When it comes to risk, don’t gamble in Vegas—gamble in the business you know well. That’s what Texas oilman and financier Clayton W. Williams, Jr. ’54, told a roomful of marketing students as he accepted the 2007 Kupfer Distinguished Executive Award at Wehner in mid-February.

“If you don’t take risks, you’re probably not going to get very far. Not with the girl you want to marry or the business you want to run,” explained Williams, a 1954 Aggie graduate who established 26 companies in his long career as Texas businessman. “Risks should be calculated and within reason. I only gambled with wildcat wells.”

And those gambles, after the 1980s energy slump, have worked well for Williams. In the past 50 years, Williams has drilled 1,000 wells and 300 horizontal wells, and been part of efforts to drill an additional 2,400 wells. He took his oil and gas company, Clayton Williams Energy, public on the NASDAQ in 1993. He is also an active alumnus of Texas A&M, where The Association of Former Students’ building bears his name.

The Kupfer Executive Award at Mays serves as a lasting tribute to Harold L. Kupfer ’54 and his career and contributions to the Texas business community. The award, established in memory of Kupfer by his friends Gerald Ray ’54 and Donald Zale ’55, recognizes leading business executives who exemplify professionalism, enthusiasm and dedication to service.

The Kupfer designation is far from the first honor for storied Aggie Williams. Williams is a 1981 Texas A&M Distinguished Alumni, a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Energy Award, and a Champion of Free Enterprise award winner. He was inducted into the Petroleum Musuem’s Hall of Fame in 2005. And in 2006, the Texas State Historical Society named him Businessman of the Decade.

It turns out it’s not who you know or what you know that earns you business success, Williams said: It’s both. “Oil and gas, or any industry in fact, is a business of people. In the long run, if you know somebody and have a legitimate opportunity to put in front of them, that’s OK,” he said. “But focus on running your own business and putting your people first. And don’t worry so much about who you know, so long as you have good friends to share your life with.”

Kupfer Award founders Ray and Zale also honor Corps of Cadets students for their academics and leadership, and—in a new award introduced this year—for their courage and perseverance.

Categories: Executive Speakers, Former Students

First-year MBA students gained a career’s worth of advice in management process and careful yearly planning when former Emerson CEO C.F. Knight stopped by Mays in mid-September. “Set tough targets, develop plans and programs, set up measures to make sure it’s working, and then pay people for the results,” Knight said of the annual planning reviews held for each of 80 Emerson subsidiaries. “It really is that simple, don’t let politics get in the way.”

Knight’s 27 years as CEO included dividend returns each and every year. The Emerson visionary was also on hand to sign copies of his 2005 book Performance Without Compromise: How Emerson Consistently Achieves Winning Results.

Categories: Executive Speakers, Programs, Students

Houston Astros Baseball Club owner Drayton McLane — an international businessman and food importer and exporter for four decades — told students in Lorraine Eden’s management class that businessmen should adopt their attitudes from baseball. Baseball mirrors life’s ups and downs; with more than 160 games a season, the team might lose one game but has to remain unfazed to face the next game less than 24 hours later.

So his advice? “Move forward, get off the past, and think about what you’re going to do tomorrow.”

That lesson is in part a new one for McLane, who faced a group of ballplayers during spring training in 1993 and attempted to inspire them about teamwork — a businessman’s mantra — before he realized the players’ focus was first on their own performance. “In business, a lot of times we hide behind teams and say that the team failed,” he said. “Well, the team didn’t fail; that pitcher lost the game. We don’t take enough personal responsibility.”

McLane, a third-generation grocery wholesaler and entrepreneur, is chairman of family-owned holding company McLane Group, based in Temple, which has owned and operated the Astros since 1992. The group also oversees Minute Maid Park; MC-McLane International, involved in global imports and exports; software solutions company McLane Advanced Technologies; McLane International, Inc., which provides wholesale food distribution overseas; Classic Foods and LoneStar Plastics, both based in Fort Worth; Hometown Favorites, a nostalgic candy company; and CSP Magazine, the leading publication in the convenience store industry.

