COLLEGE STATION, TX – Mays Business School is proud to announce the recipients of the 2022 Outstanding Alumni Awards. Mays will recognize and honor these individuals during the 30th Annual Mays Outstanding Alumni Awards Dinner in April.
Porter S. Garner III, ’79, Eli Jones ’82,’86,’97, and Brian K. Pinto ’93 are the 2022 recipients.
As the highest honor a Mays Business School graduate can receive from the school, we recognize recipients of the Mays Outstanding Alumni Award for leading lives of distinction and embodying the Aggie core values of excellence, integrity, leadership, loyalty, respect, and selfless service.
To date, Mays has honored 94 former students who have made outstanding contributions in their chosen fields with significant impact, innovation, and influence at Mays, in their community, and in other walks of life. “Those we are honoring this year continue the tradition of exemplifying the Aggie Spirit. I am very pleased that Mays is recognizing these outstanding Aggies,” said R. Duane Ireland, interim dean at Mays Business School. “The ways in which these individuals serve their communities and how they live their lives in both their personal life and professional career substantially contribute to the betterment of their community and of society. They are an inspirational group of leaders and irreplaceable members of the Mays Family. We all look forward to celebrating and recognizing them in April.”
Hosted by R. Duane Ireland and powered by the Mays Experience Team at Mays Business School, the 2022 Outstanding Alumni Awards’ celebration will welcome the family and friends of this year’s honorees, previous award recipients, and a variety of other special guests to the invitation-only event on Thursday, April 28, 2022, in Aggieland.
A $20 million gift from Adam C. Sinn ’00 will support students and programs in Mays Business School’s Department of Finance.
A $10 million gift—and a pledge for an additional $10 million—from Adam C. Sinn ’00, a commodities trader and owner of Aspire Commodities, will help Mays Business School’s Department of Finance enhance the quality of education it provides and offer financial support to undergraduate and graduate students.
“I applaud Mr. Sinn’s willingness to invest in our university,” said Dr. M. Katherine Banks, president of Texas A&M University. “Contributions such as these not only help elevate the department but provide a brighter future to our students for generations to come. We appreciate his support of our mission.”
In recognition of Sinn’s $10 million gift through the Texas A&M Foundation, the department has been renamed the Adam C. Sinn ’00 Department of Finance. This is the second named department at Mays, following the naming of the James Benjamin Department of Accounting in 2017.
“On behalf of Mays Business School, I want to extend a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to Mr. Sinn for his extremely generous support,” said Dr. Duane Ireland, interim dean. “Through Mr. Sinn’s gift, we will have opportunities to continuously increase the value of our students’ educational experiences. The type of support we are receiving from Mr. Sinn reflects the unique relationship between Mays Business School and Texas A&M University with former students.”
Sinn’s gift includes $7.5 million for undergraduate and graduate scholarships to assist finance students whose financial challenges might prevent them from attending college. The gift will support students from Sinn’s hometown in Hoopeston, Illinois, and nearby Cissna Park, Illinois, as well as those from Dorado, Puerto Rico, where he maintains a residence today.
If there is an insufficient number of eligible finance students from those regions, a portion of Sinn’s gift will benefit Aggies enrolled in Mays’ Trading, Risk and Investments Program (TRIP), which prepares participants in the fields of energy trading, investments and risk management by combining exceptional class instruction with hands-on, internship-based experience. Sinn’s gift will cover part of participants’ graduate fees as well as a portion of their undergraduate tuition.
“Considering that the cost of education is increasing for most graduate programs, this gift will allow us to provide a significant level of financial support to TRIP students across the program annually,” said Mays Reliant Trading Center Director Detlef Hallermann ’89, who serves as the TRIP director. “This is a monumental achievement.”
In addition to the current gift, Sinn pledged an additional $10 million gift to be funded over the next five years in support of student and faculty success initiatives in the department.
Sinn’s gift offers the department’s latest indicator of success. “In our world of higher education, philanthropy is more than a fundraising tool; it is actually a metric of performance,” said Mays Executive Associate Dean Sorin Sorescu. “Named departments can be seen as a seal of approval from influential, successful individuals like Mr. Sinn, who has had tremendous career success and is encouraged by what he sees in our programs at Mays. We are so honored to have his support.”
The department’s undergraduate program ranked 34th nationally in 2021 by U.S. News and World Report. In 2021, Eduniversal Best Masters rated the department’s Master’s in Real Estate Management 3rd globally and the graduate portion of TRIP 15th globally. Also in 2021, the department’s Master of Science in Finance Program was ranked 10th among U.S. public programs by TFE Times.
Prospective student interest in the department’s programs is also increasing. More than 1,000 Aggies are enrolled in finance programs for the 2021-22 academic year, a 30% increase over the past five years.
The department prides itself on cross-campus interdisciplinary partnerships and high-impact programs that provide students with cutting-edge academic knowledge and industry best practices. Additionally, innovative opportunities such as Aggies on Wall Street and the Reveille Fund, a student-run investment fund, require students to apply their learning.
The remaining portion of Sinn’s gift will support the department’s efforts to recruit top faculty and create and expand these types of innovative programs. Funds may also support the Master of Science in Finance, career development offerings, educational travel opportunities, etiquette dinners, and training in personal skills. These offerings are designed to create well-rounded graduates who can make an immediate impact when they start their careers.
