It all started with a turtle.

Michael Holthouse‘s daughter, Lissa, then 10 years old, wanted a pet turtle, but her parents refused to buy her one. So, as you might expect from the child of a highly successful entrepreneur, Lissa decided to start a lemonade stand so that she could make the money to buy her own turtle.

(L to R) CNVE executive director Richard Lester, 2010 Conn Family Entrepreneurial Leadership Award honoree Michael Holthouse, and Mays Business School dean Jerry Strawser

(L to R) CNVE executive director Richard Lester, 2010 Conn Family Entrepreneurial Leadership Award honoree Michael Holthouse, and Mays Business School dean Jerry Strawser (view more photos)

Holthouse helped his daughter with the project, and in the process, discovered a rich opportunity for valuable lessons about business.

“It was fascinating,” he said, recalling their impromptu discussions about location, marketing, capital expenditures, and profit. His daughter was excited about making money to work toward her goal, and therefore enthusiastically internalized the business lessons. The day was so rewarding for Holthouse, it spurred him to action. “It really got me thinking. What if we could create this kind of experience for a million youth across America?”

Four years later, Holthouse is making that dream a reality through Lemonade Day, a nationwide event that teaches thousands of kids the steps to successful entrepreneurship through lemonade stands.

Holthouse recently visited Mays to accept the Conn Family Entrepreneurial Leadership Award presented by the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship (CNVE). He spoke with students about what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur—at any age.

“A life-changing event”

Holthouse’s career in IT culminated in selling his computer networking company, Paranet Inc, for what he termed “an obscene amount” to Sprint in 1997. “I worked really hard, served a lot of customers, and…achieved what I think most people believe is the American Dream,” he said. Rather than start another company, Holthouse decided to use his business savvy to serve others: He started the Holthouse Foundation for Kids, which provides grants for organizations that serve at-risk youth. “I’ve always had a passion for serving youth,” he said, commenting that there are many kids in Houston, where he resides, that are highly capable intellectually, but who may never succeed due to lack of opportunities or role models.

Holthouse thanks the staff manning a Lemonade Day stand set up outside the Wehner Building. His non-profit organization, Prepared 4 Life, operates the Lemonade Day project to teach kids about business ownership through experience.
Holthouse thanks the staff manning a Lemonade Day stand set up outside the Wehner Building. His non-profit organization, Prepared 4 Life, operates the Lemonade Day project to teach kids about business ownership through experience. (view more photos)

After his encounter with his daughter and the lemonade stand, he launched the non-profit Prepared 4 Life, which teaches kids about business ownership through experience. “This is a life changing event for so many kids,” he says, as for many participants it can be an introduction to personal and professional success.

“So many youth in America have never been told that there is a step-by-step process that you can actually follow, and, if you dare to dream a little, and you’re willing to put in the work, you can achieve anything in the world you want to achieve,” says Holthouse. The Lemonade Day program involves a month of preparation that teaches kids those steps toward running a successful business: goal setting; business plan creation; finding an investor and securing funding; advertising; purchasing; accounting; operations; and after profit is realized, spending, saving and giving back. Holthouse stresses the importance of philanthropy to every participant, as each is encouraged to donate a portion of their proceeds to their favorite charity.

In 2009, kids in Houston operated over 27,000 stands on Lemonade Day, resulting in the sale of 2.2 million glasses of lemonade at the average price of $1.14.To highlight giving back Holthouse noted the Houston kids donated more than $500,000 of their day’s profits to charitable causes. “This is real money…It’s an impressive thing,” he says, noting that the process they go through is as applicable to becoming successful at anything as it is to becoming a lemonade vendor.

Holthouse’s goal is to reach a million kids in 100 cities by 2014 with this program. They currently have 12 locations, including four in Texas, and hundreds of thousands of participants. “Can you imagine what that would mean for the economy if every year, we created a million new youth entrepreneurs?”

Advice for entrepreneurs: Focus on your EQ

Business success has a little to do with your IQ, Holthouse told Mays students, and a lot to do with your EQ, your emotional quotient—those soft skills like communication, teamwork, and professionalism that are essential in the workplace. He encouraged students to do more than study while in college: join organizations, take on leadership roles, volunteer, network. When you are looking for a job or starting your own business, the skills you learn outside the classroom, such as ethics and self-discipline, will greatly outweigh the textbook knowledge you’ve acquired, he says.

