Seeing business from the inside

Area high school students gain business knowledge and life skills as part of the Central Illinois CEO program for young entrepreneurs

Gordon Woods
Posted 2/27/20

Entrepreneurship has always been an important driver of American business.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Seeing business from the inside

Area high school students gain business knowledge and life skills as part of the Central Illinois CEO program for young entrepreneurs


Gordon Woods

CLINTON — Entrepreneurship has always been an important driver of American business.  Americans with big dreams began the businesses we all use today, some small, some large.  Ten area high school students are getting a unique eye into that world and exactly what makes these enterprises successful.

Steve and Karol Wilson, of Wilson Chrysler-Jeep, Clinton, recently hosted a group of students who are part of the Central Illinois CEO program.  The program is not only a classroom course, in which students receive credit toward graduation, it’s an ongoing series of field trips to businesses large and small.

Students meet business leaders and receive an insider view into what makes those businesses, and the people who run them, tick.

Clinton High School junior Trenton Sanders is part of the CEO group.  He said the group of students had visited dozens of businesses so far this school year.

“Probably over 50,” Trenton said.  “In a week’s time we go to probably about three businesses.”

Right now, Trenton doesn’t know if he would go into business for himself.

“Right now, I’m just trying to figure out what I want to do after high school,” he said.  

But, he is gaining valuable knowledge that program facilitator Melanie Brown said will be useful in whatever field a student decides to go into.

During their visit to Wilson Chrysler-Jeep, owner Steve Wilson talked about the challenges for his business and how he and his staff take on those challenges, which included the closure of many Chrysler dealerships in the early 2000s because of the severe economic downturn.

Wilson said, owing to his dealership’s good performance, his business managed to avoid the chop.  


He said the Wilson dealership generally sells about 275 percent of Chrysler’s sales requirement.

Wilson also gave an impromptu lesson in selling, not just cars, but anything.  He demonstrated with one student as the salesperson and himself as the customer.

He said it was important to put the product, in this case a pen, into the customer’s hand.  Or, in the case of his business, to get the customer into the vehicle.

“Don’t let the customer leave without buying something,” he said.

Key in this pursuit was establishing a rapport with customers, he said.

With sales in general, customers frequently buy from a particular sales person because they like them.

Wilson described how much more competitive the automotive industry is compared to when he started.

“And, you’ll run into that too,” he said.  “Competition.”

He also touched on other aspects of selling, emphasizing the need to be attune to customers’ needs.

Wilson talked about advice his father Joe, founder of the dealership, gave him early in his career.

“He said, ‘the car business has been good to me’.”  “And, I would tell my kids the same thing.”

But, Wilson said his dad advised him to do what he wanted to do.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry about me, don’t worry about keeping our name out there’.”

Wilson said his father told him he welcomed him to come to work for the dealership, but, most importantly, to do what he wanted to do.

Program facilitator Melanie Brown said students in the program were receiving not just business knowledge but life skills as well.  The current group of students are from Clinton High School, Blue Ridge High School and Warrenburg-Latham High School.

Blue Ridge High School senior Brenden Flannell said he values the connections he’s making through the program.

“It’s definitely been a lot of networking,” Brendon said.  “Meeting people, learning names.”

Brendon said he was getting experience and making connections most young people don’t have.

“I’m just an 18-year-old kid, but I know all these business owners, business CEOs and presidents,” he said.  “It’s like, I’m making all these connections and I know this stuff.”

Brendon isn’t yet sure what he’ll eventually do.

“But, I know I’m going to go on to attend college,” he said.

Wilson said he was happy to be part of the CEO program as a sponsor.

His dealership is one of the corporate sponsors of the Central Illinois CEO program, and his wife Karol Wilson serves as one of its mentors.

Wilson said he felt the CEO program was an excellent start for students if they thought they might be interested in business. 

“I’m very proud of you,” Wilson told the students.  “I’d like to have a whole room full of you guys.”

Students currently enrolled in the Central Illinois CEO program:

Vince Baldassari

Brenden Flannell

Terry Hendriex

Colton Hoback

Gabriel Jenkins

Madison Miller

Cameron Reynolds

Trenton Sanders

Max Stauffer

Ruslan Turner

To learn more about Central Illinois CEO, visit