McLane’s businesses grew an average of 30 percent a year from 1966 to 1990, a testament to a leadership style in which he told students to “find the future” and direct employees toward it.

Expounding on the international aspect of his work and the networking that put him in business in such countries as Spain and Poland, McLane cautioned students to maintain their ethical standards no matter what other governments’ policies are.

“If you have a better idea, better plans and a better product,” he said, “it may be more complicated, but you’ll win.”

Categories: Departments, Executive Speakers, Students

What’s the next revolution in online retailing? It might be tying inventory to location so that a customer can find out if the exact size, color and brand of pants she’s looking for are in stock at her local store or in a nearby town.

That’s a project the gurus at JCPenney’s jcp.com are tackling as they seek to expand their market and direct a multi-channel shopping experience that takes advantage of the best tools retailers have to offer. The company reached a record $1 billion in online sales in January with a Web site that is already tailored to consumers by their tastes in clothing and home furnishings.

The site now claims 45 million active customers, JCPenney Direct (catalog and internet) President John Irvin said in March to an audience of marketing graduate and undergraduate students.

That means JCPenney has been able to reach out beyond the 1,000 brick-and-mortar stores to get new customers and tap new markets. “E-commerce is big companies getting smaller in respect to customers, so that we’re not a general merchant like we were in 1902,” Irvin said. “We’re more like a specialty store, we’re one-on-one with the customer’s needs.”

The company had a head-start on the e-commerce revolution when it first established a Web site with an 800-number for orders in 1994. By 1996, jcp.com began accepting secure online ordering, and in 1998 a full-time Internet division of JCPenney was formed as part of JCPenney Direct.

“We’ve been set up for a long time to put the customer first,” Irvin said. But as other companies catch up in e-commerce, jcp.com must do its best to introduce innovation to the online retail environment. Treating the Internet as another branch of JCPenney’s services in multi-channel marketing is key to improved customer service, Irvin finds. That means having in-store Internet terminals to show customers additional merchandise and allowing customers to order online and pick up at a store.

And that even extends to Web page look-and-feel, Irvin says: You don’t want to alienate customers with a major site redesign every month. “Imagine if you go into a store, and every week the lady’s sportswear is on a different floor,” he said. “Customers need to be able to find things in the same places, they grow accustomed to a look and feel, and that carries across all channels.”

Categories: Departments, Executive Speakers

“We vacuum salesmen are rarely welcomed so warmly, “David Oreck says, smiling in response to the loud “Howdy!” that filled the room he shared with expectant MBA students in October.

Oreck is the face of a personalized selling philosophy that has made his lightweight vacuum a household name since 1963. That he still calls himself a simple salesman is evidence of his strategy in business and in life.

You’ve seen him on commercials and late-night TV infomercials, bright red bowling ball suspended above his head and held aloft only by the suction power of his 8-pound Oreck XL. You’ve probably locked eyes with the gracefully aging man as he explained the Oreck challenge that gives you a guaranteed out if you don’t love his vacuum cleaner.

“There is such a namelessness and facelessness in business,” Oreck said. “You have to look at a TV ad like you’re talking to one person, eyeball to eyeball. Everybody makes claims, but who do you believe? You’ve got to give them that person to believe in.”

In what Oreck told Mays MBA students is the “age of the marketer,” he warned students that the strength of their marketing is the strength of their product. Holding aloft on one arm a Timex that tells time just as well as his snazzier Rolex, Oreck — the 2003 American Marketing Association’s Marketer of the Year — told students they must never forget that brand, quality and customer loyalty are the only items that set products apart.

His premium yet lightweight vacuum models, first introduced in hotels, gained a niche despite expert warning that they weren’t heavy enough to clean properly. It turns out consumers wanted to take the hard work out of housework, he said.