Holthouse encouraged students to find which products and services are going to be in demand tomorrow and start working to create them today.
Holthouse encouraged students to find which products and services are going to be in demand tomorrow and start working to create them today. (view more photos)

That kind of experiential learning is the key to his Lemonade Day venture, and a needed change to most grade school curriculums. Holthouse commented that in school young people are taught how to read and how to do well on tests, but not how to think or act. It’s emotional intelligence that Holthouse strives to inculcate in the youth he encounters, as he says it isn’t taught at school. Rather, it’s generally the responsibility of parents and families, meaning that an otherwise promising young person may miss out on success due to lack of emotional intelligence stressed in the home.

“There have been lots and lots of studies that say what makes a person successful in life. Interestingly enough, although academics are extremely important, those aren’t the keys that will make you successful in life. It’s your ability to communicate, to get along with others, to work in teams and to lead teams, to have a moral compass that guides what you do, and a vision in your life to become successful.”

A student asked Holthouse, what is the hardest part of being an entrepreneur? Stepping out and taking that first big risk, leaving the security of a corporate job, he says. Also, a major challenge is growth. Each time your company doubles in size, you must reinvent your internal processes, because they likely won’t work anymore. One thing more: an entrepreneur must be a little bit clairvoyant. They must be able to identify which products and services are going to be in demand tomorrow and start working to create them today. Your iPhones will be doorstops in five years, he told students, suggesting that they start to imagine what will replace them.

It’s that emphasis on vision that garnered Holthouse the award from the CNVE. Given in honor of C.W. and Dorothy Conn of Conn’s Appliances, this annual award is presented to a successful business leader that exemplifies entrepreneurial vision as well as managerial insight and business acumen. Past recipients have included L. Lowry Mays of Clear Channel Communications, President of Apex, Inc. Dr. Nancy Chang, Pizza Hut co-founder Frank L. Carney, Administaff co-founder Paul J. Sarvadi, Mustang Engineering founder Paul Redmon, TXU Former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Erle Nye, and Jason’s Deli founder Joe Tortorice.

“C.W. [Conn] was the consummate entrepreneur,” said Richard Lester, clinical associate professor and executive director of the CNVE, mentioning Conn’s achievements, as he became the largest appliance retailer in Texas. In 1999, Conn provided an endowment to Mays to bring renowned entrepreneurs like Holthouse into the classroom. While the primary purpose of the award is to honor a successful entrepreneur, the secondary purpose is to give students an opportunity to interact with and learn from the honoree. “[C.W.] clearly believed in the power of education and of entrepreneurship education.”

Categories: Centers, Executive Speakers

A couple of weeks ago, optimistic Aggies were brimming with confidence about our basketball teams. And then it happened: the men lost 63-61 in overtime. Then the women lost 72-71. Bummer.

It was probably good for me to wait a week to write this column, because the emotions of disappointment tend to warp my perspective of what has happened in an entire process by focusing on the final outcome. I would be lying to say that I was angry after either loss; there was just a nagging sense of an opportunity missed, particularly by the women. I stepped off a plane from Nashville to see the Gonzaga score staring at me from the TV screen. It was late at night, and I still had close to two hours to drive home.

But perhaps the drive allowed me to begin processing what was going on inside. Disappointment arises because we have expectations, and we generally have expectations because we are experiencing success at some level. So disappointment is not just for the perennially downtrodden. It is a fact of life for those doing best among us. It occurs to me that there are three basic steps that I ought to take when I am disappointed.

The first is to listen. My tendency when I am disappointed is to ignore others’ explanations for what happened and to meditate on my grievances against those who disappointed me. I also have no desire to hear from those on the other side. But sometimes there is something to be learned. If you are going to read opposing fans’ blogs, you might want to skip the comments from “aggiehater” or some other aptly named participant. But as hard as it is, read the column recapping the game. Listen to at least a little critical analysis of why your candidate or cause lost an election. Ask your professor what might have gone wrong in your preparation, and then think about what you hear in response.

The second step for me is to be quiet. I sometimes listen to what people have to say, but I am quick to correct their mistaken assumptions about why I fell short of my goal. The tough thing to do is to sit still without squirming and to be willing not to respond. Being right and making clear why others are wrong seems like a fundamental right; just listen to talk radio. But if I am going to speak, it ought to be just to make sure that I understand what the other person is saying. There will be plenty of time to get things fixed if they are wrong.

Finally, I need to lower the temperature, and the best way I have found to do that is to laugh. It is so important for me to laugh on a regular basis, and the most critical time of all to do it is when the bottom is falling out. I have a friend or two with whom I can be almost completely honest. They know me well. They empathize, but they will not lie to me and tell me that I am better than I am. When I explain a disappointing situation to them, it almost always results in self-deprecating humor, with me being able to see my fallibility clearly enough to mock it. And the healing begins when I am able to laugh at myself.