“When we can do more as a finance department, it’s not only our department and the students in Mays who win. Texas A&M also wins,” said Interim Department Head Christa Bouwman. “These interdisciplinary programs and partnerships are very valuable.”
Luck and Hard Work
Sinn grew up in Hoopeston, Illinois, which like many Midwestern small towns, particularly those not proximate to an interstate, had its share of successes and struggles in the 1980s and 1990s. The area’s economy primarily revolved around agriculture and particularly growing and canning corn and other products; Hoopeston is the Sweetcorn Capital of the World.
Minimum-wage jobs like one Sinn held at a hog farm during high school and good-paying blue-collar jobs in the local industries remained to a degree but became less available over time. However, Hoopeston maintained a strong Midwestern work ethic that influenced Sinn. That work ethic was bolstered greatly by his parents and grandparents, who he described as being part of “hard-working Middle America,” and his role models for hard work. Sinn’s father started a small business as an electrician and his mother performed office functions for the business. His parents saved ardently so they could provide some assistance to their sons if they chose to pursue college degrees.
Sinn was also fortunate that his local Rotary Club was a strong supporter of the Rotary Youth Exchange program. He studied abroad in Japan for a year through that program, which was instrumental in him learning to be open to new experiences and places.
After consideration, Sinn set his sights on Southern Methodist University, which offered degrees in international business and Japanese, and qualified for numerous scholarships, which paid for his entire education there.
However, he soon realized that he didn’t feel at home at SMU. Several of his college friends transferred, including one who enrolled in Texas A&M—and Sinn quickly followed. “Texas A&M was exactly what I was looking for. I liked the culture and the camaraderie,” he said. “It was an easy place to flourish, and I liked the college town environment.”
But he also discovered Texas A&M was harder academically, and he found himself in the mid-tier of students scholastically. He said, “I decided that if I couldn’t get the grades, I would beef up my resume. I had three internships, was involved in several organizations, and held jobs while I was a student.”
His penchant for hard work paid off. After initially being declined for an internship with Dell, Sinn offered to work for free. Impressed, the company representative invited him to reapply. He did when another opportunity arose—and was quickly offered a job when the interviewers realized that the Aggie knew more about the company than they did.
After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in finance in 2001, Sinn wanted to pursue a career in trading, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who bought and sold livestock in the small livestock business founded by his great-grandfather and sons. However, it took him a while to find his niche. He briefly worked in accounting and finance jobs before he was in the right place at the right time—without a job when Lehman Brothers folded—to step into energy trading. “People sometimes end up in a spot due to sudden life circumstances,” said Sinn, who now operates one of the largest speculative trading firms in the commodity market. “It’s what you do with that situation that can determine the course of your future and whether you reach the next level.”
Sinn has embraced Texas A&M’s core values during his career. Now, his selfless service through creating this endowment will help middle-tier students avoid taking on student loan debt. “I want others to not have a financial burden so they can attend the best university on the planet,” he said, adding that these scholarships will also help position finance students to be successful in their lives after college. “I hope to lay the foundation so that at some point in time, these students can bet on themselves like I was able to do when they need to. The person who is financially burdened by rising educational costs may be unable to take that shot.”
Mays faculty, staff and students appreciate Sinn’s commitment to selfless service as he opens doors for the next generation of Aggies. “He wants to give people an opportunity,” Hallermann said. “He’s got an unbelievable talent for trading power and electricity, but when he looks around, his focus is always, ‘How do I help people get to where they need to be?’”
About Mays Business School
At Mays Business School, our vision is to advance the world’s prosperity. Our mission is to be a vibrant learning organization that creates impactful knowledge and develops transformational leaders. Mays Business School educates more than 6,400 undergraduate, masters, and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing, and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools for its programs and faculty research.
About the Texas A&M Foundation
The Texas A&M Foundation is a nonprofit organization that aspires to be among the most trusted philanthropies in higher education. It builds a brighter future for Texas A&M University, one relationship at a time. To learn more, visit txamfoundation.com.
This fall the James Benjamin Department of Accounting at Mays Business School held its annual Outstanding Professional Program in Accounting (PPA) Alumni and Accounting Hall of Honor Awards Dinner honoring the 2020 and 2021 recipients of the Lifetime Achievement and Rising Star awards as well as the 2020 and 2021 inductees to the Accounting Hall of Honor.
Honored with the 2020 and 2021 Rising Star Award respectively, Rachel Bentley ’08 and Kyle Koehler ’09 each founded successful companies that uphold the Aggie Core Values. Bentley is the Co-Founder, COO, and President of The Citizenry, a direct-to-consumer furnishings retailer that has pioneered the ethical and transparent sourcing of home goods. Koehler is the Co-Founder and CEO of Wildway, a food production company that supports a, “natural, sustainable, and connected future,” by creating granolas using natural, real-food ingredients. He was also recently featured on Episode 127 of Mays Mastercast (Listen here or watch on Inside Mays).
Receiving the 2020 Lifetime Achievement award was Devina Rankin ’98 the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Waste Management (WM), a Fortune 250 environmental services company with ∼$15B in annual revenue and $22B in assets. She is joined by Brent Smith ’97, the 2021 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, who served as the CFO and Treasurer of Main Street Capital Corporation and has continued to show his generosity by establishing a scholarship for PPA students at Mays Business School. Read more on his journey from a rural Texas farm to CFO in a recent profile.
