Spring break: perhaps the most anticipated week of the spring semester. For many college students, this week of freedom means swimsuits, skiing, or time at home. But for a group of students from Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, spring break meant an opportunity to continue their education—overseas. On March 16, a group of 19 freshman and sophomore Regents Scholars (first-generation college students at A&M on scholarship) boarded a plane and said goodbye to American soil and bonjour to Paris, France. For many, this was their first taste of international travel.

Nineteen freshman and sophomore Regents Scholars from Mays Business School spent their 2009 spring break in Paris.
Nineteen freshman and sophomore Regents Scholars from Mays Business School spent their 2009 spring break in Paris.

Peter Drysdale, director of undergraduate programs at Mays, expressed the impact international experience can have on a college education. “With few exceptions, this trip was the catalyst for these Regents Scholars applying for their U.S. passports,” he said. “Now that they have their passports they are much more likely to travel outside the U.S.”

The students visited a variety of historical and cultural sites, including Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Hotel des Invalides, the Louvre, and the Musee d’Orsay. Smaller groups of students explored the catacombs, toured the Paris sewer system, and visited Pere Lachaise Cemetery. On a day trip to Versailles, the Aggie group took a bicycle tour around the grounds, hosted by Aggie-owned company Fat Tire Bicycles.

For Mays student Pritesh Desai ’12, the trip was the perfect complement to his business education. Textbooks are one-dimensional; to become well-rounded individuals, it is important for students to see the world and its inhabitants, he says. “Universities prepare us for the real world, but to truly experience it is to venture outside the classroom doors. After going on this trip, I have experienced how diverse this world really is.”

The Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Programs and Associate Provost for Academic Services at A&M supported the Paris trip with a $19,000 grant to encourage first-year students to engage in study abroad. Several students plan to return to Europe as soon as this summer for study abroad programs.

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Categories: Programs, Students

Continuing a tradition of support for Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, PricewaterhouseCoopers has recently announced a new gift of $150,000 for scholarships in the accounting department at Mays. The gift is given in honor of longtime PwC partner Billy M. Atkinson, Jr. ’72.

This gift is one of six recent contributions made by PwC, as they have joined several of their Aggie partners to create accounting scholarships. The total impact of these gifts (including matches) will create a new endowment of $275,000.

“We are very pleased with PricewaterhouseCoopers’ commitment to accounting education at Mays,” said Dean Jerry Strawser. “It’s meaningful when a firm with their reputation for excellence makes an investment in our students. It’s even more meaningful, since their gift honors Billy Atkinson, a leader in the accounting profession and a wonderful role model for our current students.”

Atkinson, who has been with PwC for 37 years, says he was honored and humbled by this gift in his name. He spent many years as the firm’s lead recruiter at A&M, a position now held by fellow PwC partner Stephen Parker ’88. “Billy is one of the key people that hired me. He has made a lasting impression on Aggies that have graduated in the past 20 plus years,” said Parker. “He’s one of the finest people I’ve ever met. He’s been an incredible mentor to me and to so many others…He deserves to be recognized. This is one way we can perpetuate his dedication to providing opportunities to Aggies.”

Atkinson has been very active at A&M, serving on the accounting advisory board since 1982, the president’s advisory council since 1997, and the CBA Fellows advisory board at its inception in the 1980s. He has also been a leader in his profession, as he was appointed or elected to leadership of local, state, and national accountancy boards and organizations. Atkinson plans to retire in two years after nearly four decades with  PwC.

Parker, also a partner at PwC’s Houston office, says that his firm is fortunate to have such a strong relationship with Mays, as they recruit heavily there. “It’s a great school for us to invest our resources in because we can count on getting great candidates to join our team from Mays,” he said. “Mays has outstanding graduates that are equipped with the right tools to be successful in a firm like ours.”

About PricewaterhouseCoopers

PricewaterhouseCoopers (www.pwc.com) provides industry-focused assurance, tax and advisory services to build public trust and enhance value for its clients and their stakeholders. More than 155,000 people in 153 countries across the network share their thinking, experience and solutions to develop fresh perspectives and practical advice.

