May, 2009 | Mays Impacts

Screams of joy echoed through the dimly lit, wood-floored building, as the students of Kemp Elementary talked about their plans for summer. “Walking on Sunshine” played faintly in the background as children laughed and students from Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School passed out packages to 450 students in need to culminate the third annual Project Mays event, hosted by the Business Student Council (BSC). Keeping with last year’s objectives, BSC members hoped to give economically disadvantaged children in the Bryan, Texas, community a special treat while teaching Texas A&M students the importance of service to others.

After the success of last year’s Project Mays, which raised more than $15,000 to provide backpacks and school supplies to 601 students at a different school in the Bryan district, the members of BSC felt an even larger pull for service, seeking new ways to reach out to the Bryan/College Station community. Mary Walraven, coordinator for special programs and lead social worker for Bryan ISD, once again served as the primary contact for the project, providing inspiration for this year’s theme, “It’s a Toy Story.” In her initial meetings with BSC members, Walraven shared what she referred to as the golden rule of social work: only three things are needed to stimulate the mind of a child—books, blocks, and balls. Project Mays Committee Chair Kelli Downing ’11, a sophomore accounting major, took Walraven’s words and ran with them, encouraging donations of those three items.

“We wanted to focus our time and energy on one particular place,” said Downing. “Children are the future, and doing whatever we can to give back to the community and help shape their lives is our ultimate goal.” Downing added that the main emphasis of this year’s project is to improve the student’s living standards at home over the summer and provide them with mental stimulation.

Downing began planning for the Project Mays Revelation Day, when BSC members distributed toys to Kemp students, as early as December. Corporate sponsors were recruited at the spring career fair, providing the funds needed to purchase the bulk of the items. PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Chevron Phillips, and Williams Companies donated thousands of dollars for the event along with several individual sponsors whose monetary gifts helped make the purchases possible.

A major part of the ability to carry out such a large project, said Downing, comes from the knowledge gained through a business school education, and the understanding of running a business. “A core value of being an Aggie is service,” Downing explained. “We want to use the skills that we learn at school to not only better ourselves in the classroom or workplace, but to better the community as a whole.”

Categories: Featured Stories, Students

The Securities and Exchange Commission recently named Houston businessman Robert Watson in a securities fraud civil lawsuit. In a May 26 press release from the SEC and in other media coverage, Watson was misidentified as an executive professor of finance at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School. Watson resigned from his position effective April 30, 2009 citing family reasons.

An executive professor is an industry professional that is hired on an adjunct basis to teach a course within their area of expertise. This is different from other “professor” titles, as executive professors usually have no formal training in education, nor are they expected to publish research. Watson held the position of executive professor at Mays from January-April 2009, during which time he taught one course.

Media contact: Pam Wiley, Mays Business School Director of Communications at psw@tamu.edu or (979) 845-0193.

Categories: Texas A&M

Brett Anitra Gilbert, assistant professor of management at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, has been chosen as one of five recipients of the annual Kauffman Junior Faculty Fellowship in Entrepreneurship Research. The fellowship will provide Texas A&M with a grant of $50,000 over two years to support Gilbert’s research activities.

Other recipients of this year’s Kauffman Fellowships hail from Harvard University and UCLA.

Brett A. Gilbert
Gilbert

This prestigious award recognizes tenured or tenure-track junior faculty members at accredited U.S. universities who are beginning to establish a record of scholarship and exhibit the potential to make significant contributions to the body of research in the field of entrepreneurship.

Gilbert’s research focuses on the effect of clustering on innovation. Her research asks whether having a cluster of related business in the same region (e.g. Silicon Valley) advances or hinders innovation. With this new source of funding, Gilbert will examine how clustering impacts new ventures in the area of disruptive technology  (innovations that will eventually replace an older technology completely). Specifically, she plans to look at innovations in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.

“What I’m trying to understand is whether or not clustering helps to encourage or discourage innovation,” said Gilbert. “There’s a lot of literature that shows clusters are very conducive to innovation activity, but then there’s also literature which suggests that clusters tend to create group think and can be discouraging of new thought…This could actually prohibit any new technological paradigms from being created within a cluster.”

