Chuck Wilson’s story of how he got into AV is a little different than, well, a lot of people. Not many people can say that they’ve only held two jobs their entire life. Chuck, executive director of NSCA, however, can.
“I started out in the AV industry in the late ‘70s,” said Chuck. “I came in as a very young electronic engineering intern student into a company called Communications Engineering Company (CEC) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. That same company is one I became a partner in after many years of working there.”
By the time Chuck went to college, he already had two years of electronic training through DeVry University that he had taken in high school. So, he already had a two-year associates degree before he ever got out of high school.
When he graduated college, he had three job possibilities: one with a large government avionics company, one in the banking industry, and one with this very small company called CEC that did AV systems and wireless technology. Chuck chose the small company. He saw opportunity. He saw entrepreneurship. He knew it was the right thing for him.
“I started out installing AV systems and then worked my way into design and more of the system layout and then eventually made my way into sales and sales management,” Chuck said. “Then later, I became a partner in the company in the ‘80s and ‘90s. That’s the only thing I’ve ever done. I’ve been in the AV industry my entire life. Right out of college to where I’m sitting today. It’s been quite a blessing to be able to do what I do.”
By the time CEC matured, they had over 100 employees, six branch offices and more. They had turned a small mom and pop kind of company into a large system integration company.
In 1996, the company was sold to a much larger family business and, at the time, Chuck was on the board at NSCA. He came to the conclusion that they really needed to do more and he knew that his calling was to work at NSCA to see if they could make a real organization out of it. So, Chuck officially became the first full time employee of NSCA and started in his second job.
Chuck has truly lived the American dream. At the age of 39, he was able to sell his business and focus on what his passions were in terms of giving back to the AV industry. He spent years learning from others and, when the time was right, turned the tables and now spends his time mentoring others and working with business people on methods and ways to become more successful in what they’re doing. He’s now able to apply what he learned in the first 21 years of his career.
“Along the way I have had some magnificent mentors,” said Chuck. “CEC had some of the best and brightest people as my mentors — some of the board members at NSCA were incredibly giving of their time and really bright. I really honed my skills as a result of NSCA and now the association does that for many others.”
Being the first employee of NSCA was humbling and an honor for Chuck, because he was able to be in a position and authority in an organization that really helped guide his career. It’s where they looked to for all their best practices and advice and one day he suddenly found himself in a leadership role within that organization. It was a powerful moment for him.
And today, Chuck gets a tremendous amount of satisfaction in helping people.
“Along the way, you know. We don’t often realize it, but people are often struggling mightily to run businesses today in the industry we love so much,” explained Chuck. “It is becoming increasingly harder to make money and to show a profit year in and year out doing what we love to do.
“My job, every day, is I have the privilege of helping companies who seek my advice on things like what to do when they’re challenged by cash flow, low margins, competition, jobs that go wrong, challenges with employees, etc. I think my greatest accomplishments have been to help these small, struggling companies to stay in business and show growth and help them with things I’ve learned along the way to apply that to their businesses.”
In addition to all his work with NSCA and helping others in the industry, Chuck is extremely involved at home, too. For the last 20 years, every Sunday, when he is in town, he runs the sound system and video system at his church, Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He loves giving back in this way because he’s passionate about keeping up with the technology in our industry and by using it and learning it hands on at his church, he’s able to see some of what NSCA’s members are experiencing and using.
“We have a responsibility, people who have been blessed with time, treasure or talent, to give back by doing the things you’re capable of at doing,” Chuck said. “I make it a point to actually buy the technology, donate it, and install it myself so that I’m able to really keep up with what’s going on and so that I know what I’m talking about.”
In addition to giving back to his church, Chuck also gives of his time in the form of mentoring and working with young people helping them get off on the right good. He works with them on things like situational awareness, behaviors, building the soft skills around their technical background or training.
“What I’ve noticed in this last generation is that our educational system is, in some cases, letting them down in terms of teaching them the soft skills such as conflict resolution, managing themselves, and other communication skills,” Chuck explained. “I’ve taken it upon myself to author a book, Under the Social Influence, on that subject and make myself available to help mentor them and position them to get off well in their first real job.” 100 percent of the proceeds of the book go to the association.
Because of his passion for young people and the education system, Chuck also served for six years as the school board chairman in his community and is currently the chairman of ESPA, a group focused on helping students get educated and certified in the AV industry.
Another fun fact about Chuck is he is an extremely devout Iowa Hawkeye football fan. In fact, he has not missed a home Iowa football home game (except for five) since 1977. According to Chuck, “If I can help it, you’ll never see an NSCA event scheduled on the same day as an Iowa football game in the fall.”
Chuck is married to his lovely wife Pam and they have a son, Austin, who is a junior at the University of Iowa. Chuck also happens to be the promoter, manager, mascot and biggest fan of the industry rock band the Drunk Unkles.
“I’m grateful for my family — especially my wife having to raise our son with me being out around 125 days a year,” said Chuck. “When I’m out helping our members run their business better, my wife was able to do for our family.” Chuck loves his family and this industry, he is passionate about helping others, giving back where he can, and helping the industry grow.
He says, “I have the best job in the industry and I really feel that way.”