optimistic. Success is the journey. There are as many challenges ahead as there are behind. Making a difference every day is living a successful life.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I don’t like losing, but more than that I don’t like letting people down. I usually am in roles that impact the lives of others. These people depend upon me. The prospect of letting them down and causing harm to them keeps me pushing forward regardless of the adversity.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
It can be found in the Serenity Prayer. Learning to discern what I can change from what I can’t change and then summoning the courage to change what I can.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Reading, walking, golf, fishing, and most of all—time with family.

7. What makes a great leader?
Vision and humility. Having the vision to energize others and the humility to allow them to succeed and receive the accolades.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Take people with you on your journey. Help them succeed and let your contributions highlight themselves. Don’t get overly focused on getting credit. Don’t be lured into a battle for the spotlight. Those who can be the greatest positive influence in your life will see the truth; they don’t need your help. Stay true to your faith and values. No shortcut is worth it. There is no right way to do a wrong thing.


This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.

Usama Fayyad – CEO, Open Insights

Usama Fayyad, Ph.D. is the chief data officer and group managing director at Barclays PLC. He also leads Oasis500, a tech startup investment fund, following his appointment as executive chairman in 2010 by King Abdullah II of Jordan. He was also chairman, co-founder, and chief technology officer of ChoozOn Corporation/Blue Kangaroo, a mobile search engine service based in Silicon Valley.

In 2008, Usama founded Open Insights, a U.S.-based data strategy, technology, and consulting firm that helps enterprises to deploy data-driven solutions that effectively and dramatically grow revenue and competitive advantage. Prior to this, he served as Yahoo!’s chief data officer and executive vice president where he was responsible for Yahoo!’s global data strategy, architecting its data policies and systems, and managing its data analytics and data processing infrastructure. The data teams he built at Yahoo! collected, managed, and processed over 25 terabytes of data per day, and drove a major part of ad targeting revenue and data insights businesses globally.

In 2003, Usama co-founded and led the DMX Group, a data mining and data strategy consulting and technology company that specializes in big data analytics for Fortune 500 clients. DMX Group was acquired by Yahoo! in 2004. Prior to 2003, he co-founded and served as CEO of Audience Science. He also has experience at Microsoft, where he led the data mining and exploration group at Microsoft Research and also headed the data mining products group for Microsoft’s server division.

From 1989 to 1996, Usama held a leadership role at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory where his work garnered him the Lew Allen Award for Excellence in Research from Caltech, as well as a U.S. Government medal from NASA.

Usama has published over 100 technical articles on data mining, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and databases. He holds over 30 patents, is a fellow of the Association for Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, and a fellow of the Association of Computing Machinery. He has edited two influential books on data mining and served as editor-in-chief on two key industry journals.

Usama earned his Ph.D. in Engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is active in the academic community with several adjunct professor posts and is the only person to receive both the ACM’s SIGKDD Innovation Award (2007) and Service Award (2003).

1. How do you define success?
To me, success is about learning and gaining knowledge, so as long as you are learning (with depth of experience), you are succeeding.

2. What is the key to success?
Being clear and focused on what you are doing, always observing and understanding what is happening, as well as reacting deliberately and thoughtfully, because that allows you to evaluate if a situation is good or bad. Many people reach the wrong conclusion because they did not evaluate properly. Give it your all and a serious effort, and you will succeed. Most fail to succeed because they never try hard enough.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
I am always maximizing learning, and by my definition, success then becomes easily attainable. How much you learn and how much you choose to analyze, understand, explain, and then reach insight, is all under your control. In my model, it is very difficult to fail. You fail when you don’t try hard enough. Life is too precious to waste my time on things I am not willing to try hard enough to achieve.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The certainty of two things: 1) things will always get better, especially if you are trying honestly and seriously, and 2) things can always be so much worse. People sometimes let things get to them and depress them. I try not to take it seriously. It is rare that your physical survival is at risk—compared to that, any situation is trivial.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Life is filled with so many great lessons. It is hard for me to choose a greatest or best. I never understand when people ask what is your favorite book or song, or “What have you…” Some great lessons include, in science for example, that simple theories and simple explanations are truly more likely to be correct. It can be demonstrated mathematically! Also, more generally, that the deepest and most elegant of learnings or theories can be found in the most mundane situations. So, always get your hands dirty with work and you will uncover amazing gems.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
These days, I truly enjoy sleep. I thoroughly enjoy “work,” and I hate to call it “work.” So, I have no spare time. Work is pleasure. Family and kids are pleasure. Being with good friends and companions is pleasure. Overcoming problems is pleasure. Skiing is pleasure. Chess is pleasure. Teaching others is pleasure. Teaching my kids is pleasure. Reading is pleasure. I wish I still had time to do science. I miss deep research in science. But then there is only so much time, and we choose what to prioritize. Come to think of it, I need to start exercising again.

