CEOs help area by helping students learn

BY KEREN DOUEK, ASSISTANT EDITOR

Local CEOs are banding together to make St. Louis a better place. The Regional Business Council’s mission is “to act on high impact business, civic and philanthropic efforts for the betterment of the St. Louis region.”

As part of its higher education initiative, the RBC looks to help local colleges and college students, and according to Michael Staenberg, president of THF Realty, Inc., and a member of the group, supporting local colleges and college students must go beyond financial support.

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“I think it is important not only to give money, but to give your time,” Staenberg said.

Staenberg has been a mentor for two years with the RBC’s Mentor Network, in which CEOs are paired with college students looking to get some real world experience.

Staenberg said he enjoys the program, and enjoys watching students learn.

“They think they know all about the world because they watch reality TV and all those shows, and then they come in and say, ‘Wow, the world is actually so different.’ It is just really refreshing and a lot of fun because we get wrapped up in our world and now get to see it through a new pair of eyes. It is like watching a new baby grow,” he said.

The RBC was started with 50 business executives in 2000 and today is composed of 100 CEOs representing approximately 10 percent of the region’s employees. It focuses on advocating for better regional governance, improving educational opportunities, supporting business diversity, strengthening regional arts and cultural institutions, and increasing the involvement and investment of RBC members.

As part of its higher education initiative, the RBC works to make college students aware that the St. Louis business community is interested in helping them find work in St. Louis.

Todd Epsten, CEO of Major Brands, Inc., and a member of the RBC Mentor Network, said the program works “to try to keep the best and brightest college graduates in the St. Louis area.”

“To foster that, they put together a mentoring program which pairs a Regional Business Council executive with graduating college students in their senior year and hopefully convinces them and provides opportunities for them to stay in the St. Louis area,” he said.

Epsten has been a mentor with the program for three years, and actually hired his first mentee, who is still working for the company.

Adam Basala, a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, was paired up with Epsten and was fascinated by the inside-look into the company.

“Working with Todd definitely helped a lot and made me get a better understanding of what the business was about, and the industry in general,” Basala said.

Basala is currently a chain line representative for Major Brands.

Katherine Hunzinger, from Kansas City, had Epsten as her mentor as well.

“We talked about job choices, and he challenged me to take risks like traveling and training for a marathon,” Hunzinger said. “He was great to talk to and I was so interested in learning about how he came to where he is today.”

Hunzinger will be moving to St. Louis in August to start a job at Macy’s Midwest, and said Epsten has helped familiarize her with the neighborhood, and also set her up with possible mentors in her field.

Kenneth Steinback, chairman and CEO of CSI Leasing, Inc., has been involved in the mentor program as well and has had several students over the years. Steinbeck’s company hired a student as well, in his case one who was referred to Steinbeck from another mentor within the program.

Lou Fusz, Jr., president of Lou Fusz Automotive Network and co-chair of the Higher Education Collaboration Initiative, said that is the power of the RBC and the Mentor Network, which lies in the fact that members come from all different industries, resulting in great networking opportunities.

“I have a mentee who is interested in getting into the radio business,” Fusz said, “and I have been able to get her into a couple of our local radio stations to take tours and meet people … We have members that are in the different industries and if your mentee is interested in the radio business, it’s easy to contact members that are in those types of business and get them to meet the people that are involved in the radio stations.”

Fusz said, likewise, he would be happy to help another student who might be interested in learning more about the auto business.

“The mission is that we make the college students aware that the St. Louis business community is interested in having them stay in St. Louis, and also having the universities and colleges know we realize they are a viable economic resource in it of itself.”

Fusz said the initiative deals with not only a workforce issue, “but a collaboration between business and community to strengthen our community.”

Keren Douek is an assistant editor and can be reached at [email protected]