Catherine Flax ’85 has traversed many positions throughout her 20-plus years in the financial services industry. During her visit to Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, she described to Business Honors students what she called her “winding career path” and how she successfully navigated so many transitions.
“For me, I’ve never really been afraid,” said Flax, who is currently managing director, head of Commodity Derivatives & Foreign Exchange, Americas at European bank BNP Paribas.

She recalled how her early years prepared her to work hard and make the most of every opportunity, even in uncertain circumstances. “What holds people back the most is fear. People become afraid of making a mistake or a wrong decision. People imagine that there’s a path you can set out today and say,‘This is how we’re going to get to the next spot.’ It just doesn’t work like that. Thank goodness, because what actually happens is way better than you could have planned.”

Flax’s own journey started at Texas A&M, when she began as an engineering major. But she was inspired by a Texaco economist to switch her major to economics. “I decided to find something I was passionate about,” she said.

This passion led her to graduate within three years, after which she moved to Brown University for a master’s degree. She started out teaching at the University of Nebraska; began consulting projects for local businesses; worked at a local radio show, commenting on economics; and even worked as an economic advisor for a congressman.

Later, Flax was chief marketing officer at JP Morgan as well as head of the commodities business for Europe, Middle East and Africa. Before JP Morgan, she worked at Morgan Stanley for six years. Flax won the award for Most Influential Woman in European Investment Banking in 2012.

Students asked Flax how they can best use their time at Texas A&M to prepare for job opportunities and life in the professional world.

“I suggest that you find situations to put yourselves in, that are uncomfortable, where you feel a bit over your head. Seek that out regularly. It’s a muscle.” She also recommended that the students spend more time networking and “understanding what people in the business actually do.” She encouraged students to take advantage of the modern tools that make building relationships and networks easier than ever. Finally, “be open to geographical mobility,” she advised, recalling her experience working in London with JP Morgan for a year and a half.

Flax’s openness to her many experiences resonated with Alin Piranian ’16, a Business Honors and finance major. “My main takeaway from speaking with Catherine Flax was that you have to be 100 percent ‘in’ in everything you do,” she said.

Categories: Alumni, Business Honors, Executive Speakers, Former Students, Mays Business, News, Students, Texas A&M

Alan Mitchell ’85 believes that knowledge about a job in investment banking is key to scoring an entry-level position in the field, he told Business Honors students on his visit to Mays Business School at Texas A&M University.

“It’s important that you are comparable in your knowledge base with other people you are competing against,” he said. “Not just your resume, not just what you’ve done at school, but your knowledge about what the job is. If you don’t have that, that’s a disadvantage.”

Mitchell is managing director of Wells Fargo Securities in New York City with a career in investment banking that spans over two decades. Prior to joining Wells Fargo, Mitchell was a managing director at Citigroup. His career first started in the Houston office of KPMG, where he left as a senior manager in 1992. He received his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Texas A&M in 1985.
He believes there is value in understanding the investment banking field, whether students intend to go into investment banking or not.

“If you’re going to be in business, you’re going to be dealing in some way, shape or form with investment bankers. Understanding what we do as a profession is going to be helpful.”

He took the opportunity to explain to students the different types of positions such as the analyst and the associate as well as the challenges and rewards of the field.

“In his presentation he mentioned that investment banking is challenging because every bank is fighting over the same clients,” said Aniket Patel ’18, Business Honors and finance major. “Because of this, it is crucial to create innovative and creative solutions to win a client.”

Mitchell also cited several ways he sets himself apart in his job. “Creativity, personality, long-term relationships, intellect, unique thoughts – these are how we differentiate ourselves from those other 10 or 15 people trying to do exactly the same thing,” he explained.

Though he admits investment banking requires long hours and a strenuous environment, Mitchell reminded the students that someone with analyst experience could be “one of the most sought-after individuals after that period of time because employers know what that person has been through.”

Luke Wheeler ’17, Business Honors and accounting major, called the presentation “informative and inspirational” and said Mitchell “provided unique insights into the industry in a way that only someone who has achieved his position could.”

