We recently sat down with Rustic Pathways CEO Chris Stakich to learn a little more about how he got started at Rustic Pathways and why he turned down a potentially lucrative Wall Street career for a professional life dedicated to the belief that that travel should be an essential part of every education, and that travel can be a model of sustainable development.

Founded in 1983, Rustic Pathways believes in the transformative power of travel and offers students more than 100 travel experiences in 21 countries. More than 11,000 students traveled with Rustic Pathways in 2017 across summer, spring break, gap year, college, and Critical Issues programs. These opportunities enabled students to give back to local communities and explore new cultures.

In addition to his role as Rustic Pathways CEO and Chairman, Chris Stakich is also the Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board for Thinking Beyond Borders and he sits on the boards of University School (Ohio) and Compass Academies.

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What is your “backstory”?

I grew up in a middle-class family in Cleveland, OH.  From kindergarten through high school, I followed the stereotypical “formula for success” –– get good grades, respect adults, excel in sports, be nice to the other kids, stay out of trouble, and go to a great college.

After graduating from Harvard University in 2001, I realized that the key to happiness is not following the typical linear path, but rather by pursuing passion and purpose. After college I passed-up an opportunity to work in a skyscraper on Wall Street for an opportunity to work in a remote village in Costa Rica. Seventeen years later, I get to spend my days developing future leaders who embody compassion and global understanding. I consider myself incredibly fortunate.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your organization?

I’ve always had the habit of over doing it––taking on too much work, over scheduling, over promising, over training, sleeping too little. Between 2011 and 2016 we doubled the size of Rustic Pathways, built a new sales, marketing and operations team, overhauled the executive team, and won Best Student Tour Operator in the World. At the same time, my wife started a successful catering company, we had three children, my parents decided to move in with us, and we moved six times. That’s A LOT in five years!

Is there a person in the world, or in the United States whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

If I could have dinner with anyone in the world it would be Barack Obama. Despite your political beliefs, we can all agree that Barack Obama is an extraordinary leader. He raised the image of the United States around the world, he improved living conditions for the majority of Americans, he made hard decisions relating to climate change, tax reform, health care, and the military, all while maintaining his role as husband and father. I’d love to hear his version of balancing it all.

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