Former Students | Mays Impacts

Twenty Aggie-led startups competed in the only university-wide business plan pitch competition.

By Lara Robertson, McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship at Texas A&M University

COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS March 8, 2022 – The McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship hosted its fifth annual Aggie PITCH at the Doug Pitcock ’49 Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center Monday evening. Now open to both current and former students, Aggie PITCH is the only university-wide business plan pitch competition at Texas A&M and seeks to identify the best Aggie business pitches from across industries and sectors.

For the 2022 event, a total of 20 startups were selected as finalists to compete for the coveted McFerrin Cup and a share of more than $35,000 in prize money. Split into three divisions —Full Pitch for both current and former students and Elevator Pitch open to both — the competition gives startup founders the opportunity to pitch their business in a fast-paced, high-energy format to a panel of anonymous judges and an audience of students, professionals, mentors, possible investors and fellow Aggie entrepreneurs.

In the Full Pitch divisions, 10 teams were each given 10 minutes for their pitch. In contrast, the Elevator Pitch competitors were only given a 1-minute allotment for their pitch. Although the anonymous panel of judges was tasked with ranking and selecting the winners of the Full Pitch division, audience members were invited to take part and cast their vote to select for the winners of the Elevator Pitch division.

Finalists’ ventures at this year’s Aggie PITCH represent a variety of industries including agriculture, information technology, consumer products and energy technology, among others, and are now automatically admitted into an exclusive group of startup founders who are eligible to represent Texas A&M University at national and global entrepreneurial competitions.

Flux Works LLC took home first place in the Full Pitch division for current students and was awarded $7,500. Bryton Praslicka ’24, startup lead, reacted with, “Winning to us means that people are excited about our technology. People believe in our technology. And winning this demonstrates that, and that’s really incredible.” Flux Works LLC, a developer and manufacturer of magnetic gears, has now met their fundraising goal and plans to use the prize money to buy back their intellectual property from Texas A&M and move into product development.

Taking home top honors and also $7,500 in the Full Pitch division for former students was Wide Afternoon, LLC (Ovie). Ovie aims to solve the problem of food waste in homes with a digital smart tracking system and plans to use their winnings to purchase prototype samples to get their product into user homes for testing. “Winning Aggie PITCH is so amazing because it validates our idea, where we’re at. And to have our peers and industry professionals that we respect acknowledge that our company is on to something, and believe in us, it means the world. It’s fuel,” stated Ovie lead Stacie Thompson ’02.

“Aggie PITCH continues to be a highlight of our year at McFerrin. The energy in the room is palpable, from both the pitch teams and the audience members getting to experience an event like this,” stated Blake Petty ’98, executive director of the McFerrin Center. “In only our fifth year of Aggie PITCH, we’ve continued to see growth in both the quantity and quality of pitch competitors. Seeing entrepreneurs, specifically Aggie entrepreneurs, pitch their startup businesses to such a diverse, engaging crowd is something I’ll never grow tired of.”

2022 Aggie PITCH Winners

Full Pitch Division | Current Students
1st Place ($7,500): Flux Works LLC [Bryton Praslicka ’24, Daniel Zamarron ‘22]
2nd Place ($5,000): Teale [Narendra Vishnumolakala ’22, Connor Ust ’22]
3rd Place ($3,500): Flow-Pax [Haley Clark ‘23]

Full Pitch Division | Former Students
1st Place ($7,500): Wide Afternoon, LLC (Ovie) [Stacie Thompson ‘02]
2nd Place ($5,000): ClaraTech [Clara Orlean ‘20]
3rd Place ($3,500): SageSpectra [Madi Heck ’21, Mark Golla ‘22]

Elevator Pitch Division
1st Place ($1,500): South Texas Security Gates [Carson Neal ‘22]
2nd Place ($1,000): Imperium [Donald Bowen ‘25]
3rd Place ($750): Unravl Hair [Zanbria Asante ‘18]

A list of past Aggie PITCH winners can be found at aggiepitch.com.

About McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship

The McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship serves as the hub for entrepreneurship at Texas A&M University. The McFerrin Center’s goal is to enhance entrepreneurial education by providing training, networking and assistance to enterprising students, faculty and former students.

The McFerrin Center enables the startup and growth of countless businesses and provides competitive opportunities, professional development and financial support to aspiring entrepreneurs in the Aggie community through the support of a robust volunteer mentor network, corporate supporters, faculty and staff.

