From local innovation to global disruption: Richmond Companies that are redefining their industries.
That was the exciting topic the evening of November 10th, where Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business Dean, Ed Grier, and Impact Makers’ Vice President of Business Strategy, Rodney Willett, welcomed guests to an energetic reception at local business, Impact Makers.
The reception featured guest speakers from four local firms, including: Peyton Jenkins, Co-founder of Alton Lane; Avrum Elmakis, CEO of Best Bully Sticks; Rebecca Hough, CEO and Co-founder of Evatran; and David Cuttino, Co-founder of Reservoir Distillery. The discussion was moderated by VCU School of Business’ Executive Director of Entrepreneurship Programs, Jay Markiewicz. Over 125 Investors Circle members and friends of the VCU School of Business were in attendance to participate in networking and hearing from these innovative corporate speakers.
Dean Ed Grier began the program by speaking about the importance of the Investors Circle and its donors, and also thanked faculty, staff, and School of Business Foundation Trustees who were present. Dean Grier also introduced moderator Jay Markiewicz who led the panel in several rounds of word association, including “responsibility” and “failure.” This unique and fun program format lead to audience involvement as they were asked to toss out new words for association from the panel. Attendees were treated to many interesting insights into what makes these four disruptive and innovative companies tick. VCU School of Business Executive Director of the School of Business Foundation and Corporate Relations, Laura Kottkamp, closed the evening with motivational and grateful remarks.
All in attendance, including student and staff volunteers, networked over the length of the event in riveting conversation. Prior to the formal program, guests were able to learn more about each of the local companies by visiting displays around the event space. Offerings included mannequins wearing custom suits produced by Alton Lane, a video from Evatran about wireless charging technology, a table with some of the top selling dog treats from Best Bully Sticks, and a sampling station of bourbon and rye and wheat whiskey from Reservoir Distillery. Some of the insightful thoughts that could be overheard by the attendees included the state of local business, importance of community involvement, and expanding business globally. Overall, it was a very engaging and educational evening with a plethora of networking opportunities for the many in attendance.
Individual membership costs for the Investors Circle begin at $1,000 and Corporate at $2,500. For more information, please visit go.vcu.edu/InvestorsCircle or contact Katy Beishem at 804.827.0075 or firstname.lastname@example.org
-Article by Dylan Chaplin, student intern
Caley Cantrell is a faculty member at the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter and head of the strategy track. Prior to transitioning from adjunct faculty to full-time faculty, Caley built an impressive résumé working for such prestigious agencies as JWT and The Martin Agency. Her position at the Brandcenter blends her experience in the ad world with academic rigors challenging current graduate students in the program. She has worked with student teams on projects for Goodwill Industries, Audi of America, C-K, The Ritz-Carlton, Tribeca Film Festival, Oreo and The Department of Defense.
Caley has been a consistent donor to the Brandcenter for more than five years, including making gifts to fund annual scholarships and designating the Brandcenter in her estate plans. In 2014, she took her commitment to her students one step further and endowed a scholarship for students in the strategy track.
Why do you give?
Working closely with students as I do, you see that they’re investing a lot of time and money in being here. Most quit their jobs to come to the Brandcenter because it’s such a demanding and immersive program. I’m proud that I’m able to give students a “leg-up” on their education.
I think I was like a lot of people who thought that making an ongoing donation was beyond their checkbook. I didn’t think I could make what I thought was a significant enough donation, but as I found, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought. When you think about students who are making sacrifices to pay their tuition, even a little bit can help make a difference for them.
Before I endowed the Cantrell Scholarship, I had been giving to Brandcenter annual scholarships. After my mom passed away in 2013, I decided I wanted to create something with permanence that would also honor my mother, whom had been an educator. An endowed scholarship did both, and as a faculty member I believe in our program, so I decided to put my money where my mouth was.
Did you have any experiences as a faculty member that helped to inspire your philanthropy?
We’re a small program, so I’ve been able to build strong relationships my students over the years. Overall, a lot of students come into this program with a sense of what they’ll be doing, but it’s still pretty uncertain. Over the course of the two years they’re with us, you see them struggle, and then they turn a corner where you see them click and develop this confidence; I look forward to seeing that change.
Every student is different. Some may be very confident in their work, but scared to present, or they may have ideas and just need organization; I find that growth to be fascinating to watch.
Do you have any advice for current students or recent graduates?
We have a very supportive alumni base who are eager to participate in our program and interact with our students. I want to encourage our alumni to please keep it up, as you cannot underestimate, what might seem like an easy piece of encouragement, can do to motivate a current student.