So listen, be quiet, and lower the temperature. A week later you will feel perfectly comfortable saying, “Congratulations, men’s and women’s teams—we are really proud of you!”

Categories: Bottom Line Ethics

On April 7, the Center for Retailing Studies at Mays will host the M.B. Zale Visionary Merchant Lecture Series event, featuring Robert Dean (Bob) Loeffler ’77, former president of H-E-B, as the guest speaker. Following his lecture on leadership, Loeffler will be presented with the 2010 Visionary Merchant award for his role in the grocery chain’s success.

Robert Dean (Bob) Loeffler '77
Loeffler ’77

Loeffler, who holds an MBA from Texas A&M University, joined H-E-B in 1979 as a systems designer in the MIS department. As president of the company, he oversaw its more than 300 stores from January 2003 to December 2009. Currently, he is working part-time as chief administrative officer at H-E-B’s corporate headquarters in San Antonio—a position he will hold for two years before retiring.

The award presentation and lecture are open to the public and will be held in Ray Auditorium (113 Wehner) at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 7.

The Visionary Merchant Lecture will conclude a conference for an invitation-only audience of retailers, the center’s annual Sponsor Forum. Speakers for the one-day event will include Mays faculty members from the Center for Human Resource Management, Department of Marketing, and Texas Real Estate Center. Presentations will touch on issues vital to the rapidly changing landscape of retail, providing a mini-Retailing Summit for the select professionals.

“We are pleased to welcome our many partner companies to campus for the Sponsor Forum and Zale Lecture Series. This year’s events showcase the expertise of our faculty and the success of H-E-B, one of the nation’s most innovative retailers,” says Cheryl Holland Bridges, director of the Center for Retailing Studies. More than 450 students, faculty and guests are expected to attend the April 7 lecture series.

For more information about these events or the Center for Retailing Studies, visit or contact Kelli Hollinger at

About the award recipient, Robert Dean (Bob) Loeffler

Robert Dean Loeffler graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1972 with a BS degree. He then served as an officer on a destroyer, including combat duty in Vietnam. He went on to teach Naval Science courses, such as celestial navigation and piloting, to NROTC classes while earning his MBA from Texas A&M University in 1977.

After a brief period in the oil and gas industry, Loeffler joined H-E-B in 1979 as a systems designer in the MIS department. He held many positions within the department, eventually leading it as vice president of MIS.

In 1990 Bob became the leader of the new, Houston-based Pantry Foods division of H-E-B as vice president and general manager. He attended the advanced management program at Harvard Business School in 1994. Loeffler was promoted to senior vice president/general manager of H-E-B Pantry Foods in 1996, and then to president of the Pantry Foods Division in 1998.

He returned to San Antonio in 1999, serving as president of the Dallas region and Pantry Foods division and as the interim CIO. His next role was heading up the eCommerce department as president. Loeffler then served as EVP/chief work process officer before becoming president of the company in 2003.

Loeffler was chairman of the San Antonio/Bexar County United Way Campaign for 2009, is a member of the board and executive committee of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and a member of the San Antonio USO advisory board.

Categories: Centers, Executive Speakers, Former Students

Mike Thompson ’76 has worked in the energy and technology sectors, in a variety of positions from the bottom rung of the corporate ladder to the CEO spot his own company, and there’s one important lesson he’s learned that he wants today’s Aggie students to know: “Never doubt your education at Mays,” he told students on a recent visit. He’s worked with plenty of colleagues from Ivy League schools and discovered that his education was as good as theirs. In the end, he says, “You’ll be as successful as you want to be…you’re as well prepared as anybody.”

Today, Thompson is a diversified investor and entrepreneur. He is CEO of ITS, an electronics manufacturing services company based in Alpharetta, Georgia. He also serves as chairman and founder of Real Time Manufacturing (RTM), a software company that provides real-time data collection.

Mike Thompson '76, CEO of ITS and chairman of Real Time Manufacturing, recently spoke to Mays undergraduates about the value of their education and his experiences as a small business owner.
Mike Thompson ’76, CEO of ITS and chairman of Real Time Manufacturing, recently spoke to Mays undergraduates about the value of their education and his experiences as a small business owner. (view more photos)

He didn’t start out with an interest in electronics, he told students. When he left A&M in 1976, he began career in oilfield services. “I tasted the good times of the oil boom for about three years,” he said, “then I lived through the oil bust.” For several years, he continued in the industry, and for a while was responsible for the ignominious task of firing many of his coworkers. He earned an MBA from A&M in 1982 and left the oil industry in 1987. Like many others in that field, he went into electronics as personal computers were beginning to gain popularity.