The McFerrin Center defines entrepreneurship as an attitude that acts upon opportunity. In this spirit, the McFerrin Center strives to deliver programs and events that are inspiring, engaging, motivating and life-changing. This philosophy has resulted in the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship offering more than 30 unique programs each year that positively impact the lives of thousands of students, veterans and other professionals seeking to blaze their own trail as an entrepreneur.

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Media Contact: Lara Robertson, communications manager, McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, 979- 845-1724, lrobertson@tamu.edu

Categories: Centers, Entrepreneurship, Featured Stories, Former Students, Mays Business, McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, News, Programs, Staff, Students, Texas A&M

On November 12th, the theme “Reinvent Your Narrative; Leading with Strength and Resilience” echoed throughout The Zone Club at Kyle Field. Mays Business School’s Women’s Leadership Initiative Conference program offered a wealth of inspirational ideas and a chance for women leaders to network, while several sessions touched their hearts with stories of overcoming great life challenges. The conference was made possible thanks to the financial support of corporate sponsors BP, PwC, Reynolds & Reynolds Sales Leadership Institute, EY, Randstad, and Lockheed Martin.

Approximately 350 women professionals and Texas A&M University students filled the room, while another 150 attended virtually. “If I’m being honest, it was so cool to be at Kyle Field, on Ring Day and celebrating women,” said Morgan Young ’02, vice president at Lockton Dunning Benefits in Plano, TX. “To know that each and every person there has a crazy busy life, yet they took the whole day to invest in themselves and grow personally and professionally – it made me feel so proud to be a part of a university that gave us this opportunity. And the chocolate cake was insanely good!”

The focus and energy of the conference resonated with everyone in the audience—including those who attended this conference in the past. “Previous years’ conferences were amazing in their own right but were more or less good reminders for me,” said Jaime Ledford ’06, a senior business program manager for Amegy Bank in Houston, TX. “I appreciated the applicable learning this year, specifically the ‘Leading with Strengths’ where we were able to see how strengths have a strong side and a shadow side.”

Woman smiling at a table surrounded by other women

Women enjoyed being back together in person. Review the full #MaysWLI ’21 photo album.

The first-time attendees also applauded the conference’s presentations. “The quality of speakers stood out to me; they showed humility, leadership, strength, courage, and transparency,” said Tracy Foster ’96, associate agency director and chief financial officer at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service in College Station, TX. “In this day and age, it’s so refreshing to see women leaders who can speak about their challenges and obstacles with a focus on reaching a hand to lift other women leaders in growth personally and professionally.”

Attendees learned new ideas and received the motivation to put them into action. They also left with plans to attend the 2022 conference, which is scheduled for Friday, October 14, 2022 with Chevron as the title sponsor. “I’ve already gone back and bragged to the women leaders in my office and encouraged them to come next year,” Young said. “The thoughtfulness that went into planning the day, the order of the speakers and variety of information was terrific.”

Rewriting Life’s Narrative

The conference focused on helping women become proactive in their lives through questioning society’s social constructs. “We can go through life accepting constructs just as they are presented to us, but there is a great deal to be gained from examining their meaning and the manner which they are applied,” Texas A&M’s Interim Vice President and Associate Vice President for Diversity Annie McGowan told the audience. “Cues that suggest marginality or a lack of a critical mass in a particular setting can impact the way that we feel about being in that space.”

The day’s program focused on learning how to view these cues and then interrupt the impact on lives. “The better equipped we are to process the impact of these cues on our own narrative and those of others, the more we can dedicate our important resources to blazing a trail into the domains of our choices,” McGowan said.

Strong, Resilient Leadership

The conference didn’t shy away from addressing the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, which created significant stress for women in trying to learn to combine work and home. BP Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Dawn Constantin shared her journey to find balance, even as she struggled with depression caused by the pandemic as well as BP’s reorganization. She found that she had to learn how to come from a place of strength by being true to herself. “To me, that means showing up and being your genuine, authentic, real self, no matter what situation you’re in,” she said. “To be yourself, you have to know yourself and spend time with yourself. What gets you excited? What gets you out of bed in the morning?”

This analysis allows women to determine how they want to show up in every area of life and then choose aligned behaviors. “The more authentic you are and the more genuine you are in everything you do, the more engaging you are,” she said. “People want to listen to you and be with you. People want to work with you—and that’s powerful. That’s walking into the room with strength.”

