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It's Our Business

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

Expect the Unexpected

by Jim Mikula | President/CEO

There is one particular story about me that my mom always enjoyed telling (many years after the event) and my wife uses to sum up many of my life experiences. When I was a toddler, our family was living in Morrocco as part of a military assignment. I was the stereotypical blonde-haired towhead kid, and at the time, kids like me were targets for kidnapping there. My mom said the housekeeper decided to make some extra money by selling me! Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the military police to find me, and I was back home safely. As a teenager, I think my mom wished on occasion I could be kidnapped again.

My wife, Ruth Ann, uses the story as a starting point to explain my life as one of “Expect the Unexpected.” Going from being kidnapped to growing up on a small horse property outside Sacramento to working for an international hotel group to now leading the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce does seem a little unlikely.

Rewinding my journey, I believe there were several key factors to the experiences I have had. First, having compassionate mentors early on—including a high school teacher who got me my first hotel job as a butcher’s apprentice and a college professor who taught me the importance of the humanities to understanding the world—was a true gift. Even today, there are several business mentors who provide me invaluable advice.

In my first overseas assignment, I was lucky to learn quickly that uncovering what you don’t know is just as vital as what you do know. At my first important social banquet, I made a cultural faux pas. Fortunately, my host saved the situation with a quick joke. With each new position, I found that using my existing knowledge could be a trap, as each situation or culture is different. 

Perhaps my greatest discovery was that my curiosity about the world helped me develop the skill of “learning to learn.” This curiosity helps me manage risk taking and is also a dominant element of my critical thinking. It was a risk moving to India and taking on a development position with little development experience. My thorough research, a supportive new boss and a wise mentor showed me that taking the job would give me a crash course in development. In one year, I learned as much as one would typically learn in five.

Now, I am charged with leading a non-profit that is a century-old pillar of the community. It is humbling and exciting. It will challenge my learn-to-learn skill set to make sure that the chamber doesn’t skip the proverbial beat in transitioning from an all-star in Penny McBride to me. I revel in this kind of challenge as I will be learning, but more importantly, endeavoring to create a significant impact on our community.

Back to my high school teacher/mentor, Mrs. Leafe. The week before graduation she gave me her favorite Escoffier cookbook and told me that one day I would be working in Bombay (now called Mumbai). I thanked her and thought that would likely not happen. Well, it did, and she was my first call when I started that development job in India.

What Mrs. Leafe did for me is why I led the effort to establish the culinary program at Fredericksburg High school in 2017. We started with 22 students and now the program has over 100 students across all four grades. To my fellow business leaders, you can expect a recruiting effort by the chamber to get as many of you into the middle and high schools as speakers, advisors, and mentors. And, to everyone in the community, we welcome your great ideas and helping hands to support all of our local students.

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