Thompson said his experience in the electronics industry has been filled with change—and he wasn’t talking about technology innovation. Before he became his own boss, he shifted positions repeatedly as frequent mergers and acquisitions dictated. He’s worked in a variety of locations all over North America, for companies such as Comptronix Corporation, K*Tec Electronics, Sanmina Corporation, Avex Electronics, and NL Industries.

When he left K*Tec, he said he spent time evaluating his options. He didn’t strictly have to work, but at 45, he was too young to want to retire. In the past his motivation had been to provide for his wife and two children. That done, he sought a new motivator. Today, he works and invests to create a better world by providing jobs in the U.S. He didn’t intend to stay on at the helm of ITS, however, two years later he says he thoroughly enjoys the work and the employees that make it worthwhile.

As a small business owner, his driving force for success is his people. Thompson has 100 employees, and says he is dedicated to improving their lives by providing a great job and opportunities for growth. It’s a challenging market, as there are many low-cost electronics manufacturers overseas. His ambition is to create an American niche in that market. The growing backlash to off-shoring because of counterfeiting of technology concerns makes it a great time for creating such a niche.

Thompson says he is proud of the fact that ITS doesn’t have any debt, though he admits a major concern for him as a small business owner is the increasing cost of health care, which makes it hard to stay competitive with many overseas companies who have no such expense.

ITS builds some alternative energy products, such as solar panel battery convertors, though their main product currently is wireless security. Their small size enables them to have a toe in other products as well. “Right now we are quoting to build dumbbells for the Wii,” he told students. They are nimble enough to service large corporate clients, as well as smaller local ones interested in repair, logistics, and upgrades.

Thompson’s had a few final gems of business wisdom to share with students:

  • Know your audience.
  • The one thing you can count on is CHANGE.
  • Trust your intuition. If a scenario seems too good to be true, it is.
  • “Only the paranoid survive.” Never relax, always be proactive.
  • Integrity is everything. Your reputation precedes you in business.
  • Success happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Categories: Executive Speakers, Former Students

College students on the brink of graduation have many decisions to make about the future. As they step out into the wide world, one conundrum they might face is which job offer to accept: the one with the higher paycheck, or the one that more closely aligns with their goals?

As the president of EBR Energy LP in Sugar Land, Texas, Mark Ely ’83 what employers are looking for in new hires. He had some advice for Mays students from the other side of the desk, as well as from his past experiences being in their shoes.

EBR Energy LP president Mark Ely '83 writes down characteristics of an ideal employee during a brainstorming session with Mays management students.
EBR Energy LP president Mark Ely ’83 writes down characteristics of an ideal employee during a brainstorming session with Mays management students. (view more photos)

Ely spoke about the importance of having a plan, a flexible plan. He admitted when he left college, he didn’t know what he wanted to do. “It’s a good idea to make a list of things you want to accomplish, and then keep that list in mind when you go out looking for a job.” He went on to note that one of the biggest mistakes a young professional can make is choosing a job purely on the basis of income. Yes, Ely conceded, it’s nice to be able to live the lifestyle you want, but the most important thing is that you’re happy doing what you do. “Is this company going to help accomplish my goals? Do we have the same goals? Those are the questions you need to be asking,” Ely said as he compared job-hunting to relationships. In the same way people surround themselves with friends who have similar goals, they should also look for a company with goals that match.

Students asked Ely, how do you impress potential employers? Ely considered the question, then repackaged it and turned it back over to the students: “What do you think is going to be expected of you from your future employer?” As students spouted off characteristics of the ideal employee, Ely grabbed a marker and began making a list on the whiteboard. He talked about the merits of each of their answers, and then condensed the sizable list down to two main characteristics: communication and problem-solving skills.

Communicating effectively is one of the most important qualities EBR Energy looks for. “You can have a brilliant idea, but if you can’t communicate it effectively, then it won’t do anybody any good.”

When it comes to problem solving, Ely knows whereof he speaks: his business requires creative thinking daily to thrive in an ever-changing market. “The lifecycle for one of our projects is approximately five years,” Ely said as he talked about the significant investment that goes into problem solving and innovation. In all facets of business, an employer is going to want the most effective answer to a problem, not merely a right answer.

Though there are many concerns for young people in the workplace, the most important thing of all, Ely told students, is to remember that, “you are a unique individual with unique characteristics. Don’t let [corporations] change you.”

