Two Gustavus Adolphus College alumni were recently named to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal‘s annual list of “40 under 40” of the most influential contributors in business and economic ventures throughout Minnesota. The list highlights exemplary young leaders, sifting through hundreds of contenders to selecting 40 who have made a name for themselves in their respective fields and communities. Leah Wong ’02 and Ari Silkey ’99 were named to this year’s list and will be honored at the 23rd annual 40 under 40 reception on Thursday, March 16, at Minneapolis Event Centers.
Wong is a member of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, serving as vice president of events. She works with a planning committee to organize large-scale public events for Minneapolis and the metro area, including the popular Holidazzle parade.
Silkey currently leads more than 50 employees at the Amazon technology development center in downtown Minneapolis. He reflects fondly on his years at Gustavus and considers his experiences on the Hill invaluable in shaping his early career.
Here, Wong and Silkey answer a few questions…
Gustavus: What is your job like now? What are your responsibilities?
Silkey: I’m the general manager of transportation technology at Amazon in Minneapolis, which opened downtown last summer. I lead a team of software development engineers and managers as we develop cutting edge software applications that fuel Amazon’s rapidly growing operations, fulfillment, and delivery capabilities.
Wong: My job is a new adventure each day! I am blessed to lead an incredible team and work with impactful partners. I am the vice president of external relations at the Minneapolis Downtown Council, a non-profit business association aimed at creating an extraordinary downtown. I have four key areas of responsibility; partnerships, marketing, events, and communications/public relations. I love the excitement, challenges, and relationships each day brings.
Gustavus: How did your time at Gustavus influence your interests and career decisions?
Wong: My freshman year First Term Seminar class happened to be in the communication studies department. Needless, to say…I ended up taking more communication classes and falling in love with this area of study, certainly not my plan, but I’m so thankful for the journey and where it has taken me. I also had the opportunity to participate in many organizations at Gustavus. My involvement and leadership opportunities as part of campus activities and organizations provided me with experiences and insights that helped to shape the future direction of my career.
Gustavus: Did you have any mentors at Gustavus who helped you or offered good advice when you first entered the industry?
Wong: I had great mentors and classmates at Gustavus! Phil Voight and Leila Brammer are two professors that stand out. Both were always willing to help me navigate my next steps and constantly challenging me to do my best. I also had the opportunity to work at Mary’s Flowers in town. I was struck by the incredible passion Mary had for her work and she inspired me to pursue finding a career I enjoyed.
Silkey: Bob Douglas (retired geography professor) was a mentor for me early in my career as I entered into the GPS technology field.
Gustavus: Do you have any advice for current Gusties starting off on new careers?
Silkey: Work hard, take risks and don’t forget to have fun along the way. Pick a subject area and become an expert, opportunities will evolve from there.
Wong: I would encourage current Gusties to start building your networks early, reach out and get to know others within your areas of interest. Tap into your Gustavus connections! Set high goals for yourself, work hard, and build your village with those who will help and support you personally and professionally. On a side note, I’d encourage current Gusties to soak up their time on campus (and don’t take yourself too seriously), it goes too fast!
Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin