Always Learning Book Review

photo by Matt Cornelius
photo by Matt Cornelius

This May marks 25 years since I graduated from Texas High School. It’s around this time of year that I like to offer suggestions for books that will inspire and motivate our budding graduates. When I graduated high school, the book of choice for gifting was Chicken Soup for the Soul. I believe I had multiple iterations of that book; I had one for my teenage soul, my graduate soul, and my ordinary soul. For this graduation season, I want to spotlight my fellow Texas High alum and his memoir/leadership principles book that will sincerely make a fantastic gift to any graduate or person dedicated to pursuing lifelong excellence.

If you reflect back on the March issue of Texarkana Magazine, you will recall Gary Kusin, who has a captivating life story to tell. I was offered the chance to read an early release copy of Always Learning, and I can authentically and whole-heartedly recommend this world-class book to each of you. I would not consider myself an expert, but I have read many memoirs (my preferred genre) and business leadership books (thanks to 20 years at Chick-fil-A), and what Kusin has provided, I can assert with confidence, will be a guidepost for many.

I abandoned my family and devoured this book in a little over a day. Kusin writes like he speaks, meaning he knows how to tell a story that is interesting to read and one that also keeps you curious for more. His writing style is a blend of Rob Lowe’s introspective memoirs, Stories I Only Tell My Friends and Love Life, and Patrick Lencioni’s leadership insights from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Most chapters end with a solid punchline, and the business principles are practical and come across as straightforward and easy to implement. It does not drone on like a textbook.

The takeaways I had from this great read…

Kusin didn’t shy away from hard truths.

Working in his family’s furniture factory warehouse brought him up close and personal with the racial temperature of that time. He was also senior class president of Texas High School in 1969 when it was integrated. He openly acknowledges his privilege and what experiencing prejudices taught him, and how that has inspired him to give back to Texarkana students and countless others across the country.

“When the integration of Dunbar into Texas High School was announced, I asked some of my warehouse friends to introduce me to the student leaders at Dunbar. During the summer before senior year began, I sat down with Harold Abney, the student council president of Dunbar, and several of the other student leaders to talk about what it would take to make the integration feel as seamless as it could for them and their classmates, especially during that first fall semester… A group of us broke bread at a little pool parlor near the warehouse that doubled as a grocery and food shop.”

“By the end of the session, it became clear that while there was a long list of things that we could all work on, the most visible, early symbolic act of unity we could present would be hosting a soul band for the homecoming weekend dance. The Dunbar leaders felt that would be a good, if only symbolic, gesture, and if we could pull it off, it would help ease early tensions and worries about students from Dunbar losing their identities in what had been the white high school. With the approval of Mr. McGuire, our principal, and based on my promise that it would be hugely helpful, we did invite the soul band, and it was a fine party. Of course, some white parents didn’t allow their kids to attend, and there was pushback from others.”

Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.

Kusin details countless examples of how hard work put him in the right rooms at the right time. Nothing was handed to him, but he has lived to leave nothing to wonder or regret. “If luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparedness, then my biggest lesson during this period was that for me, hard work was how I prepared. It was something I could control and own the results of, and I was nothing if not energetic during that time in my life.”

Each chapter is summed up with practical application bullet points called “Key Lessons.”

One quote from Always Learning that stood out to me is one that exhibits how company culture is more than a timely buzzword but a cornerstone to building rock-solid businesses. “I believe a great culture is a result of doing a lot of other things right. It includes everyone being aligned on what the aspirational goal is for a company. It also includes giving team members the tools they need to deliver the results they promise. Too often, there is responsibility without authority. And that leads to bad cultures.”

Two questions I often ask when out with friends seemed an appropriate way to end my chat with Kusin. Who are your dream dinner party guests? Or, in this case… dream book club guests. And, of course… What are you reading?

Kusin’s answer to the first, “My grandfather Sidney Wise, who was a huge influence in my life, so I can tell him how important he was in shaping the person I have become; my other grandfather, David Kusin, who immigrated to Texarkana from Kviv, Ukraine in the early 1900s, started the family furniture business, Texas Furniture Company in Texarkana, and died before I was born; and Jack Kaufman, my father-in-law, taken too soon by cancer but also a big influence on me.”

And his recently read books… “I just finished a great book on the history of the Zales Jewelry family. Before that book, my favorite recent book is a toss-up between Shoe Dog, the history/memoir of Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, and what he went through to start it. A close second in recent books is Like a Rolling Stone, the history of Rolling Stone Magazine by its founder, Jann Wenner. I am currently reading Medici Money, Banking, Metaphysics and Art in Fifteenth Century Florence. While that is a bit of an outlier topic-wise, Karleen and I will be in Florence in late May, and this reading will increase our enjoyment of the time we have there.”

Kusin will introduce his book to the Texarkana community on Thursday, May 2, at 4:30 pm at the Sullivan Performing Arts Center on the Texas High Campus. Please make plans to join for the book signing of Always Learning and a question-and-answer portion from the author. You will be able to purchase autographed copies of his new book at the event.


< Previous Story Next Story >

Print Edition

May 2024
Print Archive



© 2024 All Rights Reserved.
Design By: Web Design