Gilbert says that the Kauffman funds will accelerate her research as she compares regions where hydrogen and fuel cells are and are not being developed and analyzes the differences between the two types of regions. The additional funding will allow her to travel domestically and internationally to interview entrepreneurs in this field and to learn how clustering is impacting their ability to bring these new products to the marketplace. It will also help her understand the general challenges these entrepreneurs are facing in commercializing hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, and how they are circumventing those challenges.

The Kauffman Foundation has ties to the political arena and Gilbert says this research could one day have an influence on public policy. “I hope that this research will inform various government agencies as to what needs to be in place for these truly new technological paradigms to emerge,” she said. She also hopes that her work will advance hydrogen and fuel cell innovations and other green technologies, which she sees as important technologies with an unfortunate “liberal” stigma.

“I want to help eliminate some of the barriers so that these technologies can be brought to the marketplace,” Gilbert said.

Fellow Mays faculty member Duane Ireland nominated Gilbert for this award. “I was honored to nominate Brett for this prestigious fellowship,” Ireland said. “The research she is conducting in the entrepreneurship domain is truly significant. In this sense, she is examining questions with the potential to meaningfully inform both future academic scholarship as well as entrepreneurial practices. I am extremely pleased to learn that Brett’s work and talent are being appropriately recognized.”

According to the Kauffman website, the fellows program will help to launch world-class scholars into a young and exciting field of research, thus laying a foundation for future scientific advancement. The findings generated by this effort will be translated into knowledge with immediate application for policymakers, educators, service providers, and entrepreneurs as well as high-quality academic research.

Gilbert holds a PhD in entrepreneurship from Indiana University. Before joining the faculty at Texas A&M in 2007, she taught entrepreneurship courses at Georgia State University for three years.

About the Kauffman Foundation

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private nonpartisan foundation that works to harness the power of entrepreneurship and innovation to grow economies and improve human welfare. Through its research and other initiatives, the Kauffman Foundation aims to open young people’s eyes to the possibility of entrepreneurship, promote entrepreneurship education, raise awareness of entrepreneurship-friendly policies, and find alternative pathways for the commercialization of new knowledge and technologies. It also works to prepare students to be innovators, entrepreneurs and skilled workers in the 21st century economy through initiatives designed to improve learning in math, engineering, science and technology. Founded by late entrepreneur and philanthropist Ewing Marion Kauffman, the Foundation is based in Kansas City, Mo. and has approximately $2 billion in assets.

Categories: Faculty

Andrew Spencer Welch of Round Rock, Texas, was one of three graduates singled out for special honor at Texas A&M University’s spring commencement. Welch was presented with the Robert Gates-Muller Family Outstanding Student Award, which recognizes an outstanding graduating senior at A&M who has demonstrated those qualities of leadership, patriotism and courage exemplified by Dr. Robert M. Gates, former president of the university and current U.S. Secretary of Defense. The award included a $5,000 gift.

Welch graduated with a bachelor’s in accounting and a master’s in financial management from Mays Business School at Texas A&M.

In presenting the Gates-Muller Award, Texas A&M President Elsa Murano described Welch as someone who strives for excellence in everything he does.

“Mr. Welch not only completed the requirements for one of his courses, but he also turned in every optional assignment for that course. He is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master of science degree in financial management. In both areas, he maintained a perfect 4.0 grade point ratio,” she added.

One nominator wrote that for others, the victory is in the grade, the job or the salary, but for Welch, relationships are the important thing. While others have celebrated their triumphs, he has used his to make Texas A&M a better place.

Outside the classroom, Welch helped another student establish a leadership program for business students called Horizons and served as a mentor to other students, Murano said, adding that he also has been active in numerous Mays Business School organizations and served as a coordinator for a mentoring program for local elementary school students.

The Robert Gates-Muller Family Outstanding Student Award was established through a gift from the Muller Family of Galveston.

Categories: Students, Texas A&M

Each spring, Texans polish their boots and starch their Wranglers in preparation for entertainment befitting the Lone Star State. Grossing more than $85 million in revenue per year, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo isn’t merely carnivals, country stars, and cowboys. It’s a well-oiled business strategically managed to ensure top-notch entertainment each year, thanks to CEO and president Skip Wagner. Recently, Wagner spoke to students at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, explaining the corporate side of rodeo and the challenges that come with running the 23-day event.