Categories: Executive Speakers, Former Students

I received a letter a while back from a not-for-profit that notified me that they were looking at borrowing against, or leveraging, the fundamental set of assets that allowed them to exist.  In other words, if they lost those assets because they could not make the payments, they would simply no longer be around.  They were doing so because of significant operating cash flow shortfalls that were systematic in nature.  In fact, they had invested in capital assets that they hoped would increase operating cash flows, and had since seen a dramatic downturn in their fortunes.

No matter what the plan given for rectifying this situation, donors are likely throwing their money down a rat hole.  From a business perspective, this not-for-profit is leveraging the assets they cannot afford to lose under any circumstances, a sign of desperation.  Of course, this happens frequently in business, because the large majority of business start-ups are bankrupt within a few years.  Sometimes it can actually save the business.  But there is the smell of death to it, and the vultures are usually circling within a short period of time.  This not-for-profit probably has few other assets to borrow against, so their behavior is understandable.  But when you have a choice, be careful what assets you leverage.

Though I largely try to avoid debt, there are some assets that it makes sense to leverage.  For example, as loyal Sienna owners, Toyota is willing to sell us a new Camry at 0% interest.  Since our cars have a combined 6,000,000 miles (approximately) on them, this is an attractive offer, especially if you are not bothered by the prospects of sudden acceleration.  Of course, this affects the price of the car, but assuming I can negotiate the price I want, it makes sense to leverage this asset.  If I can’t pay it back, they will come and take the car.  On the other hand, as my readers can readily attest, it would be financial suicide to take out a second mortgage on my house to syndicate this column.

The most important asset any of us have is reputation.  A reputation for truth-telling or dependability enables us to enjoy opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to us.  There are times I leverage my reputation in order to recommend a student to an employer.  In most cases that is a low-risk decision, but there are a few students that require me to put some conditions in the recommendation so that I protect my reputation.  It is an asset I cannot afford to lose.

We read almost every day about people who have leveraged their reputation for short-term returns—in money, in romance, in success, or in fame.  They leverage their most precious asset, the asset that is their reason for existence, in order to acquire other assets that are not central to who they are, and that are likely to be fleeting.  And when they wake up on the due date for the debt, they have lost forever what allowed them to be who they are.

They are much like that not-for-profit who sent me the letter.  I wish only the best for that organization, and I am hopeful that they will be able to retain those core assets that define them.  But I have heard this song before, and they will not be getting a check from me.

Categories: Bottom Line Ethics

The restaurant industry was hit hard in 2009 as millions of Americans tightened their belts in the wake of the economic downturn and stopped splurging on dining out and other non-essentials. While some food service companies shed jobs and others closed their doors, Darden Restaurants, Inc, the largest casual-dining company in the world, parent company of such chains as Olive Garden and Red Lobster, has continued to excel because they were ready for the decline. Clarence Otis, president and CEO of the company, says that the management team at Darden recognized months in advance that the economy was about to shift, and started to implement changes so that when the recession arrived, they were prepared.

On March 3, Otis was recognized with the Kupfer Distinguished Executive Award at Mays. This award is given in memory of Harold Kupfer ’54 and recognizes a business professional that has made a significant impact on the business world. Otis spent time on the A&M campus sharing his business knowledge with students and faculty alike.

“To nourish and delight”

To prepare for the economic downturn, Otis says that his company invested in their brand, knowing that aligning all consumer touch points with their brand to make sure every dining experience reinforced their brand promise. They also invested in their people. People do their best work when they understand the larger purpose, he says. The purpose they reinforced to the approximately 180,000 employees was “to nourish and delight customers,” refreshing their spirits as well as their bodies by providing an experience, not merely a meal.

For Darden Restaurants CEO and Kupfer Distinguished Executive Award honoree Clarence Otis, Jr., investing in his company’s employees is essential. “We assume that everyone that walks in our doors can go all the way to the top.” (view more photos)

Otis gave the example of a dish washer, who must clean 2,000 dishes on a busy night at one of their restaurants. While his job is vital to the success of the organization, it is not fun or glamorous; it would be easy for that employee to focus on the functional requirements of the job, rather than the larger purpose. Otis says that leaders must continue to invest time in training and appreciating their employees to prevent that erosion of purpose.

While it’s important to keep your promises to customers, it’s equally important to keep promises to employees. The restaurant business is an industry of opportunity for millions of Americans, as people are able to start at the bottom and progress through the ranks of the company, regardless of their formal education. “We encourage our employees to dream big dreams for themselves,” he says—dreams which the company will support. “We assume that everyone that walks in our doors can go all the way to the top.” Otis mentioned Dave Pickens, president of Olive Garden, who started as a line cook at a Red Lobster. After three decades, he is now responsible for 80,000 employees.

