In an economy that values financial success and high revenues, organizations of all types continually struggle to balance efficiency with production-constraining regulations.
“Organizations have two motivations: production and compliance,” explained Rogelio Oliva, associate professor of information and operations management at Mays and Ford Faculty Fellow. “They are trying to grow their businesses while, at the same time, knowing they must follow the rules.”
Oliva and his colleagues – Ignacio Martinez-Moyano from the University of Chicago and David McCaffrey from the University at Albany – have been conducting ongoing studies that model rule development and compliance in organizations. Their most recent study examines United States financial markets as a case area and suggests that recurring regulatory problems over the past 60 years are structurally similar.
“There are some structural reasons why we have a financial crisis every so often,” said Oliva. “The crises change in specifics, but they all have the same origin. The system is rigged so that the actors in a system become lax in compliance due to an enormous pressure to produce.”
Oliva and his colleagues propose a model of drift and adjustment in rule compliance. This model centers on the tension between production goals that focus on short-term benefits and required adherence to production-constraining rules that attempt to mitigate long-term risks.
“The pressure for companies to produce leads to one of two outcomes: working hard or cutting corners,” said Oliva. As organizations face high volume and time pressures, they may adopt a “Will we get caught?” decision-making mindset. In an attempt to evade controls and avoid delays, they will often commit a number of small infractions that will, for a while, remain undetected or tolerated.
However, adopting this mentality can lead to a decrease in service quality and an accumulation of regulatory and criminal violations.
“Eventually the violations pile up so that people can see the evidence,” explained Oliva. “This leads to strong backlash from regulators and an increase in the number of regulations. After a while, there are too many regulations and they start to back off, leading to the same cycle all over again.” This “regulatory pendulum” can be applied to settings beyond financial markets as well, since this phenomenon occurs in virtually every industry.
One surprising discovery uncovered by the research is how fast-paced the evolution of new products and regulations is. “It reminded us of the evolutionary race between predators and prey,” said Oliva. “New products are designed to address customer needs and soon someone starts abusing the system with these new products.” Eventually, however, these new products lead to even more regulations, which causes the pendulum to swing again.
This study is one of the first attempts to bring all plausible explanations together to form an aggregated picture of what is occurring in the market. Oliva and his colleagues have received support and validation from industry partners for their research and are presently working to validate their theory by creating a detailed model capable of replicating these dynamics.
“Ultimately, we have analyzed the micro decisions that are made in the industry in order to identify a structure that is responsible for the behavior,” said Oliva.
For the box at the bottom of the page in BRIA:
“Drift and Adjustment in Organizational Rule Compliance: Explaining the ‘Regulatory Pendulum’ in Financial Markets” was published in Organization Science and is authored by Rogelio Oliva of Mays, Ignacio J. Martinez-Moyano of the University of Chicago and David P. McCaffrey of the University at Albany, State University of New York.
Venkatesh “Venky” Shankar is on a Top 10 list every academician dreams of – he has been recognized as one of the Top 10 experts worldwide on innovation management. He didn’t start out being an advocate of marketing, but now he has found his niche in the worlds of marketing and academics.
At Mays Business School, he is the Coleman Chair Professor in Marketing and director of research for the Center for Retailing Studies. He was director of the marketing PhD Program from 2006 to 2012.
He received his PhD in marketing from Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University. However, his undergraduate studies focused on engineering. “Originally, I saw marketing as a way to advertise things. I thought of Superbowl commercials, glitzy and glamorous campaigns selling insurance and whatnot, and used car salespeople,” he says. “Once I got in an MBA program to get into management, I realized the two main reasons companies exist are innovations and reaching customers. Then I came to know what marketing really is: It’s about how we treat customers and create brands and channels of communication. Then it came to mean something to me.”
Shankar’s areas of specialization include digital business, marketing strategy, innovation, retailing, international marketing, pricing, branding and mobile marketing. Shankar has corporate experience in the areas of marketing and international business development in diverse countries.
He spent two years in Hong Kong working with a bank, then he worked in the corporate environment. He quickly learned he preferred the marketing world. “In the corporate world, you can’t answer your own questions, you answer your boss’ questions,” he explained. “In marketing, you ask the questions, answer them and have fun with them.”
Shankar discovered his niche in the academic world, which his brother, a finance professor, encouraged him to join. “I had no idea what research would look like, but my eyes got opened to research,” he said. “I got to learn about methodologies. I found I really enjoyed it.”