“Don’t worry about the end,” HLSR president and CEO Skip Wagner advised Mays students during a recent visit. “You never know how you’ll get to where you’ll end up, so you have to keep your eyes open.”

“To be a successful manager, you have to run the show like a business, and research, reflect, and revitalize continually,” Wagner said. He commented on challenges such as costly facility rental for the event and animal welfare issues, as well as the recession’s impact on the entertainment industry. “It never gets boring,” he says.

When Wagner graduated from Oklahoma State University in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, he had no idea where his career path would lead. He took a job with Conoco Phillips after college, where he worked for two years before deciding to return to school. In 1986, Wagner earned his MBA from Harvard University and spent the next four years as a consultant. Wagner took a break from the industry to pursue a software start-up venture, but decided to return to consulting when offered a position with McKinsey and Co., where he took on the Houston Rodeo as a client. Wagner saw the opportunity for significant improvement within the organization and decided to join it full time as a manager in 1992.

Wagner wanted to take the event to a new level of financial performance, increasing its management professionalism without losing the character that had made it so famous. Wagner achieved this goal, making the organization more effective and dramatically increasing revenue. In 2000, he took his restructuring expertise to Oklahoma, where he ran and redesigned their state fair, helping it return to its once profitable standards.

“Leaving Houston was a tremendous experience for me,” Wagner said. “I became much more convicted in my management style and research interest, and had intensive on the job training. Moving so much as a young professional helped me learn and grow through every experience.”

His former colleagues who remained in Houston saw Wagner transform the Oklahoma State Fair into a profitable business, and quickly asked him to return as president and CEO of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in 2004.

During the lecture, Wagner emphasized one of the real perks of running a non-profit business is getting to have a major impact on the community. This year alone, the organization will give away $16 million in scholarships and other charitable donations. He offered several pieces of career advice to his student audience, including the importance of relaxing and taking things one day at a time. “Don’t worry about the end,” Wagner said. “You never know how you’ll get to where you’ll end up, so you have to keep your eyes open.” He also expressed the importance of loving what you do, being satisfied with where you are, and maintaining balance through faith, family and recreation.

Categories: Executive Speakers

Is that new BMW a needless expense or a smart investment? For a hyperopic shopper (one who is more than usually adverse to luxury spending), it’s an important question: The way a marketer frames a luxury item is the key to making a sale to a hyperopic shopper, says new research from Kelly Haws, assistant professor of marketing at Mays. Hyperopic shoppers are more interested in long-term goals than instant gratification, so to reach this demographic, a retailer must make luxury products more appealing by trumpeting the value of higher-cost items.

According to Mays marketing professor Kelly Haws, hyperopic shoppers are willing to sacrifice short-term pleasure or profit for perceived long-term benefits.
According to Mays marketing professor Kelly Haws, hyperopic shoppers are willing to sacrifice short-term pleasure or profit for perceived long-term benefits.

The value touted may be long-term cost savings, such as a high-end appliance that will be more reliable over the years than the cheaper competition, or it may be less tangible, like generosity. A marketer could make the pitch that buying their higher priced item to share with others makes the shopper seem less like a miser and more like a benefactor, thus appealing to the shopper’s long-term aspiration to be altruistic.

This research is especially pertinent in light of today’s economic turmoil, as luxury marketers have struggled along with other retailers to stay profitable amid lessening demand. Haws says marketers of any product that can be viewed as indulgent or pleasurable should evaluate their pitch to emphasize long-term value, reminding shoppers to not merely spend well, but live well.

Hyperopic shoppers are “excessively farsighted” when it comes to their financial goals, says Haws. That means they consistently sacrifice short-term pleasure or profit for perceived long-term benefits. It’s a complicated label, as Haws says a person can be hyperopic about one area of budgeting but not another. Her example: a collector, who’s willing to spend hundreds on a sought-after item, but who refuses to take a vacation because he doesn’t think he can afford it.

