By his own account, one of the abilities Bill Kirkman developed over his career was the ability to listen to others and learn from them. If those in attendance at the most recent installment of The Network’s CEO Series have the ability to listen, they likely learned a lot.
Kirkman was the featured guest at the event for young professionals on November 10, speaking in both his role as the former managing partner with accounting firm BKD, LLP and as the most recipient of the Chamber’s Springfieldian Award.
He says the award – which he called “the most humbling, shocking event of my life,” is really the result of a lifetime of collected experiences, from his time at what was then Southwest Missouri State College to time spent in the Marine Corps and his more than three decades with BKD.
Kirkman, whose community involvement has included board positions with the Chamber, SBDC, City Utilities and the airport, offered several pieces of key advice he has picked up during his career:
- Get involved – Kirkman says the BKD culture is such that employees and partners are expected to give back in ways that go beyond the financial. Because of his passion for economics and business, that meant getting involved with the Chamber … which he says Springfield made it easy to do.
“Springfield is a welcoming community,” he said. “No one asked me where I was from, what college I went to, what fraternity I was in. They just wanted people that would contribute.”
- Be observant – Throughout his career, Kirkman says success has followed when he was willing to observe and listen.
“From the Marines to my clients to even my competitors, all of them have helped me up my game,” he said. “If you listen, you learn.”
- Respect everyone – “Over the years, I’ve learned to be a lot more tolerant and respectful,” he told the young professionals gathered. “Consensus building is critical to being a good leader.” For him, that means listening to the opinions of others, no matter how extreme and being able to bring people to the middle. “Our differences are what make us strong.”
- Always try your best – The biggest key to success, however it’s defined, is pride in your work, he says. “You don’t have to be the Chamber board president to be a success. If my goal had been to be a school custodian, it’d be the cleanest school you ever saw. Be the best at whatever you’re doing.”