Category: VCU Business Society – Alumni

VCU Mandela Fellows Actively Approach Leadership with SEAL Team Physical Training

Mandela Fellows Pose with the SEALS and Members
A group of tired yet exhilarated Mandela Fellows posed post-training with SEAL Team Professional Training staff near Belle Isle. “It boosts the spirit of collaborating, of challenging all situations, all kinds of issues. There is no barrier for me. I can now achieve bigger things, and we are taking this to Africa guys!” said Eric Casinga, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

By Shalma Akther
Intern, VCU School of Business Communications & Marketing

In business, leadership can be approached in countless ways – but none quite like the SEAL Team Physical Training that the Virginia Commonwealth University Mandela Fellows experienced on July 15th. VCU School of Business alumnus Timmy Nguyen connected the fellows with John McGuire, CEO of SEAL Team Physical Training, Inc., who offered the free session. 

Since June 20th, 50 Mandela Fellows have been at VCU learning about entrepreneurship and government through academic coursework and experiential leadership training as part of the prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. “I think what is amazing about this program is that I got to be in the same room, for six weeks, with African leaders. We got to unite. We collaborated. We shared ideas. I was with very smart people that inspired me,” fellow Itumeleng Phake (Tumi), from South Africa.

SEALs await the introductions of the fellows
SEAL Team Physical Trainers awaited introductions of fellows

Since 1998 the SEAL Team Physical Training has provided an outdoor alternative to the gym. McGuire said, “Our new mission is to help individuals and teams reach their full potential. And what I love about the program is you get a chance to meet people from all over the world.” McGuire takes his knowledge from past experiences and his time as a US Navy SEAL to implement practice regimens for its diverse members and anyone else seeking training. “We’ve helped division one basketball football teams win fourteen championships in the last six years. Now we’re a small part of that, but I learned in the military there really is nothing like teamwork to bring out the best in people.”

Fellows and SEALs Complete Exercises Together
Fellows, VCU staff and SEAL Team PT staff completed exercises together

In addition to promoting confidence, SEAL Team PT also focuses on leadership and teamwork. Mandela Fellow Ndahafa Hapulile from Namibia stated, “What I like about this is the combination of mental strengthening and physical, so I felt this was a part of building my character because this exercise was very intense. However, it helped me to go beyond what I thought was my limit, so now I’m not even sure what my limit is anymore.”

As an observer I was able to witness their leadership progress. One could see the growth of communication between the fellows and the ongoing motivation each one demonstrated, while striving to achieve a common goal of seeing each other be successful in the various tasks. As a result, the fellows became an efficient and effective team, while taking the concept of what it means to be a leader to new heights, and understanding the world of possibilities available when one can effectively work together with others.

Fellows cheering on and awaiting further instructions
Fellows cheered a united “hooyah!” and awaited further instruction from CEO John McGuire

“I think what come out of this program is that we’ve collaborated. We understand that we are unity and that we need to work together to succeed as a continent, as different countries, and that’s what I’ll take out of this program,” Phake summed up his experience. Of his morning at SEAL Team PT, Phake said “I loved it! I think it shows that working as a team, that’s when you’ll achieve a lot more goals. A lot of times we are very selfish in doing things, and what it just shows is that if we work as a unit, we can achieve things better. And it’s very difficult because people have different personalities. But here we had to stay afloat. And I think teamwork makes the dream work.”

School of Business Foundation Welcomes New Trustees

At its May 20, 2016 board meeting, the VCU School of Business Foundation elected two new trustees. Welcome!

William GiffordWilliam F. Gifford, Jr. (B.S.’92/ACCT)
Chief Financial Officer
Altria Group, Inc.

Billy Gifford serves as Chief Financial Officer, Altria Group. In this role, Gifford is responsible for the Accounting, Tax, Treasury, Audit, Investor Relations, Finance Decision Support and Strategy & Business Development organizations. He also oversees the financial services business of Philip Morris Capital Corporation. He most recently was Senior Vice President, Strategy & Business Development.

Since joining Philip Morris USA in 1994, Gifford has served in numerous leadership roles in Finance, Marketing Information & Consumer Research and as President and Chief Executive Officer of PM USA. Prior to that, he was Vice President and Treasurer for Altria. In this role, Gifford led various groups at Altria Client Services including Risk Management, Treasury Management, Benefits Investments, Corporate Finance and Corporate Financial Planning & Analysis.

Gifford received a bachelors degree in accounting from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business in 1992. Prior to PM USA, he worked at the public accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand, now known as PricewaterhouseCoopers.