“PricewaterhouseCoopers” refers to the network of member firms of PricewaterhouseCoopers International Limited, each of which is a separate and independent legal entity.

Categories: Donors Corner, Former Students

When you think of buying office supplies, what comes to mind? Bob Thacker hopes it’s dancing elves, giant rubber band balls, and a penny tray the size of a swimming pool. Thacker, the senior vice president of marketing and advertising at OfficeMax, says that when it comes to building a brand, if you don’t have big bucks, you’d better have big ideas. Thacker’s presentation “Chewing Gum and Bailing Wire: Big Ideas with Little Budgets” was the keynote address during the annual M.B. Zale Visionary Merchant Lecture Series at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School. Blending humor and inspiration for marketers, Thacker discussed his store’s innovative advertising with an audience of 500 students during the event.

OfficeMax senior vice president of marketing and advertising Bob Thacker (left) accepts the 2009 M.B. Zale Visionary Merchant Award from Donald Zale '55 on behalf of OfficeMax CEO and president Sam Duncan.
OfficeMax senior vice president of marketing and advertising Bob Thacker (left) accepts the 2009 M.B. Zale Visionary Merchant Award from Donald Zale ’55 on behalf of OfficeMax CEO and president Sam Duncan.

Thacker recognized that the recession is making life harder for marketers. However, “Innovation can be the product of depressed times,” he said, reminding students that Disney, American Airlines, Revlon and 20th Century Fox emerged against the challenges of the Great Depression’s economic disaster. His message was one of hope and challenge. In this economy, “you can become victims, or victors — the choice is yours,” he said.

It’s clear that under Thacker’s leadership, OfficeMax has chosen to be a victor. Thacker has been with the company since 2005. During that time, his goal has been to break into the market dominated by Staples and Office Depot, the top office supply chains in the U.S. He’s worked to build brand identity and differentiate his store from the competition.

“Building a brand is about building a connection with your customers,” said Thacker. To do this, OfficeMax ad campaigns involve humor and heart to excite shoppers. Example: As the nation’s economy turned sour last fall, OfficeMax launched the “Power of the Penny” campaign. Commercials followed a hidden-camera-bearing shopper attempting to purchase fancy meals, diamond rings, and even a car, paying with pennies. The penny shopper met with rejection from many merchants, reinforcing the message that the undervalued currency was welcomed at OfficeMax, where you could buy promotional 1 cent items like pencils, glue, and note paper for the back to school season.

“Advertising is a party crasher,” says Thacker of these humorous commercial spots. “If you’re going to crash the party, you ought to bring a bottle of wine…[Marketers] have an obligation. If we’re going to interrupt people’s lives, we should make sure the experience is a positive one.”

Part of Thacker’s advertising strategy has included a larger web-presence. In the 2006 Christmas season, the company launched 20 promotional sites, one of which developed into the most successful viral campaigns of all time. The site, www.elfyourself.com, invited shoppers to upload a headshot and then paste their own head on the body of a dancing elf. In the first five weeks, 36 million people “elfed themselves.” The following Christmas, the number jumped to 193 million. In 2008, one in 10 Americans joined in the fun. That year, OfficeMax made $2 million in sales from items such as mugs and greeting cards with the personalized elves.

Prior to delivering his keynote address, Thacker, along with Donald Zale '55 (center left) and Gerald L. Ray '54 (center right), met with current M.B. Zale Leadership Scholar program students.
Prior to delivering his keynote address, Thacker, along with Donald Zale ’55 (center left) and Gerald L. Ray ’54 (center right), met with current M.B. Zale Leadership Scholar program students.

“We’ve created a new Christmas tradition. Hopefully it’s better than fruitcake,” joked Thacker, who noted that the promotion has been invaluable to OfficeMax’s brand positioning as a fun and hip place to shop.

Their newest ad campaign strives to build bonds with female customers, who make up 80 percent of their shopping demographic. The new approach focuses on style, color and fashion, a departure from the traditional value-focus of supply and furniture stores. Similarly, their “A Day Made Better” campaign targets teachers (another large segment of their shoppers). OfficeMax surprised 2,300 teachers nationwide with gift cards to outfit their classrooms. These kinds of campaigns have transformed the OfficeMax brand from a simple purveyor of paperclips to a stylish retailer that cares about its customers.

