Birds of a Feather

 Birds of a Feather

What NFL linebacker A.J. Hawk learned from his father.


Author, motivational speaker, LexisNexis senior VP and dad to a pro football player, Keith Hawk is a model of hard work and determination.

Even though he has a son in the NFL, Keith Hawk isn’t’ afraid to admit his football skills were “marginal” when he played in high school.

“When I see friends at reunions, they always say ‘how is it out of all of us, you were the one who ended up with a son in the NFL,’ ” says Keith, a senior vice president of sales at LexisNexis. “Our family has always believed in hard work, and things don’t just happen. You have to make them happen.”

Keith is the father of A.J. Hawk, a Centerville High School graduate, a former Ohio State linebacker and current Green Bay Packer who is entering his eighth year in the NFL. While Keith says A.J.’s athletic attributes are a product of his wife’s genes, there is no mistaking where the linebacker learned his hard work, determination and commitment to volunteering.

“He [Keith] doesn’t do anything half-go,” says A.J., who is the youngest of Keith’s three boys. “He set the tone for all of us early on. He dives into everything full-go, and I try to do the same thing.”

The elder Hawk works at a company that provides five billion searchable documents online from more than 45,000 legal, news and business sources to nearly 100 countries, while creating $2.6 billion of revenue in 2012. He also co-authored his own book and serves as a motivational speaker. Friends and colleagues say it’s impossible to garner that just from meeting him.

“Keith is a very humble guy, he downplays a lot,” says Tom Ogburn, vice president and managing director of business insight solutions. Ogburn has known Keith for 25 years; Keith hired him at LexisNexis as a sales manager.

“He’s a classic example of modeling the right behavior and always demonstrating a positive attitude, enthusiasm and integrity,” says Ogburn. “The people that work for him would run through a wall for him. That doesn’t happen for everybody.”

Keith, who graduated from Ohio University in 1977 with a degree in communications, says he always had aspirations of becoming a radio DJ and was on air at the local radio station. “It always feels good when people have a positive reaction to what you say,” says Keith.

Following college, he spent seven years with AT&T and Ohio Bell as a sales professional and a member of the AT&T’s “Top Gun” sales training program. He said it was during that time, while traveling around and speaking to high-level professionals, he developed a knack for public speaking. “I got an awful lot of repetition,” says Keith, who lives by a simple rule: If you want to be good at something, you have to do 10,000 hours of it.

It’s something A.J. practices as well.

“It’s funny because our Dad wasn’t the type of guy to give pep talks, even though he’s a motivational speaker now,” says A.J. “We learned from him by example.”

Whether it was rebounding basketball free throws for his children or taking them to the batting cages at odd hours of the night, Keith encouraged his boys to reach their full potential. It’s a family trait that he’s carried into the professional realm and a message he shared in his book Get-Real Selling (2008), which he co-authored with Michael Boland. “The main message in the book is ‘your success can only follow the success of the customer,” says Keith. “It’s pretty simple.”

The 144-page book is filled with short and concise chapters that provide prescriptions for various sales obstacles as well as tips to improve the personal lives of customers. “A lot of business books are boring and non-engaging,” adds Keith. “I feel like if you can’t say something in two pages, then you’re being too verbose.”

Along with motivating his children, employees and writing how-to sales books, Keith and his colleagues at LexisNexis are engaged in the Dayton community. One of those engagements is the American Heart Association’s Dayton Heart Walk. Keith gave the keynote speech during the breakfast kickoff for the event, and Steve Hess, director of client engagements at LexisNexis, will walk with Keith during the Sept. 28 5K event. He’s worked with Keith for 34 years and says his gift of speech and motivation is second to none.

“It’s always the same thing; honesty, sincerity and passion,” says Hess. “You just want to work with the guy and do what he does.”

The trait of volunteering and charity stretches all the way to A.J., who has his own charity “Hawk’s Locks for Kids.” The linebacker was well known around the NFL for his long golden hair that peeked out from his helmet until he cut it in 2012. His hair and his charity are part of an effort to support children undergoing cancer treatment. It’s something his father has helped him with. “He’s always good at bouncing ideas off of and giving me advice,” says A.J. “He’s really good at making things better.”

A.J. says he’s not sure if he’ll follow in his father’s business footsteps following his football career, but he’s read Keith’s book and is interested in learning more about commerce. While his father doesn’t believe he could have ever matched A.J.’s football success, A.J. gives him more credit. “I think he could have done it, but he was a wide receiver on a [high school football] team that didn’t throw the ball,” says A.J. “He may not have had the body type. He was a late bloomer, but he certainly had the work ethic.”