On this Inside the Chamber: Four Under 40 special, Kaylin Risvold, President and CEO of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce (NACC), sat down with the four award recipients of the NACC’s Four Under 40 Achievement Awards, including this interview with Mikel Mays, to learn more about who they are as people and how they demonstrate excellence in the following: Leadership in Community, Leadership in Business, Excellence in Career, and Life Balance.
A little background on Mikel Mays
Mikel L. Mays is an accomplished artist, composer, and entrepreneur involved in the music and construction industries. He has started various businesses, including Kel’s Lawn Care Services, Motivation Central, and Mays Enterprises, demonstrating his entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to achieving his goals.
Mays moved to Naperville in 2016 to finish high school and pursue opportunities in the greater Chicago area. During his undergraduate years at North Central College, he revived the Voices of Praise Gospel Choir. He also held several leadership positions, including president of the Student Governing Association, resident assistant, and board member for the NACC’s College Advisory Board.
In 2021, Mays founded the Mays Music Centre of Excellence (MMCOE), a 501(c)3 organization providing affordable and accessible music ensembles, lessons, and programs. Mays also released a single titled “Alright” in response to the pandemic.
Mays is the CEO of MMCOE and works as a project engineer for Bulley & Andrews, a regional construction firm headquartered in Chicago. He has assisted in the construction of $30+ million in projects, including two assignments for his alma mater, North Central College. He serves as a Young Professional Representative for the Naperville Youth Inclusion Ambassadors and credits his enduring faith, strong work ethic, and perseverance for his achievements.
Who does Mays look to for inspiration or mentorship?
Mays began, “When it comes to seeking inspiration and mentorship, I believe in the power of communities and the wisdom of a village, as emphasized by the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Instead of looking up to one individual, I would draw inspiration and seek guidance from a diverse group of people within a community or village setting. These include my parents, godparents, family, community leaders, the board of directors at Mays Music Centre of Excellence, executive leadership at Bulley & Andrews, and my counselor.”
He added, “I would look up to different individuals within these groups who excel in different aspects of life. I might admire one person for their creativity, another for their leadership skills, and yet another for their kindness and compassion. Each person would bring a unique perspective and set of skills that I could learn from and be inspired by.”
“From that, I developed three points, Listen, Take, and Give. Listen to everything to learn what works for different people and situations. Take what is applicable to your situation and apply it to the best of your ability. Give back often, we should never excel without reaching back and encouraging the next person,” said Mays.
What does Mikel Mays believe are the most important attributes of successful leaders today?
“Successful leaders today possess a diverse range of essential attributes. They demonstrate strong leadership skills, active listening, transparent communication, emotional intelligence, integrity, and a problem-solving mentality. These leaders prioritize collaboration, innovation, effective delegation, and decision-making. They employ empathy and create platforms for others to showcase their talents. They analyze and correct inefficiencies, striving for equitable solutions. Building a supportive and inclusive environment is crucial to their leadership approach. They leverage their influence and professional connections to raise awareness and drive positive change. Interpersonal skills combined with dedication are hallmarks of their success,” replied Mays.
He continued, “Leaders understand that achieving personal goals is not enough; helping others succeed is paramount. They actively listen, fostering collaboration and innovation. Their effective communication ensures engagement and a shared sense of purpose. They navigate interactions with empathy and emotional intelligence. Delegation and decision-making skills enable efficient task distribution aligned with organizational goals. Integrity is highly valued, building trust and respect.”
“Successful leaders identify challenges at corporate and individual levels, rectifying inefficiencies. They prioritize equitable solutions, creating fair and inclusive environments. They use their platforms and connections to raise awareness and inspire action. By embodying these attributes, leaders make a positive impact on organizations, industries, and communities, driving progress and fostering success,” said Mays.
What makes Mikel Mays proud?
“The one thing that makes me most proud is the opportunity to make people’s dreams a reality. Whether it’s working on architectural drawings and assisting with the construction of a building or helping a student accomplish their goal of singing and performing on a stage in front of an audience, seeing others achieve their aspirations brings me immense pride,” replied Mays.
He added, “Being able to contribute to the realization of someone’s vision, whether it’s through tangible structures or personal achievements, is incredibly fulfilling. Witnessing the joy and sense of accomplishment in their eyes is a reward in itself.”
What’s the most important risk Mikel Mays took and why?
“The most important risk I took was moving to Naperville. This decision carried significant weight as I transferred from Merrillville High School to Naperville Central High School at the beginning of my senior year. It was a substantial leap considering my established tenure and reputation at my previous school and in the community,” explained Mays.
He continued, “In Merrillville, I had made notable accomplishments, including starting Motivation Central , an empowerment company that focused on promoting positivity through words, in 2015 and Kel’s Lawn Care Services, which had grown to encompass two neighborhoods. Additionally, I held the positions of student body president and drum major for the marching band. I had built momentum and a sense of belonging in that community.”
“However, despite the risks involved, I chose to embark on a new path by moving to Naperville. I recognized that staying within my comfort zone would limit my personal growth and potential. I believed that challenging myself and embracing new opportunities would lead to significant positive changes in my life,” said Mays.
He went on, “By choosing to start over in a new environment, I ventured down a road less traveled. While it may not have been a common choice for many, it has made all the difference in my personal development and future prospects. The decision to leave behind what was familiar and comfortable allowed me to explore new horizons, meet diverse individuals, and gain a broader perspective on life.”
“Moving to Naperville presented me with fresh experiences, educational opportunities, and a chance to build new relationships. It pushed me outside of my comfort zone, challenging me to adapt to unfamiliar surroundings and navigate a different social landscape. Through this risk, I discovered resilience, adaptability, and the ability to thrive in unfamiliar situations,” Mays reflected.
“In retrospect, taking the risk to move to Naperville during my senior year was a pivotal moment in my life. It taught me the importance of embracing change, even when it means leaving behind established achievements. The decision to pursue the road less traveled has shaped my character and opened doors to new opportunities that I may not have encountered otherwise,” concluded Mays.