He said he asked questions of everyone he encountered. “I was working on 10 to 12 projects at a time. That’s how my passion got kindled,” he recalls. “I was surrounded by good researchers who enrich your thinking and motivate you to look at things in a different way, a more rigorous way. They keep kicking it back, demanding it be real, relevant and bankable. It was a time of great learning.”
Shankar has supervised 11 doctoral students, something he enjoys immensely. “My first got a job at UNC Chapel Hill, and the most gratifying day for me was when he got tenure last year.” He said he feels fortunate to blend research and teaching, and that he roots all of his research in real problems. He often hears from former students, even students who he meets during one-day sessions. “I wake up every morning eager to work, to make a difference,” he said. “It’s a noble profession. Not only am I teaching that one person, but it will also help the people they encounter.”
Mark B. Houston, the marketing department head and Blue Bell Creameries Chair in Business, said he admires Shankar’s passion for helping his PhD students get jobs at their target universities. “You can see that passion in how hard he works with them during the years of the PhD program on real research projects that are publishable in top-tier journals,” Houston said. “This is critical, because PhD candidates will not even get interviews with Doctoral Research Universities without papers that are published, or at least at advanced rounds of review, at top journals.”
Beyond helping his students prepare academically, Houston says Shankar pours enormous effort into personally reaching out to his extensive professional network at universities around the country to lobby for his students. “When a target school publicizes an opening, Venky is constantly on the phone, sending e-mails, talking to people at conferences, etc., convincing them of the wisdom of interviewing his students,” Houston describes. “His persistence almost always pays off – it is kind of like the old science fiction line, ‘Resistance is futile!’ I know a lot of really dedicated PhD advisors at a lot of universities, but I know no one who works harder at this than Venky Shankar.”
Shankar is also “a star in the classroom at all levels of programs,” Houston says, but particularly with the Executive MBAs. “He is smart, well-prepared, incredibly energetic, and thinks well on his feet – all attributes that lead to an engaging EMBA professor. His formal ratings and the informal feedback that I see from these students speak to his effectiveness. He changes the way that executives think about marketing.”
With that, Shankar’s path comes full circle from the days when his own opinion of marketing was changed.
Shankar has consulting or executive training experience with organizations such as Allstate, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, Colgate Palmolive, GlaxoSmithKline, Hewlett Packard, HSBC, IBM, Intel, Lockheed Martin, Lucent Technologies, Marriott International, Medtronic, Northrop Grumman, PepsiCo, Philips, and Volvo. He has made several appearances on CNN, C-SPAN, and Voice of America. He has been on many advisory boards and has served as an expert witness in legal cases.
– 2013-2014 Retailing Lifetime Achievement Award
– 2013 Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta (IIMC) Distinguished Alumnus Award
– 2012 Vijay Mahajan Award for Lifetime Contributions to Marketing Strategy Research
– 2006 Robert Clarke Award for the Outstanding Direct and Interactive Marketing Educator
– 2001 IBM Faculty Partnership Award
– 1999 Paul Green Award for the Best Article in Journal of Marketing Research
– 2000 Don Lehmann Award for the Best Dissertation-based Article in an AMA journal
– Sheth Award for the best paper in the Journal of Academy of Marketing Science.
Shankar has won awards from such sources as the American Marketing Association (AMA) and the Marketing Science Institute (MSI). He has published in academic journals such as the Journal of Marketing Research, Management Science, Marketing Science, Strategic Management Journal, Journal of Marketing, Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, Journal of Retailing, Harvard Business Review, and Sloan Management Review, and in business periodicals such as Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. The Shankar-Spiegel Award from the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation is named in his honor. He is ex-President of the Marketing Strategy SIG, AMA and serves on the Chief Marketing Officers (CMO) council and Business-to-Business (B2B) Leadership Board. He was a Faculty Fellow of the 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013 Doctoral Consortia, and the 2001 e-Commerce Consortium of the AMA. He is Editor Emeritus of the Journal of Interactive Marketing and is an Academic Trustee of the MSI. He is also an ex-associate editor of Management Science and is on the editorial boards of Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, Marketing Science, the International Journal of Research in Marketing, and Journal of Retailing. He has been a keynote speaker in several conferences and has delivered over 230 presentations in diverse countries. He is a three-time winner of the Krowe Award for Teaching and has taught Marketing Management, Digital Business Strategy, Competitive Marketing Strategy, and International Marketing. He was a visiting scholar at the Sloan School of Management, MIT. He has also been a visiting faculty at INSEAD, Singapore Management University, SDA Bocconi, the Chinese European International Business School at Shanghai, and the Indian School of Business. He is co-editor of the Handbook of Marketing Strategy and the author of Shopper Marketing.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed in 2002, was the most impactful regulation in terms of accounting and financial reporting since the 1930s. The act, often referred to as SOX, was passed in an effort to diminish the widespread fraud that had gripped the nation for the first part of the decade.
