As vice president of sales at Tidewater Marine, LLC, a leading provider of large offshore service vessels to the global energy industry, Chris Orth ’80 knows a thing or two about selling. But even though his bottom line is tied to customer-generated revenue, he has always recognized the importance of selling your organizational culture to your employees. In many ways, this is what Orth does through his volunteer efforts at the Mays Business School. Whether he is mentoring MBA students, hiring them for internships or full-time positions or serving on the MBA Advisory Board, he is committed to instilling Texas A&M’s culture and the Mays brand of leadership in the next generation of graduates.
“Because of the relatively short time our Full-Time MBA students spend in College Station, many of them don’t get a full appreciation for what it’s like to be an Aggie,” Orth said. “I feel like it’s my responsibility, as a former student, to make sure our MBAs know that living honorably, leading by example and keeping your word are just as important to your success as studying hard and making good grades.”
Orth comes by his evangelical fervor honestly. “I was born into a family of six boys with parents who were always volunteering their time to help a wide range of organizations in the Dallas and Houston communities,” Orth said. “My mother used to tell us: ‘With life’s gifts come responsibilities!’” So when it came time for Orth to select a college, Texas A&M was a natural fit, with its values of selfless sacrifice, leadership, excellence, integrity, honesty and loyalty.
During his time at College Station, Orth recalled a class with Dr. Gerry Keim as one the most influential experiences of his college career. “Here was an incredibly intelligent and accomplished person who chose to educate young men and women when he could have been making far more money doing any number of things in the business world,” he recalled. “He opened our eyes to the way things really happened in the world beyond college and made it clear to all of us that we had to be accountable for our own destiny.” In addition to the valuable lessons Orth learned in the classroom, a number of the friends he made during his time at the Mays Business School continue to be among the closest and most trusted people in his life today.
After graduating from A&M, Orth recalled living for a period of time in the “I and me” stage of life, concerned primarily about taking care of his own needs like so many recent college graduates. But the bonfire tragedy in 1999 proved to be a turning point in his life. “I was driving in my car when I heard the awful news,” he said. “I was so moved that I had to pull over to the side of the road, where I listened to the radio with a numbing heartache for the students and my school. I took my daughter, who was six years old at the time, to services for several of the students who had died. What overwhelmed me was seeing so many Aggies turning out to support the grieving families of other Aggies they didn’t even know.”
The experience served as a wake-up call to Orth, reminding him of how unique and special the Aggie culture is, and what it means to be a member of the Texas A&M family. “I am totally convinced that as former students, we have an obligation to lead by example in our communities. And when we can, we must remain actively engaged and passionately committed to working with current students to instill in them that special set of A&M values that go hand in hand with the great formal education they’re receiving.”
In the wake of the bonfire tragedy, Orth focused more intently on putting his mother’s words of wisdom into action. Even as he built a successful professional career, he made time to volunteer at Big Brothers and Big Sisters, KIPP, YES Prep, The Children’s Beginning Experience and Hospice at the Medical Center in Houston as well as at the Board of Visitors for the Texas A&M Maritime School in Galveston.
His first foray into alumni engagement happened when he came to campus to recruit MBAs for a new accelerated program that Tidewater had started to develop country managers for its worldwide operations. More than 90 percent of the company’s business takes place around the globe in places such as Nigeria, Brazil, Singapore, Mexico, Norway, Australia, the Arctic and the North Sea as well as in the United States. Since Tidewater started interviewing at Mays, the company has hired several students and it is in the final stages of endowing a scholarship for the Full-Time MBA Program with a specific focus on leadership through serving others.
“After getting to know Jim Dixey and his great staff in Graduate Business Career Services, I learned about additional ways that former students can support the school and its students, including mentoring,” Orth noted. Vibhanshu Garg ’12, who is now working for Tidewater in Dubai, was one of a number Mays students that Orth has mentored. Dixey, director of GBCS at Mays, commented on a unique aspect of Orth’s contributions to his team’s efforts. “Chris has been more than willing to provide some professional ‘tough love’ to our students and refocus them on the essentials of their career efforts,” he noted.
Orth has also served on the MBA Advisory Board since 2007, offering guidance to the Full-Time MBA Program on a number of issues, ranging from curriculum and career services to alumni engagement.
“As with all charity work, the irony of volunteering at Mays is that I receive far more benefit than I give,” Orth stated. “Every time I interact with a student or staff member, my batteries get recharged, and I’m reminded of why I started down the professional path I’ve chosen. It is truly a privilege to help develop the Aggie leaders of tomorrow, and I cannot wait to see the impact they will make in both their local communities and on the world stage in the years to come.”
Categories: Mays Business, Spotlights