Along with the presentation of the Rising Star and Lifetime Achievement Awards, Former Students Gary Brauchle ’95 and Shawn Lafferty ’90 were inducted into the Accounting Hall of Honor for their continued support and contributions to the accounting department at Mays Business School.
Freels ’81, Hill ’83, and Marks ’79 are honored at the ’21 Outstanding Alumni Awards dinner
Three business leaders—W. Miles Marks Jr. ’79, Bradley R. Freels ’81, and Randy L. Hill ’83—were honored as the 2021 recipients of Mays Business School’s Outstanding Alumni Awards. Fittingly, the trio of Former Students received their awards at a banquet Thursday, Oct. 21 at Kyle Field’s The Zone Club, which overlooks the gridiron where the Aggies recently celebrated their landmark victory over Alabama, ranked number one at the time.
The prestigious award, launched in 1992 and awarded previously to 91 Aggies, honors Former Students who are transformational leaders in their profession and community. These business executives also have offered their time, talents, and treasure to support Mays Business School’s vision to advance the world’s prosperity.
These recipients embody the Aggie core values of excellence, integrity, leadership, loyalty, respect, and selfless service. “We know all Mays Business School graduates are outstanding; these three are the best among the best,” said Mays Interim Dean R. Duane Ireland. “Individuals who receive this prestigious award are those who live their lives daily in ways that create value for others.”
Miles Marks ’79
Currently serving as a managing director of Avalon Advisors, LLC, a Houston-based wealth management firm, Marks has enjoyed a stellar career in corporate and non-profit finance. After earning a BBA in accounting and an MBA in management with a concentration in finance, he worked with First City National Bank and Texas Commerce Bank.
In 1997, Marks was recruited to serve as the President and CEO of Texas A&M’s 12th Man Foundation. “I think leaders are motivated by excellence,” he said. “I felt like at Texas A&M, the opportunity to be with the 12th Man brought the opportunity to impact and bring excellence to my own school.”
During his 15-year tenure with the Foundation, Marks was responsible for the organization’s strategic planning, organizational development and management, financial management, media relations, volunteer management, charitable fundraising, and special events. He initiated the Eppright Distinguished Donors Program and the John David Crow Legacy Society. Marks also was a driving force behind creating naming opportunities at every level of the athletics program. His work helped lay the foundation for Texas A&M’s move into the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Marks was the recipient of the National Association of Athletic Directors of Development’s 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Marks always has been very active in his community. While in College Station, he was a deacon of Central Baptist Church, where he also taught Newlywed Couples and Young Marrieds. Marks also participated in the Director’s Circle of the Bush Presidential Library Foundation, Texas A&M OPAS, and Breakaway Ministries.
Currently a deacon at Second Baptist Church of Houston, Marks served on the church’s Finance Committee and chaired the Second Baptist School Foundation Annual campaign. He currently serves as an advisory director of Cadence Bancorp, trustee of the Houston Furniture Bank, and chair of the Board of Directors of Houston’s A.D. Players, the nation’s largest faith-based theater organization. A regular guest lecturer at Mays, he serves on the 12th Man Foundation’s Ambassadors Council and the Texas A&M University System’s Chancellor’s Council.
Marks and his wife, Molly, have two daughters, Elizabeth ‘08 and Margaret (who are both married to Aggies), as well as four grandchildren.
Bradley R. Freels ’81
Freels, who holds a BBA and MBA from Mays Business School, has been an integral part of the growth of Midway, the privately owned, fully integrated real estate investment and development firm. He started at the company after graduating from the Mays MBA program and had a key role in opening Midway’s Houston office. Named a partner in 1990, Freels now serves as the company’s Chairman and CEO. He is the sole shareholder of Midway Holdings, LP, the holding company for an integrated group of real estate and investment-related companies that operate under the name Midway.
Thanks to his leadership, Midway has become one of the most active developer/investment owners in the greater Houston area. The company has developed and/or acquired more than 45 million square feet of office, industrial, hospitality, multifamily, medical, and retail properties in the United States and Northern Mexico. Additionally, Midway has more than 5,000 acres of business and residential communities in more than a dozen cities. “As a business, we try to create enduring investments and remarkable places that enrich people’s lives,” he said.
The company’s projects include CITYCENTRE (home of Mays CITYCENTRE, where Mays offers its Executive MBA and Professional MBA programs), East River, Kings Harbor, Green Street, Memorial Green, The Jones on Main, Avenue Grove, Kirby Grove, and Spring Trails. Midway also has developed projects in Bryan/College Station, including Century Square, Cavalry Court, The George, and 100 Park, and currently is leading the development of Aggie Park adjacent to Kyle Field. “What I get excited about is seeing people use those properties,” he said, pointing to Century Square as a prime example of the company’s work. “In College Station, the University was there before the city, so it never had a town center, a heartbeat. That’s what we are creating, and over time we’ll continue to do that.”
The Aggie is very involved in the Houston community. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Greater Houston Partnership and has been involved with numerous national and local business, educational, Christian, and charitable organizations. He’s also proud that Midway encourages employees to be actively involved in the community. “We’re fortunate enough to be able to give everybody a day a month to give back to the community,” he said. “You take those 12 days times 137 people (and) that’s a lot of days and a lot of intersections.”
Freels and his wife, Claudia ’82, have three adult children Clayton ’12, Kevin ’14, and Carly Whitehurst ’17, and two grandchildren.