Thacker concluded on a positive note, telling students that marketers are the “pilot lights” in this economic storm, responsible for igniting others’ creativity and passion in the marketplace and stimulating new growth.

OfficeMax CEO and Chairman Sam Duncan was honored with the 2009 M.B. Zale Visionary Merchant Award from the Center for Retailing Studies (CRS) at Mays. Duncan was unable to attend the lecture series event, which highlights innovation in the marketplace and invites representatives from CRS sponsor companies into the classroom to impact the next generation of marketers.

Categories: Centers, Executive Speakers

Revenge and dishonesty: two traits of the corporate world that often make a day at the office more like a day in Melrose Place. Because of the constant threats and pressure to forget the ethics in decision-making, many business professionals let their morals take a backseat to the thirst for success. Will there ever be a remedy to bring ethics back to business? According to Mike Albe ’88, VP controller for Catapult Systems, the Aggie Honor Code is the simplest solution. On March 27, Albe spoke to students at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, detailing aspects of his career and emphasizing the importance of using both the personal and in-class experiences that are gained during college years.

“Your standards will be challenged by others during your professional career,” Albe told students. “Know who you are, know the standards of the Honor Code, and live by them.”

After graduating from Mays with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, Albe began his career with a top accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he worked until reaching senior accountant status. After leaving the public accounting sector, Albe held a number of leadership roles in companies in a range of industries. He previously held the title of controller for several retail companies, including Tejas Business Systems, where he also took on human resource duties.

During the lecture, Albe explained his role at Catapult Systems Inc, a Microsoft technology consulting company based in Austin. The company, founded by two Aggies in 1993, also has offices in San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Tampa, and Denver, serving clients through application development, enterprise solutions and infrastructure services. Albe has served as the company’s VP controller for the past ten years, managing all aspects of Catapult’s finances and ensuring the firm’s solidarity despite the challenges of a struggling economy.

Albe gave students suggestions for entering the business world, citing the importance of punctuality and honesty both in person and on paper during an interview. The executive also focused on the Aggie Honor Code and its impact long after the college education ends. “Your standards will be challenged by others during your professional career,” said Albe. “You have to hold your ground—show a crack, and they will come after you. Know who you are, know the standards of the Honor Code, and live by them.”

Additionally, Albe touched on the importance of continued education, noting that studying doesn’t stop after graduation. “Things move at such a great pace that you will always have to study, always have to keep up with new innovations to stay on top,” he said. He advocated the importance of challenges throughout a career, saying that they are the best times to develop personal and professional skills. Finally, Albe encouraged students to find mentors and guide points that can be sought for guidance throughout their lives. “When you go into business, there are times that you won’t know what you’re going to face. The lessons that you learn at Texas A&M University prepare you both socially and intellectually to face future challenges,” he said.

Categories: Executive Speakers

From Fish Camp scholarships to endowed faculty fellowships, Gina and William (Bill) Flores ’76 invest in many areas of the Texas A&M University experience. The couple was recently honored by Mays Business School with a luncheon for their continuing support, which includes two endowed faculty fellowships in the Department of Finance at Mays.

William (Bill) '76 and Gina Flores
William (Bill) ’76 and Gina Flores

At the luncheon held on April 3, Sorin Sorescu, head of the finance department, expressed his thanks to the Floreses, noting their impact on the lives of thousands of students, both current and future.

Bill spoke briefly at the event. “Without these people,” he said, gesturing around the room, “Gina and I would not be in a position to give back in the way that we have.” He challenged faculty members in the audience to have the same kind of impact on students that his mentors have had on him while earning his degree at A&M. Similarly, he advised the students present to remember who and what made them who they are and to give back someday when they are able.

Sorescu announced Assistant Professor of Finance Sudheer Chava is the first recipient of one of the two endowed faculty fellowships provided by the Floreses. The second fellowship will be used to recruit a new faculty member for the fall 2009 term.