“As you sit here rip-roaring to go, filled with energy, I’ll tell you as a business man to keep the fundamental things in mind,” he said. “You have to offer the customer a benefit, a reason to buy. And mind you, friendliness still goes a long way.”

Categories: Executive Speakers, Programs, Students

The professional practice of human resources is awaiting the emergence of an offshoot field focused on talent to fuel the strategy that best disperses human capital and creates a competitive advantage. That’s according to HR theorist and consultant Pete Ramstad, who faced a gathering of upper-level HR executives during the Center for Human Resource Management’s Spring Forum.

Nearly 30 HR leaders from such multinational companies as GE, Ford and Southwest Airlines gathered at Mays for the center’s two-day professional development forum in May, hearing from faculty and industry experts on new approaches to managing human capital.

A field focused on decision science is needed to guide talent decisions — just as finance enhances and steers the strategic decision framework behind accounting — said Ramstad, an executive vice president at industrial psychology firm Personnel Decisions International. “For HR, we have a rich, incredibly robust set of professional practices, but we are largely divorced from decisions just about people. For HR to advance, it’s going to have to separate its services from its support functions.”

Ramstad calls the new area of HR “talentship,” explaining that much like marketing’s affect on sales, an offshoot specialization would take the focus off bottom-line employment support and instead focus on value-added talent pool analysis. Knowing where your most pivotal employees are and guiding their growth and development, therefore, is crucial to a company’s success.

An organized, evolving talent strategy can clear up strategic ambiguity within the company as a whole and enable HR leaders to send their company’s troops out with clearly articulated marching orders. Knowing where to funnel that energy — and educating company executives about your plan — is key to creating programs for talent pools and directing efforts to improve the company’s image and brand through such talent, Ramstad says.

“How often do you get asked to do a program that you know won’t fly?” Ramstad asked. “You’ve got to shift out of the service framework and into teaching.”

Categories: Centers, Executive Speakers

“What steps can the Fed take after catastrophic attacks to reassure the market?” one Mays student asked the screened image of Roger Ferguson, vice chairman of the Fed’s Board of Governors, who was speaking with only a slight time-delay from 1,400 miles away in Washington, D.C.

The broadcasted answer from the only governor present in Washington on 9/11 was decisive: Maintain open market operations by directing the Fed to purchase government bonds, provide direct loans to banks, clear all checks and encourage banks to keep at business as usual. “First, we must communicate very clearly that the Fed is open and operating and that we’re willing to use our tools to keep the economy running,” Ferguson said.

Graduate management students in Professor Michael Pustay’s distance learning course hear first-hand each week from the nation’s top policy makers and business leaders — including such figures as Admiral B.R. Inman (ret.), former deputy director of the CIA, and former U.S. Congressman Charles Stenholm, who was a House leader in promoting social security reform for more than two decades. But Ferguson is among the highest-ranking economic officials to share his perspective on the intricate relationship between business and the public policy it must abide by.

Mays graduate students put Ferguson on the spot with questions about how and why the Fed sets interest rates, learning that the nation’s central bank monitors and responds to the activities of “bond market vigilantes” in doing so. Students also pondered NAFTA’s future, questioning the Fed leader about the possibility of a North American currency to mirror the strength of the euro. “It would only work if there were a broader desire to bring these countries together,” Ferguson said.

The class joins in on weekly lectures at the Washington Campus via videoconference, taking turns asking questions of highly-regarded speakers with fellow students at Purdue and the University of Texas.

It’s a technology that puts students as close as possible to leaders influencing the course of today’s economy through policy and business decisions. “Business people need to understand the role of the policy process in their business,” Pustay said of his half-dozen years teaching the distance course. “Students in the class get a better picture of how practitioners conceptualize problems and operate in the real world.”

