“We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” These memorable words by T.S Eliot in his poem, “Little Gidding,” have created an inspirational impact on John Ernst, Chief Executive Officer of Kinnektor, a business that strives to advance entrepreneurship here in Wisconsin. To John, this quote creates a connection to when he came back to Neenah, “I wasn’t able to appreciate Neenah until l left and came back…everyone in life should have a good walkabout.”
As an adolescent, John lived in Neenah and adored how nice the community was. He remembers having a large garden and growing a variety of vegetables and plants with his parents. It was almost like a flea market; everybody hustling for a buck and a dime, “One man’s junk is another man’s value. That kind of set the world in motion for me,” he expresses. When he was at the Neenah High School, he wanted to become an entrepreneur and when he got out, the idea stuck with him.
John believes our businesses drives the community, “We are a very wealthy, thriving little community. From Fond du Lac to Green Bay, we’re fat and happy. We come together around a crisis, around helping each other when someone is in need. When someone is ill or when our city is in trouble or when something seriously needs to be done, regular people and leaders come together to get things accomplished. That’s a way to say we care about each other emotionally.”
John Ernst is a father, a leader and a steward. He has 4 grown and 2 step children. He enjoys raising his kids and growing together, along with being a student in the process of building a family. “I think that Neenah has taught me to be a real, trusting, and kind person, and when you grow up in Neenah you don’t grow up in a city full of fear and crime, people being hurt in the streets, and your house having to be locked while you’re in it. But not our city. Neenah has created a big impact on my personality, because it’s a safe place to live in,” John imparts. He also adds, “I had to leave Neenah to learn how to be cautious.” He moved to Los Angeles and to the Dominican Republic which require a different set of safety rules.
John is most proud of family and his ability to raise them, creating a successful business known as Kinnektor, and learning from his mistakes. “Turns out once I figured how to do that, I’ve been able to create a business; started with 4 people 7 years ago. Kinnektor was able to bring an incredible amount of attention to our whole region and state,” John says. The obstacles and failures John went through have allowed him to get where he is today. He observes, “Overcome your own self-doubt, and learn how to be intellectually humiliated. Entrepreneurship is filled with getting knocked down, it’s the ability of getting back up again and believing in yourself by surrounding yourself with people who will support you.”
John is a big believer of Project Based Learning (PBL), a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a real world, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge and in the Arete PBL Academy at NHS. He traveled all over Wisconsin and Minneapolis studying it and concludes he is “quite impressed with this type of learning.” He recognizes the hope that PBL offers for the future and knows others will appreciate this type of teaching as well.
After all the exploration and the wisdom gained from it, John Ernst looks at Neenah with a totally different perspective and truly knows it for “the first time.”
-By NHS Arete Student Katelyn Jonte