He serves on the Board of Trustees of the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges.

John D. O'Neill

John D. O’Neill, Jr.
Hunton & Williams

John O’Neill’s practice focuses on public-private infrastructure development, public finance, capital finance and complex commercial lending. Substantial experience in structuring transactions for a broad range of public and private infrastructure projects, including airports, roads and highways, convention and conference centers, educational facilities, government administrative facilities and water and wastewater facilities.

O’Neill received his B.A. from the University of Richmond and his J.D. from the Pepperdine University School of Law. He is a member of the American Bar Association, the Virginia Bar Association, the Richmond Bar Association, the National Association of Bond Lawyers, and a member and past president of the Bond Club of Virginia.

Further information on his work as an attorney can be found at

VCU School of Business Foundation Awards $250k to EPIC Challenge Winners

Thank you to our judges! John Adams - Chairman, The Martin Agency
) Bill Ginther (alumnus) - Corporate Executive VP, SunTrust Bank (retired) Juanita Leatherberry (alumna) - Assistant VP, Pfizer Consumer Healthcare (retired) Jack Nelson - Executive VP & CTO, Altria Group, Inc. (retired) John Pullen (alumnus) - President & Chief Growth Officer, Luck Companies Rob Shama - President, Afton Chemical
Thank you to our judges!
Juanita Leatherberry (alumna) – Assistant VP, Pfizer Consumer Healthcare (retired)
Bill Ginther (alumnus) – Corporate Executive VP, SunTrust Bank (retired)
John Adams – Chairman, The Martin Agency

John Pullen (alumnus) – President & Chief Growth Officer, Luck Companies
Jack Nelson – Executive VP & CTO, Altria Group, Inc. (retired)
Rob Shama – President, Afton Chemical


Breaking News!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Following an exciting afternoon of pitches by five finalist teams, a panel of judges representing the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business Foundation today awarded $250,000 in the school’s inaugural EPIC Challenge. Awards ranged from $30,000-$70,000 and will be used by the winning teams to implement their ideas to support EPIC, the school’s new strategic plan.

Open to all School of Business faculty and staff, the EPIC Challenge encourages collaboration by requiring applicants to partner with one (or more) individual(s) from outside their own discipline and possibly even outside of the university.

A total of 35 teams comprising 154 individuals submitted proposals in fall 2015. Each finalist team worked with a mentor or mentors from the business community to refine their ideas and develop a pitch. Mentors included Bill Weber, Jack Hannibal, Neil Patel, Cathy Doss, Jane Watkins and Gary Rhodes.

The judges had the option to award funding to one or multiple teams. After an hour of deliberation the judges decided to fund at least a portion of every proposal. “All the EPIC Challenge projects were wonderful, so much so that the judges had to actually put on our boxing gloves to allocate our pot of money,” half-joked judge and foundation board member Juanita Leatherberry (B.S.’73/ACCT.)

“All the participants were so good, so fantastic, I could not be more proud,” said School of Business Dean Ed Grier. “I’m looking forward to next year already.”

EPIC Learning
“Experimential” Learning
Communication By Design
Communication By Design
EPIC Learning
EPIC Learning


The Money Spot
The Money Spot
Ramp It Up
Ramp It Up

Strengthening the herd: School of Business program connects students and mentors

Strengthening the herd: School of Business program connects students and mentors


By Anthony Langley

“I’ve always believed that when we meet new people we learn from their lives, and when we add that to our experiences, we move forward and become better,” says Rita Saleem, a senior studying in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business.

In her final year at VCU, she signed up to for the CONNECT mentoring program (formerly Ram to Ram), where she was paired with a mentor in her field of study, human resources. The only thing she regrets about joining CONNECT is that she didn’t do it sooner.

The business school’s mentoring program provides a way for students to cultivate professional relationships with alumni and friends of the university before they enter the workplace. Students and their mentors connect in a variety of ways, including attending professional events, talking by phone and exchanging emails. Mentors provide valuable resume and interview critiques along with information to help students attain their career goals.

The program, started in 2010, operates through a partnership between the VCU Business Alumni Society and the school’s Office of Student and Alumni Engagement. The mentoring program is one of two ways that students and professionals can engage with each other in a one-on-one setting. The second program, EXPLORE, pairs students with volunteers for informational interviews, where students can research, through conversation, different career paths. Both CONNECT and EXPLORE have grown significantly in the past few years, as more students, like Saleem, recognize the value of connecting with alumni. This year, CONNECT had 105 mentors and 111 students participate.