Bill is the president and CEO of Houston-based Phoenix Exploration Company, an oil and gas exploration and property acquisitions company in the Gulf Coast and Gulf of Mexico regions. He has held a variety of corporate management positions since earning his MBA from Houston Baptist University in 1985, including executive/senior vice president and chief financial officer posts for Marine Drilling, Western Atlas, OneOffshore, TransEnergy Holdings, and Gryphon Exploration.

Gina earned a bachelor’s in education from Sam Houston State University. After graduating, she taught English in public high schools and later taught elementary and middle school students in private Christian schools. Gina currently serves on the Texas A&M’s College of Education and Human Development Advisory Council.

The Floreses have recently contributed $1 million to the One Spirit One Vision Campaign at Texas A&M, which establishes endowed faculty fellowships, an endowed graduate fellowship, and an endowed excellence fund to support finance faculty research, all at Mays.

In addition to their support of the business school, the Floreses have also generously supported the Association of Former Students, the 12th Man Foundation, the Corps of Cadets, and the College of Education and Human Development. They have endowed several scholarships and contributed to the “Pillars of A&M” campaign, providing funds for the construction of the Hagler Center.

Categories: Donors Corner

The end is near, says Ken Lewis, chairman and CEO of Bank of America. No, not the end of the world—the end of the U.S. recession. Last week, Lewis shared insights on the economy from his unique perspective as leader of the largest bank in the nation with students at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School.

Bank of America chairman and CEO Ken Lewis hosted a Q&A session with Mays MBA students (seen here), as well as a meeting with a group of Business Honors students.
Bank of America chairman and CEO Ken Lewis hosted a Q&A session with Mays MBA students (seen here), as well as a meeting with a group of Business Honors students.

Lewis was on campus filming an interview with CNBC’s Squawk Box program, after which he made two appearances at Mays Business School, meeting with a group of Business Honors undergraduates and hosting a Q&A session with MBA students.

During his television interview, Lewis commented that he believes the U.S. economy is headed for a turnaround by the end of this year. “You can’t throw as many things as we’re throwing at [the financial crisis] and not break the back of this thing,” he said, mentioning that the beneficial refinancing options available are enabling many Americans with loans to have more money in their pockets each month. Lewis reported that BofA is seeing an unprecedented number of loan refinancing applications currently, totaling $5 billion per day.

Despite the turmoil in the banking industry, Lewis reported that his bank is still doing well and making a profit, albeit a smaller one than in years past. Last year, BofA made $4 billion after taxes. When compared to the many banks that closed their doors in 2008, that is a significant number. He predicts that in two years, BofA will be extremely profitable once again.

Lewis was asked about the $45 billion in TARP money that his bank has taken on, which he believes was more than what they needed to weather the storm. Bank of America is committed to repaying the loan as quickly as is responsible, says Lewis, reporting that they just made the first $400 million payment a few weeks ago. He doesn’t regret having used a portion of the TARP funds to purchase Merrill Lynch in January 2009, though many have criticized this action. The acquisition of Merrill Lynch and mortgage lender Countrywide Financial “will prove to be two of the best acquisitions we’ve ever made, if you judge us over two or three years rather than two or three months,” said Lewis.

Earlier in the morning, Lewis was interviewed on CNBC's Squawk Box by co-anchor Becky Quick at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
Earlier in the morning, Lewis was interviewed on CNBC’s Squawk Box by co-anchor Becky Quick at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

Is the U.S. government doing the right thing to bring us out of the recession, students asked. “We could argue about components of the stimulus program,” said Lewis, but basically he does agree with the government’s response, saying that a more laissez faire approach would not have worked in this situation, but rather would have led to more unemployment and a downward spiral of despair.

Students quizzed Lewis about executive compensation, asking how a bank can retain its top people if the government prevents the bank from paying a competitive salary. Lewis acknowledged how difficult it will be to retain top talent when compensation is capped at American-owned banks, but not at foreign-owned banks in the U.S. such as UBS. However, he does believe that the compensation system needs to be restructured, with an increase in base salaries and a decrease in bonus pay so that there is less incentive for executives to engage in risky practices in the hopes of reaping large bonuses.