Constantin also pointed to the importance of resilience. “Everyone has goals, and you have to work for them,” she said. “You have to grit your teeth, put in the hours, ask the questions, be curious, get smarter.”

Resilience also is important in relation to working with other people. Constantin described how she used her knowledge of sports to help build connections with male colleagues. “You have to learn to relate to people, because the people you work with will help you get to where you want to be,” she said. “You have to be able to find that connection point, build that trust, and build that kind of relationship.”

She stressed self-care’s role in creating resilience. “Pay attention to you. Nobody can give 150% seven days a week, 365 days a year. You will drop, so take a break. Pay attention to your physical and mental health,” she said. “This became such an important issue, living through the pandemic.”

Reinventing one’s narrative is critical. “Nobody is perfect,” Constantin said. “It’s really important to seek advice and get feedback because nobody has this all figured out. Everyone makes mistakes; everyone has distractions along the way.”

She encouraged listeners to seek a mentor, coach, pastor, leader, teacher, or friend. “It’s really important to seek criticism and constructive feedback from people you trust,” she said. “It will make you better, so whatever rooms we show up in or want to influence, we can be better over time.”

Finding Strengths

Two sessions by Dr. Sarah Jaks, associate director of Mays Full-Time MBA Program, helped the audience identify their strengths and then begin to figure out how to utilize them. She encouraged the audience to identify their strengths through determining what they enjoy doing, when they felt their best, and the words that describe their strengths. “Shift your story and tell the story that you want to tell,” she said.

Using the Strength Finders analysis as a basis, Jaks pointed out that every person has all 34 strengths, but some strengths are more prevalent. She encouraged the audience to focus on their top strengths, as opposed to trying to hone what they consider “weaknesses.” Combining strengths also can be advantageous because together they cause an amplifier effect.

Teams also benefit from understanding members’ strengths. Jaks pointed out that this approach allows teams to use everyone’s strengths, understand different perspectives, and operate effectively as a team.

Elevating Communities

The conference also addressed the importance of helping women who have faced significant life challenges. Mays Interim Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs Shannon Deer and Quantum Circles Consulting Owner Cheryl Miller described “women overcomers” who have rewritten their narratives from an earlier life chapter spent in poverty, addiction, incarceration, and/or engagement in the sex trade. “These were stories that at one time were about darkness and destruction that become stories about hope and new life,” Miller said. “We have found that women who have overcome challenging pasts become some of the most productive and loyal employees.”

Citing several examples—including Miller’s own story of overcoming addiction and poverty to raise premature twins—the pair said it’s important to realize that society often unfairly puts middle-class expectations on these women. Additionally, this expectation leads to the creation of assumptions that these women are not able to or willing to do the work to succeed.

Inviting the audience to think back to their early days in leadership, the speakers asked them to consider how they felt—and how those feelings can help turn around the lives of women overcomers. “We advocate for immediate leadership opportunities for women overcomers,” Deer said. “That’s early opportunities to lead, whether that’s in big or small ways.”

Additionally, the co-authors of “Business Doing Good: Engaging Women and Elevating Communities” noted that many of the skills that women learn when they are struggling are useful and valuable skills in business. For example, previous attributes such as being bossy, pushy, and manipulative can be reframed and then used in productive ways.

This session resonated with many attendees—but perhaps none more than Stephanie Davis ’00, the director of educational development of the non-profit, Together for Haiti, which seeks to encourage, equip and empower vulnerable women. “One of the most powerful points the speakers made is that these vulnerable women have been told they have character flaws, but those flaws are just strengths that haven’t been harnessed for good yet,” the resident of Salado, TX said.

Finding Resilience

The importance of personal resilience also is critical in the face of tragedy. Tara Storch shared her journey after her teenage daughter, Taylor, died in a skiing accident. The family decided to donate Taylor’s organs, which resulted in saving five lives.

Storch described her quest after her daughter’s death. “I had a longing to hear her heartbeat again,” she told the audience.” She did just that, meeting the nurse who benefitted from Taylor’s heart as television cameras captured the moment.

Storch and her husband used this tragedy to make a difference for society through creating Taylor’s Gift Foundation, which emotionally supports organ donor families and shares the importance of outliving yourself through organ donation. “We had to make the best out of the worst situation, so we decided to focus on the good,” Storch said. “The good was that Taylor saved lives and so we decided to create something to honor her legacy and keep her spirit alive. Our sweet girl is still impacting lives to this day.”

