The Courage To Change Course
Neal Gondran’s first career choice didn’t work out, but maybe that was for the best.
Sometimes when the best laid plans go awry, you realize that maybe they weren’t the best for you anyway. Or maybe you just weren’t able to see other possibilities at the time.
That’s what happened to Texas native Neal Gondran, national sales manager for BEST Promotions USA, LLC (UPIC: bestusa). Born and raised in Austin and Corpus Christi, he grew up hunting and fishing with a deep love for the outdoors and a desire to protect wildlife.
“I received a degree in criminology from Texas A&M at Corpus Christi and wanted to stay in the region as I pursued the job I really wanted, as a game warden for Texas Parks and Wildlife,” Gondran says. However, getting a job as a game warden proved difficult and he settled for doing investigative work for Child Protective Services (CPS) while waiting for an opportunity.
“One of the most important lessons I learned was that, regardless of how good you are at your job, if you don’t love it, you will never be satisfied,” says Gondran. “I got a lot of satisfaction protecting children and putting a handful of people in prison who egregiously violated said children, but the work was taking a significant toll on my mind and body. I was detailed and thorough in my work, which led me to climb the ranks quickly. I was very good, but I did not love the work I was doing, even though I was doing a lot of people a lot of good.”
After a couple years of being unsuccessful in getting hired as a game warden, Gondran acknowledged that CPS was not a long-term career option for him and it was time to make a change. “At the time, I was dating a girl in the Dallas area who was a family friend of Mike Hicks, owner of BEST Promotions [in nearby Balch Springs, Texas]. I met Mike in 2011 when I was visiting. We got to talking and a couple weeks later, I had a job offer that I figured would get me by until I found a job in my degree field.”
While the relationship with the girlfriend ended, Hicks saw Gondran’s potential and offered him a salaried position. “I took it and haven’t looked back,” Gondran adds.
In the beginning, he was doing basic grunt work. “I unloaded containers of materials, helped with burning and washing screens, and pulled material from the shelves for orders. I didn’t find it very intriguing, but it was a paying job with 50-plus hours a week so I couldn’t complain.” Over time, as the business grew, Gondran worked in customer service, art, shipping, accounting and inside sales. He’s been the national sales manager for about two years.
In July, Gondran married 10th grade English teacher Erica Berry. While his life has turned out nothing like he planned, he now couldn’t picture it any other way.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
I enjoy being outdoors either hunting or fishing. If I must be inside, it sure is hard to beat watching some Rangers baseball, any college football game, and the Dallas Cowboys. One day I would like to be part of a program where I could teach inner city children about the outdoors. Something like “Take a Kid Fishing” or other similar programs. The outdoors is so peaceful and a great way to spend time with yourself and others. It’s perfect to take time for personal reflection and to remember that we are but a small part of this world, so we need to make the best impact we can.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I enjoy not doing the same thing day in and day out. At BEST there is no such thing as “that’s not my job.” If something needs to be done, you just do it. So every day is different, which keeps things interesting.
Who has had the biggest influence on your professional career and why?
Mike Hicks. Since day one, Mike has encouraged a fun work environment and is never too busy for anything. It didn’t take long after being hired to tell that Mike had the respect of every employee in the building, and the entire company had a “bring it on” attitude. I really liked the culture. I recognized that this was such a positive environment, completely opposite of my previous job where it was all about numbers. Mike has molded me and built me up from the very bottom. It has taken years, but he was there for me every step of the way.
The other person who has had the biggest influence on my professional career would be my late grandfather, Edwin Johansson. From a very young age, he made sure that I knew it doesn’t matter what you are doing, just do it the best you can. Give it your all. It doesn’t matter if your job is to lick and seal envelopes at the post office, just be the best in the world at what you do. I try to live by that every day.
What motivates you in business and in life?
Fear. Fear of failing. Fear of becoming stagnant. Fear of not living up to my potential. Many people view fear as a negative thing or as a weakness. I use my fears to push myself forward. Fear drives me every day. It can be healthy to be fearful.
What is your greatest professional accomplishment?
Getting out of my own way. I was my own biggest enemy for a very long time. Instead of executing a good plan today, I would be hesitant to act until the plan was perfect. Too often the time of opportunity passed by the time the plan was perfect. So, instead of making sure everything is just right, now I have the ability to say this is a good plan, and execute it. This is definitely my greatest professional accomplishment.
What advice would you give to an industry newcomer?
Be genuine and transparent. Building relationships is key to being successful in this industry.
Julie Richie is associate editor for PPB.