Rustic Pathways CEO Chris Stakich’s Secrets of Success

Rustic Pathways CEO Chris Stakich’s Secrets of Success

Rustic Pathways CEO Chris Stakich graduated from Harvard University in 2001. Chris Stakich spent the last seventeen years of his professional life working in the fields of education, travel, and community service. He believes that travel should be an essential part of every education, and that travel can be a model of sustainable development.

After serving in almost every professional capacity within Rustic Pathways, a leader in global student travel and community service programs, Chris now leads the company with an eye for excellence and innovation as Rustic Pathways CEO and Chairman of the Board.

In addition to his roles at Rustic Pathways, Chris is also the Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board for Thinking Beyond Borders and sits on the boards of University School (Ohio) and Compass Academies. Chris Stakich lives in San Francisco with his wife and children and is committed to developing future leaders who embody compassion and global understanding.

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What exactly does your organization do?

Rustic Pathways has been the leader in global student travel and community service programs since 1983. We offer culturally immersive travel experiences for students ages 12 to 18, customizable teacher-led trips for school groups, and gap year programs for recent high school grads.

What really stands out about our travel programs is that they are intentionally designed to provide learning experiences that help students develop the skills, habits, and mindsets they need to succeed academically, personally, and professionally. We’re measuring how much students grow in non-cognitive like cultural competence, self-awareness, humility, and the desire to positively impact the lives of others as a result of participating in our programs, and we’re the only company doing this.

We also raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for the communities and countries where we operate through our nonprofit foundation. Our vision is to raise the bar for the entire travel industry, prove how much can be achieved when people work together, and get the biggest travel companies to commit to creating a greater positive impact abroad.

What are the five things you wished you knew before you became Rustic Pathways CEO?  

  • Don’t just focus on the business, invest in other areas of your life as well. People like Tony Robbins and Tim Ferris provide specific frameworks to help you excel in areas like personal relationships, physical and mental health, and spirituality. Growing in one area of your life creates compounding effects in other areas of your life. This is the formula for building a world class company.
  • You will never have enough time or resources – so prioritizing is key. It’s not what you decide to do that’s important, it’s what you decide NOT to do. Develop a business strategy that aligns with your vision and values, and invest your people and time into accomplishing that strategy.
  • Focus on what’s most important and find talented people you can trust for everything else. Build a world class team, empower them with a vision, and then let them do their job.  This allows you, as the CEO, to focus on the big picture.
  • You will see success, you will face challenges, and you will fail – be transparent with your company. I’m a big fan of Ray Dalio’s philosophy of radical transparency. When you have transparency throughout your entire organization, you create a culture of trust. When you have a culture built on trust, people will share their ideas, concerns, and critical feedback. It doesn’t matter where the right answers come from, it just matters that you have the right answers, and those right answers are sitting at every level of your company.
  • Be a good spouse, parent, friend, and leader all at the same time.  Healthy relationships are the most important ingredient in creating a happy life. Although managing a growing company is a never easy, prioritize quality time for your spouse, kids, and friends. You will thank me for that one in the long run.
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