Business Honors major Hallie Skansi ’18 called Mitchell engaging and charismatic, and said he explained investment banking “in a way that made sense and opened my eyes to a world of business I had never heard much about before.” She said her biggest takeaway from the presentation was “the importance of familiarizing oneself with an industry before seeking a career in said industry. I can honestly say I learned something from this event, and have another possible career path to consider as a result.”

Categories: Alumni, Business Honors, Executive Speakers, Former Students, Mays Business, News, Students, Texas A&M

Wayne Roberts ’85 is driven and motivated to help others. His fascination with the unique strengths and skills of each person is the cornerstone of his leadership approach and something he leverages extensively to put people in roles and opportunities that best leverage their abilities, interests and strengths. This focus on understanding the individual has defined Roberts as a coach and leader.Wayne Roberts Roberts told a group of Business Honors students at Mays Business School recently that you must truly know and manage yourself before successfully managing others. According to Gallup’s StrengthsFinder Assessment, “Individualization” is consistently his top strength. “When you get to the point of understanding your strengths and how you’re wired, you then get comfortable with yourself and how to leverage your own strengths,” he said. “Coaching others is when it really gets fun and rewarding.”

Roberts is chief operating officer at Accruent, an Austin-based company that provides real estate management software and services.

He shared specific recommendations with students to put into practice communication, meeting, coaching and leadership practices. For example, he shared the company meeting cadence, which is derived from Patrick Lencione’s Death by Meeting. He holds weekly tactical team meetings with his direct reports, monthly strategic full-day meetings, quarterly off-site meetings and ad hoc strategic meetings when needed. Each of the meetings has a specific agenda, purpose, cadence and attendance.

But where Roberts believes everyone gets the most benefit is in weekly one-on-one meetings with each employee. “Each of my one-on-ones are different. I tailor them to the individual, which is another example of playing to my strengths,” he said. “We get more done in that one hour together every week than in any other setting.”

Among the many lessons learned and recommendations Roberts shared with the group is the notion of “FOUR” – an acronym he created that summarizes what he has observed that defines those most successful in the business world. “The F in FOUR stands for Failure. Those that aren’t afraid to fail, who stretch themselves, get out of their comfort zone, fail smartly and then learn from those failures are the ones that succeed long term.”

Similarly, being “Outcome oriented (“O”) rather than immersed in the tasks and processes means you never lose sight of the ultimate objective and can see the forest for the trees. Those that are big picture oriented and long term greedy are more successful than those that maximize short terms results.” Not surprisingly, Roberts believes that true Level 5 leaders are also Unselfish (“U”).

Resiliency (“R”) is another common trait of the successful people Roberts has known. “Their grit, determination, iron will and work ethic is remarkable and sets them apart,” Roberts said.

While not the only factors, Roberts shared with students that FOUR seems correlated to success in his experience.  “It’s the old adage – common sense, uncommonly practiced.”

The students who heard Roberts speak at Mays said they were impressed with his humility and insistence on getting to know his employees. “I want to be able to apply his ideas to my career down the road if I am ever a manager, and I hope to be able to stay as humble and patient as Mr. Roberts seems to be,” said Caitlin Smith ’17, a Business Honors and supply chain major.

Sam Richter ’16, an accounting and Business Honors major, said he was interested to learn how a relationship-oriented leader operates in a workplace. “Over my four years in college I have discovered that I am a relationship-based leader, so it was an amazing experience getting to see what that practically looked like in the workplace,” he said.

Business Honors and finance major Conrad Shillings ’16 described Roberts as a “very friendly and outgoing man, with a lot of wisdom and care for us.” He recalled one of the specific lessons Roberts shared with the group. “My favorite takeaway was the F in FOUR, the failure,” Shillings said. “He said to embrace and welcome failure, because we learn the most from our failures and only grow stronger.”




Categories: Alumni, Business Honors, Executive Speakers, Former Students, Mays Business, News, Students, Texas A&M

You don’t have to know your career aspirations in order to have a successful career.