Another finding from Haws’ research is that luxury is in the eye of the purse-holder. To some consumers, name-brand cereal is considered a wanton expense, while others view fine jewelry in that category. Understanding hyperopia and perceptions about luxury can help marketers reach tough customers, says Haws.

The economy is shifting buyer perceptions about luxury, as smaller items (such as gourmet coffee) seem more luxurious when cutbacks on spending are being made in other areas. An effective message from marketers Haws says she’s seeing is, “You can’t afford everything, but buying this small item can enhance your life.”

It’s important to recognize hyperopia is different from simply being a tightwad, as hyperopics are aware that a change in their spending habits could be beneficial or would help them to enjoy life more. Haws notes that others’ research on the topic has shown that tightwads outnumber spendthrifts three to two in the U.S.

While the exact percentage of hyperopic shoppers is unknown, Haws believes that its safe to infer from the tightwad and spendthrift study that it is a fairly significant segment of the population.

Haws conducted this research with Cait Poynor, assistant professor of marketing at Katz Graduate School of Business, University of Pittsburgh.

For more information

Haws, Kelly and Cait Poynor. “Seize the day! Encouraging indulgence for the hyperopic consumer.” Journal of Consumer Research December 2008, Vol 35.

Categories: Faculty, Research Notes

What an amazing network of supporters we have. I must share with you I’ve been overwhelmed by a number of large gifts that have recently been committed toward perpetuating our outstanding faculty, students, programs, and facilities. From looking at our balance sheet, you’d never know that our country’s economy is still struggling. Indeed, the future of Mays Business School looks very bright.

  • A new gift from Peggy and Lowry Mays, our school namesakes, provides $7.5 million to endow and provide matching funds for faculty chairs and eminent scholar chairs. When matching funds are realized from other donors, the total impact of this gift will reach $12 million. Great faculty are the backbone of a superior education. The Mays gift will help us recruit the best minds in business education to lead in our classrooms. They, in turn, help us recruit the best and brightest students. We are thankful to Peggy and Lowry, whose continued involvement at the school bearing their name will help us build for the future.
  • Two anonymous donors have bequeathed estate gifts that will total $12 million when realized. Three million of these funds will be unrestricted in use with $9 million designated for scholarships. It is impossible for me to state fully the impact these gifts will have for our students. The generous benefactors behind these gifts don’t want to be recognized or singled out for praise. All they want is to translate their good fortune into something meaningful for the school that they love—and they have done so resoundingly. Their generosity will be a great blessing to Mays Business School for many years to come.
  • Other significant commitments during this time include a more than $2.5 million bequest from Kathie and Scott Amann ’78, a $1.2 million bequest from Toni and Ralph Wallingford ’53, and a $1 million bequest from Julia and T. Britton Harris IV ’80. Additionally, Mrs. Elizabeth Whatley, wife of James Whatley ’47 (a long-time supporter of Mays Business School) provided a gift of $1 million for an endowed faculty chair in honor of her husband.

Thank you for your interest in and support of Mays Business School. It’s former students and dedicated business people like you that enhance our ability to make a difference in the lives of our students.

Categories: Deanspeak

When he began waiting tables as a part-time job to get him through school, Creed Ford ’75 never dreamed of the successful restaurant empire that he would one day lead. Today, he is the CEO for Carino’s Restaurants. He and his wife and partner, Lynn, have brought casual dining to Texas cities like Bryan-College Station with restaurants such as Carino’s, Rudy’s, and Chili’s, which had previously been seen only in larger metro areas.

Business acumen and work ethic propelled Ford to success in the restaurant industry, but it’s passion that has kept his career from mediocrity, he says. It’s that same passion that keeps the American dream of free enterprise strong, even in tough economic times. With businesses closing their doors daily, it’s hard to believe that this shaky economy could be the perfect environment for starting a business, but that’s just what the experts are saying.

According to Richard Lester, clinical associate professor and executive director of the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship (CNVE) at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, the shifting economic environment means the timing couldn’t be better for a new venture. “The economic environment is in such a tremendous upheaval that uncertainty is created in consumers’ minds,” said Lester. “The uncertainty decreases their brand loyalty, and when customers are willing to give their loyalty to someone else, holes are created for entrepreneurs to go in and take market share away from larger, more established companies.”

