Kurtis Karn

Age: 40

West Fargo, N.D.

One day Kurtis Karn may slow down, but that day won’t be in the near future. His passion for people fuels his busy life as a dad, music performer and successful leadership and talent developer. A quick smile, genuine warmth and infectious energy, leaves every person he meets with a “Let’s do this!” attitude.

In fact, in the seventh grade, he confessed to his mom, “I think I’m just going to focus on getting to know my classmates instead of focusing on actual school.”

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While earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration at the University of Jamestown, he jokes he would have changed his major to “talking to people” if he could.

This honest fascination with people and what moves them also fuels his lifelong love of music, resulting in starting a pop-punk band, At the Emporium, with his friends more than 12 years ago. Now that he and some of his bandmates have kids, they play less often — but he still loves to perform as the band’s singer and frontman whenever possible.

As a husband to Katie and dad of two to 8-year-old Kingston and 3-year-old Kendrix, Karn says he is most passionate about helping his kids (and those he meets) to become “awesome humans.” Besides his family, he works toward this goal at Discovery Benefits and Wex Health as their manager of talent acquisition. In 2019, he co-founded Sunshine&79 with Nicole Turchin, an employee experience and development consultant company that offers "funshops" to make people feel valued, invested in and inspired.

As the co-creator of Sunshine&79, Karn develops and presents on a variety of topics to resonate with every human, on every team, in every organization, to partner in the creation of a world of awesomeness and humor.

I would describe my childhood as…

I don’t know how to describe it, but I always remember the sunshine. My mother was an elementary teacher, so I remember the summers and being outside. There was also a lot of music in my house growing up, so there was a lot of dancing and singing.

The soundtrack to my teenage years are these albums…

When I was 16, I inherited my brother’s car which only had the radio and an 8-track. The two 8-tracks were Journey’s album “Escape” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” But I also had glorious AM radio…so I am a HUGE sucker for ‘80s pop songs. I LOVE one-hit wonders, but basically everything from the early to mid-’80s. My dad also had a ‘50s and ‘60s cover band so I can sing basically any hit from those two decades as they probably played it!

My hidden talent is…

clapping my feet. (Don’t ask).

The thing I always hope to do someday is…

Sing one of my own songs on “Saturday Night Live.” That was always the highest platform for music for me growing up.

My favorite thing when I have free time is…

I love listening to music with my kids!

Karn says he loves listening to music with his kids. He is pictured with his son Kingston. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Kaye Photography
Karn says he loves listening to music with his kids. He is pictured with his son Kingston. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Kaye Photography

The go-to meal my kids love is…

mac and cheese or pizza.

The best part of my job is…

I love watching a person grow in their position, both personally and professionally! People continually impress me every day.

What I love about public speaking is…

being able to connect with someone in the audience so they want to go out and take action to make themselves or someone else better in some way! It is extremely difficult to motivate humans to take action, that is why I love that challenge!

I like to teach my children about...

empathy and confidence. Both of my kids are very empathetic and I love that about them. I am also trying to instill confidence as something that will carry you a long way.

If your wife described you in three words, she would say…

”Please stop moving.”

Being a parent and creating music requires…

trial and error. No two children are the same or will react to the same situation. Also when you first become a parent, you just figure it out… people give you all this advice, wanted or not, but you have to do what works best for you and your family.

The secret to balancing a career, a consulting business and At the Emporium with family time is…

energy drinks. (I’m just kidding.) I am not sure I have this figured out just yet… you just try to do your best and make time for the things that you need at that point in your professional and personal life. Each section goes in ups and downs, so just making sure you are staying on top of what needs it most at that time. I just try and do my best for my family, both at home and at work. I wish I had this all figured out, because I would then write a book on the subject and make a bunch of money…

I want to teach my children to…

find the line between confidence and humility. I think both qualities are so important, but finding the balance is hard to do.

Karn says he's the happiest "When my kids make me laugh so hard my face hurts." He's shown here with his daughter, Kendrix.
Photo courtesy of Lindsay Kaye Photography
Karn says he's the happiest "When my kids make me laugh so hard my face hurts." He's shown here with his daughter, Kendrix. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Kaye Photography

I’m happiest when…

It is different types of happy. I think about the times when I find myself smiling and laughing:

  • On the couch watching movies with my family

  • Making my wife laugh so hard she snorts

  • When my kids make me laugh so hard my face hurts

  • On stage speaking or performing

  • Running with my headphones in

  • Connecting with another human on some level

  • Making other people laugh so hard their face hurts