Read about previously featured friends and alumni:
In March, a delegation from the United State Olympic Committee spoke to students at Virginia Commonwealth University. The delegation was made up of former Duke star and Olympic Gold Medalist Christian Laettner, April Holmes, a Paralympic Gold Medalist, and Peter Johnson, former CEO of Sports & Entertainment at IMG. During the day-long event, the group interacted with graduate and undergraduate students throughout the University from the Center for Sport Leadership, the VCU School of Business and the VCU Brandcenter on topics such as the meaning of leadership and managing your personal brand.
The visit provided a unique opportunity for students to meet with leaders in the athletics world and learn personal stories of struggle and triumph. “People have to see in you work ethic. People have to see in you that you are willing to work, not just be a dictator. You need to show people that you are willing to roll up your sleeves and do what you have to do to get where you need to go” said Holmes. After losing her leg in a train accident in 2001, she went on to win a gold medal in track and field at the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing, China. Laettner advised the students, “You have to be tough, you have to be resilient…you can’t be afraid of failure.”
The day closed out with a reception for the delegation at the Tommy West Club in the Siegel Center with about 75 VCU supporters and friends in the Richmond community. Laettner, Holmes and Johnson were joined during the program by Tanya Hughes, a high jumper who competed in the 1992 Barcelona games and now lives in Richmond.
Walt Glover, a VCU School of Business alumnus and CFO of the USOC, was unable to attend the event. “I’m grateful that we were able to make this visit happen. It was a wonderful opportunity for Team USA athletes to enrich the education of current students at my alma mater as well as raise awareness for both the USOC and U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation in the Richmond community,” said Glover.
The annual Thalhimer Scholarship Luncheon was held at The Jefferson Hotel on Friday, February 6th, 2015. The Charles G. Thalhimer Family Endowment was established at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business through a generous gift from the family in 1986. In addition to supporting the Thalhimer Executive-in-Residence and the Thalhimer Scholar-in-Residence programs, the endowment awards two merit scholarships annually, one for a top graduate student and one for the top undergraduate student.
Mariam Bello, this year’s recipient of the undergraduate award, is a senior with dual majors in accounting and finance. While at VCU, Mariam has been involved in many student organizations including Beta Alpha Psi Accounting Honors Society, Beta Gamma Sigma Honors Society, and the Business Student Ambassador program. In addition to holding leadership positions in three student organizations, Mariam tutors at the VCU campus learning center. After graduation this May, Mariam plans to take the CPA exam, and hopes to live and work abroad in the future.
Miles Dumville, this year’s graduate recipient, is currently pursuing his MBA at the VCU School of Business. In addition to his full-time coursework, Miles has served on the School of Business Strategic Planning Committee as well as the Master’s Program Committee. He was also recently invited into the Phi Kappa Phi and Golden Key academic honor societies. His interests include marketing, finance, real estate, the outdoor industry, the hospitality industry and not-for-profit humanitarian and conservation organizations.
Both scholarship recipients attended the lunch, as well Dean Ed Grier and members of the Thalhimer family, including Harry Thalhimer and his wife Marcia.
Rose Gilliam graduated with honors from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business in 1995. She earned a bachelor’s degree in finance after seven years of hard work and balancing school with a full-time job and a family. Today, Rose is Argent Credit Union’s CEO/President and oversees a $205 million dollar organization with over 23,000 members.
A loyal donor to the School of Business annual fund, Rose has consistently increased her giving each year and has been a member of the Investors Circle for the past five years.
Why do you give?
I was born and raised in Chesterfield County and I’ve enjoyed seeing VCU grow and change for the better. It’s been good for the community and everyone that has been through VCU. When I give back to VCU it feels like a way to help provide opportunities for current students and give back to the community at the same time.
The VCU da Vinci Center is a perfect example of one of those opportunities and something that the School is doing to make students more well-rounded and marketable. When you get into the working world, you need to be able to work with other disciplines. Programs like the da Vinci Center also help current students to gain experience working on a team and help them to see the bigger picture of a project.
Progressive education opportunities such as this make me proud to be a lifetime member of the VCU Alumni.
What was your experience like as a student?
I was at VCU for one year before getting married, and I ended up choosing to leave school because it seemed like too much at the time with full-time school, a part-time job and being a new wife. When I finally went back to school, it was because I knew I needed a degree to advance in my career. Originally I had planned to focus on accounting, but at the urging of my mentor at Argent, I went with finance because it allowed me to have a more complete look at the whole organization.