That’s what Steve Lovejoy told Business Honors students on his recent visit to Mays Business School. Lovejoy is Senior Vice President of Global Supply Chain at Starbucks Corporation, where he provides leadership in global manufacturing operations and store development.

Lovejoy said he couldn’t have foreseen his current role when he was an industrial engineering major at Purdue University. “Supply chain didn’t even exist,” he told students. “It found me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I graduated. My journey went with people putting opportunities in front of me and then me deciding if I wanted to take that next challenge. Because when you make changes, you’re taking a little bit of challenge – especially changing companies.”
After 18 years in supply chain, he joined the coffee company in 2010. His responsibilities have taken him internationally as he oversees global operations in all of Starbucks’ manufacturing sites and contract manufacturing sites around the world. He even worked abroad for six months in Shanghai, China.

Lovejoy advised students about making career decisions: “Take some chances, don’t be too quick to rotate out of an experience especially if you don’t like it. Because you have to ask yourself ‘am I learning something that’s going to foundationally help my career later on?’”

He recalled his own experience working third shift in a manufacturing plant as a sanitation supervisor in food operations. “That was not a fun 18 months – not at all,” he admitted. But working in a food company –learning about inspections, sanitation and the FDA – proved to be invaluable for his work at Starbucks. “Did I enjoy it? No. Am I glad I had the experience? Yes.”

Lovejoy also shared insight into Starbucks’ values, mission statement and five-year strategy and how all of it ties together to some of its recent social initiates. Starbucks is offering tuition to college students and opportunities to veterans; giving increased attention to sustainability and nutrition; and raising awareness of various social issues. Though this social involvement is controversial, Lovejoy said the company is simply trying to do the right thing.

“Many of the things we’re doing we’re not trying to do for competitive advantage,” he explained. “We’re doing them because they’re the right things to do. The more companies that join in, the better our world will be.”

Many of the students received this message well. “I really enjoyed his point of view on Starbucks’ social goals and the ensuing discussion,” said Rusty Hundley ’16, a Business Honors and finance major. ”It is great to see companies making an impact outside of their business.” Hundley also said the discussion of Lovejoy’s personal career “highlighted to me the importance of foundational experience and the non-reversibility of some decisions we make.”

David Jordan ’16, a Business Honors and finance major, added: “I have a lot of respect for Starbucks’ mission of being excellent through a lens of humanity not being afraid to voice opinions on sensitive issues.” He said the presentation helped him “see Starbucks as providing a place of comfort and normalcy for customers across the world.”

Categories: Business Honors, Executive Speakers, Mays Business, News, Students, Texas A&M

David Cordani ’88 credits Texas A&M University – particularly Mays Business School – with preparing him to lead Cigna’s 37,000 employees and operations in 30 countries. His double major in accounting and finance and his background as an Aggie helped to form who he is today, he told a crowd of students, faculty and community members on Sept. 18.

He said entering Ray Auditorium conjured memories of anxiety during his college days because the big tests were administered in similar rooms. Now he speaks with ease to groups of all sizes, all around the world – including with President Barack Obama and other leading CEOs about health care issues.


Cordani said a love of learning, not a master plan, has propelled his career. “I was fortunate in that I left here with a great foundation of skills and experiences and most importantly a lot of what I would call the ‘X Factor of Texas A&M’ – the values, the beliefs and what is the underpinning in terms of the loyalty, the sense of service, the sense of respect.” Early in his career, he became interested in two industries: financial service and health care. “I was bitten by health care because health care was an opportunity to touch and change people’s lives in a very intimate way. I’ve been on a journey for what’s going to be approaching 30 years and I am still learning each and every day.”

He said one of the most important things being imprinted on the students is what and how to learn. “I would challenge you to open your arms and embrace an environment of learning for the rest of your life. Every day you’ll have an opportunity to learn from those around you. My perspective is the day you stop learning is the day you start dying.”

Cordani said individuals who think they have all the answers tend not to be the best leaders. He cited one of his favorite quotes: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts,” by President Harry Truman. He said many people are oriented around having a right answer, but the right answer doesn’t exist, in most cases. “Most of the things you confront in life and in business don’t have a right answer, they have a series of alternatives,” he said. “And oftentimes the best alternative is the alternative that works for the culture, the environment and the team you are working with. The key for leadership is actually figuring out how to get the best answer that a team will come together and support, wrap their arms around and help you drive going forward.”