Grabbing customers, building a business

Consider that when a company’s finances are shaky, the focus shifts to reducing costs and customer service often takes a backseat. When this happens, entrepreneurs can come in and “grab” customers who are being moderately or poorly served as an effect of the cost market, and still be successful.


“When customers are willing to give their loyalty to someone else,” explains Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship executive director and clinical associate professor Richard Lester, “holes are created for entrepreneurs to go in and take market share away from larger, more established companies.”

Lester added that these holes give entrepreneurs the chance to move into a niche market and fulfill a need for a specific good or service that may have been missing or unsuccessful until their business arrived. “When unemployment exists, an entrepreneur sees training opportunities in the increased amount of human capital available. The economy is in such a state of flux that small, nimble, flexible entrepreneurs are best positioned to come in and take advantage of those opportunities,” Lester explained.

Lester encourages prospective entrepreneurs to take advantage of available resources. Aside from the entrepreneurship class that Lester teaches at Mays, the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship recently offered a group of evening classes, Start-up 101, to give potential business owners an edge when entering the marketplace. The classes walked would-be entrepreneurs from the A&M campus and community through making an idea a business, with lectures from successful business owners like Ford, as well as Mays faculty members.

It takes more than passion and opportunity to make a business grow. Lester says perhaps the most important part of creating a business is to develop a sound business plan. “Research shows that you’re more likely to be successful if you have a well thought-out business plan,” he said. “It forces you to think about all aspects of the business – how it will be structured, current and future financing, and its ability to survive if only 50 percent of projected sales are reached.” A stable financial projection is crucial, considering one of the reasons many companies fail is because they simply run out of cash. Lester recommends laying out a best, worst, and most-likely case financial scenario to help ensure survival. He added that the business plan is beneficial for determining the network of personal relationships necessary for building a strong business.

“The hard truth is that trying to find a spot in the marketplace is usually short-lived and fraught with peril; this is the reason many start-ups don’t make it,” he said. So, it is of utmost importance to talk to as many professionals as possible to obtain advice when developing a business plan.

Living the dream

Following Lester’s advice, two former Mays MBA students are on their way to successful business ownership. Ohad Nezer, who took Lester’s entrepreneurship class, had always had a passion for the Internet and any corporate opportunities that could come from it. Nezer examined the industry, seeing the lucrative potential of an independent business endeavor. There was a challenge though: Nezer lacked the technical skills to launch such a business. During a study break in the Ag Cafe on the Texas A&M campus, Nezer and classmate Chris Nicolaysen developed the plans for seatkarma.com, their own version of Stubhub or Ticketmaster. Nicolaysen had the technical skills to bring Nezer’s plans to fruition, having years of experience in technical knowledge management.

Seatkarma.com, founded by a pair of former Mays MBA students, is one example of a start-up business that is fairing well despite the current recession.
Seatkarma.com, founded by a pair of former Mays MBA students, is one example of a start-up business that is fairing well despite the current recession.

Nezer and Nicolaysen didn’t rush into things. They began by discussing the functionality of the website and determined their ultimate goal. Then, they chose a name for their business that would develop a brand distinct from their competitors. “We wanted to make sure that we brought value to consumers and ticket buyers, and not put something out there that could be easily duplicated or was already available,” said Nezer. The partners conducted a competitive analysis to see what similar ticketing sites were doing, later brainstorming ideas on how to improve on the competition’s operations.

The entrepreneurs expressed the many challenges that come with building a business from the ground up, warning that for them, the two biggest obstacles were time and money. “You’re getting into a territory where people have knowledge that you don’t have yet because of their experience in the industry,” said Nicolaysen. “It’s important to enter into this very methodically.” Both full-time students at the company’s inception, Nezer and Nicolaysen faced the challenge of finding people to help develop Seatkarma’s technology, as well as the money to pay for everything, while staying on top of their studies.