It was a long road to my degree with a lot of sacrifice and I couldn’t have done it without the support of my husband, my parents and my in-laws. I went to school at night and took a couple courses each semester. I appreciate every single class I was able to complete. It took me seven years to finish my degree, but it was worth it.
Do you have any advice for current students?
Take advantage of opportunities for internships or part-time jobs in your field of study. It will help prepare you for the real world. Learn everything you can and don’t take your education for granted. It will give you tools that will help you in your career and in the future.
Read about previously featured friends and alumni:
Erica Billingslea ’13 is a Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business alumna who earned her master’s degree in Economics. After graduating, Erica put her degree to work landing a position as an Investment Analyst for the Virginia Retirement System (VRS).
In the fall of 2013 and notably in her first year out of VCU, Erica made a pledge to the School of Business Annual Fund. She used installment giving to spread out her gift over several quarters enabling her to make a larger gift.
Why did you give?
I loved my time at VCU. It also just feels good to give back. I know that my education was made possible through the generosity of the alumni who came before me. So it’s important for me to give back and pay it forward so the incoming class can benefit like I did.
What experiences at VCU helped inspire your philanthropy?
I think the difference between undergraduate and graduate is that with my graduate degree, I knew what I wanted to do in my career. Both Darlene Ward in Career Services and economics professor Dr. Ed Millner were helping me achieve my goals for my education and career path. We laid out a plan for what I wanted to do with my degree and they offered to make connections to help me get there. I was able to land internships at firms that didn’t normally accept interns, which led to a natural transition to the VRS after graduation.
I also participated in the Ram to Ram mentoring program and I’m still in contact with my mentor even after graduating. I think that’s a wonderful program and great resource, but not enough students take advantage of it.
Both of these experiences helped to build and strengthen my connection to the school, and to know that I had individuals at the school who were committed to me and advancing my career.
What advice do you have for current students or other recent graduates?
The faculty are there for you, and they’re willing to go to bat for you. Take advantage of all of the resources that VCU and the School of Business have to offer. Know what you want, go for what you want, and engage others to help when needed.
And most importantly, give back! Installment giving is a painless way to give.
Read about previously featured friends and alumni:
Trish and Jon Hill are Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business alumni multiple times over. Both were double majors in Accounting and Information Services (B.S. ’85), earned their MBAs from VCU (Trish in ’92, Jon in ’99,) and in 2012, Jon completed a master’s degree in Information Systems. Today, Trish is a senior lead analyst with Altria. Jon is a full-time accounting teacher at VCU, treasurer for VCU Alumni and faculty advisor for both Beta Alpha Psi (BAP) and the Executive MBA program.
Long-time supporters of the VCU School of Business Annual Fund, the two recently made a $25,000 pledge designated for the BAP Excellence Fund to be paid over five years. Half of their pledge is made possible by Trish’s employer, Altria, through a matching gift program.
Why do you give?
We both went to VCU on the G.I. Bill. VCU offered us a profession and a career. We are appreciative of that. Nobody truly does anything on their own, and we remember, with gratitude, the many teachers and mentors who helped us along the way. It’s an honor to be included with many alumni that give back and to know we are helping someone else achieve their dreams.
We also give to encourage others to give. VCU is the heart beat of Richmond. We’ve seen firsthand how the decrease in state funding has affected the school and we really believe that alumni are best suited to fill that gap.
Why did you designate your gift for the BAP Excellence Fund?
The fund financially supports VCU Accounting students to give them a leg up and a view into the profession. With the BAP Excellence Fund, we’re trying to create a sustainable endowment so students don’t have to raise the money needed to develop their professional and technical skills.
For example, this summer we accompanied some of our accounting students to the BAP annual meeting in Atlanta. There were more than 1,000 students at this convention hearing from world-class speakers, learning best practices and networking with students from around the world. Conferences like those give students exposure to career possibilities that exist. We went into our careers blind. If we’d attended a conference like this, we might have gone into something a bit different, like forensic accounting; it’s fascinating.
One thing that sets VCU students apart is that so many of our students work while attending school. Employers love their work ethic. Many are first-generation Americans or first-generation college students. They’re busting their tails, and that’s why the BAP Excellence Fund is so important. It supplements them by improving their professional skills and connecting them to future employers.
What’s the benefit to giving?
The President of VCU Alumni, Baxter Perkinson, says all the time, “We don’t know where VCU ends and we begin.” A lot of our social life is built around VCU – basketball games and alumni events. There are so many wonderful people and so many fun things to do. Being involved with VCU keeps us young. We love it. It’s so rewarding to see our students achieve success.