“No matter how old you are, I think it’s good to have a mentor,” says Hamilton Bryan (B.S.’13/B), a customer service administrator for Porvair Filtration Group Ltd. in Ashland, Virginia.

Bryan enrolled in the School of Business as an adult after being in the workforce for many years. Though he was initially worried about the transition from professional to student, he credits the faculty at the school for removing any doubts he had.

“There’s really a concerted effort from everyone there to make sure that you succeed,” he says. “When I found out about [CONNECT], I thought this would be another opportunity to help someone else.”

Bryan, who’s in his second year as a CONNECT mentor, says he emphasizes to students the importance of setting goals and working toward them. Teaching students to think first and understand the action they’re about to take, instead of charging head in, makes all the difference in both life and their professional careers, he says.

The program is about providing support as students prepare to make their transition from school to career, he adds. “It shows students that there are people that are here for you, that you can come to, that have something to offer.”

Local consultant Nancie Wingo also serves as a mentor for CONNECT and says networking and making professional connections before entering the workplace is the key to opening up new doors for students. While not a VCU graduate, Wingo is among a growing number of local business professionals eager to support the business school and its students.

“I’m a huge supporter and fan of VCU, and I credit [VCU] for a lot of the positive things going on in Richmond,” Wingo says. “I jumped at the chance to be a mentor. It’s a great program for everyone involved.”

Though it is her first year with the program, for her, mentoring a student is very similar to her work as a professional coach. In her business, Wingo Coaching, she works collaboratively with her clients to create a plan of action and achieve results.

“I believed I had something to contribute,” she says. CONNECT “gave me the opportunity to work with a student and help them create or improve their own plans to get them where they want to be professionally.”

Wingo was paired with Saleem, who serves as president of SHRM@VCU and was looking for a way to gain real-world experience in human resources instead of just reading about it in textbooks. During her time with Wingo, Saleem honed her interviewing skills, realized the importance of networking and outlined the steps she needs to take to reach her career goals.

“We shared the ways we go about achieving goals,” Saleem says. “Even though we work differently, I think we both found new ways to try and accomplish things.”

Wingo agrees and says she, too, benefited from the mentoring process.

“We’re from different generations, we have different experiences, and I can learn just as much from her as she can from me,” she says.

For both Bryan and Wingo, CONNECT gave them the chance to share their experiences and skills with students preparing to enter the workforce. Both are enthusiastic about coming back for another year and are excited for the program’s future.

“I want [to mentor] more students,” Bryan says with a smile. “There are so many students who want to be a part of this. I’m just glad I can keep making these connections.”

To learn more about CONNECT and EXPLORE, or for more information on becoming a mentor, or visit

— Anthony Langley is a VCU senior majoring in mass communications.

CEOs Talk Local Innovation at Investors Circle Event

Nov 2015Investors Circle Speakers
Investors Circle speakers Peyton Jenkins of Alton Lane, Dave Cuttino of Reservoir Distillery, Rebecca Hough of Evatran, and Avrum Elmakis of Best Bully Sticks

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.

VCU School of Business alumna Kathleen Burke Barrett and Impact Makers CEO Michael Pirron
VCU School of Business alumna Kathleen Burke Barrett and Impact Makers CEO Michael Pirron

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.

Helayne Spivak, Director of the VCU Brandcenter with VCU Business faculty David Downs and wife Meg.
VCU Brandcenter Director Helayne Spivak with VCU Business faculty David Downs and wife Meg.

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 or contact Katy Beishem at 804.827.0075 or

-Article by Dylan Chaplin, student intern

Thomas Dorsey (B.S.’75/B) honored at VCU Alumni Stars ceremony

Alumnus, Thomas Dorsey (B.S.’75/B) was honored among sixteen of  the most accomplished VCU alumni at the recent Stars ceremony.

“In art, commerce, education, service and health care, VCU alumni are solving, discovering and enhancing the quality of our lives,” said Gordon McDougall, associate vice president for university alumni relations. “They have become known for their commitment to excellence—excellence in their work and in how they live their lives. Our stellar graduates are proud of their university, and we are proud of them.”


Dorsey (1)Thomas J. Dorsey
1975 Bachelor of Science
School of Business

A serious weightlifter, avid pool player and inveterate globe-trotter, Thomas J. Dorsey is a man of many talents. As president and co-founder of Dorsey, Wright & Associates, Dorsey prefers a rigorous, no-nonsense style to sizing up investments, with a top-down, objective approach that relies on the Point and Figure price-charting method popularized by Charles Dow in the late 1800s.