Randy L. Hill ’83
After graduating from Mays Business School with a BBA in Accounting, Hill went to work for KPMG LLP—and remained with the firm until 2021. “[Texas] A&M breeds opportunities for you to land a good job and then just take off from there,” he said.
He has worked in KPMG’s Dallas and Houston offices, primarily as an audit partner. Hill specialized in serving energy, chemical, transportation, and other commercial clients both in the United States and across the globe. The business leader, who led the KPMG Dallas office’s audit practice for almost a decade, also served clients with his knowledge and skills of corporate board governance, merger and acquisitions transactions, complex audit and accounting matters, and capital market transactions.
In 2021, Hill became a partner in the Dallas office of Opportune LLP. The business advisory firm focuses on helping industry stakeholders manage energy challenges. Hill’s role focuses on bringing value and expertise to existing clients and developing new client relationships in the Dallas-Fort Worth market.
Hill has remained active in Mays. He was KPMG’s partner liaison with Mays for more than 15 years, helping to guide the company’s investment of time, talent, and treasure into the business school. As a result, KPMG–which was named Mays 2017 Corporate Partner of the Year–led several Mays fundraising campaigns over the years and the company’s gifts include a chair in accounting, a professorship in accounting, a fellowship, a data analytics/technology development endowment, and accounting scholarships. Hill was the recipient of the James Benjamin Department of Accounting’s inaugural Accounting Hall of Honor Award in 2016 and currently serves on the James Benjamin Department of Accounting Advisory Council
This Aggie has been very active in both the Dallas and Houston civic and charitable communities, primarily focusing his efforts on serving disadvantaged and lower-income families. He also has participated in fundraising efforts and activities to support South Dallas initiatives as a member of the Salesmanship Club of Dallas. Hill is active in his church, serving on the business advisory team.
Hill and his wife, Sandy, have two daughters, Bailey and Emma ’21.
Inspiration for Aggies
Throughout the evening, the latest inductees as Mays Outstanding Alumni were honored with standing ovations by more than 130 audience members, which included their family members, some of their classmates, and Mays’ administrators and faculty. Their recognition also offered inspiration for current Aggies who were in attendance, including Brown Scholars, Business Honors students, and Mays’ Ambassadors. “We are very proud of all Mays Business School graduates. We also are very proud of all current Mays Business School students,” Ireland said. “We know that your successes of today lay the foundation for you hopefully to become a recipient of the Outstanding Alumnus Award for Mays Business School in the future.”
Brent Smith ’97 ’98 learned to appreciate family, integrity, and a strong work ethic growing up in rural Central Texas. His understanding of these values deepened during his undergraduate and graduate experience at Texas A&M University, creating a strong foundation for Smith’s successful professional success and personal life.
Now Mays Business School is honoring Main Street Capital’s CFO and treasurer with the Mays 2021 Professional Program in Accounting (PPA) Lifetime Achievement Award. “Brent Smith embodies the Aggie core values and has earned the respect of leaders across the financial industry through his personal integrity,” said Dr. Nate Sharp, head of Mays’ James Benjamin Department of Accounting. “Brent has risen to the CFO position at two different companies thus far, and his career achievements reflect positively on Texas A&M University, Mays Business School, and the PPA program in the James Benjamin Department of Accounting. We are so pleased to honor Brent with the PPA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021.”
Committed to Hard Work
Smith spent his early life growing up and working on the family’s century-old farm in Round Top, Texas. The importance of family and community was underscored when his father died of cancer when Smith was 12. “My brother and I were raised by my mom, who was incredible—and still is an incredible woman,” he said, adding that the small community’s commitment to hard work also influenced his approach to life.
As Smith and his brother, Brad ‘91 ‘92 grew up, education remained a top priority. Both became the first generation in their family to attend college and earn a degree. “In general, most of the people in our community were Aggies,” Smith said. “Certainly, the culture of A&M—that historically supported blue collar students from a rural environment–led to having more Aggies in the area where I grew up.”
A Stable Career
As a freshman, Smith still was unclear about his career direction. Eventually, he decided to major in accounting because of his family’s financial struggles. “I was always told that if you wanted a safe and consistent job and you wanted to go into business, you couldn’t go wrong with accounting,” he said. “People are always going to need accountants.”
Soon, he realized that he had an affinity for the accounting coursework. “I had a general interest in business. I was very detail-oriented by nature and very analytical,” he said. “It seemed like a good fit.”
The university’s culture also supported the future executive’s development as a leader. “Texas A&M fosters teamwork, and a sense of community and togetherness. We can work together to figure things out,” said the member of PPA’s Group 5. “Texas A&M also offers a humble, hard-working environment and a down-to-earth mentality where, in general, Aggies don’t think they’re above you. We’re a roll-up-our-sleeves-and-get-to-work kind of people.”
That work ethic, along with the technical accounting skills that Texas A&M provided, were instrumental in Smith’s rapid success in his first job at Arthur Andersen’s Houston office. “When you go into an organization like Arthur Andersen, you try to distinguish yourself,” Smith said. “The way to do that is through hard work, a can-do attitude, and being a team player.”
After working in public accounting for a few years, Smith joined FTI Consulting to concentrate on financial investigative work. He worked with FTI for three years before deciding to switch jobs to prioritize his young family.