Cordani shared some pointers on how to pursue continuous learning:

  • Seek and adapt to change quickly. “Most people say they like change. Most people like change that is comfortable to them.”
  • Be persistent and relentless. “You will confront – as you do in your academic careers – barriers, speed bumps, potholes, surprises in your entire professional careers. It’s how you confront those speed bumps, it’s how you confront those challenges that makes a difference.”
  • Be courageous. “You will be confronted throughout your professional career with many challenges. You could be around a lot of people, but you’ll feel like you are all alone. You’ll feel like maybe you’re the only one who sees the issue. Maybe you’re the only one who has that point of view. You have to take courageous steps. You don’t have to be rude, just have conviction where conviction is necessary.”
  • Be accountable. “There are two types of people: People who make things happen and people who take credit for things that happen. Try to be in the former because it’s far less crowded. If you’re a person committed to learning, there’s as much to learn from success as there is from failures. If you ask people what their failures are and they have trouble finding them, I would submit they’re either not honest or reflective enough because everybody fails. Some are small, some are medium, some are big. The key is if you are committed to learning, you probably won’t have the same kind of failure time and time again.”
  • Be an active listener. “The most effective leaders are great listeners. They have the ability to understand the nuances and then connect with what’s important to an audience. It is what uncaps the opportunity for communication. I actually think one of the fragile dimensions of what technology does today – because we’re all wired – is it enables so much, but it also creates a higher risk in the way we communicate. The brevity of how we communicate, the lack of eyeball-to-eyeball communication, leads to misunderstanding.”
  • Treat people as you want to be treated. Cordani credits his grandparents with teaching him this lesson – “The Golden Rule.”

Cordani asserted that leadership is not a position, but a gift given by those around you. “As CEO, my job is to enable and support the team,” he said. “It’s not about me.”


Cordani showed a short video that he said illustrates the need to focus on health care and prevention, rather than sick care. “What we strive for is the ability – at the discretion of the individual – to deliver insights about that person’s health in a much more real-time basis,” he said. “We are working to get better information back to the individual and the health care providers, all with the goal of changing lives – one at a time.”


Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School educates more than 6,000 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students in accounting, business, finance, management, management information systems, marketing, and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools in the country for its undergraduate programs, MBA programs and faculty research. The mission of Mays Business School is creating knowledge and developing ethical leaders for a global society.


Cigna Corporation (NYSE: CI) is a global health service company dedicated to helping people improve their health, well-being and sense of security. All products and services are provided exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, including Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, Life Insurance Company of North America and Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York. Such products and services include an integrated suite of health services, such as medical, dental, behavioral health, pharmacy, vision, supplemental benefits and other related products, including group life, accident and disability insurance. Cigna maintains sales capability in 30 countries and jurisdictions, and has more than 89 million customer relationships throughout the world. To learn more about Cigna®, including links to follow us on Facebook or Twitter, visit


Categories: Executive Speakers

Ann Rhoads ’85 says she considers herself lucky because she has always known her career path: Banking. She told a group of Business Honors students she worked as a teller in the summers during school, then after graduating with a finance degree she started with a training class of 12. Only three or four of them are still bankers, but she said it was valuable training that introduced her to a broad spectrum of business fields.

Rhoads said her first motivation for working was to have financial security and to give back. “Now what drives me is the enjoyment of what I do and getting to do it with people I like,” she added.

Throughout her career, Rhoads said, she has been fortunate to learn various skills and work with great bosses. “I look at what has happened in my 30 years and look ahead to what’s going to happen in the next 30 years, and it is exciting,” she said.

Ann Rhoads

The last 19 years, her career has been focused on the energy sector. She is currently a managing director at Houston-based BNP Paribas, covering upstream clients. Previously, she was Head of the Americas for Global Energy and Commodities at Natixis, based in New York. She has been part of several interesting deals and has lived in London and traveled to Germany, France, Iraq and Italy. She encouraged the students to be open to traveling for their jobs.

