Go Back

Our Stories

Supporter Spotlight: Meet Tom Willis

Tom Willis, the CEO and President of Conestoga Energy, is proud to support Youth Entrepreneurs. “Youth Entrepreneurs offers an opportunity to teach a generation what they need to achieve their goals and dreams. You really get quite the bang for your buck: by helping others, you also help yourself.” Get to know Tom. 

His career path: Tom earned degrees in Economics, Business Administration and Agricultural Business from Utah State University. He has spent most of his career in risk management and agribusiness, serving companies including General Mills and JR Simplot. In 2004, he moved to western Kansas, where he grew Conestoga Energy from a company of three to 220 employees and just under $1.5 billion in sales. Tom has several other ventures as well, including a semi trailer leasing business, a farm and other business partnerships.

His YE connection: A friend of his introduced him to YE. “The more I learned, the more I became impressed with the tools they were teaching the students,” Tom recalls. When he was invited to judge students’ business plans one day in YE, he jumped at the chance. In addition to being a generous supporter, Tom enjoys advocating for YE on a regional scale. “My biggest participation has been as an advocate for YE, working with the YE staff to help cultivate participation in western Kansas.”

The workforce of tomorrow: “One of my goals in supporting Youth Entrepreneurs is to help build a labor pool,” Tom says. “Some of these students could someday end up working for me. I want to help build a labor pool of people who understand the value of business, that profit can be good when it’s used properly and that you get what you work for in life. I want to employ people who know that if you apply sound business principles and work your tail off, you can succeed. I like that message, and that’s what students are learning in YE.”

Cultivating the next generation: Tom also supports Youth Entrepreneurs because of his commitment to the next generation. “Someone helped me get to where I am today. One of my philosophies is that you have to give to the next generation. If we can catch youth early enough and teach them business principles, as well as the philosophy of being self-reliant, it’s a great legacy. If we can take one kid and make that kid successful and show them that they are the master of their destiny, that’s one less kid who grows up feeling helpless. That’s why I continue to stay involved.”

Building business skills: Tom particularly appreciates how students learn critical thinking through the YE activities. “The classroom activities and games are done in a fun way that kids can relate to, and they learn the critical thinking skills they need to be successful. Market Day, for example, requires critical thinking if you’re going to be successful. Whether a student goes on to become an entrepreneur or not is irrelevant. With the skills they learn in YE, they’re going to be a better employee no matter what.”

Why he contributes to YE: Personally, Tom has a stake in building up a strong workforce in his region. “Business leaders need quality people to hire. I want to have a pool to hire employees who have developed critical thinking skills and who know what it takes to make a profit. That makes them better employees,” he says. 

Explore more donor stories on the YE blog.