“It was a monumental piece of legislation,” says Nate Sharp, accounting professor and Mays Research Fellow.
SOX tightened the reins on accounting firms that had begun to provide multiple services to their clients beyond auditing, and left them with the ability to perform few services beyond external audits. Although the public was generally pleased with the move toward greater auditor independence, some in the profession argued the additional services offered by auditing firms had led to more thorough and effective audits.
“We tend to call that ‘knowledge spillover,’” says Sharp. “If the audit firm is there doing other services, the argument is that they learn things about the client that then ‘spill over’ and can benefit the audit team when they perform the audit.”
Others argue in favor of the strict regulations put into place by SOX, saying the many services offered by auditing firms had compromised the independence of the auditors; otherwise put, they believe there was enough money at stake to tempt auditors to overlook financial misreporting. In their paper “Internal Audit Outsourcing and the Risk of Misleading or Fraudulent Financial Reporting: Did Sarbanes-Oxley Get It Wrong?” Sharp and his colleagues – Douglas Prawitt and David Wood of Brigham Young University – looked into the effects, if there were any, of restricting audit firms from doing internal auditing for their clients, one of the services auditing firms had offered before SOX.
“We said, let’s go back a few years prior to SOX before all of this came into effect to see whether companies that were outsourcing part of their internal audit function to their external auditor had financial statements that were either riskier or less risky,” Sharp says of the idea behind the research. “In other words, if it’s true that allowing the external auditor to participate in the internal audit compromises independence, then companies doing that should have riskier financial statements that appear to be aggressive.”
Gathering information from the Institute of Internal Auditors, the researchers looked at financial statements from 159 firms in the three years leading up to SOX. The firms fit into one of four categories:
– The firm outsourced some of its internal audit function to the same Big Four accounting firm that conducted its external audit
– The firm outsourced some of its internal audit function to a Big Four firm that did not conduct its external audit
– The firm outsourced some of its internal audit function to a non-Big Four firm that did not conduct its external audit
– The firm kept the internal audit function completely in-house
Running the data through a sophisticated model, Sharp and his colleagues were able to determine which firms had riskier financial statements.
“What we found was financial statement risk was lowest when the company outsourced some of its internal audit function to its own external auditor, which is contrary to the assumptions behind the prohibition in SOX,” Sharp says of the results. “Overall financial reporting quality was higher when the external auditor was also providing internal audit services.”
The research was generally well received by both the academic and professional communities. Numerous conferences accepted the paper, and articles in CFO Magazine and Compliance Week cited its findings. Prior to its publication, this paper received the University of Oklahoma Price College of Business 2010 Glen McLaughlin Award for the best, unpublished research paper on accounting and ethics. The paper was later published in Contemporary Accounting Research, a highly respected journal in the field.
“By no means do we think lawmakers should change the law just because we found this,” says Sharp, addressing those who did not receive the research well. “We’re just trying to inform the debate.”
Sharp says he enjoyed working on research that contributed to a debate both within and outside of academics. For Sharp, it is his goal to do relevant research that informs many groups, including experts in the field, practitioners, and students.
“I look for research projects that even people outside of accounting academics can appreciate and understand the importance of the question and the value of what the findings are,” says Sharp of his research philosophy. “I think no matter what field we’re in, we have the opportunity if we look for it to do research with implications that reach far beyond the ivory towers of academics.”
“Internal Audit Outsourcing and the Risk of Misleading or Fraudulent Financial Reporting: Did Sarbanes-Oxley Get it Wrong?” was published in Contemporary Accounting Research and is authored by Nate Sharp of Mays, and Douglas F. Prawitt and David A. Wood of Brigham Young University.
As the capital projects cost estimating manager for Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, Troy Porter, EMBA ’12 is responsible for evaluating and endorsing the capital requests for projects worldwide for the organization. A native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with an engineering degree, Porter worked 25 years in the oil and gas industry.
