Faces of Billings

Austin Saylor, General Manager, Lithia Chrysler Jeep Dodge RAM of Billings

“I don’t believe in things just happening to me,” Austin Saylor says. “As people close to me know, I would say that’s a victim statement”.

Instead, he subscribes to the belief that our choices define our destiny.

“I’ve had many interesting things happen to me as a result of my choices. The choice to leave my real estate career a decade ago to get into the auto industry was probably the most gutsy choice I had made up to that point my life.”

Although he enjoyed all aspects of real estate, Austin followed through with the decision to change career paths, pursuing an avenue he had once vowed to never take again.

“I told myself I would never go back to the car business when I left car sales to go to college in 2000," Austin says. "Fast forward 10 years, and it was the best decision I could have ever made. I get to come to work every day and lead, in my opinion, the best team in the auto industry.”

Raised in a small town in northeastern Montana, Austin spent summers in Billings with his mother.

“I grew up in Jordan … with a population under 500 people. My family has owned and operated a ranch there for 110 years. I loved growing up in the small tight-knit community.”

Yet, he always felt an attraction to the energy of Billings when he visited his mom. 

“I knew that if I didn’t pursue operating the ranch with my family after graduating school, that I would live in a bigger city. Ultimately, growing up in a small town, as well as Billings, worked out great for me because I learned my work ethic and patience from growing up on a ranch, as well as learned how to navigate in a faster-paced city like Billings. Kind of a hybrid upbringing, I guess you could say. I’m proud to say I belong to both communities.”

The most important event in Austin’s life came in the guise of fatherhood. He considers the birth of his children a turning point that changed him forever. If granted 100% financial freedom, he would choose to spend as much time with his family as possible. 

“I’ve got an amazing family that I love dearly,” he says. “My wife and three kids support me and the pursuit of my career so much, and I’m appreciative of that. I am happiest when surrounded by family and friends creating memories. If I didn’t have to work, I would spend more time with all of them. And, I would be near the beach and a golf course.”

Austin feels a strong affinity for the beach. While he will always consider Montana his home, he intends to spend his golden years near the ocean. 

“No question, as much as I love Montana, I will retire near the beach,” he vows. 

A self-described “horrible joke teller,” Austin instead excels at maintaining positive vibes through infectious good energy.

“I’m really good at lightening the mood when needed. Our dealership has a fun, energetic atmosphere that you can feel when you walk in the showroom. I want it that way for a reason. … I always say, your energy is contagious. Good or bad, it’s contagious.”

Austin believes others would describe him as “driven.” This characteristic has fostered success, as he now oversees all operations at Lithia, a company with more than 100 employees and the largest new car volume dealership in the state of Montana.

 He also tries to consistently put others ahead of himself, a notion inspired by his favorite quote: "Approach the process with the good of the other person in mind."

“If you approach every conversation/situation/interaction with this mindset, good things will transpire. I think of this quote when I deal with employees, customers, family members, etc., on a daily basis. It puts me in a selfless mindset, and that’s a good place to be,” he concludes.

Cindy Nordstog, CEO, LaVie Early Pregnancy Clinic

“I love the connection between people during difficult times,” explains Cindy, a woman who doesn’t shy away from a trying situation or the chance to establish a deeper relationship with someone.

“Generally, I have a difficult time being called to lighten a mood or purposefully make someone laugh. I would be more inclined to dig in, see what’s wrong and figure out how I can help.”

Yet, she does have a way of bringing laughter to those around her, albeit in a more unconventional way. 

“I have been known to bring many laughs to people when it comes to trying to tell a joke, trying to correctly remember a quote or trying to whimsically recite everyday phrases or idioms,” Cindy admits. “In our family, it’s often called a ‘Cindy Thing,’ and it is a generational problem going as far back as my maternal grandmother. While I’m hesitant to confess just how I’ve obliterated the English language at times, I will say that I’m carrying on a family tradition quite well…and there may have been some confusion between a ‘bull’ and a ‘bowl’ in a china shop.”

Cindy grew up in Bozeman, with a view of the breathtaking Bridger Mountains out her kitchen window. After high school, she moved to the East Coast with a position as a nanny. It was here that she met a fellow Montanan who hailed from Billings. 

“After being on the East Coast for almost four years, I returned home to Montana and chose to reside in Billings where both my mom and my newfound ‘East Coast friend’ lived. It was this very friend that introduced me to my husband, Kris.”  

She considers the chance meeting of her husband to be the most interesting thing that has ever happened to her. They both spent summers on the Boulder as kids, less than a mile from each other, but never met until years later, after moving 2,000 miles away and then back again to be introduced by this newfound mutual friend.   

“We are blessed to say we just celebrated 24 years of marriage.”

Described by her family as “selfless,” Cindy disagrees with this adjective to an extent. 

“It doesn’t seem very humble to call yourself selfless because, like most of us, I have a definite selfish side,” she clarifies. “I think those that know me would say that I am persistent or determined.”

The turning point in Cindy’s life came 21 years ago this November when she and her husband were expecting their first baby. 

“We were blissfully happy and anxiously awaiting the arrival of our baby, our beautiful daughter, Callie Ann,” she recalls. “Callie was stillborn just two and a half weeks before her scheduled due date. To say we were devastated would be an understatement, but we were blessed to have our story of ashes turn to a story of beauty. We worked hard to not let our marriage be just another statistic; we rededicated our faith and belief in God and embraced the truth that He is the author and creator of all life. While our daughter’s life was all too brief, it was and still is significant and had a profound everlasting ripple effect on many, and yet she never took a breath outside of the womb.”

In her role at LaVie, she works alongside a dedicated team of men and women who serve those in the community faced with an unplanned pregnancy. 

