Leadership Montana alumni in action: John Trudnowski, Butte - Class of 2018
Vu Pham
September 30, 2023
Travis Yuzik
February 1, 2024


Rob Ball, Missoula, Class of 2016, Masters Class of 2020

Rob Ball, Missoula,  Class of 2016, Matsers Class of 2020

Alumni Committeee Spotlight

I can’t have the story without the mentors and leaders that go along with it so I’m going to combine both. I’ve had many mentors, whether they knew that or not, and many leaders through my life so far. I’d say first and foremost were my family, and extended family. They are by far the biggest inspiration to not get too centered on a single skillset or career path. I was actively encouraged, if not pushed, into many activities I would not have attempted on my own. Next would be the arts and my many music teachers, Gary Gillette by far. For those of you who have ever attended a child’s middle school band/choir/orchestra concert, you will understand the dedication and absolute patience that it takes to teach the arts. It is life changing to the students though, and I cringe whenever I see folks trying to remove it from our education system. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without it. It builds confidence, leadership, structure, creativity, self-worth, and so much more. I was a 4-year All-State Band member, a runner up for All Northwest, and listed in the All-American band members during my high school years. To this day I still play and teach music. One of my flight instructors, whom I still fly with today, Col. Peter Graf, told me the first day I was flying with him that I was a really good pilot for how new I was to flying, at the time I only had around 80 hrs of flight time. He wanted me to be a great pilot. Just meeting the minimum standards to pass a review was not enough for him. Since I need 150 hrs to be a mission pilot, we spent most of our time together perfecting every testable maneuver and more. I am a much better pilot because of his time and effort going the extra mile to teach me to fly, and not to just pass a flight review.

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to be in a household which was an early adopter of computers and the internet when it was quite new to the world. I was infatuated with it, to the point I would try things, and regularly crash it. My father became tired of fixing it every time, so it became my responsibility to fix my mistakes. This is how I gained most of my self-taught IT knowledge. It also helped me gain an after-school job at Intermountain Administrators (now known as Allegiance Benefit Plan Management, Inc) with my mom as a supervisor, as a data processor (a fancy name for typing information from forms into the computer). I had a 90+ wpm typing speed which helped a lot. I had approached the IT Manager at the time about a job in IT. He laughed me out of the room. The IT Supervisor, Eric Jensen, though overheard the conversation and unbeknownst to me, was interested. About 2 years later during one of my college winter breaks he had convinced the IT Manager to give me a chance. I was given a project that should have taken 3 weeks. I completed it in 3 days by building automations to help speed it up. I spent the next 2 weeks training the much older existing staff how to do the new deployment processes, as well as refreshing different “chores” around the department. By the end of it I was told I would have a job waiting at the end of the semester. While this did derail me from finishing college, it also changed my life path from eventually being a music educator, to being an IT leader. Over the last 29 years I grew from a data processor, into IT as an Assistant, and have held almost every possible position within the department. I now am the VP of Information Technology at Allegiance.

I am bit of a hobbyist as well. I have many interests beyond music and IT, including managing and playing on a local adult soccer team, hiking, road biking, mountain biking, running, leatherwork, quilting, snow/water skiing, snowmobiling, motorcycles, firearms, 3D printing, commercial drone operations, and of course flying. I have found so many of these skill sets cross-over and help with the others. I try to encourage anyone who is talking about taking up that next “what-if” item they might be wanting to try. It’s ok, and highly encouraged, to get out of your comfort zone. There are many variations of the same quote, “You cannot grow in your comfort zone”, “Growth and comfort do not coexist”. “The only thing that is stopping you from where you are, to where you want to go, is your comfort zone”. It goes back to my favorite leadership quote “What did you fail at today?” I encourage everyone to go try something new. You may say “what happens if I fail?” I say, what happens if you don’t? Go try something new!

Back to the “leadership story”. I didn’t really concentrate on the “leadership” aspect of leadership until Leadership Montana’s flagship class of 2016. I mean I followed the motions of what I thought a leader should be doing, and I studied “followership” while commanding the Missoula Civil Air Patrol squadron, but I never consciously thought about what I was trying to accomplish or formulate any sort of plan of action around it. I was mostly just winging it and trying to copy what others were doing. Leadership Montana’s flagship class was a life changing moment. It taught me to start adding intention and structure to my thought process around leadership. Looking back on my many mentors over the years, I took the time and was able to look back to reflect on how they made an impact on my life, and what tools were used both purposely, or otherwise, that worked. In 2020 I went back for a second round and took the Leadership Montana Masters class. I don’t think the Master Class works without first taking the Flagship class, but it works well if you have the previous training. Where the Flagship class was able to break me out of my protective shell, the Master class taught me how to better relate to and lead those around me and I believe was a big factor in my ability to move into the VP role recently. In the past I probably acted more like a boss. You know, “You go there and do this, let me know if I can help” type of direction. Now I’m much more of a “Hey, you’re going to be great at this, and I’m going to try to help you be successful, here are some tools to help you along the way, let’s do this” type of direction. I’m looking forward to the future and continuing to grow my leadership skills along the way. There is no secret, just keep going, learning, and living!