When Dan Feehan ’72 graduated with an accounting degree, he did not anticipate being the leader of one of the largest pawn shop chains in the world.
“When I was in school wondering exactly how my life and career would turn out, I had a lot more anxiety than answers,” he told a group of business honors students at Mays. “And being a public company CEO was not really on my list of options. What was paramount to me was to be a great husband and a great father, and that still is my top priority.”
Feehan came to Texas A&M wanting to be a college football coach. He played football until one of his coaches told him quietly, “You aren’t very big, but you sure are slow.” Â He left the program soon afterward and contemplated going to law school. To fund such an expensive endeavor, his advisor in the marketing program told him he should consider changing his major to something more lucrative. Â Accounting sounded promising, and when the Big 8 accounting firms came on campus to conduct interviews, Feehan got offers from several companies. He took one with a salary of almost $12,000. “I was so excited, I couldn’t pass it up. I asked my wife how we were ever going to spend that much money.”
A few years later he changed jobs to manage financial matters for a billionaire for several years, then “got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug” and in 1984, he created a real estate development firm.
His unconventional work path taught him the value of flexibility. “Always have your eyes and ears open to opportunity unless you are locked into something and are absolutely thrilled with what you’re doing,” he said.
Feehan said there is little correlation between real pawn shops and TV shows like “Pawn Stars,” which are popular but “all theater.” Feehan said even he walked in with “the biases most people have — largely because Hollywood has been casting darkness on the industry since the 1950s.” What his company actually does, he said, is “help people out in the most difficult times of their lives, when the bank won’t loan them money and they have nowhere else to turn.”
Pawn shops accept just about anything of value as collateral for loans, but unlike the common perception that most people do not redeem their notes and retrieve their valuables, Feehan said the redemption rate is about 75 percent.
When Feehan joined Cash America International, his job was to expand the two Texas shops run on a “Mom and Pop” model to a successful chain with solid management. “The board asked me to step in and help with the business, so I agreed,” he said. “Here I am 25 years later, still involved, with more than 1,000 locations in the U.S. and Mexico and almost 8,000 people working in all the disciplines you’d expect to see in a large retail business.”
The company, which operates under the brand names Cash America Pawn, SuperPawn and Cash America de Mexico, is the largest provider of secured non-recourse loans, commonly referred to as pawn loans. About half of the company’s earnings come through an online business that provides unsecured consumer loans.
Feehan’s alma mater recognized him in 2006 by naming him one of the Mays Outstanding Alumni. Feehan says he is proud of his success, but he cautioned the students that being a leader is harder than it looks. “There are lots of rewards, but it’s not a cakewalk. Every time you go up a rung, you’ll have that perspective that it still looks easier up higher than you are.”
About Mays Business School
Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School educates more than 5,000 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools in the country for its undergraduate and MBA programs, and for faculty research. The mission of Mays Business School is creating knowledge and developing ethical leaders for a global society.