Ashley Shinpaugh ’14, a fifth-year Business Honors and PPA student, said she learned several important business lessons from Rhoads. “First, the importance of people in a business environment is essential because of the impact they can have on the success or failure of your business,” she said. “I also learned that even though performed at high rates, mergers and acquisitions rarely result in a good business transaction. Lastly, I took away her own valuable lesson of stepping outside your comfort zone in order to push yourself to the next level. Overall, it was an excellent presentation.”

Neil Rabroker ’15, a senior Business Honors and accounting major, said Rhoads delivered “a highly informational presentation of life as a professional in investment banking and what it takes to succeed in any way of life.” He recalled her description of her at BNP Paribas and at a firm in London, and then on the importance of M&A activities and how people love to do it even though they have a reputation of being unsuccessful. “Personally, Mrs. Rhoads spoke on how as a young professional having the ability to think and push yourself out of your comfort zone will lead you to a life of success.”


Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School educates more than 5,900 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools in the country for its undergraduate and MBA programs, and for faculty research. The mission of Mays Business School is creating knowledge and developing ethical leaders for a global society.

Categories: Business Honors, Executive Speakers, Mays Business


Keep an open mind on your career journey. That’s just one piece of advice Frito-Lay’s Laura Maxwell offered Business Honors students. She serves as the senior vice president of the Transformation Integration Office at Frito-Lay, and executive sponsor of their Women’s Inclusion Network (WIN).

After Maxwell recently took time away from her busy schedule to visit with students at Mays Business School, they said they appreciated her candor and thoughts on preparing for a career after business school.

Angela Lowak ’16, a junior Business Honors major, said Maxwell’s talk was the best professional development event she has attended. Lowak said it helped her make some decisions about her own career path. “I have been debating between finance and supply chain, and after listening to her I concluded supply chain was the best route for me,” she said. “Most importantly, I learned that if I make the wrong decision, it isn’t the end of the world. I just need to be adaptive and eager. I also learned the importance of evaluating each year individually. In fact, I need to do a better job of focusing on the short-term goals rather than basing everything off of the long term.”

Maxwell’s background includes engineering and supply chain, and now, she has transitioned into more of a business management role. Her current responsibilities include the development and leadership of all business transformation activities and she works closely with external partners to develop new strategies and manage business implementations.

Maxwell’s career with parent company PepsiCo has spanned 25 years so far. Most recently she led the Supply Chain Growth and Commercialization team, where she was responsible for Product Supply, Service to Sales, Asset Strategy, Economic Development and Supply Chain capability to support Customer Growth.  She began her PepsiCo career as an Operations Resource and spent 17 years in field manufacturing roles prior to coming to Frito-Lay’s headquarters in Plano. Her previous roles include Director of Manufacturing, Senior Director Supply Chain and VP Marketing Services.

Her connection to WIN as the executive sponsor is a welcome activity she says illustrates the company’s culture. “It is a great company and a fun company,” Maxwell explains.  “We make Mountain Dew and Doritos – products people know and love.” She advised the students to find an activity or area of their jobs that they enjoy and are passionate about.

Maxwell lives in Plano with her husband, Marty, and two daughters, Maddy (19) and Molly (16). She has relocated several times for her work, and encouraged the students to think about whether relocation is an option in advance of being asked to move.  “When considering a job, consider whether or not you are willing to move for that company,” she said. “Have that conversation before it becomes a hard conversation.”

She also advised asking questions during the interview such as, “Hypothetically, where could I be in four years?” and to understand the company’s culture as deeply as possible.

Sarah Solcher ’15, a senior Business Honors and management major, said she considered Maxwell informative, candid and insightful. “She had great wisdom about navigating corporate life with personality, professionalism and passion,” she said. “She encouraged success in the traditional workforce, but also challenged us in that success may be found in taking a road less traveled.”

Michael Formella ’18, a freshman Business Honors major, called Maxwell “an impressive, distinguished executive who was very professional yet casual and down-to-earth all the same.”

