Headlining success: TU’s Friends of Finance

On Nov. 23, 2015, Forbes released its annual list of the world’s most powerful people, those whose names regularly top news headlines — leaders of nations, CEOs of the world’s largest corporations and even the pope. The list also has a surprising TU connection. Both Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase (No. 20), and Doug McMillon (MBA ’90), CEO of Wal-Mart Stores (No. 32), have shared their insights during Friends of Finance events.

Dimon and McMillon aren’t the only notable names on the group’s past speaker list, a veritable who’s who of business and leadership: Boone Pickens, Alfred Mockett, Cy Elmburg, Chet Cadieux (BSBA ’89), Roger Staubach and legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, just to name a few.

TU’s executive speaker series, which averages around 400 attendees for each event, originated on a much smaller scale in 1985. “We met in hotels downtown, sort of like entrepreneurs starting in a garage,” says Professor Emeritus and Friends of Finance cofounder Roger Bey. “We didn’t have a specific direction for the organization, but we knew we wanted to create an interface with the Tulsa business community.”

Early speakers included professors and local professionals from smaller companies. Bey recalls the series of events that led to a shift toward securing more nationally recognized names. “In the spring of 1992, Joe Adwon arranged for us to meet with Burt Stacy, the head of Arvest Bank. Stacy previously lived next to David Glass, then CEO of Wal-Mart, and he arranged for David to speak at an upcoming meeting.”

Meeting attendance historically averaged around 100, but jumped to 850 for the Glass event. “That brought more attention to the organization and a name we could put in letters,” said Bey. “We gradually secured more prominent speakers and as a result, membership and attendance grew. It was the breaking point that moved us toward more national attention.”

Friends of Finance board members leveraged their extensive networks to continue that forward momentum. “The success rate from executives on our board picking up the phone and asking people they knew to come speak was phenomenally high,” said Bey.

Board members like Keith Bailey, Joe Wolking and Randy Foutch were eager to make those calls. “Executives saw Friends of Finance as something that was good for the community, as a way to show Tulsa off,” Bey explained. “TU also was vital to their hiring efforts. We worked hard to build and maintain relationships with local business leaders and in turn, they were more than willing to help the university and the Tulsa community.”

That’s how Foutch, chairman and CEO of Laredo Petroleum, came to be involved in the group. He attended a couple of meetings, and then Jim Ahrens asked Foutch to join the board in hopes that he could help secure world-class speakers.

Foutch explains that the board has a specific approach when it comes to brainstorming for speaker ideas. “We don’t just invite people who speak to a topic that’s beneficial only to a specific company or industry. We invite executives from across the spectrum, those our audience will find educational or entertaining. We look for great speakers who either have a fascinating business or can discuss a trend that the audience might want to understand better,” he said.

Don Quint (BS ’78), principal and founder of Don P. Quint & Associates and current president of Friends of Finance, recalls attending meetings during the organization’s early days. He would take clients to have lunch at TU, and then hear a presentation about a business topic. “I always learned something by attending the meetings and that’s how my involvement in the organization started,” said Quint. “I enjoyed it and got to know and develop a friendship with Dr. Bey. At some point, he convinced me to join the board.”

Quint served as the program chair, with a desire to elevate that year’s speaker series. He enlisted help from the late Walt Helmerich, CEO of Helmerich & Payne, who looked to his own company’s board in identifying A-list prospects. “That particular year, we had the CEO of AT&T Wireless and CEO of State Farm speak to the group,” said Quint.

No matter where they travel, it seems that Friends of Finance board members are always making connections. Quint recalls that on the day Laredo Petroleum went public, Foutch approached a director of the New York Stock Exchange and asked him to come to Tulsa. A year later, Lawrence Leibowitz, COO of NYSE Euronext, addressed the group. “All because Randy said, ‘You’ve got to come speak to Friends of Finance.’ That’s the amazing thing about the organization – people are willing to put a lot of effort into it.”