7. What makes a great leader?
A great leader is a leader who leads by example. Great leaders understand that they are about enabling their team members to succeed. Hence, leadership is service, not glory and visibility. When people understand that, they realize that leading means sacrificing achieving their own goals for the sake of helping their team achieve theirs.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
I loved being a student. I did five degrees in university and I wanted to stay a student forever. Thankfully, I grew up. All of education is a beginning and not an end. It is preparation for what you are about to do. Find something that people really need and make sure you truly enjoy it. Passion at work will change your life, and passion will make work feel like pleasure. Work hard, give it your all, and great things will unfold.


This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.

Jeremy Geelan – Chairman & CEO, 21st Century Internet Group Inc.

Jeremy Geelan, a domain expert on the future of the future, is chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc., a collection of innovative websites and social applications, all of which reflect the fundamental importance of the Internet in 21st-century business, politics, education, entertainment, and culture. Core values revolve around the guiding principle of co-intelligence, in that “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

Educated at Cambridge University and trained at the British Broadcasting Corporation, Jeremy’s professional stock-in-trade is to anticipate and explore alternative social and technological futures, and from among them, to pinpoint and then help showcase and evangelize only the most promising and productive alternatives. He writes profusely and speaks all over the world about cloud computing, big data, the Internet of things, and the trajectory of collaborative technology (which he calls co-technology) in the second decade of the 21st century.

He is the founding editor-in-chief of the following publications: Web 2.0 Journal, Social Computing Magazine, Cloud Computing Journal, and New Paradigms Journal—and served, since its inception in 2008 to the 13th Cloud Expo in November 2013, as conference chair and resident emcee of the International Cloud Expo series, which is widely acknowledged to be the largest cloud computing event in the world. He is also the winner of the Roundarch 2006 Interactive Experience Award, “given to companies and individuals that best represent the advancement of Web experiences through the integration of user-centric design and advanced technology.” Formerly president and COO of Cloud Expo, Inc., Jeremy is now an executive academy member of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences and a founding adviser to Kaazing Corp.

1. How do you define success?
Success is nothing more really than having a strong sense that the life you have lived has left the world around you a better place for having had you alive.

2. What is the key to success?
The key to success is to always, wherever possible, stick to doing what only you do uniquely well, thereby making yourself and your services indispensable.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
A sense of success is part nature, part nurture. I was born blessed with many gifts, and grew up in a family that called out achievements big and small, and inculcated in me a taste for piling them up!

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The knowledge that all things are ultimately possible and all hurdles, over time, surmountable. No one expressed it better than Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
In February 2011, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the deadliest of all the cancers, and the one with the worst prognosis: a 5% survival rate after five years. It didn’t seem fair to me that I was suddenly not going to be 80, nor possibly even 60 years old. So I accepted major invasive surgery, and afterward, chemotherapy, trading two years of my life for the prospect of gaining 10 times that. The lesson: if the return on any investment is 10x, make it unhesitatingly. The worst that could have happened was that I died on the operating table, the best that I lived for 20+ more years. In that event, it looks very much as if I won the bet. Not many people have managed ever to kick pancreatic cancer in the butt; how about I tell you more about it in 2020?

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Marathon running and reading (though not at the same time)—and listening to music, always music.

7. What makes a great leader?
Great followers.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
You have arrived at the edge of a great and glorious cliff: beneath you, the most global job market in the history of humankind stretches out in every direction. It is yours to explore, it is yours to impact, and it is yours to astonish. What are you waiting for?!


This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.

Ziad K Abdelnour – Founder, President & CEO, Blackhawk Partners, Inc.

Ziad K. Abdelnour was born in Beirut, Lebanon, where he earned a B.A. in Economics, summa cum laude, from the American University of Beirut. After graduation, he came to the United States, and earned an M.B.A. in Finance from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1984. Since 1985, Ziad has been involved in over 125 transactions worth, in aggregate, over $10 billion in investment banking high-yield bond and distressed debt markets, and has been widely-recognized for playing an integral role in those three key market sectors. According to The New York Times, Ziad “made a fortune on Wall Street…as a junk bond salesman/trader during Michael Milken’s glory days at the powerhouse investment banking firm Drexel Burnham Lambert.”

