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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.

Executives on Campus: Julie Weber, Vice President for People, Southwest Airlines

Executives on Campus: Julie Weber, Vice President for People, Southwest Airlines

It’s no accident that Southwest Airlines has been profitable for 43 consecutive years. And it’s not a fluke that Southwest has also been named one of Fortune magazine’s most admired companies for 21 years in a row. According to Julie Weber (BA, ‘91), Vice President for People at Southwest Airlines, it’s because of people. “One hundred percent of our success is because of the people we hire,” she told students in Dr. Richard Peregory’s class on March 2 at the University of Dallas’ Satish & Yasmin Gupta School of Business.

Weber explained Southwest’s philosophy that happy employees make happy customers who, in turn, make happy shareholders. The cornerstone of this philosophy is that employees come first. Weber sited a few statistics to demonstrate the effectiveness of this policy: “We’ve never had layoffs, even after September 11. We are lowest in customer complaints according to the Department of Transportation, and in 2014, Southwest was the number one performing stock on the S&P 500.”

According to Weber, the key to maintaining an engaged and motivated workforce is to hire the right people for the right job. “The first step is you have to know what you’re about,” she said. And what Southwest Airlines is about centers around core values like having a warrior spirit, a servant’s heart, and a fun-loving attitude. “Every single employee understands what it means to live and work the Southwest way. So these core values are part of every job description, from ramp agents to executives.”

Weber’s experienced recruiters take special care to determine whether an applicant exhibits these core values. During interviews, recruiters ask candidates a series of open-ended, behavior-based questions designed to gather examples of how they have responded in a variety of situations. “We’re looking for examples of how you went above and beyond for your customers or your fellow employees,” Weber said.

These behavior-based questions aren’t for front-line employees only. Weber personally interviews every candidate for directors’ positions. “A leader’s job is to serve the team, so it’s especially important that those in leadership positions have a servant’s heart,” she said. “So I might ask a candidate about their team. Do they know what’s really important to the members of their team?”

Southwest’s policy of hiring for attitude and training for skill can result in situations where highly-qualified candidates are passed over because they do not exemplify the company’s core values. “This is a very tight labor market,” Weber said. “But Southwest has decided that we won’t compromise on our hiring practices. It takes a lot of courage, but we stand by what we will believe makes us successful. We’re not going to sacrifice hiring for attitude.” In a recent survey, 76% of Southwest employees said they felt that their job was a calling. “This level of engagement is no accident,” Weber said. “We hire people who will view their jobs that way.”

In 2015, Southwest Airlines received 300,000 job applications. Only 2.2% of those applicants were hired. But those 6,600 people who did make the cut now get to work for a company that truly “luvs” their employees.

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: Steve Springer, Regional Director for Sales and Marketing, Verizon

Executives on Campus: Steve Springer, Regional Director for Sales and Marketing, Verizon

Advertisements—we see them everywhere. Whether it’s television commercials, pop-up ads, billboards or direct mailers, we are surrounded by marketers determined to grab our attention and spur us to action in some way. And while some of these tactics may seem scattershot, much of this advertising is targeted to you specifically. Steve Springer (MBA, ’04), Regional Director for Sales and Marketing at Verizon, spoke to Dr. Laura Munoz’s class on February 23 about how the multi-billion dollar company determines exactly how and to whom their marketing messages will be delivered.

Springer began by explaining that his division is responsible for marketing Fios, Verizon’s fiber optic cable network that provides internet, television, and voice services to homes and businesses in areas of Texas. But because the service is not available to every household in the DFW area (only in those areas where the actual fiber optic cable has been installed), Springer and his team must make marketing decisions based on detailed reports in order to most efficiently target their current and potential customers.

“Television and radio ads don’t work for us,” Springer told the group. “Not only are they expensive, but they generate calls to my call center from areas where I can’t provide service. So that kind of marketing is not an efficient use of our resources.” Instead of blanketing the entire DFW metroplex with mass-marketing advertising, Springer and his team analyze various data points to determine where their greatest potential for growth lies. “We focus on three specific areas,” he said. “Acquisition, retention, and upsell.”

Because Fios enjoys a hefty market share and good customer satisfaction ratings in areas where their service is available, Springer explained that the company puts a greater emphasis on retention in communities where their market share is already high. “There will always be some customers who shop on price. And everyone below you wants a piece of your business, so we focus on retaining customers in areas where we have high market penetration,” he said. “We want to show our customers that we care about them and will not always be trying to sell them something.”