Smith’s reputation for hard work and willingness to learn, combined with his deep network, led to a position at Cal Dive, a multinational marine construction company serving the offshore oil and gas industry. “Like most opportunities, this one came out of something that was broken,” he said. “They were having issues with their operational accounting, which they wanted me to come in and improve.”
While he knew that he ultimately did not want to do operational accounting long-term, this position was a way to get his foot in the door at Cal Dive. “That started a 10-year run that led to a lot of opportunities for me to move through the organization very quickly,” he said.
Smith followed a circuitous professional route—including working for one of Cal Dive’s spin-off companies that ultimately went public–that broadened his experience. “I jumped at the chance because it was a way for me to pivot a little bit away from accounting and do more on the finance side, which I hadn’t done a lot of,” he explained, adding that he advanced to become the company’s vice president.
These varied experiences prepared him to become the CFO at Cal Dive at the age of 35. “This was a great experience in a very tough industry,” he said. “There were lots of ups and downs. I went from record-level financial performance to worrying about meeting payroll. There were extreme circumstances that I had to manage through. Looking back, you learn invaluable lessons about how to manage things.”
Investing in People
Eventually, the oil and gas industry’s ups and downs took a toll, causing Smith to be receptive to other opportunities. Several of his former Arthur Andersen colleagues approached Smith about the Main Street CFO position. “This was completely different from my previous experience,” he said. “It’s a publicly-traded investment firm. It was such a great opportunity that I decided to make that change.”
The Houston resident has continued to hone his leadership skills during his seven-year tenure at Main Street. “I’m a big believer in effective communication,” he said. “To be a successful leader you have to have effective communication—to be direct and have tough conversations when needed.”
Smith also has embraced mentoring to invest in the company’s employees. “When you take someone under your wing and bring them along in their career, you’re making a big investment in people,” he said. “If you can do that consistently, it’s going to pay off through less turnover.”
While career and family have occupied much of his time, Smith has found ways to give back to Mays. Smith and his wife, Kristi, established a scholarship for PPA students. This fund already provided financial support to two Mays students during the 2020-21 academic year.
He enjoys meeting with PPA students and MBA students and has participated in roundtable discussions. The senior executive also regularly participates in Mays Alumni Forum, where he shares the critical lessons from throughout his career. “I always tell people that it is very difficult to be patient. If you have some idea of how your career path will line out, that’s great; it’s good to have long-term goals,” he said. “But don’t get too caught up in specific titles, because I can guarantee it won’t work out exactly the way you planned. The key is putting yourself in a position to be prepared to take advantage of opportunities when they come.”
A Foundation of Family
While career is important, Smith always puts his family—his wife of nearly two decades and their two children, Hunter and Jenna—first. “Nothing is more important than spending time with them,” he said. “The big buzzword that I’ve learned throughout my career is perspective. Especially early in your career, a problem or challenge might seem like it’s overwhelming and the end of the world. But at the end of the day, nothing is more important than your family. Having that balance and keeping in mind what you think is most important is critical.”
Unsurprisingly, Smith’s family and roots are at the center of his reaction to receiving the PPA Lifetime Achievement Award. “I was very humbled. This award is something my family can be proud of,” Smith said. “I came from humble beginnings, and I still consider myself very humble, but I have had some success in the corporate world. This just shows that you don’t have to be raised in a wealthy family or in a large city to achieve a very high level of success in the corporate world.”
Mays’ leaders feel that Smith personifies the type of transformational leader that the school is trying to develop. “Brent Smith is the kind of person who gives capitalism a good name. He has demonstrated excellence throughout his career while maintaining his perspective on what is important. Around Aggieland, we call it selfless service, but for Brent it has just meant being who he is, a deeply skilled professional who leverages his abilities to make others successful,” said Dr. Mike Shaub, Mays clinical professor and Deloitte Professional Program Director Professor. “He is generous in giving back in time and resources to those who are following behind him in Mays and PPA, because his legacy is not centered on accomplishments, but on changed lives. He is patiently building a legacy not just in the business world or in Mays Business School, but in life.”
Kyle Koehler ’09 is an unlikely founder of a food manufacturing company. Yet Wildway –the company he co-founded in 2012–has benefitted from his financial acumen, commitment to health, and desire to live a values-based life that supports the creation of a better world. Koehler’s unconventional but highly successful path led to his selection as Mays Business School’s Professional Program in Account (PPA) 2021 Rising Star Award.
This honor recognizes a recent PPA graduate who is making a substantial impact on society through business acumen, exceptional leadership, or entrepreneurial success. “Kyle represents exactly what the PPA Rising Star Award is intended to recognize: he is a young, successful entrepreneur who co-founded Wildway just three years after graduating from Texas A&M University,” said Dr. Nate Sharp, head of the James Benjamin Department of Accounting in Mays Business School and the Nelson D. Durst Endowed Chair in Accounting. “As a PPA Rising Star, Kyle’s success demonstrates that ‘advancing the world’s prosperity’ often goes hand-in-hand with improving people’s lives. We are incredibly proud of what Kyle has accomplished with Wildway.”
An Adventure in Entrepreneurship
Koehler, who was born and raised an Aggie, took a circuitous route to being an entrepreneur. After graduating from Mays PPA Group 17, the native of LaGrange, Texas lived briefly in Austin before moving to New York City, where he worked for Ernst & Young. However, the big-city lifestyle eventually took its toll. “The corporate life got draining and exhausting, especially in New York City,” he said. “The hours and days were long and living there wasn’t fulfilling in my personal life. I wanted to pursue something that spoke to the values that I had personally and the lifestyle that I wanted to live.”