Despite the time and energy it cost them, the entrepreneurs are certain that their sacrifices were worth it. “It has always been my dream to start a business,” said Nezer. “When you talk about dreams, you don’t always use common sense. You just go ahead and do it.” He added that in today’s economy, it can be very difficult to find a job, so following a business dream makes sense.

Seatkarma.com is faring well, despite the shaky economy. Nezer and Nicolaysen explained that when times are tough, people tend to decrease travel, but still want entertainment. “Entertainment is a release for people, so it would be reasonable to think that our demand would increase right now, even in a recession,” said Nicolaysen.

In March, the business was boosted by mentions in two major technology blogs, Techcrunch.com and lifehacker.com, introducing the company to the public.

The Ultimate Goal

These entrepreneurs are focused on more than profits. Nicolaysen emphasized that when looking to fulfill a business dream, he and Nezer wanted to feel good about what they were doing. This desire led them to add a philanthropic spin to the company, which now donates a portion of all profits to charity. “This became a driving force behind the website,” said Nicolaysen. “We are seeing what we can do to not only help ourselves, but also to make a contribution back to society.” He encourages all entrepreneurs to consider this when thinking about their reasons for going into business.

Like Ford and Lester, these young entrepreneurs expressed the necessity of passion when starting up a business. “Eventually, being a successful business owner can lead to a lot of freedom that isn’t there when you’re working for someone else. That’s the ultimate goal – “but until then the passion for what we do keeps it fun. It doesn’t even feel like I’m working,” Nicolaysen added. Lester agrees, stating that building a business isn’t something you are pushed into, but rather, pulled.

Categories: Centers, Featured Stories, Former Students

Two people examine a store window display featuring hot pink sling backs by Manolo Blahnik, a bejeweled clutch by Prada, and a floral print silk scarf by Armani. On the right stands the shopper. To her eye, it’s an inviting collection, suggesting a special night on the town or everyday elegance ala Carrie Bradshaw. On the left, a buyer for a major department store. His eye is more critical as he considers the price points for the items, selling trends for similar pieces at other stores, and how the recession will influence shoppers’ habits on such non-essential items.

For those in the luxury retail business, the day-to-day demands of the job are far from luxurious. From analyzing sales spreadsheets to weighing store assortment needs against budgets, it’s a challenging position with fierce competition, requiring much more than a simple passion for the product. For students that aspire to join the ranks of professionals building luxury brands like Lexus and Gucci, an education from the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School is a great place to start. Mays graduates are working in a number of capacities, from buyers to analysts for retailers and brands such as, Macy’s, Nordstrom, and BCBG. Their insider perspective on the world of luxury is not what you might expect.

A day in the life

Though Jennifer Pressley ’04 deals daily with millions of dollars worth of diamonds and other precious gems, she’s strikingly down to earth about her position as a direct inventory analyst in JCPenney’s fine jewelry department. “The product doesn’t matter. No matter what you’re selling, it’s all about sales versus inventory,” she says. Pressley is one of three analysts charged with evaluating key elements of the business, such as pricing, assortment, and placement. Her recommendations impact offerings in JCPenney’s almost 1,100 stores nationwide.

Beyond examining sales from previous quarters, Pressley also keeps a close eye on the news and pop culture trends. “It’s a dynamic environment. You’re always preparing for the next thing,” she says. Since planning starts three to six months in advance of when an item hits store shelves, Pressley says it can be tricky to predict what’s going to be popular—and more importantly right now, what the economy will look like down the road and how that will impact sales.

Jamie Pyles ’08, an assistant buyer for jewelry in Macy’s central division stores (Midwest and Southern stores in eight states), agrees with Pressley. “It’s not as glamorous as it seems…the majority of the job is numbers,” she says, noting that 99 percent of her job involves sitting at her desk and managing Excel spreadsheets. “I have six or seven spreadsheets open within ten minutes of being in my office everyday,” she says. All that data is used to make projections about what will sell and for how much. Though not always exciting, Pyles says the work is important, as she tracks sales numbers to help determine promotional prices, weighing those prices against the budget to see if the chain can afford a promotion.

When she’s not pouring over the figures, Pyles says that she’s talking to vendors and regional merchandise managers, making sure that shipments are on time and contain what they are supposed to. If she has a moment of spare time, she does research, looking at celebrity fashion trends in publications like People Style Watch.