At an early age, Porter understood the value of volunteering in the community. He has spent many hours volunteering for organizations such as MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Food Bank and the Museum of Fine Arts (MFAH). After receiving his EMBA, Porter decided he wanted to serve his community by leading a nonprofit organization, not just being one of the volunteers.
Porter currently serves as board chair for the Fifth Ward Enrichment Program (FWEP), a 501 3(C) non-profit organization whose mission is “to empower boys to become responsible men and productive members of their families and communities.” FWEP serves more than 100 boys between ages 11 and 18 years living in the Fifth Ward neighborhood of Houston. Fifth Ward is one of six wards and the most underserved community in Houston. FWEP has been offering after-school and summer programs to its members for 30 years.
Porter says “execution” is the biggest challenge to his leadership abilities. Unlike a for-profit company, serving on the FWEP board of directors is not a paid position. “As the board chair, it is my responsibility to not let apathy become our culture,” Porter said. He believes if he allows this level of disengagement to take hold, it is likely the board’s goals and vision will not be achieved. Porter has made it a point to reach out to board members one-on-one, communicate and monitor our progress, and continually say “thank you.”
Porter believes his MBA education at Mays has contributed immensely to his leadership abilities. “In the Executive MBA program, I learned that leadership is situational,” he said. “You cannot be the same type of leader in every situation and be successful.”
When Porter took over as FWEP’s board chair in 2014, the organization was still reeling from the Great Recession. Porter understood that FWEP needed to be better prepared for the long term than it had been in its past. “FWEP needed a leader who could inspire board members, govern with a long-term perspective, and mold a team of like-minded professionals,” he noted. Porter reset the organization’s tone for the next five years by working with FWEP’s executive director to fill organizational gaps, respectfully asking disengaged board members to resign, and rebuilding the board with the best candidates to help execute the vision. FWEP currently has five other Aggies volunteering on the board. “The Mays MBA education gave me the confidence to not only accept this role, but understand the gravity of its importance,” he said.
We’ve all heard the saying: “You’re only as good as the company you keep.” If Marcos Mendez is any indication of the caliber of person drawn to the Professional MBA program, then the program’s future is on solid footing.
In June of 2013, just prior to starting his Professional MBA program at Mays Business School, Mendez learned that his close friend and former Seton Hall college roommate Kevin Losch was extremely ill. Kevin had been recently diagnosed with IgA nephropathy or Berger’s Disease. According to Mayoclinic.org, Berger’s “occurs when an antibody called immunoglobulin A (IgA) lodges in your kidneys.” Over time, Berger’s interferes with the kidneys’ ability to perform their basic necessary function. As Kevin sought a viable long-term solution to his illness, he learned that none of his family members were suitable matches for a kidney transplant.
Marcos received word of Kevin’s dire situation in August, one month into his MBA program. He immediately volunteered to be tested as a donor and soon learned he was a match. After his Saturday class on October 19th, Marcos flew to New York for an operation the next Tuesday. Not wanting to fall behind in his studies, Mendez was back in Houston with his fellow PMBAs the following class weekend. In hindsight, Mendez said, “It probably was a rush, but I just wanted to get back to some normalcy.”
Without question, Mendez demonstrates the character qualities the Professional MBA program looks for: selflessness, dedication and optimism. When asked why he was willing to go to such incredible lengths to help his friend, Marcos said, “You mold your life after core values not often tested.” For him, “it was a clear decision.”
It is these shared traits of character that played an important role in his selection of the Mays Professional MBA program. One of the key differentiators of the program is that it helps students recognize and enhance characteristics they can’t yet see in themselves. When Mendez donated a kidney, it was to him, simply “living and doing the type of thing you say you stand for.”
Mendez also values “culture, spirit of family, community and doing the right thing,” and it is important to surround himself with people who share similar values. In the Professional MBA Program at Mays, Mendez says, “I’ve met people who have challenged, inspired and motivated me, and it feels good to be a part of that community. I have lifelong friends [as a result.]”
“My big takeaway from the program so far is that I’m constantly forced to reflect on my own skills, limits and blind spots,” he said. “The big difference from the start of the program to the present is knowing what I’m good at and not good at, which makes me a self-aware leader.”
As a former member of the Texas National Guard serving in the U.S. Army Reserves and the recipient of numerous American Business Awards, including Executive of the Year, Maverick of the Year, and Turnaround Executive of the Year, Bridgette Chambers, EMBA ’08 knows a thing or two about leadership and results.