Attendees were moved by Storch’s ability to pick herself up and move forward in such a meaningful way after the death of a child. “Tara took one of the most awful situations a mom/parent can experience and turned it into a battle cry of how to outlive yourself,” Young said.

Avoiding the Red Zone

The day’s final session encouraged the audience to consider how they lead when facing pressure and triggers that mark the red zone. “We are not on our firm footing when we are in fight or flight,” said co-presenter Cindy Billington, interim director of Mays Graduate Career Management Center. “It means something has caused us to freeze, but freeze in a way so that our brain, our head, our heart, and our soul are not talking to one another.”

For women to keep their feet planted so they can be at their best requires incorporating their head and their heart, which creates soulful leadership. This type of leadership involves strategic thinking as well as character.

Billington also tied soulful leadership to self-care, noting that regularly taking specific actions—whether meditation, laughter, running, aromatherapy or chocolate–boosts dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins in the brain. “These help you access your soul, and your soul is what is going to bring you back into perspective, so the fight or flight comes back into center,” she said.

Soulful leadership also requires changing one’s internal dialogue. “Reinventing your narrative really starts with what you tell yourself,” Mays Director of Diversity Nancy Hutchins said. “Seventy-seven percent of our thoughts are negative. It’s important to think about the things you say to yourself on a daily basis and focus more on positive self-talk. Your thoughts and words influence your actions and decisions.”

Participants left with a better understanding of how to proactively navigate their careers and their lives—and how to empower others to do the same to help advance the world’s prosperity. “You need to be able to identify and use your strengths. What is the use of a strength if you don’t use it?” one participant said. “Use it for yourself and use it for others—and remind others to use it.”

Next Steps

 

Categories: Diversity and Inclusion, Featured Stories, Former Students, Mays Business, News, Students, Texas A&M, Women's Leadership Initiative

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.

Continuing Success

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.

Categories: Alumni, Departments, Donors Corner, Energy, Entrepreneurship, Featured Stories, Finance, Former Students, Mays Business, News, Selfless service, Spotlights, Texas A&M

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.

Categories: Accounting, Alumni, Departments, Featured Stories, Former Students, Mays Business, PPA, Programs, Texas A&M

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.”


Enjoy the special moments from the evening: 2021 Outstanding Alumni Awards dinner album

Categories: Alumni, Featured Stories, Former Students, Mays Business, Texas A&M

#1 Texas Program - Texas A&M EMBA - Financial Times '21

Mays Business School’s EMBA program lands No. 15 in the U.S. in 2021 rankings

Texas A&M’s Executive MBA (EMBA) program, offered by Mays Business School, has been named the No. 1 program in Texas and the No. 5 program offered by a public university in the U.S. according to Financial Times. The rankings are based on surveys of 2018 graduates concerning salary, career progress, and overall satisfaction post-graduation.

“This ranking highlights Mays Business School’s commitment to delivering a rigorous program to the contemporary student during the pandemic and beyond in an effort to advance the world’s prosperity, which is our school’s vision,” says R. Duane Ireland, Ph.D., Interim Dean for Mays Business School.

The EMBA program lasts 21 months with an interdisciplinary curriculum that emphasizes experiential learning and intellectually stimulating activities and features a flexible format for busy leaders.

“The students’ personal and professional transformations in the Mays Executive MBA are real. Whether they are heading to the c-suite, leading an organization, or pursuing an entrepreneurial career, the expertise of our faculty provides the foundation for students to develop their executive skillset. Having one of the more experienced cohorts in the nation adds to the rich learning environment and increases the value of the Aggie network,” says Julie Orzabal, director of the program.

“The aim of the faculty in our graduate programs is not only to impart business acumen and technical skills for our students but to also engage them in wider conversations about leadership and inclusivity,” said Arvind Mahajan, Ph.D., associate dean for graduate programs for Mays Business School. “This holistic and innovative curriculum is what has the most significant effect on our students.”