Pyles and Pressley both gave the same example of how public figures directly impact store assortment: Michelle Obama’s gumball-sized faux pearls.  Both said that sales of pearls are up since the first-lady began wearing them, and that vendors have rushed to respond, adding more and larger pearl jewelry to their collections.

Learning the ropes

An internship with Dolce & Gabbana in New York City—what could be more glamorous? That’s what Kyla Phung ’10 thought when she was offered the job last summer, but she quickly discovered that the life of an intern is far from sensational, and that even in high fashion, success is about working long and hard, not about looking fabulous.

While in New York, Phung learned all of the details involved in marketing the ritzy D&G wares, from coordinating trunk shows, to analyzing sales tracking data, to visiting stores and talking to managers on the selling floor. And yes, there were always models around and she admits to “playing with clothes a lot,” but really, it was your typical office environment, she says. Less The Devil Wears Prada and more Office Space. Much of her job involved creating PowerPoint presentations about new products for use in training store salespeople.

Lest you think luxury retail is only for women, meet Taylor Garrett ’09, who will soon graduate with a certificate in retail along with his Mays marketing degree. Defying the feminine retail stereotype, he wears an A&M power-lifting shirt and sports some ink on his massive bicep. “There’s a misconception about what retail involves,” he said. Retail isn’t about standing behind the counter at a store in the mall and luxury isn’t a woman’s market, he says. The luxury business also about guys washing cars and getting dirty in a service shop. That’s what he discovered last summer in a 12-week internship program with Sewell Automotive, the Texas-based purveyor of high-end car brands such as Cadillac, Hummer, and Infiniti. He experienced a full rotation through a dealership in Fort Worth, from oil changes to sales. “The experience helped me to understand how everything in a business is tied together,” he said.

Garrett says that when you’re selling $60,000 cars, developing a relationship with the customer is key. Sending birthday cards and taking time to visit with former customers over a cup of coffee while their car is being washed at the dealership for free is all part of keeping the customer for life.  “You want them to feel important,” he said.

And because there is a scarcity of men entering retail, there are plenty of opportunities, says Garrett, citing the experience he had at the 2008 Retailing Summit, hosted in Dallas by the Center for Retailing Studies. As one of the only male students to attend, he stood out to potential employers, most of whom were interested in adding diversity to their ranks.

Economic concerns

One thing that’s inescapable in today “s retail environment is the impact of the global recession. In the past 12 months, hundreds of stores have gone under and the auto industry is reeling from the steep fall off of American demand for new cars. Still, Garrett says he’s not worried about his job offer from Sewell, which will have him selling cars in the Fort Worth area starting this summer. “The people that can afford to buy these kinds of cars haven’t been hurt that badly by the economy,” he says.

It was a different story from Pyles and Pressley, both of whom noted that sales in their departments have slowed significantly. “Jewelry isn’t a need…it’s probably one of the first things people stop buying,” said Pressley. “We’ve had to become more price sensitive.” JCPenney is responding by offering more silver jewelry, as the price of gold has gone up, as well as bigger sales events. Pressley says they’re also more focused on more efficient inventory to sales ratios, as overstock means lost revenues. Despite that, she says she’s confident that her company and division will come through the recession well.

Pyles’ knowledge of the recession’s impact is more intimate: it’s cost her her job. Macy’s is streamlining its operation, so that instead of four regional purchasing offices, there will be only one (in New York City) for the nation. Her job in the Atlanta office ended shortly after she was interviewed for this article. Pyles says it’s a smart move for the company and believes it will be a huge cost savings for them, even though it’s painful in the short term.

Pyles will soon start a new position as a buyer for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. Though it’s not in retail, Pyles says the jobs are similar in many ways. “It will still be in supply chain and procurement function of business, just in a much different industry.”

Phung says that last summer as the recession was becoming apparent, Dolce & Gabbana’s pricing reflected an attitude of disregard for the economy. She noted that today, even this luxury Italian brand is making concessions as consumer habits shift. “Because $6,000 for a plain dress? No body is going to buy that, especially now,” she says. Though it may not be glamorous, even in the world of high fashion, the bottom line is more important than a well designed hem line.

