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Prairie to Pavement

The Hard is What Makes it Great
by Ben Jaksich, '04
Prairie to Pavement
Ben Jaksich, '04, is founder and partner of executive search firm Husk Talent.

Editor's Note: Ben Jaksich, '04, originally wrote this for the Nebraska Alumni Association's winter issue of Nebraska Quarterly.

In the 1992 film “A League of Their Own” Tom Hanks delivers the line, “The hard is what makes it great.” While it may be unorthodox to lead into a personal life journey story with a quote from a fictional character, I think it works. In fact, it’s a Jaksich family motto we’ve adopted lately and one I’d like to share. My story includes being the product of a single parent family, losing a parent to a battle with cancer at an early age, migrating to New York alone, raising a son with special needs and ultimately finding success.

I’m originally from Omaha, graduated from the University of Nebraska in 2004, and am a proud Sigma Nu alumnus. My parents divorced when I was nine years old and that’s when I ascended into “man of the house” responsibilities. While my friends were outside playing, I was tasked with raking leaves, mowing the yard and trimming hedges. My mom has always been a major inspiration to me as she worked full time while returning to school to make our future lives better. I now see that she was showing me what hard work meant and that regardless of the hand that you are dealt, there is always a way.

Being far from a collegiate All-American with my 2.9 grade point average, I never knew what the professional world would bring. As I tried to find a career that I loved in my 20s, I was also going through a challenging personal scenario with my father who was terminally ill. I worked 12-hour shifts at Enterprise Rent-A-Car followed by all-night sessions at the University of Nebraska Medical Center watching my father die. As fortunate as I was to spend the latter years of my father’s life with him, I still had endless curiosity and concern about my career. I’ll never forget, one winter night shortly before my father passed, we were discussing this topic. I confessed that I was nervous about living up to the Jaksich name where it seemed every male was a high-wattage executive. My father, Tom Jaksich, looked at me and said, “You are a Jaksich, you’ll be successful, it’s in your blood. You just need to find what drives you.” Cue the tears and light bulb. Spoiler alert: Enterprise Rent-A-Car wasn’t it.

After my father’s passing in 2006 I knew that I had to make a change. Not knowing where to go, I consulted many people close to me and ultimately decided on New York City. The idea of the energy, the opportunity and the intensity all appealed to me and I knew that’s where I needed to be.

As a former fraternity recruitment chair it almost seemed serendipitous to end up in the recruiting industry. In college as a recruiter for a fraternity, you’re educating soon-to-be students about Greek Life, your fraternity, and why it’s a strong option. In the professional world, it’s similar, just slightly different stakes and more serious (there are no rush parties in real life). As an entry level recruiter, my salary only afforded me a one-bedroom shared apartment in downtown Manhattan. What they don’t tell you about New York, or real life in general, is that nobody cares about how you got where you are. What matters is getting to the next step as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Knowing that, I worked HARD. I worked 60+ hours a week, ate lunch at my desk, logging 200-300 calls a day, 1,000 phone minutes and 12 in-person meetings per week. That was a LOT of work for a shared one-bedroom apartment. Roughly six months into my new career I was making waves, breaking records and earning regular bonuses. Unfortunately, in 2008 the market crashed which resulted in the carpet being swept out from under many people across the country, including me. Regardless of the economic environment I pressed on, constantly reinventing myself, doubled down on hard work and made it happen. If there’s one thing Nebraska ingrained in me, it was that tough times don’t last but tough people do.

Fast forward to today, I’m now the founder and partner for an executive search firm called Husk Talent. Myself and our team of seven work with some of the most innovative and fastest growing software companies in the world where we help find transcending sales and marketing leaders. I consider myself very fortunate to be where I’m at today but credit much of my success to my humble beginnings, embedded work ethic and honest approach. This kid from Omaha, who barely made it through college is now a recognized name within the start-up ecosystem. 

Published: January 9, 2024