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Alumni Answers: Working for a consulting firm

Alumni Answers: Working for a consulting firm

Dear Alumni,
I’ve been passionate about doing consulting for the last 3 years. Now, as I face graduation in three months, I have started looking at the application process for my dream firms (Accenture, Deloitte, BCG, McKinsey, etc). Most of their undergrad hires are done through a campus recruiter, which UD lacks. People suggest to me I should reach out to someone through LinkedIn.. any suggestion on who to contact? a Senior level manager? An HR recruiter? and how to approach them without being perceived as self-interested? Thank you–Valeria, Senior Psychology and Business major

 

Todd S. (MBA Organizational Development 2012), Self-employed Talent Development Consultant

Valeria- LinkedIn is often the best place to start. Get a Premium account so you can connect with people not in your network. Please connect with me as I have several connections at the large consulting firms that I can share with you. Todd https://www.linkedin.com/in/toddstrosnider

 

Jack Z. (BA Psychology 1993), Legal Counsel & Chief of Appeals at Suffolk County District Attorney, Boston MA

I’d start here: https://www.mckinsey.com/careers/search-jobs

 

 

 

Victoria W. (BA Psychology, 2013), Scrum Master at Southwest Airlines

Hi Valeria, I would strongly recommend going through HR first. Ask what you can specifically do to strengthen your application. Feel free to reach out to leaders to ask what excellence looks like at that company and how you could best display that. I’d also recommend looking at other large companies. Often, they have roles similar to an in-house consultant. Best of luck!

UD Students Excel At Sales Competiton

UD Students Excel At Sales Competiton

University of Dallas students Rachel Sullivan, Michael Dinh and Dominic Del Curto returned from Florida International University’s sales competition with a lot to be proud of. The national competition consisted of 3 rounds with progressing levels of difficulty. The UD team was the only team who moved through all 3 rounds without losing a single member. Members of the group received a University of Dallas Experience Award to offset the costs of attending the competition.

Dominic Del Curto, Rachel Sullivan, Michael Dinh

Sullivan placed first in her group during all three rounds of competition. Del Curto placed third in rounds one and two and first in round three. Dinh placed second in round one and third in rounds two and three.

All three members of the team said that their success was due to their preparation and the guidance of their mentor, Dr. Laura Munoz. “When we got there, we were really nervous,” Dinh said. “But then when we heard people talking, we realized how well-prepared we were compared to the other contestants.”

In order to mimic the actual sales process, competitors were placed in role play situations, during which they were videoed making a mock sales call. They were given research materials in advance and were expected to learn about not only about the product they would be selling, but also about the industry itself. This required research into the needs of potential clients as well as possible objections. “It was sometimes hard to know exactly what we should prepare ahead of time,” said Del Curto. “So we just did lots of research and lots of role-playing.”

Del Curto, Sullivan, Dinh, Dr. Laura Munoz

Sullivan said that the entire process of preparation and competition helped her realize that any career will require the skills learned in sales. “Everyone should take a sales class,” she said. “Anyone working with people needs these skills, like doctors working with their patients.”

Dinh echoed that thought. “I think I learned how to instill trust,” he said. “And I know in the future I might have to sell my boss or a coworker on my ideas and having these skills will help me do that.”

Del Curto said that the both his sales class and the competition taught him to actively listen. “I learned to probe and question and to try to understand the other person’s problems,” he said.

The competition also included a career fair, and Sullivan, a senior, was contacted for an interview by one of the participating companies. Dinh has accepted a position as Pricing Strategy and Analytics Intern with the Walt Disney Company after his graduation this May. Del Curto, a junior, has a summer internship with the Fund for American Studies in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Laura Munoz, the group’s coach, said she could not be more proud of them: “Having competed gives them an edge in their professional lives. Here at Gupta College of Business, we pride ourselves in engaging in experiential learning and the competition allows them to do so. They learned the professional selling process and skills needed and were able to analyze and articulate this knowledge as the competition evolved. The training and actual competition allowed them to get to know themselves better and equally important, gave them a huge affirmation that they are capable, confident and smart young professionals.”