Categories: Centers, Featured Stories, Former Students

The following is a commencement address given by T.J. Barlow Professor of Management Asghar Zardkoohi to the 2009 graduating class of Mays EMBAs on May 2 in The Woodlands, Texas.

A long time ago, actually exactly 32 years ago this month, there was an announcement that Milton Friedman, the well-known economist (a Nobel Laureate in economics and my hero) was going to deliver the commencement talk at my school. I was graduating that year after six years of hard graduate work. On the way to the commencement ceremonies, while holding on to my graduation cap for the fear of losing it to the wind, I ran into one of my favorite professors, Charlie Goetz. I remember asking Professor Goetz two questions: the first was about his speculation of what Professor Friedman was going to talk about at the ceremonies, and the second was about my confusion between the terms “graduation” and “commencement,” as I had never spent any time thinking about the distinction. I knew one thing, I was graduating, and that was the ending of graduate school, not beginning.

T.J. Barlow Professor of Management Asghar Zardkoohi (at left, with 2009 EMBA graduate Kenneth Mercado) was selected by the students of the graduating class as the recipient of the 2009 Executive MBA Program Teaching Excellence Award.
T.J. Barlow Professor of Management Asghar Zardkoohi (at left, with 2009 EMBA graduate Kenneth Mercado) was selected by the students of the graduating class as the recipient of the 2009 Executive MBA Program Teaching Excellence Award.

On the first question, we both had the wrong guess: we thought Professor Friedman was going to talk about stagflation, as the economy then was suffering from stagnation (that is a heavy dose of recession) and inflation simultaneously. Instead, Professor Friedman talked about the torch of knowledge and how WE, the graduates, had the responsibility to advance the torch (like in a relay race) and pass it on to the next generation.

On the second question about my confusion between graduation and commencement, Professor Goetz told me, and I paraphrase: “commencement is the more appropriate of the two terms. What you think you have learned so far in the graduate school is HOW to go about learning and HOW to go about thinking; what questions to ask, and how to go about analyzing information. The real learning starts now, when you are on your own.” I sort of felt let down. I never told my children this story, for the fear that they would be discouraged to start college.

I actually didn’t need to keep the information from them, as my eldest son heard the same idea first hand from someone else. It was 2001 when my eldest son was choosing between two medical schools. One of them was Johns Hopkins. The prospective students who had already been accepted into the school were invited to visit the school to make up their mind whether this is where they would be spending the next four years of their lives. Some parents were with their son or daughter at the orientation; I was with my son. As part of the orientation, participants were invited to hear one of the well-known medical professors. In his remarks the professor said, and I paraphrase, “Half of what we will teach you will be proven to be irrelevant information within the next 10 years, and you’ll forget the remaining half within the next five years or so.”

He continued by adding, “and you should be happy about what happens to each half.” The professor stopped talking, and there was a big silence in the room. I believe the professor’s silence was intentional to make sure everybody got the point. Very quietly my son asked me, “What is he talking about?”

After 32 years of practice as an academician, I believe my professor, Charlie Goetz, and my son’s professor of medicine were right. Learning continues and knowledge evolves: the procedure that works today becomes obsolete as it is replaced by a safer and more effective procedure. The knowledge that is applied today will be supplanted by new knowledge that is superior. The organizational structure that works today becomes obsolete as a new and superior structure will be discovered that will prove to be more efficient.

I hope that what you have learned during the last two years is how to look at things, what questions to ask, how to go about thinking about organizational, economic, and social phenomena and to always, always question the status quo. Try to find a better way of doing things, as the ideas we have taught you may soon become irrelevant, and new ideas that are superior will replace them. As Professor Friedman said 32 years ago at my commencement ceremonies, “like a runner in a relay race, YOU with the advanced knowledge have the responsibility to advance it further and pass it on.”

The future relies on you and those you’ll teach to find alternatives that work better than the ones learned in our classes. There is no graduation from learning and innovating; there is only commencement.

Congratulations for this commencement.

Categories: Perspectives