An investing pro with 41 years of experience, Dorsey has written nine books based on the Point and Figure technique, which have been translated in a number of languages. He’s been a regular guest on Fox’s “Cavuto: Coast-to-Coast” and “Bulls & Bears” programs and frequently speaks to audiences worldwide on topics related to the stock market, technical analysis and momentum investing.

Looking back, though, Dorsey says, his success was a longshot.

“You see, all my life I would have been voted the least likely to succeed,” says Dorsey, who has dyslexia. With a high school GPA that hovered around 1.5, Dorsey started at Richard Bland College in Petersburg, Virginia, on probation. He flunked out the first semester and spent the next four years in the Navy during the Vietnam War. He continued to work on his studies, teaching himself to eventually read at the college level and finished one final semester at Richard Bland before transferring to VCU.
“My experience at VCU was intoxicating to say the least,” Dorsey says. “Every class I took got me closer to that coveted degree I was never expected to attain. I learned that one can have difficulties learning in the younger years and still attain great success.”
Dorsey credits the lessons he learned in Economics 101 for serving as the spark that later prompted him to leave a senior vice president position at Wheat First Securities to start Dorsey, Wright & Associates. “I still mention in every talk I do, how Economics 101 changed my life,” he says. “Once I graduated from VCU, I realized I could do anything in the world. If I was asked to be president of the United States, I was ready.”

Dorsey started his career as a stockbroker at Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith but planned to have his own company by age 40. In 1987, at age 39, he started Dorsey, Wright & Associates, which grew to become a world leader in supplying technical research services to the financial industry. Just this year, he sold the company to NASDAQ for $225 million.

“I started Dorsey, Wright & Associates with $90,000 in borrowed money, a pregnant wife and two young boys. All we had in the beginning was a vision and hope,” he says. “I’ve learned that great success is in every one of us.”

“My experience at VCU was intoxicating to say the least. Every class I took got me closer to that coveted degree I was never expected to attain.”


See the full VCU Alumni Stars article here.

Why I Give – Caley Cantrell


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:

Erica Billingslea
Trish and Jon Hill
Rose Gilliam

Business alumnus recognized as top “10 Under Ten” by VCU University Alumni Relations


Timmy Nguyen (B.S.’11/B)

VCU Alumni Life member

In his freshman year at VCU, Timmy Nguyen started turning his dreams into a reality when he told his career adviser, Darlene Ward Thompson, in the School of Business that he wanted to work for the government. An internship with the city of Richmond in his first year turned into an internship with a federal agency his sophomore year, which eventually turned into a career.

Committed to giving back to his alma mater, Nguyen is visible in almost every facet at VCU, from student engagement to alumni engagement to donor engagement.

He selflessly gives his time to students, supporting their career opportunities by participating in the business school’s mock job interviews and Ram to Ram Mentoring and Resume Express programs.

He serves on several boards, including the VCU Alumni board of governors and the Ram Athletic Fund board. He also volunteers with the RVA GOLD Chapter, where his ideas and leadership inspired programs such as the Alumni Charity Challenge, which brought together 13 Virginia colleges and universities and gathered 4-plus tons of food for the food bank. The challenge drew recognition from local, state and federal elected officials for its success.

Through his infectious pride for VCU, Nguyen engages the community to support the university. He has obtained thousands of dollars in sponsorships for RVA GOLD and has been an ardent supporter and fundraiser for VCU Massey Cancer Center. He also raised funds and awareness for Shaka and Maya Smart’s campaign to support the Friends Association for Children, a Richmond organization that helps children gain critical literacy and developmental skills.

Nguyen is just as generous with his time in the community. He served as a speaker for former Seattle Seahawks’ running back and Richmond, Virginia, native Michael Robinson’s Excel to Excellence Foundation, which teaches local students about leadership and life skills. He also spends several hours each month mentoring inner-city third-grade students at Chimborazo Elementary.

For his contributions to the university and the community, Nguyen received the VCU GOLD Alumni Service Award in 2014 and twice earned the U.S. Secretary’s Award for Exceptional Volunteer Service in the Community, in 2012 and in 2015.


-Article by the VCU Office of Development and Alumni Relations

Why I Give – Rose Gilliam

Rose Gilliam

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
Trish and Jon Hill

Tom Snead speaks, inspires at StartUp VCU event

The journey any VCU student embarks on after his or her very first day of class has limitless possibilities. When former VCU Board of Visitors Rector and VCU School of Business building namesake Thomas G. Snead first arrived in Richmond to attend VCU, he said he had very few aspirations other than being a Richmonder.