“Her easy-going speaking style and simple presentation were straightforward and easy to obtain valuable information from, and not only just advice for business, but also for life,” he said. “In fact, Ms. Maxwell gave advice to ‘not worry so much about your first job,’ as she had a degree in engineering before joining Frito-Lay and working her way up.”

He cited three pieces of advice Maxwell offered:

  • Choose one thing besides school or work that you enjoy doing and, do it;
  • Surround yourself with positive people;
  • Know that there will probably be a curveball. Plan for it.

“In life, you never know what to expect,” Formella explained, “but with these three things in mind, Ms. Maxwell explained that you will be happy and content with your professional life, and your personal life will follow suit.”


Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School educates more than 5,900 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools in the country for its undergraduate and MBA programs, and for faculty research. The mission of Mays Business School is creating knowledge and developing ethical leaders for a global society.

Categories: Executive Speakers, Mays Business

Mike Shaw ’68

Mike Shaw ’68 has parlayed his motto – “When the sun comes up, I’m up” – to achieve financial and personal success in the auto industry. He owns and operates six car dealerships in three states, and he has garnered numerous awards, including TIME Magazine’s national “Dealer of the Year” in 2012 – which he called the Heisman Trophy of car dealers – and Automotive News’ “Dealer of Distinction” in 2013.

Shaw shared business tactics and stories when he spoke to Business Honors students at Mays Business School. He said he learned his work ethic at Texas A&M University – in the Corps of Cadets and with jobs selling donuts in dorms, selling newspaper subscriptions and running a pizza parlor. For the first 10 years of his career, he worked 12 to 15 hours a day.

His first dealership failed and he said he “lost everything except my ethics.” He repaid his debts and kept working to build his empire, paying cash for every dealership with no guarantees or cross collateralization.

“Spoken like a true entrepreneur, his ‘never give up’ attitude has translated into both financial and personal success,” observed Erika Arthur ’15, a senior Business Honors and accounting major who was at the breakfast meeting. “However, his success did not come without valuable lessons learned. These lessons highlighted the value of business ethics and doing the right thing, maintaining a consistent business philosophy and appreciating the benefit of human resource differentiation. Both new and seasoned Business Honor students can apply Shaw’s wisdom as we move about our respective pursuits in life.”

Shaw said he runs his business similarly to a football team. “It’s about business and process. We map out our strategies, then go execute them,” he said. “If you give me a good attitude, enthusiasm and hard work, you’ll have a place on my team. And sometimes a player doesn’t work out and you need a quarterback change.”

Alin Piranian ’16, a junior Business Honors and finance major, said Shaw’s presentation was “less abstract and cheesy than what most people say about work-life balance.” Piranian said Shaw’s advice “was more realistic, which is more applicable.”

“Mr. Shaw claimed that when it came to work, the more hours he put in the ‘luckier’ he got,” Piranian said. “He mentioned that in whatever field you’re in, the number one thing is people. When it came to family and work-life balance, Mr. Shaw claimed that some things would have to be sacrificed, and to him it was his hobbies.”

Shaw said he maintained strong family ties because he made it a priority. He ate dinner at home every night, then returned to work or worked from home. “I made every family conference, soccer games – everything. But I didn’t golf or go hunting or things like that,” he said. “I was at home or at work. I lived my priorities.”

Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School educates more than 5,600 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools in the country for its undergraduate and MBA programs, and for faculty research. The mission of Mays Business School is creating knowledge and developing ethical leaders for a global society.

Categories: Executive Speakers

From the stockroom to the boardroom, Blake Nordstrom has spent nearly his entire life devoted to the success of his family’s 115-year-old, Seattle-based business.

On March 11, the first-time visitor to Aggieland presented the 2015 keynote at the M.B. Zale Visionary Merchant Lecture Series, honoring innovation and the advancement of retail in the name of the M.B. and Edna Zale Foundation and hosted by the Center for Retailing Studies (CRS).