Kyle and his wife at the time, Kelli, decided to return to Texas, selecting San Antonio as their new home. “The main reason we chose to move back to San Antonio was to be closer to family,” Koehler said. “Family has always taken precedence for us and the importance of family is also built into our company culture. I always tell our people that family comes before your job and to never sacrifice family for work.”
The city also has proven to be a good fit in other ways. The proximity to the Hill Country offers ready accessibility to outdoor activities. Additionally, San Antonio’s business-friendly environment has been instrumental in the Koehlers’ rapid success as food entrepreneurs. “San Antonio is a very business-friendly city with a strong entrepreneurial culture and a great workforce,” Koehler said. “We would not be where we are today if we had to deal with the cost of building a manufacturing business in a more expensive city or state.”
The idea to create Wildway was sparked by the Koehlers’ decision to clean up their diet. “We took out a lot of added sugars from our diet and started eating really healthy. We felt really good with it,” he said. “We made snack items for ourselves that were gluten-free, didn’t have any sugars, and were made with really clean ingredients. At one point, we wondered whether we could turn this into a business and make something of this.”
After founding the company in 2012, Kyle and Kelli spent the next year testing products and formulations for clean and tasty cereals, granolas, and snacks at the city’s small farmer’s markets. Feedback and sales proved promising. “The first time we attended a farmers market in San Antonio, we made enough granola for the entire weekend,” Koehler said. “When we sold out of everything in a little over an hour, that’s when we thought that we might have something worth building on a larger scale.”
Now, the company’s products can be found on the shelves of over 2,000 grocery and health-food stores across the nation. Wildway is sold in a variety of leading national and regional supermarkets, including H-E-B, Whole Foods Market, Sprouts, Kroger, and Wegmans.
The business, which currently has 12 employees, differs from many other food manufacturing companies. “We do all of our manufacturing in-house, which is a little different from a lot of food manufacturers that outsource their manufacturing to a firm that specializes in food manufacturing,” Koehler said. “We built our manufacturing plant from the ground up and there’s a lot of learning experiences there.”
This business model works, and the company’s rapid growth has caught the industry’s attention. Wildway was selected from 700 applicants to be among the nine companies to participate in the Chobani Food Incubator. The Aggie-owned small business was also one of 10 chosen for the PepsiCo Incubator. Both incubators mentor entrepreneurs as they grow their business to the next level.
The Mays graduate’s role continues to evolve as the company grows. Originally tasked with handling the accounting as well as a broad range of jobs necessitated in a small business, Koehler now primarily oversees the business’s finances and operations. Kelli, who was recognized by the Association of Former Students in the 2021 “12 Under 12 Young Alumni Spotlight,” focuses on marketing.
Koehler credits much of the company’s success to what he learned at Mays and Texas A&M. “There are a lot of people who go into business without a business background because they are passionate about a product, a particular service or particular thing they can make,” he said. “The business background for me was very important in starting and growing the business. Knowing how to read a financial statement and how to balance a budget when we were first starting out was incredibly helpful. I think a lot of extracurricular activities that I was involved in at the university also helped with my leadership ability and ability to manage people.”
As the company continues to grow, Koehler remains dedicated to bringing positive change to the world through manufacturing clean food. “Kyle epitomizes the Aggie core values, especially excellence, integrity, and selfless service. Wildway, the company Kyle and Kelli have created, provides a high-quality product intended to make people’s lives better and healthier,” said Dr. Mike Shaub, the Deloitte Professional Program Director Professor. “Kyle shows his integrity in being uncompromising about being fully himself, and his focus is on others, whether that is the customer or his employees. He wants a healthy work environment, a healthy community, and a healthy world. He did not go into this venture to get rich, but to make the world a better place by what he saw as a genuine need. What better way to advance the world’s prosperity?”
In gratitude for the dedication and leadership of Mr. Bruce D. Upshaw, retired Sr. Vice President, Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer and current member of the Merichem Board of Directors, Merichem Company endowed a scholarship in Accounting and Finance at Texas A&M’s Mays Business School. Mr. Upshaw has served Merichem since 1981 and graduated from Texas A&M University in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration – Finance.
“Leaders like Bruce are the reason why Merichem has delivered innovative solutions to customers for over three-quarters of a century. Our vision is scholarships like this one will enable more business leaders to rise up and I couldn’t think of a better place than Mays Business School for Bruce to select as the place to direct this investment,” shared Kendra Lee, Merichem Company Chairman & CEO.
Upshaw joined Merichem in 1981 after filling a variety of accounting and supervisory positions over eleven years with Shell Oil Company. He began his Merichem career as Accounting Manager, became Controller in 1985, and was elected Treasurer of Merichem Company in 1995.
In 1997 Upshaw was elected CFO of Merisol USA, the Texas Operating Company of Merisol, a Merichem-Sasol Joint Venture. In 1999 he rejoined Merichem and became CFO in 2002. Upshaw has served on Merichem’s board of directors since 2006.
“I was blessed to join an amazing organization and work with wonderful people in my career,” shared Bruce Upshaw. “I’m thrilled Merichem has this program in place and we, together, contribute to fostering the next generation of leaders.”