To retain customers, Springer and his marketing team craft messages specific to their target market. For instance, he spends a good portion of his marketing budget to sponsor community events. “High school football is huge in Texas,” he said. “And it’s something that communities rally around, so we want to be a part of that.” In addition, Verizon has sponsored other events such as video game tournaments and robotics competitions to reach IT-savvy customers.

Springer further discussed how Verizon’s marketing messages change depending on the demographics of a community. Denton, Texas–home to two universities–has a very large rental community in proportion to other real estate, which affects the types of products his team promotes. “Renters are usually more interested in data alone and less in cable and voice,” he said. “So we don’t usually offer higher-priced bundles to those customers.”

Springer underscored the importance of making marketing decisions based on hard data. Verizon’s data comes from a variety of sources, including in-house customer information and from 3rd party research firms that report on market share relative to competitors. “The bottom line,” Springer said, “Is that you have a limited marketing budget, so you must have the data to support any marketing decision you make.”

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: Jennifer Proctor, American Airlines

Executives on Campus: Jennifer Proctor, American Airlines

You’ve probably been on a plane before, maybe lots of times. But what you may not realize is the amount of decision-making and strategic planning that goes into the entire experience—everything from booking your flight to landing safely at your destination. Jennifer Proctor, (BA ’87, Finance) Managing Director of Customer Experience Planning for American Airlines, spoke on February 17 to Dr. Michael Stodnick’s Senior Seminar about the challenges the airline faces in creating the best customer experience possible. “As of 2013, American Airlines is the world’s largest airline,” Proctor said, “and now we want to be the best.”

Proctor said that after emerging from bankruptcy in 2013 and beginning the merger process with US Airways, American began focusing five strategic areas—“have-to-do’s” that will help American Airlines regain its top-tier image. “We have to focus on our customer needs and wants, become an industry leader in reliability, engage our team members, create return for our investors, and look to the future,” she said.

Although several departments within American Airlines are eager to test new products and services, Proctor said company must maintain its focus. “We have to be strategic about these potential projects,” she said. “Each department within the company must answer myriad questions to determine the feasibility of any new service. What is the revenue impact? What is the cost impact? What is the project timeline? How does the project affect our competitive situation? Does this project deliver the American Airlines vision?”
2015 was the most profitable year in the history of American Airlines, but Proctor knows that the company must continue to innovate in all areas to maintain those record profits. “We know that happy employees equals happy customers, and happy customers equals happy shareholders,” she said. With that in mind, American is working on improving employee engagement and satisfaction.

So the next time you board an American Airlines flight, remember that everything from your free soda to the power outlet under your seat was considered and reconsidered in order to give you the best experience possible. And then silently thank UD alumna Jennifer Proctor that your phone won’t die mid-flight.

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.

Jesse Orsini: Former CEO, Carborundum

Jesse Orsini: Former CEO, Carborundum

The oil and gas business isn’t just about the stuff that runs our cars and heats our homes. There are countless processes and components involved with the extraction of the products so vital to our everyday lives. Some of the more esoteric of these components are proppants, and Jesse Orsini built a multi-million-dollar business on this highly specialized product.

Speaking to Dr. Laura Munoz’s Global Entrepreneurship class on February 10, Orsini detailed the history of his former company, Carborundum. Founded in 1890, Carborundum was originally a manufacturer of ceramics used in grinding operations. In the 1970s, the company began producing ceramic beads, called proppants, for use as an efficient substitute for the sand then used by drillers in the hydraulic fracking process.

“The product sold very well, and when the time came to expand,” Orsini said, “we knew we would need an aggressive marketing plan to really make a dent in the sand market.” With the help of a petroleum engineer named Steve Cobb, Carborundum not only developed ways to demonstrate the effectiveness of ceramic proppants using actual raw materials, but they also created software programs that could simulate the specific conditions of individual wells. “We couldn’t just sell on the science behind the product,” Orsini said. “We had to show our customers the actually monetary benefits.”

Over the years, as the market for ceramic proppants grew, Carborundum remained profitable, and was part of several buyouts. But as the 17-year patent coverage for the product and manufacturing process drew to a close, Orsini recognized that the time was right to retire from the business.

The market for ceramic proppants has since declined because of lagging oil prices and slowing demand. “I still believe that there is a long term benefit to ceramic proppants,” Orsini said. “But it’s hard to argue with a company that can barely keep its doors open. Sand is cheaper in the short run.” Orsini said the future of companies like Carborundum lies in the recovery of oil markets and in finding new industrial applications for the ceramic beads that make up proppants. And although we can’t always predict the future of markets, we can be sure that the creative engineers and savvy entrepreneurs, like those in University of Dallas classrooms right now, will continue to develop and market products that we never even knew we needed.

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.