The UD Experience (UDE) awards encourage students to engage in activities in which they will present themselves professionally in pursuit of their vocational goals. Speak with your advisor and consult the UD website for specific details about the application process.

 

Executives on Campus: Jack Gibbons, CEO, Front Burner Restaurants

Executives on Campus: Jack Gibbons, CEO, Front Burner Restaurants

Everybody loves restaurants. And we all have opinions about what makes a good one. Ask your family members, neighbors, and coworkers and they’ll surely tell you about their great—and not so great—dining experiences. Jack Gibbons (MBA, ’05) is passionate about eating out, too. But he has taken his passion and turned it into his vocation. As the CEO of Front Burner Restaurants, Gibbons lives and breathes restaurants every day. On February 23, he shared his experiences as both a restaurateur and an entrepreneur with the University of Dallas Entrepreneurship Society.

Gibbons began his career in the restaurant industry as a waiter with the Pappas family of restaurants, a favorite in the Dallas area. He worked his way into management and eventually became brand manager for the group. While employed by Pappas, Gibbons came to UD’s Satish and Yasmin Gupta College of Business.

Gibbons said that obtaining his MBA from the University of Dallas helped him become a better businessman. “I would hear things in class—like what the great business minds have to say about something—and I would realize that it could help me solve problems I was dealing with in the restaurants,” he said.

Gibbons eventually realized that what he really wanted to do was take a risk and follow his own vision of what makes a great restaurant. He and partner, Randy DeWitt, created Front Burner Restaurants in hopes of addressing consumers’ unmet needs in a creative way. And they have been wildly successful.

According to Gibbons, putting together a strong team has been integral to the success of Front Burner. “I have surrounded myself with people who are smarter than me,” he said. “My team helps me create the unique brand for each individual restaurant.”

That uniqueness is important to Gibbons, so when he is cultivating a vision for a restaurant, he draws inspiration from a variety of areas. “I love to travel and experience new adventures in food. I study restaurants from around the country and decide what I like and what I don’t like about them,” he said. Gibbons takes what he’s learned through his research back to his team, and together they mold his vision into the DNA of the brand—what he defines as its “differences, nuances, and attitudes.”

Front Burner Restaurants certainly have attitude. A prime example is Whiskey Cake, located in Plano. Gibbons chose the area because he felt the DFW suburbs were missing out on unique dining opportunities. And despite the restaurant’s conservative surroundings, “counterculture” best describes the restaurant’s vibe. “We wanted the staff to really fit the ethos of the brand,” Gibbons said, “So our servers have dyed hair, tattoos, and piercings.” A farm to fork menu and a commitment to freshness and sustainability (they press their own juices and even recycle rainwater) have resulted in Whiskey Cake’s becoming the top-rated restaurant in DFW on the popular user-review app, Yelp.

Gibbons and his team are working on several exciting dining and entertainment projects that will take advantage of the phenomenal growth of the DFW area and its reputation as a testing ground for new restaurant concepts. With these new projects, Front Burner will continue to attract top chefs and culinary trendsetters. Anyone who likes a good meal will be looking forward to that.

For more information about the University of Dallas Entrepreneurship Society, click here.

4 Ways to Launch Your Great Idea

4 Ways to Launch Your Great Idea

So you’ve got a great idea for a product, business or app. Social media marketing guru Ali Mirza (MBA ‘12) says that the old way of launching–build, launch, market–doesn’t properly leverage the power of social media to bring ideas to fruition. According to Mirza, entrepreneurs must first test their ideas using a variety of offline and social media channels to validate that needs exist–and that their ideas can fulfil those needs. “Before you build a product, you have to know what people want,” he said. “You have to identify their pain points so that you can properly address them.”

