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The Short Version

Steve is an organizational strategist, pragmatic theologian and social capitalist. At any given time, he is advising 5-6 executives or business owners, along with 3-4 young energetic social entrepreneurs. He sits on a half dozen boards, holds degrees in multiple subjects, writes often and speaks occasionally. He lives in Northwest Arkansas with his wife Karen, has three adult children and if he doesn’t return your call quickly there is a good chance he snuck off to the river…again

The Long version, as told by steve

I grew up on the Mississippi gulf coast long before the casinos took possession of the beachfront. Late in my high school years I determined to pursue some mixture of business and theology for my life calling. That unlikely blend often confused me and certainly baffled my peers and mentors. But off I went. Two colleges and four graduate institutions later I was studied up and ready to roll. My goal was to become intellectually ambidextrous…in my left hand was some form of a theological book and in my right hand was the Harvard Business Review (or the like).

Although I love to read, my highest form of learning is listening and watching. So it was no surprise that I migrated to mentors from early on to soak up wisdom, best practices and any insight to help steer my own life and journey. I am a patchwork of a dozen mentors who found the time and had the heart to deposit their life into mine.

It took a couple of years to find my particular lane on the career highway. You know, that lane that captures your passion, gifts, and calling all the while keeping your kids in shoes and your in-laws from putting you on the ‘Jimmy Buffet’ list. I had determined that by the time I was 35 I wanted to be totally in my zone and calling (I am a late bloomer.) My self-awareness grew and I learned that if you cut me down the middle you would discover a macro strategist, an encourager, a connector and a content developer. So finding a job to both fuel and platform those qualities was my locked-in target. And to my surprise, I actually hit my age 35 goal a few years early. Some 25 years ago, I formed a company with Tom, the twin brother I never had. After a year of scribbling on napkins over early morning breakfasts, we hit the gas and went for it. With the blessings of our wives we dove head first into launching a company called Cornerstone, which gave us the broadest horizon possible to chase our dreams and interests.

Along the way we built an international consulting practice, spoke at some premiere venues in America, launched and sold a magazine called Life@Work, wrote a dozen books, worked with some remarkable companies and leaders across every imaginable industry, built a bank of airline miles, took a few great vacations and worked from some sweet office spaces.

But we also experienced a death of a dream, more than one financial drought, a few colossal failures, the testing of some friendships and a bucket of miscellaneous disappointments, knee scrapes and cloudy days.

About a decade ago, I made a slight lane change in my work. Although I still did strategy and high end executive coaching with senior leaders, business owners and entrepreneurs, I lowered the age of my typical client and I added a very calculated not-for-profit element into my portfolio. Both were done with thoughtful intentionality. For example some of the NFPs I currently help as a board member are: Q/Axiom, Praxis, Paradigm Project, POTSC, Cobblestone Project, and WorkMatters.

Well, actually I made another shift about 10 years ago. I began taking ownership in a number of businesses ranging from sports talk radio to health care. That was more accidental than intentional but it has allowed me to not just be a coach or consultant and become more of an owner operator.

I have lived in beautiful Northwest Arkansas for 27 years. We have four distinct seasons (used to), clear cold rivers, mini mountains and just enough development for an occasional traffic jam. I have watched first hand as Wal-Mart took over the world. We don’t mind because it has made our spot on Google Earth a fantastic place to live. Karen still puts up with me and calls me her husband and we have 3 adult children. I have the job I designed, which means on tough Fridays, I have no one to gripe to other than myself. My only real complaint is I wish I could fish just a bit more. But there again, I need to look into the mirror and tell my boss.

Dr. Graves gives an aspiring entrepreneur or a seasoned business veteran an actual path for better leadership and ultimately, living.

JOHN COLE, PROFESSOR WALTON COLLEGE OF BUSINESS, UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS
STEVE HAS WORKED WITH EXECUTIVES FROM THE FOLLOWING ORGANIZATIONS