Despite her considerable success, Bridgette sensed at one point that there were additional tools available that would help propel her career to the next level.
“Everyone gets traction in some component of the business they’re working in, but you need to really understand how all of the moving parts come together in order to form a healthy, thriving company,” Chambers said. “I had reached a point in my career where I knew that the success I had achieved would not be repeatable—nor would the failures I avoided be consistently avoidable—if I did not improve my comprehensive understanding of business and finance. I recognized that the MBA was the right path to acquire that insight and knowledge.”
As Chambers began to research different Executive MBA programs, she evaluated Rice, University of Texas, Northwestern and Notre Dame along with Texas A&M. She ultimately selected Mays Business School because of the respect for tradition and the work ethic that envelops the school’s curriculum and study. “I would be proud of my own accomplishment if I had obtained my MBA from another university,” she said, “but with A&M, I am proud of myself and my Aggie affiliation.”
In the Mays Executive MBA program, three things stood out to Chambers as being most impactful. First, the program emphasized utilizing a team approach—whether solving individual problems or working on complex projects. Second, the Capstone project required students to apply numerous competencies in a comprehensive manner. Third, the “executive nature” of the course structure allowed her to test her new knowledge and skills in the marketplace as well as at her place of employment. “The net effect of these three elements was a rigorous educational experience that was thoroughly grounded in the real world; one in which I learned as much from my classmates as I did from my professors,” she said.
After graduating from the program, Chambers transitioned her career from serving as an entrepreneurial CEO of several small start-ups to taking the helm of larger, more complex organizations, including Americas’ SAP Users’ Group (ASUG), the world’s largest independent community of professionals using SAP solutions, and Constellation Research, a research and advisory firm focused on disruptive technologies. Today, as the president and COO of Nite Group, she works with clients as diverse as Novus International and Perdue Farms to help them achieve significant operational, financial, and programmatic transformations.
She attributes the possibilities for career transformation to the business tools that can be acquired in the Executive MBA program. “In my field of turnaround work, the ability to prioritize and value activity is critical to moving the client company back to a stable position,” she said. “I was fortunate to have had quite a bit of company transformation experience by the time I enrolled in Mays, but for those who are just starting out or who are still early in your career, the takeaways will be invaluable. You will learn how to measure not just monetary worth but also intangible value in order to determine which investments to green light or to stall, as well as how to hold the stakeholders charged with those specific initiatives accountable for delivering planned value.”
Chambers is also quick to point out the importance of the “softer” leadership skills she developed at Mays. “I gained the ability and confidence to guide a team to success—rather than just managing the team’s tasks,” she said. “This powerful insight has helped me build strong teams of experts capable of solving complex problems, creating a culture of innovation, aligning operations to a corporate vision and growing a company’s bottom line. I have also learned that a leader’s ability to truly lead sometimes means getting out of the way….and this insight was validated numerous times during my
As for professionals who are considering an MBA to elevate their career, Chambers offered some emphatic advice: “Do not put off the decision to apply for another year, quarter or even month! Every day you are faced with challenges and opportunities that beckon you to optimize, remediate, grow, cut or innovate. With an MBA, you will have the academic platform to better understand your past experiences and more effectively guide your future. You will also be able to communicate risk, value and return in a language that differentiates you from those who did not arm themselves with the right knowledge or education. Bottom line, you will do more and you will go further.”
In March 2005, Kevin Fontenot witnessed one of the worst petrochemical incidents in history, the ISOM explosion at the BP Texas City Refinery that took 15 lives. Drawing upon his nearly 25 years of experience in the oil and gas industry at that time, Fontenot assisted in the incident investigation following the explosion. This experience gave him the desire to pursue a career in safety.
In 2006, Fontenot was promoted to Texas City Site Safety Superintendent at BP. In this role, he led a team of 30 proprietary safety professionals and approximately 100 contract safety professionals. The BP Texas City Refinery is a 470,000 barrel per day facility with 26 processing units and approximately 6,000 employees who accrue more than 17.5 million man-hours annually.
In April 2010, Fontenot was selected to participate on the official BP Horizon internal investigation as a master root cause analyst. This experience strengthened his desire to move into a senior leadership position within BP’s safety organization. Although he possessed vast field experience, he realized that this move would not be possible without the addition of a strong knowledge of business management.