How do you go about validating your idea? Mirza says that the first thing you must do is build an MVP–a minimum viable product. If your idea is for a website or app, build a landing page that includes a logo and briefly describes the product. Then use that landing page to capture the email addresses of interested users. Once you have an MVP, the real work begins. Mirza details five ways to drive users to your landing page, which–if your idea is a good one–will create buzz for your product and build your list of customers.

Offline Hustle
Mirza says that Meetups (meetup.com), local affinity groups focused around hundreds of different hobbies and interests, are a great way to meet like-minded people. “You could find a Meetup for foodies, for yoga, for just about anything,” he said. And look for other events that align with your idea, like workshops or vendor fairs. Make sure to bring your business cards with your landing page address, because networking with potential users in person can start the buzz and help you identify whether your product will take off.

Startup and Pitch Competitions
Mirza, whose FiveOH restaurant and food app won Google’s Startup Weekend competition, says that these types of competitions are about more than winning–they can validate your idea and help you find partners, like designers or programmers. “My app is designed to help college students find cheap food,” he said. “So I knew that I could talk to a lot of college students at the competition. I didn’t expect to win.” Check out startup weekend.org for more information.

Startup Communities
Researching what others are doing is another way to analyze your market. Mirza suggests browsing startup communities like Hacker News (news.ycombinator.com) and Betalist (betalist.com), which give makers an outlet to showcase their ideas and get early feedback. A Q&A website like Quora can also help you look for questions and answers associated with your idea.

Social Media
“The people who will use your product are on social media,” Mirza says. “If you want to connect with people, you have to commit to having a social media presence.” In the initial idea-building phase, Mirza suggests using social media as a tool to drive people to your landing page. “Choose one or two social media platforms and post consistently,” he says.

Ali Mirza is the founder of iSocialYou, a business dedicated to helping businesses create engaging social brands and generate leads. He spoke on April 20 to a meeting of the University of Dallas’ Entrepreneurship Society.

The Business of Green Buildings

The Business of Green Buildings

There is no doubt that the jewel of the University of Dallas campus is SB Hall, home of the Satish and Yasmin Gupta College of Business. The Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification for the facility is in process and, once obtained, will support the university’s commitment to energy efficiency and green architecture. A representative from Perkins+Will, the architectural firm that designed SB Hall, along with green building experts from the City of Dallas and Peloton Commercial Real Estate, spoke to a meeting of the University of Dallas’ Sustainable Business Network on April 15, 2014, about the impact of sustainable construction and operational practices on both an organization and the community as a whole.

According to Mary Dickinson, Regional Sustainable Design Leader for Perkins+Will, designing and building a green building is a lot like a trip to the grocery store. “I have a lot of choices when I go to the store,” she said. “Should I buy my usual Jif or should I buy organic peanut butter? I’ve heard organic doesn’t have all those artificial ingredients, but I’m on a budget and doesn’t organic cost a lot more?” In Dickinson’s experience, these questions are similar to the ones an organization will often ask at the beginning of a green building project. “We sit down with them and talk with them about what they’ve heard about the green building process and specifically, LEED certification,” she said. Dickinson’s goal is to find out why the organization is asking about sustainable design, so that the firm can understand the organization’s motivations. “And their answers often sound like they’ve been playing a game of telephone,” she said.

This game of “telephone”—along with its jumble of good and bad information—can result in an organization, or even a whole business sector, holding serious misconceptions about the cost and benefits of sustainable construction. “A perfect example of this is the healthcare sector,” Dickinson said. “Everyone said that you can’t build green hospitals.”

To address this perception, Perkins+Will did a cost premium study that included 15 different LEED certified hospitals and the design firms and contractors associated with the projects. What they found was surprising. “There was actually no cost premium for LEED Silver or below,” she said. “And only a 5% premium for certification above that.” Dickinson also noted that the industry rule of thumb is an 18-month return on the cost premium for building a LEED-certified, sustainable building. “Operational systems like HVAC and lighting give them the most bang for their buck,” she said. “But it all adds up.”

