Leading by Example

If the best way to predict the future is to help shape it, then it’s no wonder why business coach James Kernan has helped countless businesses enjoy success. With his hands-on approach to consulting, he serves as advisor, mentor, and any other role needed so that businesses are able to set measurable goals that turn into viable marketing campaigns with real sales results. And he does so with an impressive track record that spans more than 20 years and 500 business owners from across six countries.

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Kernan’s drive for success began at an early age through sports. Growing up in Lincoln, NE, as the youngest of five children, he played both baseball and football for Lincoln East High School. While team captain at the height of his high school football career, he broke his leg in the very first play of the first game, the day before his 17th birthday. After being told he’d never play football again, he said he wanted it more than ever.

That fueled his rehabilitation, and after turning down a chance to walk on at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he decided to play football for Nebraska Wesleyan University. But he didn’t just play—he started all four years, was a two-time captain, won two conference championships and even won the Mr. Nebraska Collegiate body building competition his senior year. “I never would have been successful in all those areas if I hadn’t experienced adversity,” he said. “It was my first lesson in persevering.”

After graduating with a degree in Business and an emphasis in Finance, Kernan moved to Los Angeles—a city he’d become enamored with after visiting his sister there. A good friend of his owned a computer tech company, and after working there three weeks, he earned his first promotion. Over the next five years he worked his way to Vice President of Sales, helping the company grow from $8 million in annual revenue to $32 million. He’d go on to accomplish similar feats for dozens of other companies before exiting, including three of his own.

“Early in my career in the tech industry I knew I didn’t have the computer background that my colleagues had, so I needed to work harder,” Kernan said. “If we were supposed to make 50 calls a day, I would make 100. With my competitive spirit, if the sales goal was X, I tried to get Z. It kept me highly motivated, setting goals, and sharing in the success of the team.” While all the hard work paid off, it also took its toll, especially the amount of traveling he had to do. Kernan realized the time away from home wasn’t what he wanted for his wife and two young sons. “It was another pivotal life moment, and I needed to do what was best for my family.”

Consulting was a natural next step, which spawned from a speaking engagement Kernan did in 2007 on how to grow your business. Since then he’s written training programs, developed a leadership certification program, and authored two books—all of which, when coupled with his experience, makes him uniquely equipped as a business coach. “I’ve been through all of the ups and downs that small businesses face and have had the big successes too,” he said. “As a consultant on the outside looking in, I’m able to clearly see what needs to be done. Everyone needs encouragement, and sometimes they need a kick in the pants too.”

When working with a business, Kernan said it all starts with a plan, which he helps execute. And although 90 percent of what he does involves setting goals and executing the plan, 10 percent is also helping coach individuals. “Most people don’t realize that their biggest obstacle is themselves and the fear they have,” he explained. This is usually in the form of adversity in their personal lives, and once that has been addressed, their professional goals explode. “There’s a lot to be learned in times of struggle—humans are like tea bags, you figure out who they really are when dipped in hot water.”

Hallie Tally, co-owner of the IT Managed services company Knights of Bytes has been working with Kernan for the past year. She reached out to him when her business was experiencing a valley and she had lost confidence in her own abilities. “At our first meeting he was able to assess my situation in minutes,” she said. “He gave me two or three things to work on, and it changed my whole mindset. I was able to get out of my own way and generate sales quickly. He’d seen it before and knew how to help me get out of it.”

Although most business owners seek consulting services when they’re struggling, such as losing money, lots of debt, or a poor work culture, Kernan pointed out it can be even better when things are going well. “It’s most beneficial when you’re able to understand what you’re doing right.”

Kernan works with an average of 6 companies at any given time, but he also runs peer groups, training groups, and one-to-many coaching sessions, with his specialty in implementing a complete sales and marketing program. He moved back to Nebraska in 2016 and lives in Omaha with his wife Elizabeth but still works with businesses all over the country, conducting video calls and webinars on a daily basis.

One of the leading forces in his life has always been his faith, and it’s his desire to help others achieve success in their professional, but also personal lives, that rewards him most. “Success is usually defined by money and is what most people think they want,” he said. “But once they have it, they realize there are more important things. That’s one of the greatest things people learn throughout this journey.”

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