Applications for entering the program in the fall of 2022 are open now for Texas A&M’s MBA programs – including Full-Time, Professional, and Executive MBA Programs. For more information, visit mba.tamu.edu. Or, learn more specifically about the EMBA program by visiting: learn.mays.tamu.edu/emba

Categories: Featured Stories, Former Students, Mays Business, MBA, News, Programs, Rankings, Texas A&M

Man presenting in front of a podium with jacket on

As one of the academic year’s first events, Mays Business School’s Inclusive Student Leadership (ISL) Workshop underscores the school’s commitment to preparing transformational leaders who can excel with diversity, equity, and inclusion. The one-day workshop, held August 26, 2021, was funded by an endowment created by Accenture to support the annual Inclusive Student Leadership series of workshops, and involved over 50 Aggie leaders representing every Mays student organization. The ISL initiative offers a series of four workshops throughout an academic year hosted by Mays Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Multicultural Association of Business Students (MABS), and the Business Student Council.

These workshops were planned with the goal of helping Mays student leaders increase their ability to lead their respective student groups while at Mays—and in honing those skills, be prepared to work effectively in a global economy when they step into the work world. “The ISL workshops are designed to help Mays organizations foster diversity. It doesn’t get talked about enough, but it’s now in the headlines so we need to address it and can’t be oblivious,” said Amrita Hooda ’22, the MABS president. “It’s an opportunity to expand your horizons, but it’s up to student leaders to take that opportunity to grow as a person.”

The day’s agenda featured four Former Students – Tarvoris Johnson ’03 ’05, Ricky L. Dillard, Jr. ’19, Jeevika Jarmarwala ’20, and Hannah Murray ’18—who work for Accenture. The company, which has 569,000 employees in 50 countries, has expertise in more than 40 industries across five industry groups: communications, media and technology; health and public service; financial services; products; and resources.

Accenture is known for its commitment to creating and sustaining a culture of equality—including gender, LGBTI, religion, persons with disabilities and cross-cultural diversity. “Mays Business School is grateful for the support Accenture has provided for the ISL initiative.  We believe that a culture of diversity, inclusion, and engagement with our corporate partners fosters a vibrant learning organization. Mays student leaders are fortunate to have this opportunity to learn from experienced inclusive leaders,” said Dr. Nancy Hutchins, Mays Director of Diversity and Inclusion.

Encouraging Inclusion, Innovation

During the first session, the Accenture team talked about the importance of building strong and diverse teams, a challenge that has become even more pronounced during the pandemic. Johnson noted that the company has emphasized defining what it means to create a culture of equality, based on its core values of stewardship, best people, one global network, client value creation, and respect for the individual. “Inclusion is an environment where diversity can flourish,” he shared with the student leaders in the room.

Accenture uses diversity and inclusion training as well as specific affinity groups to create bonds between different employees. “We have different engagements and conversations around some of the outright things that happened in this past year,” Johnson said.

The company encourages its employees to explore other cultures through the different employee resource groups (ERG). Murray, who is Caucasian, has taken advantage of this flexibility, through engaging with Accenture’s Asian Pacific ERG. “It was interesting to me to be surrounded by many different cultures that make up the Asian Pacific ERG,” she said. “I also was able to bring these cultural lessons from the ERG to the rest of the organization and to the other groups that I’m part of.”

Team Characteristics

In building high-functioning and diverse teams, Accenture focuses on six characteristics: visible commitment; curiosity about others; cultural intelligence; humility; awareness of bias; and effective collaboration. Cultivating an atmosphere that includes these traits allows participants to be vulnerable and share areas where they disagree.

Dillard told the Aggies that it’s important to be authentic and show visible commitment to diversity. He gave a personal example of how he wanted to increase his own commitment to diversity at Accenture. To accomplish this, he created relationships with two Historically Black Colleges and Universities and will be serving as Accenture’s lead recruiter to these institutions.

The presenters also noted that leaders need to listen to different viewpoints. “I have an open conversation with my team leader. She has always had an open-door policy and encourages that if you think there’s a better way to improve the process, feel free to speak up,” Jarmarwala said. “Sometimes when I put the idea out there, we realize that I don’t have the bigger picture of what we’re looking at. She tells me, ‘This is why we don’t do this.’ But just having the ability to put the idea out there is great.”

The Former Students also shared the importance of identifying and addressing unconscious bias and micro-behaviors, such as micro-insults, to create a more diverse team. “As you grow and move towards trying to be non-biased, you have to train yourself because facial expressions are part of communication,” Dillard said.

Social Style Self Reflection

The Accenture team also asked students to identify their social styles—analytical, driving, amiable and expressive—based on assertiveness and responsiveness.  After asking the student leaders to consider their own styles, the presenters shared the traits of each style, as well as an analysis of the need, strength, and area of improvement for each style.