“Through LaVie’s life-affirming medical care and transformative education, we are able to empower individuals to embrace hope by providing loving, compassionate care for early pregnancies, which is carried out in our two clinics six days a week.”

Cindy vows she would continue to advocate for the most vulnerable in our society even if granted 100% financial freedom. 

“I would definitely continue to work, but much less. I would volunteer more and spend additional quality time with my family and friends,” with whom she is happiest.

There is a hymnal that Cindy finds particularly moving, "It is Well with my Soul."

Just recently I learned about the writer of the hymn, Horatio Spafford, and how his life was full of tragedy and unimaginable loss,” she describes. “He is said to have written it in the 1800s, in the same location where his daughters tragically drowned from a shipwreck, which was following his financial ruin and the loss of his son. Simply put, Spafford had hope beyond his circumstances—something we all need.”

Karla Johnson, Owner, Creative World Model and Talent Agency

For Karla Johnson, life centers around her two passions: work and family. 

“I am happiest when I can be actively engaged in helping people achieve their dreams,” she explains, “and when I am with my children and grandchildren.”

Her business, Creative World, is the matriarch agency in Montana. 

“I connect models and talent locally, nationally and internationally for placement or signing. I provide an avenue to a larger market if that is their desire to fulfill their aspirations.”

Born in Oklahoma, she moved to Arizona just shy of her fourth birthday and remained there until moving to Alaska for one year. In 2001, she relocated to Montana. Throughout her travels, Karla developed a fondness for both the beach and the mountains.

“I think in the winter, I love the beaches more, and in the summer, my love would be the mountains,” Karla says. “I really feel close to Heavenly Father in both places.”

Her dream would be to live on a California beach for six months out of the year, near Encinitas, and to have more time with her grandchildren. 

“I would have an apartment or condo in the LA area so my models and talent could stay there while fulfilling their dreams,” she muses. 

Karla feels there have been multiple turning points in her life, experiences that altered her trajectory in significant ways. The most important was when she became a mother.

“It was such a beautiful experience! I never dreamed I could love another human being so much, so deeply, so unconditionally,” she confesses. “Then, it happened again when I became a grandma. I would also say, Christmas Day 2016. … I was reflecting back on my life, thinking of things I had wanted to do when I was younger. … It was then that I had an epiphany: I could still do the things I desired to do!” 

Since this revelation, Karla has been in a few films, commenced writing a book and enrolled in oil painting classes. Another of her interests is family history. She was delighted to discover her family has ties to many people in the entertainment industry. 

“The most exciting were probably Elvis Presley, John Wayne, Walt Disney, Lucille Ball. … It is also interesting when you find many jobs and hobbies you have that coincide with relatives from the past.”

Karla prides herself on having strong integrity, a trait which she believes others recognize in her. If things become stressful, she is the first to attempt to uncover the problem, diffuse tension and lighten the mood.

“I would try to see if I can find out what is causing a person to be nervous. I do try to laugh off stressful situations. ... I would probably try to say something funny.”

There are two other causes Karla holds near and dear to her heart: veterans and heart disease related to diabetes. 

“It amazes me that a person is willing to lay down their life for their country and fellow man. The latter is because I lost my dear sweet mother to diabetes/heart disease.”

Her favorite quote is from the Bible, 3 John 1:4. "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth."

“It gives me hope for future generations,” she concludes.  

Casey McGowan, Owner, Trailhead Spirits

The turning point in Casey McGowan’s life came when he made the decision to pursue his passion, launching him onto a path of entrepreneurship. He has never looked back. 

“I pulled the trigger and decided to start Trailhead Spirits,” he says. "If you feel like there's something out there that you're supposed to be doing—if you have a passion for it—then stop wishing and just do it.”

Hailing from Highwood, a farming community in the north-central region of Montana, Casey grew up in the proverbial small town, complete with a house at the end of an old, dirt road. He came to Billings 20 years ago for his first job after college but maintains a deep appreciation for the quiet nature of his sleepy hometown. His dream would be to move to a cabin on a mountain stream where he could live “off the grid.”

“The world has become so busy with nonsense,” Casey reflects. “I am thankful to live in Montana and have the ability to easily escape to the wilderness.”

He is especially fond of the mountains. “They call to my soul. I enjoy the solitude of a mountain lake and the streams along the trail to get there.” 

His love for nature also helps him to recollect his thoughts and unwind.

“I am happiest when I am floating a river. To some, it’s just water … to me, it’s where I regain my sanity.”

A visionary to those who know him, Casey possesses a talent for developing and carrying out big ideas. His innovative spirit pushes the company to thrive and grow.

“At Trailhead, we manufacture and distribute award-winning spirits with grain sourced from my family farm,” he explains. “Additionally, we specialize in creating craft cocktails available in our new tasting room.”

If faced with a tense situation, he believes in the power of a good, self-deprecating joke. 

“I would likely make fun of myself. There are plenty of stories to tell … but I am not sure many of them would be appropriate to put in print,” he quips. 

A favorite quote of Casey’s circles back to his life-altering decision to start a business, sharing a similar sentiment to his own words from earlier. 

You only get one life, so make it count. Make it mean something. Make it yours."

He adds, “It is just a simple reminder that life is too short, and you are in control of your life. Live happy, and be yourself.” 

Austin Saylor, General Manager, Lithia Chrysler Jeep Dodge RAM of Billings

“I don’t believe in things just happening to me,” Austin Saylor says. “As people close to me know, I would say that’s a victim statement”.

Instead, he subscribes to the belief that our choices define our destiny.

“I’ve had many interesting things happen to me as a result of my choices. The choice to leave my real estate career a decade ago to get into the auto industry was probably the most gutsy choice I had made up to that point my life.”

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