To strengthen his academic resume, Fontenot returned to college and completed his undergraduate studies with a bachelor’s degree in business. Immediately following graduation, he began looking for an MBA program that would provide the additional business skills needed to lead a corporate safety organization. After completing a thorough evaluation of all the MBA programs in the Houston area, he selected the Texas A&M Executive MBA (EMBA) program.
Fontenot’s decision was driven by the program’s high return on investment, competitive cost of entry, professors who are leaders in their field and the strong Aggie network and culture. Additionally, the program provided an opportunity for him to give back to the oil and gas industry through his capstone project. Fontenot’s capstone project evaluated the feasibility of establishing a centralized database to capture craft skill credentials for craftsmen working within onshore petrochemical facilities along the Gulf Coast. The project determined that the database has the potential to reduce the risk profile of these onshore petrochemical facilities through the reduction of process safety incidents.
Following graduation from Mays Business School’s EMBA program, Fontenot was promoted to Director, Upstream Safety Performance; a senior-level leadership position within BP’s Upstream Safety andOperational Risk Organization. In 2013, BP’s upstream segment had activities in 27 countries, and the workforce accumulated 158 million man-hours. In this global role, Fontenot manages a team of employees in the United Kingdom and the United States, and he is accountable for the assimilation and assurance of upstream segment safety performance data reported to senior executives and external agencies. “The knowledge I gained in the EMBA program has been critical to my success in this senior-level position,” he said.
In 2008, A.J. Oben ’10 became the father of a newborn son. With his wife needing medication to help recover from a C-section, Oben was troubled by having to leave his new family to wait in line at a pharmacy. He thought there had to be a better alternative. Six years later, he is the president and CEO of GoldStar Pharmacy Group, a pharmacy with the distinctive service of home, office and hospital delivery.
Oben began his professional career at General Electric (GE) in 2003 after obtaining an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from the University of Kansas. Always a problem solver, the native of Cameroon quickly rose through the ranks at GE, eventually leading a global Fulfilment & Productivity team that generated an additional $38 million in annual sales revenue and delivered $40 million in annual productivity savings. Despite his success, Oben realized that he would never be “given the keys to the business” if he didn’t understand business. In 2007, he began exploring MBA programs across the country in hopes of acquiring the necessary skills and knowledge to advance his career. He selected the Full-Time MBA Program at Texas A&M University for several reasons, including high return on investment, strong career services, cost, the Aggie culture and available scholarship dollars.
After graduating into a declining job market in 2010, Oben once again proved his abilities and quickly achieved success with TD Bank Group; first as VP, Management Associate, Middle Market Commercial Lending and later as VP, Productivity, Strategy and Risk Leader – Deposit Operations. In addition to overseeing risk management, his team managed a department of 600 people along with an $80-million budget and five-year strategic plan. He credits much of his success to something he learned in the MBA program—the value of building relationships and unwavering integrity. “If you want to go fast, go alone,” he said. “If you want to go far, go with others.” He is guided by his faith in God, driven by his biggest role model (his Dad, James Oben) and motivated by his will to win.
Although he was in leadership positions with both GE and TD Bank Group, Oben had the desire to lead his own organization. With another promotion on the horizon, one that would require a minimum two-year commitment and relocation to the East Coast, Oben decided it was time to pursue his dream. Oben and his wife and business partner, Dr. Bessem Oben, and their two boys, J.P. (six years old) and Sean (three years old), decided to move back to College Station to start GoldStar Pharmacy. With key differentiators in cost, quality and service such as home delivery, onsite compounding of medications into alternative forms for consumption and application, and 15-minute prescription fill times, GoldStar strives to deliver one-stop shop convenience of pharmacy services for the whole family. Patients can see their doctor and go home while GoldStar delivers the meds, eliminating the extra stop and additional wait time. However, the company isn’t content to just serve College Station. Oben’s goal is to grow outside of College Station to include 10 pharmacies over the next decade. He knows that he will be able to recruit talent from the Mays Business School to help him continue to grow his company, just as he did when he was employed at TD Bank Group.