Zaida Basora, Assistant Director of Facility Architecture and Engineering for the City of Dallas, has a unique perspective on the impact of not only green construction, but also of the costs and benefits of retrofitting existing buildings to meet so called “green” building codes. “The City of Dallas has a huge portfolio of buildings,” she said. “We have to balance costs and manage them efficiently.”

According to Basora, owners fall into one of three levels of commitment to a green building project. First-level goals, what she referred to as green, involve the implementation of passive systems such as HVAC along with energy, water and waste reduction. “At the next level–bright green–owners will take a holistic approach and consider sustainable features during the building’s overall design process,” she said. At the highest level–intelligent green–owners install sensors that monitor various systems throughout the building, then collect and analyze the data they produce. “This helps them manage and maintain the facility in the most efficient way possible,” Basora said.

Bill Moebius, Senior Vice President and Regional Director for Peloton Commercial Real Estate, discussed Dallas 2030 District, a private-public initiative to create a ground-breaking high-performance building district in downtown Dallas. According to its website, the goal of the organization is to cost-effectively and collaboratively reduce the environmental impact of building construction and operation. The volunteer group consists of property owners and managers, community members and professionals. “We’re using their expertise in different areas like HVAC and landscaping,” Moebius said. “And our target is to reduce water and energy consumption within the district by 50% by 2030.”

The University of Dallas Sustainable Business Network (SBN) is an open forum for building relationships, exchanging best practices, and fostering dialogue around issues of corporate social responsibility, sustainability and eco-innovation, and corporate governance. Hosted by the AACSB-accredited Satish & Yasmin Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas, SBN hosts quarterly events and panel discussions on relevant topics led by recognized industry experts. Information on the next SBN event can be found at here.

From Political Philosophy to Human Resources: Sabre VP Doug Johnson

From Political Philosophy to Human Resources: Sabre VP Doug Johnson

The human resources department may not be the most glamorous segment of the business world, but according to Doug Johnson (BA ’94), Vice President of Human Resources for Sabre Airline Solutions, managing it effectively is essential to a company’s bottom line. “If a company is like a machine,” he said, “then HR is the steward that keeps the machine running.” Johnson spoke recently to Dr. Greg Bell’s Business Foundations class as part of UD’s Executives on Campus program.

Johnson began his career in human resources with a summer job recruiting doctors and dentists to staff a military base. He tried teaching after graduation, but eventually returned to the recruiting field and, through a series of jobs with increasing responsibilities, landed at Sabre as VP of Human Resources for two of the company’s three divisions. During his tenure there, global employee turnover has been reduced by nearly 50 percent.

Johnson’s experience with Sabre reflects not only his success as an HR professional, but also his business acumen. The company, whose reservation systems run some of the world’s largest airlines, has over 10,000 employees. “Sabre’s IPO ranks in the top 10% of all IPOs in the last 2 years,” he said. “And I firmly believe that our HR practices played a role in that success.” Johnson believes that the purpose of a human resources department is to make money for the company, just like any other business unit. In other words, HR for HR’s sake isn’t an option for an organization that has to answer to a board of directors and shareholders. And one of the most important functions of a bottom-line-focused HR department is talent acquisition. “Sabre is relentless about recruiting the best talent in the global market,” Johnson said.

Another important role for an HR department is change management. “When Sabre shifted its focus from being an airline company operating in the software space to a software company operating in the airline space, we had to work hard to make sure everyone in the company understood this new way of thinking,” he said. Johnson accomplished this through building and buying. “Building is training the people you have and buying is recruiting new people to the organization,” he said.

Part of change management in an organization often involves what Johnson called “executive team alignment”—making sure that the company’s leadership is working well together. “The culture of an organization is the result of leadership behavior,” he said. “And when people quit, they are quitting their bosses, not the company. So leadership matters.”
Johnson advised students to leverage their liberal arts degrees by demonstrating to potential employers that they have the ability to communicate well. “Look, I never pictured myself in HR,” he said. “I have a degree in political philosophy. But most companies are willing to teach those who can and are willing to learn.”