Categories: Departments, Executive Speakers, Students

Nearly 100 MBA students crowded in to the Cocanougher Center in March for an early breakfast and enlightenment from Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences winner Daniel Kahneman. Israeli native Kahneman began a dialogue with students about psychological impacts on rationality in the financial marketplace — for which research he was awarded a Nobel in 2002 — saying that hope typically leads to risk.

The Princeton University psychology and public affairs professor outlined his theory that optimism is a bias that makes us expect to do better than others, neglect competitors and gives the illusion of control. He says that in the financial marketplace, individual investors tend to think they’re doing better in a transaction even though most others have the same information and expertise they have.

The same goes for professionals on Wall Street, who have more skills and are taking a more informed risk in transactions but still, because of optimism, think they’re doing better than other professionals.

“People don’t know the odds,” Kahneman said. “People are taking risks but they don’t know that they’re taking them.”

Though the hope of the entrepreneurial spirit has driven the market and helped to increase general prosperity, Kahneman said investors are better off trading less — to avoid the risk their optimism might otherwise expose them to. “I personally don’t want my financial adviser to be an optimist,” he told students.

Born in Tel Aviv in 1934, Kahneman earned his undergraduate degree from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1954 and his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in 1961. He’s best known for his work in integrating insights from psychology into economics, which has laid the foundation for a new field of research.

During the question-and-answer session that followed his talk, Kahneman met the gaze of a first-year MBA student who posed a classic question: “Does money lead to happiness?”

Sizing up the crowd, Kahneman nodded in response to the familiar question and explained a cohort study that followed a set of college students from the 1970s into their careers 20 years later and found that those who said they wanted money typically had more of it.

But, he said, it didn’t make many of the people who aimed to be rich happier in the end because of it. “By and large wanting money leads to disappointment,” he said. “The more you wanted it, the less happy you are.”

But on a final, optimistic note for Mays students, Kahneman noted: “It’s only when you’ve made a lot of money that you’re happy with it.”

Categories: Executive Speakers, Programs

Jim Carreker, chief executive officer and chairman of The Bombay Company, received the 2004 M.B. Zale Visionary Merchant Award. Presented annually, the M.B. Zale Visionary Merchant Lecture Series and Award highlights the role of innovative merchandising in the success of retail businesses, while honoring M.B. Zale’s outstanding achievements in merchandising.

Throughout Carreker’s career, he has created a legacy of visionary leadership in retailing. In 2002, he came out of retirement to accept the position of CEO and chairman of The Bombay Company.

When asked why, Carreker said, “I was looking for what I wanted to do and liked retail because in it, change occurs so fast. In retail there is no given. Just because you did well last month, does not mean you will this month. In retail, you must constantly change. In this fast-paced, competitive environment, it does not take long to make a difference.”

Carreker has already directed major change at Bombay. Under his leadership, the company has been repositioned and re-energized, with a total market cap increasing 400 percent during the first nine months of his tenure.

“The most important thing is to know your customer,” Carreker told the audience at the award ceremony, “and never underestimate his or her intelligence.”

Categories: Centers, Executive Speakers

The Center for the Management of Information Systems’ (CMIS) fifth annual Women in Information Technology centered on helping students build their careers. The event drew students from Texas A&M as well as Prairie View A&M, Texas A&M International and Corpus Christi.

The half-day conference gave students multiple opportunities to interact with women in the IT profession through both round-table discussions and an interactive panel.

The panel was facilitated by Gwendolyn Wright-Morris, a senior programmer analyst with FedEx and featured Pam Crawford, manager of strategy and optimization at ConocoPhillips; Elaine Gordon, director of software testing at Dell; Julie Yancey, director of recruiting and training at FedEx; and Andrea Jacaman, director of TXU’s retail customer systems program.

Panelists discussed what they believe are essential components of “Career Building,” which was this year’s theme.

“I cannot say strongly enough that everything in life is about continuing education,” said Crawford. “Whether it’s an advanced degree or on the job, don’t ignore chances to grow.”

Categories: Centers, Executive Speakers, Students, Texas A&M