Ziad is a prominent pro-Lebanon activist and lobbyist on behalf of a free Lebanon and has published, as early as June 2000, a research report entitled “Ending Syria’s Occupation of Lebanon: The U.S. Role” that became the blueprint for a series of policies and activities that led to the Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon back in 2005. Ziad, labeled the “Baasha of Wall Street,” publishes his own research report, “Ending Syria’s Occupation of Lebanon: The U.S. Role,” which is a major force in shaping the U.S. Lebanon Policy debate toward freedom in his native land. Since 2001 and post 9/11, Ziad has been part of the right wing political establishment, and was instrumental in funding a number of projects, including the bestseller Funding Evil—How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It.

Ziad K. Abdelnour is currently president and CEO of Blackhawk Partners, Inc., a New York-based private equity “family office” that focuses on originating, structuring, advising and acting as equity investor in management-led buyouts, strategic minority equity investments, equity private placements, consolidations, buildups, and growth capital financings in companies and projects based both in the U.S. and emerging markets. Blackhawk Partners is also a reliable trader and supplier of a wide range of commodities to industrial and financial consumers globally. The firm’s customers, around the world, rely upon Blackhawk as a source of metals, minerals, crude oil, and oil products. Ziad also serves on the advisory board of DPG Investments, a recognized premier multi-strategy global merchant banking, alternative investment, management, and advisory firm.

1. How do you define success?
Lasting success is stumbling from failure to failure with even more enthusiasm. Keep going like it’s your last day on earth, with a burning fire inside. You can bend, but never, ever break.

2. What is the key to success?
Happiness is the key to success. If you are truly passionate with what you are doing and are relentless in overcoming any obstacle that will come your way, you will be wildly successful. On the other hand, I know for sure that the key to failure is trying to please everyone.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
Success is really all relative. If you brag about starting at the bottom and making it to the top, you are probably still closer to the bottom. There is no top for people really at the top. There is always more.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My desire to succeed and crush any adversity that comes my way. After all, the most significant opportunities are usually found in times of greatest difficulty. And if you want to be great, you must develop the capacity to face trouble with courage, disappointment with cheerfulness, and triumph with humility.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Learned more than one lesson. One of the most important being that no one in the entire world cares more about your own well-being than you. You’ve got to look out for yourself first. Others being: Never give up, trust your instincts and always keep your integrity in check.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I practice intense sports, as it keeps me young and alert.

7. What makes a great leader?
The greatest leader is the one that gets his/her people to do the greatest things.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Never rely on the government or any company to earn a living. Build your own self and net worth, and then shape the world according to your own vision, working with the smartest people you can find who share your philosophy.


This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.

Todd Harrison – Founder & CEO, Minyanville Media

Todd Harrison, founder and CEO of Minyanville Media, has 23 years of experience on Wall Street. He served as vice president on the global equity derivatives trading desk at Morgan Stanley, as managing director of derivatives at The Galleon Group, and as president of the $400 million hedge fund Cramer Berkowitz. He has appeared on FOX, CNBC, CNN, and Bloomberg TV, and in The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, The New York Times, Worth, Fortune, Barron’s, Dow Jones & Company’s MarketWatch, New York Magazine, and Canada’s National Post.

Todd has lectured at numerous academic institutions including Harvard University, Syracuse University, New York University, and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He has also been active in research of financial market learning tendencies among college students, and was a contributing author to “Threat, Intimidation, and Student Financial Market Knowledge: An Empirical Study,” published in the Journal of Education for Business. Todd was featured in the 20th anniversary documentary of Oliver Stone’s movie Wall Street (1987), and in 2008, he received an Emmy Award from The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for his role as Executive Producer of “Minyanville’s World in Review,” the first and only animated business news show.

1. How do you define success?
Being able to look yourself in the eye each day as you brush your teeth and like the person you see staring back at you. Profitability begins within.

2. What is the key to success?
Humility, resolve, surrounding yourself with people you trust and perhaps most importantly, the realization that your failures, of which there will be many, are an integral part of future success.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
I don’t measure success by the size of my bank account or the title on my business card; I measure it by the husband and father I am to my wife and kids. It’s a process, not a point. By the time you get to where you want to be, it will be over.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward, and I’ve been there already.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
All you have is your name and your word, courtesy of my grandfather Ruby.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Playing with the kids, watching football, and exercising.

7. What makes a great leader?
Truth and trust.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Do what you love and the money will come, and find someone you trust to take you under their wing and show you the ropes.


This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.