“Some say that an economic crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” says Otis, noting that some companies are using this circumstance as an excuse to abuse employees by reducing staff or scaling back benefits unnecessarily. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Otis says at Darden they’ve striven to maintain a relationship with employees; Darden’s leadership understands their brand and success depends on their people. Otis did note that Darden’s operations have been streamlined, with a recent consolidation of 13 office buildings into one main facility. “We’re proceeding with confidence in today’s challenging environment.”

Kupfer’s legacy

Mr. Kupfer entered Texas A&M in 1950, where he was assigned to Field Artillery Battery A, participated in intramural boxing and the Fish Drill Team. While at A&M, he was also an active member of the Business Society, Dallas Club, Press Club and was club editor of the 1954 Aggieland. He graduated in 1954 with a bachelor’s in business administration, going on to serve as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

(L to R) Gerald Ray '54, Clarence Otis, Jr., Greg Dyer '10 and Donald Zale '55
(L to R) Gerald Ray ’54, Clarence Otis, Jr., Greg Dyer ’10 and Donald Zale ’55

After leaving the military, Kupfer began his investment career with Sanders and Co., a Dallas investment firm. Later, he became head trader and partner at Rauscher Pierce Refsnes, Inc. His last professional association was with Jefferies & Co., Inc. where he earned a place in the Jefferies “Hall of Fame.” The company also gives an award in Kupfer’s name, recognizing his excellence as a sales professional.

Gerald Ray ’54 and Donald Zale ’55 sponsor the Kupfer Distinguished Executive event at Mays to honor their friend and fellow Corps member. As part of this celebration, they also gave a scholarship to a Corps member that exemplifies the professionalism, enthusiasm, and dedication to service that defined Kupfer, whom Ray described as “a really wonderful man and certainly an unforgettable character.” The 2010 scholarship recipient was Greg Dyer ’10, who will graduate in May with a degree in finance.

Dyer’s resume is impressive and varied: he’s completed an internship in securities investment with Merrill Lynch; he has also worked for the A&M College of Veterinary Medicine as a lab technician, and as a personal care provider for a physically handicapped child. He is the second brigade commander in the Corps, responsible for 190 cadets and is a Ross Volunteer. Despite a busy schedule with his Corps duties, he is a dedicated student and a member of the General O.R. Simpson Honor Society, which recognizes his academic achievements and affords him the opportunity to tutor other students. Dyer was also chosen as one of the 47 undergraduates from A&M (nine from Mays) to be listed among the 2010 Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. Dyer is also an Eagle Scout.

At the awards luncheon, Dyer said he was humbled to receive the award in Kupfer’s name, and gave credit to his family for the achievements that garnered him the recognition. “Success is a product of tenacity, opportunity, and support,” he said, noting that without the support of his parents, grandparents, and A&M family, he could not be successful. Dyer called A&M “a place of limitless opportunity,” and said that he would use the example of Kupfer and Otis as “a model for all my future endeavors.”

Categories: Executive Speakers, Featured Stories

J. Rogers Rainey Jr. ’44 immensely enjoyed his decades-long career as a CPA, made possible by a degree from A&M. That led him to name Mays Business School in his estate in 1992, the year before his death. The gift of more than $1 million, now realized, will be used to establish a chair in accounting in his and wife Kathleen’s names.

J. Rogers Rainey Jr. '44
Rainey ’44

James Benjamin, longtime head of the Department of Accounting, says that Rainey was one of the first former students he met when he assumed the leadership role.

“I vividly remember how much Mr. Rainey cared about the success of our program and I am certain that he would be very proud of the continuing accomplishments of our program,” said Benjamin. “He clearly recognized the importance and value of endowment support and it is personally gratifying to have such a significant endowment with the Rainey name.”

Rainey’s leadership and dedication laid the foundation for the College of Business at A&M that today is Mays. The chair in accounting will provide students the opportunity to learn from individuals who are as passionate about accounting as Rainey himself. As Rainey once said in a letter to Benjamin, “accounting problems, and even some tax accounting problems, and their solution, elimination, or mitigation is really more fun than Cracker Jacks.”

After graduation in 1944, Rainey didn’t think long about what he should do next. He, like many of his time, donned a uniform and fought for his country in World War II. Later, he served in the Air Force during the Korean conflict. When the war was over, Rainey earned a master’s degree in accounting from Texas A&M, moving to Corpus Christi, where he would live and work for more than 40 years. Rainey became a partner in the CPA firm of Rainey, Lucke, and Associates in the 1950s, and for many years remained actively involved in the College of Business Administration at Texas A&M where he served on the development council.