Sponsored by StartUp VCU, Snead spoke to entrepreneurial-minded students involved with the growing student organization at a special event held at the new School of the Arts building The Depot.

Snead addressed a crowd of nearly 30 students Monday night, describing his time at VCU and how he became who he is today
Snead addressed a crowd of nearly 30 students Monday night, describing his time at VCU and how he became who he is today

Snead, who graduated from VCU in ’76 with a degree in Accounting, described how he came to attend VCU after growing up as, “a farm boy” in rural Virginia.

“I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” Snead said. “I had never seen so many lights in my entire life at the time.”

StartUpVCU President Jack Alden and Vice-President Carmine Di Maro said they chose to have Snead speak at their event last week after personally getting to know him this last year. Alden said both he and Di Maro felt Snead’s story was inspiring and wanted him to share it directly with organization members and the student population.

“We wanted to have somebody who has really given back to their community share their story,” Alden said. “It really rings true his message of hard work and following the journey wherever your path might take you. You never know where you might end up.”

During his presentation, Snead described how he came to become one of the most recognizable and influential members of the Richmond business community. After meeting his future wife, Vickie Snead, on a blind date during his second semester of college, Snead said he was encouraged by her to aspire for a good career out of college.

Snead said he had been seeking a degree in General Studies, but decided on Accounting before returning to school in the fall as a sophomore. After earning good grades his second year, Snead said one of his professors encouraged him to apply for an internship with KPMG, an audit, tax and advisory firm which wielded great influence in Richmond area business at the time.

“It changed my life. They gave me a job,” Snead said, offering that same encouragement to students Monday night. “Take those internships. They’ll open your mind. Do whatever it is you have to do. It opens doors and you will learn a lot.”

From internship to job offers to nearly annual promotions, Snead would eventually become President and CEO of Trigon Blue Cross Blue Shield and serve as an executive for several other companies and businesses until choosing to retire in 2006.

VCU alum ’11, Kwaku Osei gave a short presentation before Snead addressed the audience. Currently working for Venture for America, Osei said students who consider themselves non-traditional in their professional approach can still learn tons from taking internships and exploring opportunities outside of their comfort zone.

Osei, Di Maro, Alden and Snead
Osei, Di Maro, Alden and Snead

Osei, who worked for Deloitte Consulting as an analyst immediately after college, said he left the highly reputable and prestigious firm and took an over 50 percent pay cut in order to work for the non-profit, Venture for America. Osei now works in Detroit and proudly works to make a difference in the revitalization of the city.

“There’s going to be a lure of accepting the job offer with the most money or prestige,” Osei said. “But what I want to tell you is to go for the job which will have the most meaningful experience.”

Citing the unique experience VCU and Richmond have to offer students, Osei said students who make the most of their experience at VCU have much to offer the business world.

“You guys here tonight can go head-to-head with anyone,” Osei told his audience. “I’ve been around people from Harvard and Yale and I’ll tell you, they have nothing on me or you.”

VCU Engineering and StartUp member Andrew Batz said he was extremely excited to hear Snead and Osei speak. Batz, who joined StartUp VCU when it was founded in Fall 2012, said the organization has offered him a platform to try and network with business students and mentors who can help him realize his inventions and products to their full potential.

Working in conjunction with StartUp VCU, Batz said a team of him and members from the organization entered the StartUp Weekend competition in Charlottesville last year and won a second place prize for their business plan.

Entering its second year as an organization, Di Maro, who founded the club, said they’re still looking to recruit new students and raise their profile. He said the organization is looking to partner with the newly established, university-wide VCU Squared venture creation initiative as one way to complete that goal.

Marketing junior Wave Wheat attended Monday night’s event hoping to become more involved with StartUp VCU and to hear Snead and Osei speak. Wheat said he has aspirations of being a creative brand manager and possibly opening a niche retail clothing store one day.

“I feel as if everyone in their own right should, if not now, start being entrepreneurial minded at some point in their lives,” Wheat said.

After the event, Di Maro said he hopes events like these continue to inspire students to become more involved with the university and make something of themselves.

“I can count about 20 or 30 people who were not motivated or out in the community doing great things when I met them,” Di Maro said. “As a result of coming to our club and whatever else it may be in their lives, I’ve seen so many people who were just skating by now excelling past imaginable belief. Seeing that transformation makes all the many hours of work worth it.”

-Story by Chris Suarez, student journalist

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