Bruce demonstrates his continuing passion for Texas A&M through support for The Texas A&M Foundation, The 12th Man Foundation, The Association of Former Students, the Aggie Band, Parson’s Mounted Cavalry and the Yell Leaders.
“The faculty and students at Mays Business School are grateful for the generosity of Merichem Company and Bruce Upshaw,” shared Eli Jones, Dean of Mays Business School. “Scholarships allow students an opportunity to experience all that Texas A&M has to offer and to fulfill our vision at Mays to advance the world’s prosperity. We are developing transformational leaders and support from individuals and organizations are how we raise up equipped and experienced talent.”
The Bruce D. Upshaw ’70 Endowed Scholarship in Accounting and Finance was established at Texas A&M University on August 21, 2020 for the benefit of Mays School of Business. Merichem Company of Houston, Texas provided the gift funds and the endowment honors Mr. Upshaw of Hays County, Texas.
About Merichem Company
Founded in 1945, Merichem Company serves the global oil and gas and petrochemical industries as a leader in full-service sulfur removal, caustic treating and spent caustic treatment technologies. Merichem also provides safe and reliable spent caustic handling services through beneficial reuse and recycling of spent caustics, turning would-be waste into valuable and viable commodities.
Almost six months to the date of the originally planned celebration disrupted by Coronavirus, on October 8, 2020, Mays friends and family gathered at the Texas A&M Hotel and via Zoom to celebrate and honor the 2020 Outstanding Alumni. Safety protocol was followed with 6-feet spaced tables seating six instead of their regular 12, facemasks were worn at all times unless eating, and the event was moved to a hybrid virtual/in-person structure. The in-person celebration, though smaller than past years, was a welcomed reminder of our collective humanity and love of Mays Business School.
As the highest honor a Mays Business School graduate can receive from the college, recipients of the Mays Outstanding Alumni Award are recognized for leading lives of distinction and embodying the Aggie core values of excellence, integrity, leadership, loyalty, respect, and selfless service.
Coming from different backgrounds and walks of life, these recipients are chosen for their activity in their communities and continued involvement within the Mays community. Mays recognized the three 2020 Outstanding Alumni inductees at the 28th annual Outstanding Alumni Awards Dinner.
The honorees are Laura C. Fulton ’85, Randall B. Hale ’85, and Blake A. Pounds ’89.
So far, Mays has honored 91 former students who have reached outstanding achievements and have made significant contributions within their respective fields, as well as within Mays and their surrounding communities.
Laura C. Fulton ’85 is the vice-president of finance for the American Bureau of Shipping
Fulton graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting.
Fulton, who started as an auditor at Deloitte & Touche, reached a career milestone when she assisted Hi- Crush Partners LP in becoming a publicly-traded company as the organization’s CFO. In 2019, “Oil & Gas Investor” magazine recognized Fulton as one of the “25 Most Influential Women in Energy.”
At the dinner, Fulton mentioned her multi-generational Aggie family and called out her dad, Daniel Clinton ’52, Texas A&M Distinguished Alumni Recipient, and the ways that they have supported her.
“A lot of people think of giving back t0 A&M as a giving of money but I think of it as giving yourself– giving your time and your talents.”
Randall B. Hale ’85 is founder and managing director of Rock Hill Capital Group
He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting.
At the Outstanding Alumni Dinner, Hale said that it was an honor to be on the stage after seeing the names and the pictures of the past recipients of the Outstanding Alumni Awards on the screen during the dinner.
“Certainly an unexpected award for me, I didn’t anticipate receiving it. Thanks to Dr. Jim Benjamin and a few other phenomenal business teachers, I am where I am today.”
Blake A. Pounds ’89 serves as Accenture’s Houston Office Managing Director where he leads more than 2,000 professionals and oversees developing local business relationships, expanding civic presence, and fostering employee engagement.
Pounds graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance.
Pounds said at the dinner that in the same way that iron sharpens iron, so had the family, friends, and colleagues in the room sharpened him to be the man he was.
“Texas A&M has given me a lot and it’s neat now, later in my career, to be able to give back and to give opportunities to current students.”
I received my undergrad in AgriBusiness from Texas A&M and then went on to work at MEI Technologies (then is was Muniz Engineering). My father founded MEIT in 1992, I began working there in 2001. Over the next ten years, I worked in various corporate departments and had taken on leadership roles within the company. We began succession planning for MEIT and I was interested in additional formal education (MBA) to help prepare me for my next roles within the company as an executive and an owner. I attended an Aggie 100 lunch with my father who was receiving an award, and Ricky Griffin happened to be a guest at our table. He was talking about the Executive MBA (EMBA) program and the new location at City Centre. I applied to the program and found it to be competitive with other programs and very convenient in terms of location and my work schedule.
After graduating in 2014, I had an opportunity to take an idea developed at MEIT and launch a new business providing testing in the harsh environment of space as a service. In 2015 I founded Alpha Space Test and Research Alliance, and in 2018 we launched a testing platform that is permanently attached to the International Space Station. We privately own the facility, known as MISSE, and offer government agencies, academia, private companies, and now individuals access to the low earth orbit space environment. We are part of a small group of companies offering commercial services in space and at the forefront of developing a new space economy.
My EMBA prepared me for the launch (literally) of this new company not only through the academics, but also set a cadence of hard work and efficiency for me. I made great relationships and connections, and have gone on to participate and serve in other organizations as a direct result of the network I built during my time in the EMBA program.