And how exactly does a candidate catch Johnson’s eye? “I’m looking for people who are promotable and who are humble,” he said. “And people who have learned how to learn.” That’s where a liberal arts education from the University of Dallas comes in. “Having a strong liberal arts background plus business acumen will set you apart from everyone else,” he said.

For more information on University of Dallas’ Office of Personal Career Development, visit our website at www.udallas.edu/OPCD.

Executives on Campus: Eddie Caldwell, Managing Director, Northwestern Mutual

Executives on Campus: Eddie Caldwell, Managing Director, Northwestern Mutual

Sometimes taking the wrong path can lead to the right career. That’s what happened to Eddie Caldwell, Managing Director of Northwestern Mutual in Addison. “It took me three years of working as an engineer in Corporate America to realize that it wasn’t for me,” he said. “I learned that I wanted to work with people, not with computers and spreadsheets.” Caldwell spoke on April 5 to Dr. Greg Bell’s Business Foundations class as part of the University of Dallas’ Executives on Campus program.

Caldwell also credits UD’s MBA program with showing him that there were other avenues for him to find a more satisfying career. “I found the financial side of things really interesting,” he said. “And because the program at UD is practical and full of professors and students with real-world advice that I could apply in my own career, I felt I could make the change” he said. Caldwell left the large technology firm he was working for to start a financial services practice, a career that’s based on building trust and confidence. “I can’t believe I get paid to do what I do,” he said. “I get to meet with people I like and talk to them about their dreams and aspirations for themselves and their families. And then I get to help make those dreams happen.”

The way Caldwell builds trust with his clients is through listening. “I sit down with them to find out just what it is they want to accomplish. I found out how well they can tolerate risk, and what they hope to do during their retirement years,” he said. “And then I design a plan that will help them reach their goals. But the key is listening.”

Listening also plays an important role in Caldwell’s other responsibility at Northwestern Mutual, that of a manager whose goal is to recruit new financial advisors who are just as passionate about serving clients. “I love what I do,” he said. “And I want to recruit people who are motivated to be the best they can be. The only way I’ll find out what motivates them is to ask and listen.”

Caldwell added that he has grown into his role as an effective leader through trial and error. “I made some mistakes along the way,” he said. “And the biggest was confusing management and leadership.” A manager, Caldwell said, will make sure that his or her team is functioning on a day to day basis. “But leaders are different,” he said. “Leaders look to the future and ask, ‘Where are we going?’”

According to Caldwell, another key characteristic of good leaders is that they learn what motivates their team members. To that end, Caldwell takes time out of every week—undisturbed “think time”—to thoughtfully consider each of his team members: what motivates them, what excites them, what they really care about. “Good leaders help their team members achieve at their highest capacity,” he said. “The number one test of leadership is to look behind the leader to see if anyone is following.”

Caldwell recommended that students look for just such leaders when they begin their careers. “Look for the leaders you want to follow in an organization,” he said. “Affiliate yourself with them and they will help you.” In the meantime, Caldwell advised students to build a strong foundation while in school by learning as much as they can about as many things as they can. “You’re laying the groundwork now for what the rest of your life is going to look like,” he said. “You may not be able to plan every step but you can build the foundation that everything else will rest on.”

The University of Dallas Executives on Campus program was founded to further the University’s mission of providing practice-based education, by inviting successful business leaders to share their experience with graduate and undergraduate students in the classroom. Through this program, alumni, business leaders, and their companies are invited to partner with the University in our shared pursuit of management excellence. For more information click here.

Executives on Campus: John Ridings Lee, Insurance Entrepreneur

Executives on Campus: John Ridings Lee, Insurance Entrepreneur

John Ridings Lee holds the distinction of being one of the first freshmen at the University of Dallas. And although he didn’t graduate from UD, perhaps the university can stake a small claim to the success he has achieved in his career. Lee spoke recently to Dr. Greg Bell’s Business Foundations class on March 31 about what he’s learned during his 50-plus years in the insurance industry.

