Alumni Spotlight: James Nixon

One of my favorite lessons learned that I still apply personally and professionally is from the FISH philosophy.  I learned, “even if we disagree, don’t make me wrong.”  This means that there are always different perspectives and often not just one right answer or means to get something accomplished.

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Alumni Spotlight: Ben Bryant

For our 35th anniversary, we’ll be sharing the stories of 35 alumni showcasing the leaders they are today and how 21st Century Leaders inspired and impacted their journey. Alumni will represent the 3.5 decades since our founding in 1989 – the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s. Take a read and be inspired!

35th Anniversary Alumni Spotlight

1990’s Decade
Name
: Ben Bryant
H.S. Grad Year: Class of 1999
High School: Chamblee Charter High School
College: Washington & Lee University (BA); The George Washington University (MA, Legislative Affairs); Mercer University (JD)
Current Role: Vice President & Sr. Division Counsel for Financial Services and Marketing, InComm Payments | State Board Member, Technical College System of Georgia

How has your career unfolded and how did participating in 21CL help prepare you for your next steps going to college, taking on a new leadership role in community/college and after?

Professionally, I serve as Vice President & Senior Division Counsel for Financial Services and Marketing at InComm Payments, a global fintech and payments company headquartered here in Atlanta. Prior to joining the legal field, I spent three years working on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. I also serve on the State Board for the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG), a role I’ve had the privilege of serving in since 2013. 

As memory serves, I participated in three summers of the 21CL program back in the mid-to-late 1990s, which at the time was a single week of summer camp offered at Atlanta Christian College. One of the biggest takeaways for me from 21CL was coming to truly understand the importance of networking and the ability to find common ground in the moment with a wide array of individuals. The ability to communicate and make connections with the individuals we encounter daily is such a valuable skill whether it be interviewing for college or for a job, or in the workplace itself. Programs like 21CL serve as excellent incubators for developing these skills in a no-pressure environment.

What’s your memorable or ‘aha’ moment during your time at 21CL? 

(Particular program, meeting a professional and diverse peer, speaking in public for the first time, etc.)

One of my favorite memories from my time participating in 21CL was the exercise where students formed teams to run our own small businesses in competition against one another in selling snacks and drinks to program participants. It was an incredibly fun and educational exercise allowing students to develop and hone a variety of skills including business strategy, marketing, and salesmanship. I also have memories of visits to Atlanta-area businesses, etiquette dinners, volunteering, and a talent show or two. Thankfully my time in 21CL predates smartphones, so hopefully no video footage exists from the talent shows – I definitely participated in one of the step shows Kyle Wingfield mentioned in his alumni spotlight and I imagine I don’t look quite as talented as I thought I did at the time (and certainly less talented than my 21CL colleague Carl, who was the drum major at Cedar Grove High School at the time…).

Did 21CL assist you in developing a leadership style that makes you an effective leader? If so, how? 

My leadership style is one of collaboration, consensus, and camaraderie. I strongly believe that we’re better when we work together, fostering an environment of inclusivity where everyone not only feels like a part of the team, but is proud of the team and happy to be a part of it. Each of us brings different skills and perspectives to the table based on our backgrounds and experiences, and when we work together to craft solutions to the problems we face, we create better outcomes for all involved. Participating in 21st Century Leaders absolutely advanced my belief in the power of collaboration. This is something I get to put into practice as co-chair of InComm’s DE&I Council, as well as through my involvement in activities outside of my professional career, such as Scouting, TCSG, and various other community organizations.

Why do you believe programs like 21CL are important? And what advice would you give to a current or future student?

Programs like 21CL are important for several reasons. First, they provide an outlet for students who are likely already leaders in their respective schools and communities to grow their leadership skills alongside like-minded peers. Second, they afford students the opportunity to enhance their communication skills, which are critically important to future success in college and beyond. Other than Scouting, I can’t think of another program that helps students develop skills in effectively communicating with adults, a skill which is lacking in many youths that don’t regularly have the opportunity to engage with adults outside of the rigid student-teacher context. Third, these programs help students improve their networking skills, not only among high school peers, but among adults in a business setting. While the old mantra “it’s not what you know, but who you know,” is not entirely accurate, there is certainly some truth to the saying, and you’ll find at every step of your career it helps to know people. The good news for today’s participants, is that you have much more of an ability to stay connected to your fellow participants than we did in the dark ages before social media existed! 

Finally, and most important from my perspective (and this echoes what fellow alumni Brandi H. and Kyle W, both of whom I attended 21CL camps with, shared in their spotlights) the program brings together a diverse group of individuals from all across the state, giving participants the opportunity to appreciate, respect, and ultimately learn from the perspective of others. As far as advice, I would encourage current and future students to step outside of their comfort zones and place themselves in situations that afford the opportunity to learn and grow alongside a diverse mix of individuals at every step of their educational and professional careers.

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Alumni Spotlight: James Nixon

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Alumni Spotlight: James Nixon

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This month’s Alumni Spotlight features James Nixon, who shares his reflections on the fundamental leadership skills he gained through participating in 21st Century Leaders’ programs in the 1990’s. Now, nearly 20 years later, James is the VP of Administrative & Clinical Services at Tift Regional Health System. He is a graduate of Tift County High School and Mercer University.

At the 10th Annual Georgia Youth Leadership Awards, James delivered his inspirational message about the impact 21CL has had on his personal and professional development, the value of his internships through 21CL, and excitement for the future of leadership.


How did participating in 21st Century Leaders (21CL) change you and/or lead you to where you are now?

21CL was the foundation to my formal business and leadership training.  These skills followed me through my internships, college work and even now.  I still use principles learned from team building modules from our courses.  Likewise, I continue to keep up with life-long friends who I made through 21CL.

What was a memorable or “aha” moment in 21CL (Particular program, meeting a professional, etc?)? 

The biggest “aha” moment in connecting the dots with 21CL is how I forged true friends, some of which, I STILL keep in touch with personally and professionally.  The degrees of separation in the business world and throughout the state are very small.  The world of business and industry intersect on may levels.

Which programs did you participate in, and when?

The first program I attended was in Tifton at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC).  The group of us who met at our first camp planned our remaining summers together each year afterward.  Since then, 21CL has continued to evolve into other specialized programs for youth year-round.

How did 21CL prepare you for your next steps? Going into college and taking on leadership roles, heading into a new era of professionalism, etc. what tools/ perspectives have helped you along the way?

After participating in the program, I later interned with 21CL in the summers during college and served as the assistant director of camps during that time as well.  21CL has had an unquantifiable impact on my professional life.  During my internship, I learned how to present to corporate boards, learned about and worked on fund development and it allowed me to ‘cut my teeth’ as a formal leader and as a mentor.  Prior to my internship with 21CL, my exposure from the program gave me the opportunity to intern with Georgia Power.  My training and relationship from 21CL poised me to intern in a pilot program at the local office.

What is something you recently learned about leadership? 

Of course, we never stop learning.  I was in a training last month; one workshop focused on leadership in our era of dependence on electronic communication as a default method.  The message was:  an email has never built a relationship but has destroyed them countless times.  Never use email as a substitute for communication that is better to be held face-to-face or by phone.

Do you have a reflection or anecdote about a time you put a skill or piece of information you learned through 21st Century Leaders to work as a professional? 

Yes, I used this personally and professionally… from the FISH program, I learned, “even if we disagree, don’t make me wrong.”  This means that there are always different perspectives and often not just one right answer or means to get something accomplished.


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