Venkatesh Shankar, the CRS’ research director, led a question-and-answer session in which Nordstrom detailed the company’s keys to success, promise and outlook for growth, and career advice for a full house in Mays Business School’s Ray Auditorium.

Since 1901, the Fortune 500 Company has set its sights on being a forward-thinking retail business and has received numerous awards and recognition for its contributions to the industry. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Nordstrom, Inc. expanded beyond shoe sales and began the fast track toward its current position as a leader in fashionable apparel.

In 2014, Nordstrom named Texas A&M University a core partner school for recruitment in stores, headquarters roles and increasingly tech-savvy hires.

Nordstrom said he was attracted to visit Texas A&M by its sense of community, reputation and “the key ingredient for our business [of] people – talent.”

When he spoke, Nordstrom quickly dove into sharing the company’s business strategy by emphasizing the importance of paying attention to customers. “We live in an age where we have immediate access to things, especially at our fingertips, concerning fashion, product, price and availability,” he said.

Four-legged chair
Nordstrom provided an illustration of a four-legged chair to explain the company’s composition, which has created a launch pad for success and growth. He identified:

  1. 1. Full-line Nordstrom stores: Posting $7.7 billion in sales, Nordstrom’s brick-and-mortar sites make up 60 percent of the business. Although there is a large investment nationwide, the company has experienced multiple challenges from housing their stores in mall-based environments.
  2. eCommerce and online sales: This is the fastest-growing area of business for the company.
  3. Nordstrom Rack stores: Attracting the younger, aspirational generation, the Rack is an expanding channel for Nordstrom. The off-price model targets an entirely new demographic and method to gaining new customers and paving way for new merchandising in full-line stores.
  4. On-line off-price: As Nordstrom said, it’s all about acquisition “in the name of speed.” By acquiring flash sale site HauteLook in 2011, the company can compete with Amazon, offering dynamic price strategy online, increasing momentum and sales, something that cannot be done quickly in-store.

The “multi-channel” chair, combined with Nordstrom’s exceptional and unique approach to customer service, creates a seamless environment for the company that cannot be replicated. When companies follow the inverted pyramid and place the customer on top and senior executives on the bottom, “When we think about what [they] value the most, it gives us the most clarity of how we should focus our time, energy and money where the business is going,” Nordstrom said.

Challenges faced

Death of the mall
As Nordstrom mentioned, malls pose a unique challenge but also provide opportunity for looking outside the confinements of being in-store. With the increase in ecommerce, retailers, including Nordstrom, are sensitive to a third-year decline in foot traffic in malls across America. The company has had to identify, expand and take more risks, because “if you don’t take [them], you just add age to yourself as a retailer.”
Although Amazon was identified as one of the top competitors for the company, Nordstrom was quick to commend the online giant as a leader in expedited decision making and “laser focus on the customer,” even when it means taking a financial loss. Especially in Seattle, the two compete for jobs, talent and square feet. Amazon also has infinitely more fulfillment centers than Nordstrom, coming in at around 50 versus Nordstrom’s two, with an additional three on the way.

People culture
Nordstrom uses the saying “from service to sales,” because customer-based service influences every aspect that makes the company run successfully, including board members and stakeholders.

The company is working on a number of ways to cater to different audiences and customize service. According to Nordstrom, “If someone wants to spend an hour [in our stores], great, we should be able to do that. But, if they want to get in and get out in five minutes, that’s good service too.”

He also emphasized the importance of his 60,000 team members, saying he hopes each person comes to work highly motivated and knowing they are making a tremendous impact as the face of the company.

This is also true of how the family operates the business. “We have a team approach,” he said, “Everyone leaves our meetings on the same page and because we all work together, our outcome is richer.” In fact, Nordstrom would rather be invisible as to not detract from the company’s mission of people, not person, first.

Maintaining a company culture of treating everyone with value and importance remains at the forefront of Nordstrom, Inc.

Words of wisdom
As a father of two, Nordstrom understands the stresses of transitioning from higher education to the job market. With anywhere from five to eight career changes in a lifetime, he said, it’s important to shift your focus early on to your “experiences [and] how you are in control of the few things you actually own, which are your character, reputation and integrity.” Instead, he advised, ask yourself how those traits can help you open doors.