He was an elder and a trustee of First Presbyterian Church in Corpus Christi and enjoyed flying and fishing. He was an enthusiastic traveler who loved to relate tales of his travels and war experience to younger generations of Aggies. Rainey saw the time he spent with young Aggies as a valuable investment, as he would often hire exclusively from the College of Business, asking professors to recommend Aggies who excelled in their studies and displayed leadership skills to join his firm.

Mays selected Rainey as a 1993 Outstanding Alumnus posthumously for his prominent professional career and his devotion to the progress of the school.

Categories: Donors Corner, Former Students

Yesterday we took our daughter on her final, final college visit, the one that cements the decision to attend the college that had your heart all along, and that seems the right fit for you. As I sat on the bench in the sunshine with my wife, waiting for Katie to emerge from a dormitory, I recognized what a crossroads these moments are. My daughter is making decisions that will affect her for the rest of her life. The stakes are higher than they used to be for her and, for the most part, the stakes will remain relatively high for the rest of her life.

Katie is a unique and wonderful girl, and I am confident that hers will be a life that greatly impacts people for good. We have been blessed to raise her for the past eighteen years, but being on campus with her reminded me how much she will need wisdom in the years ahead to make good choices. As a dad, my tendency is to protect my children and to minimize risk in their lives. As a business professor, looking around on that campus, I thought to myself, “Higher risk, higher return.”

But the truth is that every day we are making decisions that require significant wisdom and that will affect future decisions and opportunities. The decision to write this column has helped me more effectively wrestle with some of these issues rather than avoiding them. Teaching ethics helps as well. But there is nothing in life like raising children that makes me truly want to understand what it is to be wise. And it makes me want to help my daughter live wisely as well.

This search for wisdom will likely be a regular theme of this column in the months ahead. Though people disagree over what wisdom means, most people seem to recognize it when they see it. It involves, at a minimum, being teachable and listening to those with more insight than you have. It also involves developing a long-term perspective, rather than just looking at short-term pleasure or returns. In other words, there is not much wisdom in the business world nowadays.

We are susceptible to certain fallacies in thinking that short-circuit wisdom, and I will talk about some of these in the weeks ahead. One of the most common ones among college students is a sense of invulnerability that makes them believe that the crushing consequences of others’ decisions could never happen to them. Practically every day we read about middle-aged men like me or star athletes who have fallen prey to that same fallacy.

But today, as a dad, I sit here quietly praying for my daughter to be wise, and to choose well. A great adventure lies ahead of her. May she ignore the siren song that calls her to the rocks. May she have courage to live by the values she has learned and embraced. And may God’s grace blow full in the sails that call her to her destiny.

Categories: Bottom Line Ethics

Jim McIngvale, better known to Houston-area residents as “Mattress Mack,” says there is one question all retailers must consider if they want to be successful: If your store disappeared, would your customers notice?

As it turns out, this is more than a rhetorical question for Mack.

On a Thursday in May 2009, surrounded by his family and a hundred loyal employees, Mack watched his business, Gallery Furniture, go up in flames. An arsonist ((The suspected arsonist, a former Gallery Furniture employee, is currently in custody and awaiting trial.)) with a personal vendetta set out to destroy Mack’s 29-year-old business and, by extension, his life. In the two hours it took to contain the fire, $20 million in merchandise burned. The three showrooms of the facility were badly damaged and the warehouse was destroyed completely. Mack says he’ll never forget the hopelessness, anxiety and despondency he felt watching those leaping flames. He also says he felt God’s grace touch his soul in the midst of the crisis and he knew that “Thursday’s tragedy was Friday’s opportunity.”

During his recent talk to Mays marketing students, Gallery Furniture owner Jim McIngvale read aloud some of the letters he received from customers and other supporters in the days following a catastrophic fire. “That outpouring of love and support sustained us in our darkest hour,” he told students. (view more photos)

With tears in their eyes and smoke in their lungs, the Gallery Furniture family joined hands to pray and sing “God bless America” and “The Star Spangled Banner” in the parking lot, vowing that they would survive and rebuild bigger and better.

To rebound, Mack knew it was imperative that his customers experience no delay in the same-day service Gallery Furniture is known for. While the ashes smoldered that night, Mack ordered an express shipment of furniture from his vendors, though he wasn’t sure where he’d put it. He also shot a commercial, which aired the following day, telling customers he was still in business; inviting them to his location in the Galleria area. The business never missed a beat: not a single employee was let go, nor was there a break in the service to customers—the day after the fire, Gallery Furniture delivered $200,000-worth of furniture to Houstonians.