For Oben, GoldStar is not just a business venture, it’s a way for him make a difference in the lives of others and improve the health of the community. Whether it’s a lack of mobility or transportation that hinders patients from visiting a pharmacy, he wants to make sure that those in need of pharmaceuticals receive them. At times, he even delivers medications himself. Oben’s commitment to service doesn’t stop with his customers. As an alumnus of Mays, he is giving back to the program that he recognizes for so much of his success. Most recently, he engaged a group of Professional MBA students as a product champion for their Capstone Project. Oben recounted his MBA Capstone experience with Waste Management and cited two reasons why he wanted to engage current students. “I wanted to give students the opportunity to learn some of the real world lessons I learned from the Waste Management project,” he said, “but I also owe a lot to this program and wanted to give back.”
The Capstone Project will give the Mays Professional MBAs firsthand knowledge of how a new company operates, while providing GoldStar with actionable insights that will help the company grow. For Oben, it’s all about paying it forward, and that’s what makes him a GoldStar alumnus.
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.”
In 2014, Amy W. ’83 and James “Jim” R. Stolarski ’83 made a $100,000 gift to Mays Business School to endow a scholarship for students in the school’s MBA programs. The generous investment in the future of Mays represented the latest act in Jim Stolarski’s long history of alumni engagement and selfless service to the school.
In 1983, Stolarski graduated from Mays with a BBA in finance. During the next 27 years, he built a successful career at Accenture (beginning at Arthur Andersen & Co., from which the consulting part of the firm became Accenture), where he became a partner in 1999. In 2011, he retired from Accenture and later began providing consulting services as founding principal at Nextesse LLC.
Since graduating from Mays, Stolarski has spent more than 30 years consulting with clients on everything from business strategy and operations reengineering to mergers and acquisitions—and he attributes much of that success to the skills he developed as a student of Mays. “I built a strong foundation in financial analysis and accounting, learned how to really understand corporate financial statements and gained a serious appreciation for the details,” he said. “I also learned that doing the ‘extra credit’ homework is always really important if you want to succeed in competitive environments.”
Stolarski also expressed appreciation for the softer skills he acquired at Mays, such as learning to develop a professional network, as well as the lifelong friendships he began to forge while in school. “A&M was all about character and what we now refer to as ‘core values,’ but it just wasn’t as out in front as it is today,” he recalled. “Your character is your currency and if trust is ever lost, it is extremely difficult to regain.”
Since his first recruiting trip with Arthur Anderson & Co. in 1985, the skills, knowledge and values Stolarski learned at Texas A&M have compelled him to stay engaged with his alma mater. He has served as a guest speaker for current students on several occasions, including a making a presentation to graduate management students in 2012 as part of the Dean’s Distinguished Executive Speaker Series. He also serves as president of the Northern Nevada A&M Club, and is a member of the Dean’s Development Council for the George Bush School of Government and Public Service.
Today, Stolarski focuses most of his alumni energies with the Full-Time MBA program, serving as chair of the MBA Advisory Board. He travels to College Station from his Nevada residence several times per year to meet with the board and Full-Time MBA Director Patti Urbina. “Jim tirelessly promotes the development of the board and has overseen the introduction of a number of networking events to promote mentoring and address content needs of the students in areas such as sales skills, choosing a career or changing careers,” Urbina said. “He makes a point of giving his business card to each student he meets, and invites them to email or call him.”
Stolarski and his wife had been planning to make a major gift to Mays for some time; but it was the announcement of Former Dean Jerry Strawser’s departure to become CFO of Texas A&M that provided the final impetus for the Amy W. ’83 and James R. Stolarski ’83 Endowed MBA Scholarship. “Jerry did so much for Mays during his tenure as dean, and we wanted to honor him for that, especially since he’s a fellow member of the Class of 1983,” Stolarski said.
While Stolarski earned his BBA from Texas A&M, he explained his interest in and devotion to the school’s fulltime MBA program. “MBA programs are the flagships of nearly every university with a business school,” he said. “As goes the reputation of the MBA program, so goes the reputation of nearly all of a university’s business programs, deserved or not. That’s why I chose to rejoin the MBA Alumni Advisory Board when I found myself with the capacity to do so.”
For Stolarski, serving on the board is about more than writing a check, it’s about giving back in a personal manner, having the opportunity to mentor students, to build relationships and help the leadership achieve their mission. His return on this investment of time comes in the form of lasting friendships he has developed and his sense of staying connected to the university.
Stolarski offered some advice to fellow Mays alumni who are considering getting involved in the life of the school: “Pick up the phone and call somebody; a professor, an administrator, or the dean. That’s how I ended up back on the MBA Advisory Board. The opportunities for alumni to engage directly at A&M are many and widely varied.”