From 1989 to 2007, Mark Kesler owned six Subway stores, three Chinese restaurants, and a coffeehouse. In 2005, he developed Eastwood Plaza, a strip mall in Mahomet, Illinois. Now he shares what he’s learned in more than 25 years of retail in the classes he teaches at Parkland College.
Mark Kesler is a serial entrepreneur. “Even in high school I had a love of entrepreneurship,” he recalls. “I would host events, do fundraisers, and try various other things. In my twenties and thirties I was all in. At 24, I had an opportunity to get into a restaurant on the University of Illinois campus where I’d gone to college. Then I got into sales, which I really enjoyed doing, but I realized there was a ceiling when working for somebody else.”
Mark decided to strike out on his own and open a Subway franchise in his hometown of Mahomet, Illinois, about 10 miles west of Champaign. Soon he and a buddy opened a second store. Mark quit his job and went into the Subway business fulltime. He even worked for the Subway corporation for two and a half years while running his stores. Over the next 17 years Mark and his partner expanded to six locations.
Nothing succeeds like success, but in 2010, Mark asked himself if this was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. “My wife was teaching at Parkland College, a community college in Champaign,” Mark says. “Some of her fellow instructors knew I’d been in business and they would call me to fill in on some classes. I loved the opportunity to interact with 18 and 19 year olds who were on their way to bigger and better things through education. One thing led to another and I ended up selling the stores and teaching fulltime at Parkland College.
“Sixty percent of what I teach is out of a textbook; 40 percent is based on life. It’s a public setting but I want my students to know I’m a Christian. Being transparent is something I’ve seen modeled in Pinnacle Forum. A good friend of mine, Marlin Livingston, is the CEO of Cunningham Children’s Home. He’s involved with Pinnacle Forum, and five years ago he told me about the group. When I attended my first Forum meeting of six or seven guys, I fell in love with the opportunity of sharing my faith and talking about the businesses we were all involved with.
“Ten or so of us meet every Thursday morning at seven o’clock” Mark says. “I can’t imagine going through a week without it. We have business backgrounds in common, but the main thing is we’re all Christ followers. That’s first and foremost. We talk about our businesses, our kids, and the different things that affect us as leaders. Pinnacle Forum is all about transforming leaders who transform our culture. That’s the mantra we live by.”
The group has a common vision, but it’s carried out in various ways. “We have one Partner who’s very focused on a ministry called Youth for Christ in our community,” Mark says. “We’ve done fundraisers for them and last year donated 80 bibles. One of their programs is to get teenagers off the streets is Midnight Basketball. The Champaign-Urbana area is prosperous, but we’ve had disruptions and even some shootings. We pretty much grew up around here and want to help address these problems. Fortunately, we have someone in our Forum who has a passion for this organization and we’ve followed his lead.”
In addition to their members being involved in the community through different outreaches and local churches, Partners like Steve Hillard and Rick Stephens have also played key roles in Pinnacle Forum nationally.
“There’s a general Forum meeting once a month when the groups in the area get together,” Mark says. “We have 40 or 50 men show up and we bring in a guest speaker. When I invite someone, there’s a good chance he will know several men who are there, which helps him feel comfortable. He can get a sense of what Pinnacle Forum is all about. If he wants to know more, I’ll meet with him for coffee or lunch.
“I will encourage him to invest some time with fellow Christians in a confidential setting where he can learn how to apply biblical principles to daily life,” Mark continues. “I will tell him that no matter how busy we are, we all need time with God and with others. It will lead to an increase in what we can get done by making us more effective and efficient.
“And if I can get him to a Forum,” Mark says confidently, “he’ll see that I’m right.”