What would persuade Brent Gleeson—Vistage member and speaker, co-owner and CMO of the successful Internet Marketing Inc.—to take a one-month sabbatical from his busy job? When four-time Emmy winner Mark Burnett (Survivor, Apprentice, The Voice), David Hurwitz (Fear Factor), and Dick Wolf (Law and Order) ask you to star on their new NBC reality show, it’s tough to say “no.”
To be fair, Brent said “no” three times before accepting a part on Stars Earn Stripes, where celebrities are paired with “operatives” who train them to compete to win money for a charity, such as the Wounded Warrior Project ($10,000 goes to their charity per mission). The show, which premieres August 13, aims to shed light on the tough jobs of the men and women who defend our freedom, the families who support them, and the charitable causes that provide continual assistance to them all.
Producer David Hurwitz and Mark Burnett courted Brent, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, as one of the operatives who will be training the celebrities as a part of the show.
Brent is an unlikely veteran—he was a college graduate when he chose to quit his finance job to become a SEAL. “I had two friends in college who were going to join the military. Keep in mind this was peace time, before 9/11,” says Brent, “I started training with my fraternity brother, and we later moved to Colorado to train at high altitude…I’ve always been into the high intensity sports—I played rugby, I had my skydiving license, I grew up hunting in Texas.” He spent five years in the U.S. Navy and completed several deployments in Iraq and Africa, working in conjunction with the CIA.
So given Brent’s background, one might assume that teaching celebrities how to jump out of a helicopter in full gear (50+ pounds worth) and swim to a zodiac boat without any fins was easy task. “As a SEAL, I would never do that without fins on,” says Gleeson, “And combine this situation with a non-buoyant individual who can’t swim well. Every mission was a serious gut check, even for the operators [like me]. The missions were way more involved than I thought they were going to be.” During one of the show’s missions, he had to rescue a contestant who was drowning, and the panicked participant almost drowned Brent in the process—an event they now laugh about.
Prior to his brief stint in Hollywood and after leaving the Navy, Gleeson earned his Master of Science in real estate at the University of San Diego, where he met his business partner, Brandon Fishman. The two did well with their first business and used it to fund their next project, Internet Marketing Inc. (IMI), which took off and has grown at a steady clip—115% every year—despite the economy. In fact, IMI will join the Fortune 500 list this August and is number 11 on the San Diego Business Journal’s Top 100 Fastest Growing Private Companies list.
Gleeson credits much of IMI’s recent success to what he’s learned from his Vistage group. “We were originally skeptical,” he says of when he and Brandon were first contacted about Vistage. But, he says, “I get something out of every meeting. I don’t think there’s been one meeting where I didn’t have a solid actionable take-away or something that I’ve implemented immediately. It’s highly impactful.”
“We hold each other accountable, which is the best part of it. A speaker will say, ‘You’ve learned this today, so how are you going to make this actionable for your company?’ People [in your group] are going to ask you, ‘So what did you do about that problem that we processed?’ Because if you’re getting advice from 12 to 15 trusted leaders and you aren’t taking their advice, what are you doing?”
Jim Heaton, a Vistage Chair who leads Brent’s group in San Diego, says that Brent is a model member of the group. “He takes his Vistage seriously,” says Jim, “and he’s learned a tremendous amount about staffing for growth. Brent’s company is a testament to what happens when you make a commitment to implement what you learn from your Vistage sessions.”
Gleeson is one of the two youngest members in his Vistage group and he describes his experience during meetings saying, “my brain is just going the whole time. I’m like a sponge soaking it all up. Even when you are processing someone else’s issue you learn a ton. It’s fun too – it’s like a family.”