Lee’s first job (after a stint in the military in Special Forces) was working for an insurance syndicate in London called Blackwell and Green. They assigned him to work on the offshore oil rigs near Aberdeen, Scotland. “I think Scotland is about the coldest place in the world, so I was ready to head back to the states,” he said.

Upon returning to the U.S., Lee took a job as a salesman at Southwestern Life Insurance Company. “After a couple of years, I realized the janitor was making more money than I was,” he said. “Because he was a better salesman.” In hopes of improving his bottom line, Lee took a look around the industry and determined that he should head in a different direction. “Employee benefits was just beginning to break through,” he said. “So I decided to start my own company as a benefits administrator.” That company, Employee Plans Management, administered group health and life insurance plans for large companies.

After about four years as CEO of Employee Plans Management, Lee decided to sell the company and start a holding company that could serve as an umbrella for other businesses. Over the next several years he founded a succession of companies that provided the insurance industry with new and innovative tools. For example, Lee’s North American National Re was one of the first to spread the financial risk of large life insurance policies to more than one company. “My dad told me I was a glorified bookie,” he said. “But we paid back our initial debt in the seventh year, and the company sold recently for $770 million in capital and assets.”

That wasn’t the only bet that paid out for Lee. In 1982, he and a partner started Management Compensation Group, a company dedicated to compensation and executive benefit planning. The company, which grew to twelve offices and over 400 employees, sold in 2013 to insurance giant, Prudential.

Lee also holds patents on unique financial instruments including a product which pays salaries to the survivors of deceased employees. In addition, he invented a product that offers a paid-up life insurance policy to retiring employees. As a result of his patents, Lee receives royalties every time a new one of these policies is written.

Lee credits his ability to stay on top of industry trends to his moving around from company to company. “Don’t stay with one company your whole life,” he advised students. “Look for a different hill to climb. Look for a different way to skin a cat if you want to improve your personal bottom line.”

Lee said another crucial component of success is to surround yourself with the right team. “There’s no substitute for smart people,” he said. “Your math-inclined people, like actuaries, keep your business running. And your ‘people-people’ can get more you more yeses than anybody else.”

Lee also advised students to trust their first instincts when trying to solve a problem. “If you’re sure you’re right, don’t let anybody talk you out of what you know to be true,” he said. “Whether you end up being right or wrong, you’ll learn something.” Finally, Lee told the group to be aware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. “Somebody is always going to be trying to sell you something,” he said. “So do your homework and know what it is you’re buying.” Good advice from a man who built an enormously successful career around making the right bets at the right time.

The University of Dallas Executives on Campus program was founded to further the University’s mission of providing practice-based education, by inviting successful business leaders to share their experience with graduate and undergraduate students in the classroom. Through this program, alumni, business leaders, and their companies are invited to partner with the University in our shared pursuit of management excellence. For more information click here.

Executives on Campus: Matt Victorine, Vice President and Relationship Manager, Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services

Executives on Campus: Matt Victorine, Vice President and Relationship Manager, Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services

According to Matt Victorine (BA ‘91), relationship selling is really needs-based selling. “Sometimes you just have to stop talking and listen for cues as to what the customer needs,” he said. “And then present solutions based on those needs.” Victorine, Vice President and Relationship Manager for Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services, spoke on March 29 to Dr. Laura Munoz’s undergraduate marketing class as part of UD’s Executive’s on Campus program.

In Victorine’s current role, his responsibility is to maintain and grow relationships with individual brokers who use Fidelity’s platform to manage their clients’ assets. “The sales team are like hunter/gatherers. They work on bringing in new brokers.” he said. “From there, I take over the relationship and work with the brokerage firm to determine how FIdelity’s suite of practice management tools can help them grow their business. I get resources from the inside to the outside. Hopefully, this will translate to more business for the firm and more business for Fidelity.”

In response to a question from the group about different sales approaches, Victorine pointed out that “sales training” is a billion-dollar industry. “You can see advertising for all sorts of courses and conferences that promise to teach you how to sell if you’ll just follow a certain process,” he said. “But, most large firms want to teach you their way of selling because they want consistency.” Victorine said this is the reason that most entry-level sales positions don’t require a particular degree. “History, philosophy–it doesn’t matter,” he said. “ As long as you’re eager to learn.”