On the Fourth of July, a mere 44 days after the fire, they reopened one showroom at the main location. While all across America people were celebrating, Mack and his supporters were celebrating their own triumph. “We raised the barn together, just as people in Texas have done for 175 years,” he said. By Labor Day, both of the other showrooms were open, and it was back to business as usual.

Did his customers notice? In the weeks after the fire, he received more than 5,000 cards and emails of encouragement from customers and business associates. “That outpouring of love and support sustained us in our darkest hour,” he said.

• • • • •

  1. Use the data: don’t select merchandise based on personal preference. Analyze the numbers that are constantly generated in your store.
  2. No friendship buying: Have a good relationship with your vendors, but never accept any kind of gifts or kickbacks from them. Keep it strictly professional.
  3. Treat your vendors well. You must have a win-win relationship with them, meaning you must allow them to make money, too.
  4. At least once a week “put on your customer hat” and walk the store, trying to experience what a customer does.
  5. To see the big picture, be an expert on cost, margin, and inventory turns. If you only understand one business aspect, you will not be successful.
  6. Details matter, down to the placement of an item in the store. Some spots are “hot” and will sell most anything. Others are not. Know the difference. Plan accordingly.
  7. Less is often more: stocking too many products overwhelms the customer. You’ll sell more if you have less selection. Narrow the focus and show customers exactly what you want them to see.
  8. “Get out there on the fringes.” Be on the watch for new ideas. Don’t stay in the safe, middle of the road. Take risks and stay abreast of trends.
  9. Shop the competition so you know where you can be sharper.
  10. Build trust with your customer base through returns and service.

McIngvale began his career sacking groceries, feeling miserable about his prospects. Those feelings got him fired for having a bad attitude. He slouched around, feeling sorry for himself, until he had an epiphany when he heard a message from Televangelist Oral Roberts. It sticks with him to this day: The biggest challenge we all have from our creator is to use our talents. The world doesn’t owe you a favor—you owe the world a favor.

With this motivation, McIngvale went out the next day and found a job at a furniture store, discovering that he had a talent for retail. Eighteen months later, he wanted to open his own store. His mentor told him Houston was a boomtown and that would be a good place to set up shop. With his life savings of $5,000 and a new bride, he moved to Houston and opened a store. There were many naysayers. “All the reasons that they gave as to why we would fail were good and solid, logical reasons. But I had one great big advantage called desire. I have learned in my life that you can do anything if you want it bad enough.”

A few years down the road, his business was floundering. He then made another a risky gamble: he bet his last $10,000 on television advertising. It paid off. Television transformed his business and made him into well known Houston personality. That first commercial had an immediate impact on sales. Today, the medium is still his most powerful resource: He paid for a local spot during the 2010 Super Bowl; The $85,000 price tag was recouped in three days.

It’s a point of pride for him that each year of the past ten, his TV ads have been voted the worst in Houston. Still, they are effective. Through his ads and frequent visits to local schools where he delivers encourages kids to say “no” to drugs and “yes” to school, Mack makes a connection with young people whom he hopes will be customers for life. He is in the enviable position as a retailer of being well-loved and trusted by children all over Houston. Visiting his store is a treat, on par with visiting the zoo, as Gallery Furniture is known for its daily birthday cake, live monkeys and parrots in the store.

• • • • •

“You’ve got to focus on the customer. That’s all that matters,” McIngvale told students. “We are in the singular business of delighting customers.”

During Mack’s visit to a retail merchandising class at Mays, he discussed one of the difficulties he’s faced since the fire. In their ambition to rebuild “bigger and better,” they changed the layout of the store significantly—now items are grouped by style instead of function. Rather than placing all of the beds in one section, they are spread throughout in pre-set rooms that feature the nightstand that goes with the bed, that goes with the lamp, etc. While his customers rave about how much they love the new look, sales have decreased dramatically. “You’ve got to focus on the customer. That’s all that matters. We are in the singular business of delighting customers,” he told students, noting that the current store layout can overwhelm his shoppers. They are now in the costly process of reorganizing the store.

Trust is at an all-time low in the U.S. today, he says. That means customers are looking for reasons to complain. “Getting the details right in a low-trust economy is critical. The quality of your merchandise and service must engender trust in your customers.”

His final word was to “buy American whenever possible, because the job you save might be your own.” We can’t be a nation that only consumes. We must produce, if we are to survive, he says. And Mattress Mack? He knows how to survive.

Gallery Furniture is a sponsor of the Mays Center for Retailing Studies. McIngvale recently committed to a gift to the center to endow an interactive digital library.

Categories: Executive Speakers