Mays: How did the idea about sending the EMBA Class XX Coin come to gain traction?
SM: I was meeting with Julie [Orzabal, Director, Texas A&M Executive MBA Program] and had expressed an interest in staying engaged with the EMBA program. We were chatting about the Class XX graduating and their program coming to an end. I shared with her that I sent my husband’s Aggie ring into space, and I commented to her how cool it would be to send their class coin, which typically travels around the world with students, on the ultimate trip into space. I committed to sponsor that trip for the Class XX coin, and Julie let me announce it to the class via Zoom on their last program day.
Mays: Can you detail exactly what will happen, as planned, for the EMBA Class XX Coin?
SM: The EMBA Class XX coin was delivered to our headquarters in Houston. It will be put into our vacuum chamber and the pressure will reduced to 10-6 torr (0.000000001 atmosphere) and the temperature will be raised to 60oC (140oF). This removes contaminants and particulates from the coin and prepares it for space flight. It is then moved into our 10K clean room, where our engineers integrate the coin into a MISSE carrier along with other experiments bound for the space station. Our carrier is packed and delivered to NASA Johnson Space Center, then shipped along with all the other cargo manifested on our flight to the International Space Station. NASA will ship the cargo to the launch site, either Florida for a SpaceX launch, or Virginia for a Northrup Grumman launch, and it will be packed for launch.
It will launch in spring 2021, where the coin will experience acceleration forces of about 3X to 4X gravity. Once docked to the ISS, the astronaut crew will unpack our carrier from the cargo. An astronaut attaches our carrier, containing the Class XX coin, to the MISSE transfer tray and send them through the airlock into space attached to the ISS robotic arm. The robotic arm and other robotic tools plug our carrier into the MISSE facility, which we will then control from our operations center here in Houston. The Class XX coin will be exposed to the harsh environment of space, including extreme temperature changes that can range from -40oC to 60oC (-40oF to 140oF), while it orbits the Earth approximately 16 times per day. At this point, the coin is traveling almost 5 miles per second and is about 240 miles above the Earth. We expect it to stay for about 6 months totaling over 75,000,000 miles on its trip in space.
At the end of this mission, the carrier is returned into the habitable portion of the space station by the robotic arm and the transfer tray. The astronauts load it, along with other cargo, for a ride back to Earth on the SpaceX Dragon capsule. Once retrieved by NASA, the carrier is returned to our office in Houston, where our engineers de-integrate and unpack the carriers. At that time, the coin will be returned to Class XX and happy hour to follow!
Mays: What’s next after the EMBA Class XX Coin?
SM: In 2019, we were the first company to sign a reimbursable Space Act Agreement with NASA to allow us to purchase resources from NASA (launch, astronaut time, etc) to send commercial items to the International Space Station. This allows us to open space access to private individuals, not just researchers, for personal use. In 2021, we will be selling space for Aggie Rings and other personal mementos to fly in one of our carriers just like the Class XX coin. For about the price of an airline ticket for international travel, an Aggie ring can complete a mission to the space station and return to its owner.
Mays: Why is this special and important to you – and why you think it’ll be special for others?
SM: Sending an item into the space environment and having it returned is such a unique experience that has been limited to very select scientists. We have the opportunity to enable that experience for private companies, organizations, and individuals on a limited basis for the first time in the history of space exploration. I think it’s amazing that one could send their Aggie Ring, which connects Aggies instantly and represents Aggie values, on a unique mission into space. The eagle on the ring symbolizes agility, power, and the ability to reach great heights, and what better way to celebrate that than by sending it beyond the sky?
Explore Stephanie Murphy and Texas A&M’s MBA Programs
COLLEGE STATION, TX, June 29, 2020 – Texas A&M’s Executive MBA program has been named a top ten public program by The Economist, the international publication headquartered in London. The program, delivered at CityCentre Houston, is ranked the #1 public program in Texas, the #9 public program in the U.S., the #21 overall program in the U.S., and #37 overall globally.
TheEconomist survey was based on feedback from current students (classes of 2020 and 2021) and Former Students (alumni) from the classes of 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Texas A&M’s Executive MBA program received the top mark in both “Quality of Faculty” and “Student Rating of Teaching Quality” categories above the rest of the 70 international programs ranked this year. The program ranked #2 in the “Student Rating of Faculty” and “Student Rating of Content” categories, a testament to the sentiment current and former students have for the value of the program.
“I am savoring this moment knowing we have been judged by The Economist as the #9 U.S. Public Program,” said Associate Dean for Graduate Programs, Arvind Mahajan. “This ranking is a major recognition of the incredible students we have matriculate through our program. The expertise and dedication of our faculty and the hard work and perseverance of these students results in an incredible experience and transformation for each cohort. That vast change is the true output; these rankings are an outcome that measures how our students’ entire lives are improved.”
“It’s wonderful to have The Economist recognize the hard work and dedication that the Executive MBA program faculty and staff put in every semester,” said Eli Jones, Dean of Mays Business School. “Congratulations to the faculty, staff, and students that comprise this Executive MBA program and the impact each of them makes to advance the world’s prosperity. I want to specifically thank Julie Orzabal, the director of the program, who since its inception 20 years ago, has led executive leaders and gained results like these.”
Applications for the Texas A&M Executive MBA program are being accepted now for the class of 2022. For more information, visit mba.tamu.edu.