He also mentioned the importance of having a “truth teller” or mentor with whom you can be open and honest, even in your failures. Often, the biggest learning moments occur during the worst situations and it’s essential for you to be able to put it all into perspective. Having someone else to talk things through can help you do that.

Goal setting
During the final portion of the lecture, Nordstrom touched upon the company’s expansion into Canada and plans for future growth across the United States.

Nordstrom has set some high goals in the next several years, including a goal of $20 billion in sales by 2020 and a new store in New York, opening in late 2018. The 300,000-square-foot store will span seven floors and employ more than 2,000 team members. It will be located in the second-highest building in the city and will overlook Central Park and Columbus Circle.

Nordstrom added, “We don’t really need more stores, but instead need to expand and improve on what we are currently doing.”

Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School educates more than 5,600 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools in the country for its undergraduate and MBA programs, and for faculty research. The mission of Mays Business School is creating knowledge and developing ethical leaders for a global society.

Categories: Centers, Executive Speakers

Mark Alfieri

Mark Alfieri’s early roots as a bar owner taught him about more than how to keep the inventory stocked. Serving a varied audience and having a flat management style based on transparency are habits that have served him well.

He bought a bar on Harvey Road in College Station after his sophomore year at Texas A&M University when he was 19 and the drinking age was 18. “I hired a lot of students and the bar was highly successful,” he said. “It was the bar, and it was fun, but I had no business owning my own company. I was too young and inexperienced. It taught me a lot – including the fact that I didn’t want to do that for a career.”

Alfieri, a 1983 marketing graduate from Texas A&M, recounted his career to a group of Mays Business Honors students recently. “You’ve got to set your goals and make your plan, then follow that plan all the way through,” he advised them. “You need hard work, patience and most importantly, dedication.”

Alfieri started working for ALMI, a Dallas-based company that bought and sold upscale apartment complexes. That move set the tone for more than 20 years in the apartment industry, including eight years of building his company since its inception.

Prior to joining Behringer as chief operating officer, Alfieri operated as senior VP for AMLI Residential from 1998 to May 2006. During that time he served on the board of directors for the National Multi Housing Council and was recognized as “Executive of the Year” in the 2011 edition of Multifamily Executive magazine.

In 2014, Behringer Harvard Residential became Monogram Residential Trust, and Alfieri was appointed CEO and a member of the Board of Directors.

The company is a $4 billion Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) that was listed on the New York Stock Exchange this year after being a publicly registered non-traded REIT for most of its life cycle. He described to the students some of the advantages of taking a company public, such as creating access to capital and liquidity for the company’s 49,000 shareholders. “Stock is a currency that can be used to acquire other companies,” he said. “And when you’re a public company, everything is public. You tell people what your strategy is, what your plan is and become fully transparent for the benefit of shareholders.”

Alfieri became animated as he described the “road show” he went on to tell potential investors about his company. “It was a wild and woolly two weeks, and an experience I’ll never forget,” he said. He then recalled getting to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange on his company’s listing date – what he called “the epitome of capitalism” and “the coolest thing ever.”

Alfieri is a licensed Real Estate Broker in Texas and served on the board of directors of the National Multi Housing Council from 2002 to 2015. In 2011, he was honored as Executive of the Year by Multifamily Executive magazine.

The students who met with Alfieri said they learned a lot from him.
“Having the opportunity to meet and interact with Mr. Alfieri was incredible,” said Nicholas Davis, a business honors and finance major. “He was extremely personable and made it into a relaxed environment. It is not every day to be able to listen firsthand how a CEO processes different events and executes taking a company public.”
Business Honors sophomore Margaret Hartman said she enjoyed hearing about Alfieri’s career path. “His success story of how he set the goal for himself to run a publicly traded company and achieved that goal is inspiring,” she said.

Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School educates more than 5,600 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools in the country for its undergraduate and MBA programs, and for faculty research. The mission of Mays Business School is creating knowledge and developing ethical leaders for a global society.

Categories: Executive Speakers