Additionally, student leaders learned about conflict resolution styles of competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding, and accommodating. These styles were analyzed based on the importance of achieving a goal as well as the importance of the relationship.

The speakers told the students that being aware of their own social styles and conflict resolution styles as well as that of others will enhance their ability to lead. “You will have different leaders who are spread throughout the organization, and you’ll have to flex what you decide to communicate to them, based on what you’ve learned from your initial questioning and discovery,” Dillard said. “It’s just a matter of first learning these and then taking the moment to say, ‘When I meet new people and have to communicate with them, I need to figure out where I see them because it will help me to have a more streamlined conversation rather than us trying to battle through our social styles.’”

This workshop offered new insights to help Mays student learners support their student organizations and also reinforced Mays commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, which is part of the school’s strategic plan. “Encouraging diversity and enhancing equity in student organizational practices can have a tremendous impact on our college climate. The ISL workshops are intentional efforts to establish an inclusive culture at Mays with our students leading the way.” Hutchins said.

Categories: Business Honors, Diversity and Inclusion, Featured Stories, Former Students, Mays Business, News, Texas A&M

 

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.”

Rapid Success

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.”

Giving Back

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.”

Explore more: Professional Program in Accounting

Categories: Accounting, Alumni, Former Students, Mays Business, PPA, Texas A&M

The two-hour digital event hosted by the Center for Retailing Studies at Mays Business School will take a look at retail education and the skills needed by the Class of 2025 and beyond.

Engaging leaders from across the retail ecosystem, the Center for Retailing Studies (CRS) at Mays Business School will host a short-form discussion focused on the skills needed from future retail graduates to support the evolving needs of the industry. The virtual event will highlight the expertise and opinions of retail business function leaders, college recruiters, and trade press while informing participants of the plans for the future of the CRS program at Texas A&M.

“The pace of change has accelerated within the retailing industry, and many retailers and consumer brands are moving to integrate their physical and digital teams into a single, integrated business structure.  It’s important that we stay out in front of that change by continuing to update and refine our program,” said Scott Benedict, Executive Professor and Director of CRS and a 35-year omnichannel retail veteran.

The highly engaging, quick-format, agenda includes a roundtable discussion, breakout sessions, and recap discussion at the end of the session.

The roundtable discussion will focus on the evergreen retail skills that remain relevant, new expertise needed to run an omnichannel business, and ways to accelerate into the future, including high impact learning opportunities, featuring:

  • Whitney Cooper, Director, Omnichannel Transformation and Acceleration at Walmart
  • Jody Hall ’87 & ‘89, Vice President of Global Sourcing, H-E-B
  • Lauren Hill ‘07, Director of Merchandising – Home, Target

Breakout sessions will focus on relevant topics and experiences from speaker’s perspectives that will culminate with an alignment on 3-5 key findings and recommendations for the focus of retail education.

The report back from the breakout session leaders will recap the 3-5 key takeaways with layering comments by the roundtable members.

“It’s sure to be an exciting and informative time together,” shares Benedict. “From this input from our constituents and industry partners, we will gain another piece of the puzzle to how to best equip students for the future needs in the retail industry.”

Attendance is free. The Retail Innovators Roundtable – A look at retail education & the skills needed by the Class of 2025 and beyond will take place on Friday, July 16, 202,1 from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. CDT.

More information can be found at http://tx.ag/RetailInnovators

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About the Center for Retailing Studies at Mays Business School

The Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University serves the retail industry by educating the next generation of industry leaders, developing retail-related research, and by providing industry executive outreach & thought leadership. Founded in 1983 in response to an unmet industry need for college educated leaders, CRS has become a renowned source of industry knowledge and a pipeline for developing future retail leaders.: mays.tamu.edu/retail

Media contact: Andrew Vernon, Center for Retailing Studies, avernon@mays.tamu.edu

About Mays Business School at Texas A&M University

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.

Visit Mays: mays.tamu.edu

Categories: Center for Retailing Studies, Executive Speakers, Former Students, Marketing, Mays Business, News, Programs, Texas A&M

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.”

Clean Eating

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.”

Healthy Growth

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.

Feeding Success

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?”

Categories: Alumni, Former Students, Mays Business, News, PPA, Programs, Texas A&M