Victorine polled the class about their jobs and internships. One student mentioned that he only took phone orders and wondered if that was really “sales.” “Every job is really sales,” Victorine said. “If you are the contact point with your company, you’re selling the company during that call. And,” he added, “you could always go for the upsell.”

Victorine also discussed the myriad opportunities at available at Fidelity for recent graduates, both in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and beyond. “Our Westlake campus employs over 6,700 people on a beautiful, 330-acre campus,” he said. According to Victorine, Fidelity has entry level sales positions in areas like retail investing and 401K customer service. “And the salaries are competitive,” he said. “It’s better than barista money.”

The University of Dallas Executives on Campus program was founded to further the University’s mission of providing practice-based education, by inviting successful business leaders to share their experience with graduate and undergraduate students in the classroom. Through this program, alumni, business leaders, and their companies are invited to partner with the University in our shared pursuit of management excellence. For more information click here.

Executives on Campus: Flip Howard, Founder, Meridian Business Centers

Executives on Campus: Flip Howard, Founder, Meridian Business Centers

According to Flip Howard, you don’t need a revolutionary idea to become a successful entrepreneur. Taking an existing idea and executing it better than anybody else works, too. “Ninety percent of business owners are terrible at what they’re doing,” he said. “You can do it better with hard work.” Howard, founder and president of Meridian Business Centers, recently hosted students from the University of Dallas’ Entrepreneurship Society at one of his Dallas-area centers on March 23.

Meridian operates 15 locations in DFW and Houston in which small businesses can lease individual offices that share common areas like conference rooms, work rooms, and kitchens. “This set up is perfect for firms with one to four employees, like lawyers, stock brokers, or small tech companies,” he said. “Although they may pay more per square foot than leasing an office directly from a landlord, our tenants pay only for the office space they actually need. And because the spaces are turnkey, there is no need to spend time or money setting up utilities like phone or Internet.”

Howard explained that because Meridian leases–rather than owns–the spaces they operate, they keep zero debt. “This means that we can weather economic downturns better than some of the larger real estate companies,” Howard said. “Our ups and downs are smoothed out.” One of the most lucrative areas for Meridian is virtual offices, in which individuals or companies can pay for using Meridian’s physical address on their business cards, phone-answering service, and even the use of the conference room. “Most of our virtual tenants travel or just work from home,” he said. “But they might need to meet with clients occasionally, or have a FedEx package delivered. So we’ve adapted our services to the needs of the market.”

Howard’s career as an entrepreneur began in his teens when he and his current business partner painted addresses on curbs to make money. “I could make $250 in the same amount of time that my friends working in fast food were making $20,” he said. “After that, I knew I’d never have a ‘real job.’”

Soon after college graduation, Howard and his business partner started University Laundry, a laundry pickup and delivery service for college students. Working about a hundred hours per week while building the business taught him a lot about management and finance. “You can’t learn how to manage people from reading a book,” he said. “You have to get out there and do it to learn what works and what doesn’t.”

Howard told the group that one of the most valuable lessons he has learned as an entrepreneur is that success is all about staffing. “I’m always looking for people that have a positive, unselfish attitude,” he said. “Everyone occasionally makes bad hires. But you need to be able to let go of the ones who just don’t fit.”

Howard also counseled the group not to be overly cautious when analyzing opportunities. “I work a lot with Young Catholic Professionals,” he said. “And one thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of people in the 24-30 age range tend to over-analyze problems. They can be too timid. Successful entrepreneurs are the ones who get things done. So just get out there and do something.”

Howard also told the group to hold themselves to a high standard. “Whether it’s morally or in the business world, so many people set a low bar and have low expectations for themselves,” he said. “You need to be different. Set the bar higher for yourself and you will stand out.”

For more information on the University of Dallas Entrepreneurship Society, click here.