Lewis has held the position of chairman and CEO at BofA since 2001. He joined the company in 1969 (at that time NationsBank), and has served as the head of both international and domestic operations during his years with the organization. He is widely respected in his field and has been recognized twice by US Banker as Banker of the Year. In 2007, Lewis was listed among Time Magazine‘s “Most Influential People.”

About Mays Business School

Mays Business School currently enrolls more than 4,000 undergraduate students and 875 graduate students. The full-time MBA program is highly selective, with an acceptance rate of 26 percent. Currently there are 159 MBA students in their intensive 16-month program.

(Some information taken from CNBC’s transcript for Lewis’s April 2, 2009 appearance on Squawk Box, found at http://www.cnbc.com/id/30011937.)

Categories: Executive Speakers

Demonstrating quick thinking and superior presentation skills, a team of MBA students from Mays Business School at Texas A&M University won second place in the regional Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Institute’s Investment Research Challenge (IRC) in March. The event, held in New York City, pitted Mays students against 15 competing teams from some of the world’s top MBA programs, including Boston University, Marquette University, and several schools from Canada and Brazil.

The Mays MBAs were highly competitive, falling behind the first place Brazilian team by less than one point.

Mays MBA students (left to right) Justin Zsiros '10, Charlene Chang '09, Phillip Wirtz '10 and Karn Nopany '10 recently placed second in the regional Chartered Financial Analyst Institute's Global Investment Research Challenge.
Mays MBA students (left to right) Justin Zsiros ’10, Charlene Chang ’09, Phillip Wirtz ’10 and Karn Nopany ’10 recently placed second in the regional Chartered Financial Analyst Institute’s Global Investment Research Challenge.

Competitions such as the IRC give MBA students an opportunity to test their skills and knowledge in a realistic setting and are an important component of the students’ professional development. “The Mays IRC team competed with the best and brightest in the Western Hemisphere and proved that they have mastered important analytical and communication skills through their superb performance in this competition. They have brought great credit to themselves and the Mays MBA program,” said David Blackwell, Mays’ associate dean for graduate programs.

Securing the gold at the local level in February, the team competed against nine teams from institutions such as the University of Texas, Southern Methodist University, Texas Tech University, Texas Christian University, and Rice University.

This is the third year that Mays MBAs have participated in the IRC, which tests students’ valuation skills as each team analyzes the stock value of a publicly traded company then presents their findings to judges. Though Mays has been involved in the challenge in the past, this is the first time that an Aggie team has won first in the local competition or advanced to the next level.

Participation in this event is intense but worthwhile say the A&M students, who were handpicked by a committee of faculty and staff from the Mays MBA program. Selected students Charlene Chang ’09, Justin Zsiros ’10, Karn Nopany ’10, and Phillip Wirtz ’10 spent two months completing research for the initial competition. Their time management skills were put to the test as each maintained their studies while preparing. The group members pointed out that the workload involved with this kind of commitment is comparable to taking an extra class.

For their presentation, the Mays team researched Carbo Ceramics, a firm that markets technology to the oil industry. From talking to shareholders to documenting reports on the company’s past performance, the MBA students thoroughly examined every facet of the business. “Many groups settled for the secondary research information, but we made it our goal to learn the industry inside out. Going beyond the basic information and being able to evaluate the firm’s future performance set us apart from the other participants,” said Chang.

A significant factor contributing to the team’s success was the ability to capitalize on their individual talents and apply them to the assignment. “We each have a specific function—from writing to presentation skills, to knowledge about a specific industry,” said Chang.

Wirtz agreed that this played a huge part in the group’s success. “Our award is evidence that when you put a group of people together with different strengths, it is truly amazing what you can accomplish,” he said.

For winning the local competition, Mays team members will have the next level of their CFA exams, an amount nearing $1000 per person, paid for by the Houston chapter, which sponsored the event. At the regional level, each MBA student received a certificate recognizing their performance.

Categories: Students