Bailey, who retired as CEO of the Williams Companies in 2002, describes Friends of Finance as “by far the best front door to the business college that the university has.” He cites the balance of speakers as a key driver of the organization’s success. We’ve always wanted an annual suite of speakers that included Oklahoma area businesses and people who have a national profile.”

Bailey was instrumental in bringing Staubach and Wooden, who drew some of the group’s largest crowds to date. “People would ask, ‘What is the connection between Friends of Finance and Roger Staubach or John Wooden?’ Wooden has a philosophy of leadership and teamwork that is second to none. He speaks in the context of sports, but his lessons are transferable to other groups. Who else can speak to a room of 2,000 businesspeople and have them spellbound?”

Bailey notes Staubach’s success in real estate and how he shared thoughts on leadership and forming a business. “That variety gives Friends of Finance a real cache,” he said. “Whether you have Cy Elmberg talking about creating one of the most successful plastic container industries in the country in Miami, Oklahoma, or someone like Ed Whitaker talking about rebuilding Southwestern Bell into the new AT&T after the company split, it’s that range of speakers that keeps the organization growing.”

Foutch agrees with that sentiment. “You’re getting to hear how some of the most successful leaders in North America and internationally have approached their businesses and their jobs, their attitudes, how they solve problems, how they see the future. All of these are beneficial not only to me, but also to a broader audience.”

Bailey also notes something else that sets Friends of Finance apart from similar programs — none of the speakers commands a fee. “My opening line is always that I have a budget of $0,” Bailey quipped. “We give these executives an opportunity to spend time with our students before the program, which could lead to a hire down the road. That’s how the program stays so affordable. It’s the best bargain in town in terms of luncheons and content to accompany them.”

Marcia MacLeod (BS ’75, JD ’80), senior vice president of Human Resources and Administration at WPX Energy, serves as vice president of Friends of Finance. Though she admits that it was a little intimidating stepping into the role responsible for coordinating upcoming speakers, she has found tremendous support from the board. “It really takes a village,” she said. “I’ve got some great supporters who are more than willing to reach out to contacts or provide ideas. And, some of the contacts are my own. It’s amazing how people rarely say no. They are usually flattered to be asked.”

MacLeod points to the diversity offered by this year’s speakers, in terms of industries and topics represented. “We had Joseph Gorder, CEO of Valero, who discussed how the company has continued to earn profits in the midst of the energy downturn. Stu Crum, chair of Bridgestone Retail, talked about how manufacturing efficiencies and lower energy prices have allowed the company to keep tire prices steady. And, Chet Cadieux shared marketing insights as a major retailer of gasoline. Not all represent the oil and gas industry, but each speaker brought a different perspective on leadership and how their respective businesses fit into the total economy.”

She shared that next year’s programming is shaping up to continue spotlighting a broad range of industries, as well as a good mix of local and national companies.

MacLeod said, “Our future looks great. Friends of Finance has become an institution in Tulsa, and people look forward to attending the meetings, which consistently sell out. I credit the quality of leadership for that reputation, from Roger Bey to the number of executives who have been active in the group. Consistent, strong leadership, succession planning and faculty involvement have kept the organization moving ahead for 30 years.”

And no commentary on the success of Friends of Finance would be complete without including one of its biggest advocates, Judy Adair. Adair joined TU in 2000 as program coordinator for Friends of Finance. Her ability to focus on the program enabled Adair to provide steady leadership working closely with TU faculty and the Friends of Finance board. Her responsibilities include coordinating the speakers and their staffs, as well as planning every executive luncheon and the registrations.

“I love all of the people that I get to interact with. I know at least half of the members, or more, on a first-name basis. It’s like a big family to me,” she said.

When reflecting on the growth Friends of Finance has experienced and what it means for TU, Bailey adds, “It’s an example of how the university can announce to the community that TU is on the map and is worth getting to know about.”

Student Investment Fund offers unique opportunity for students

Beyond the outstanding speakers and networking opportunities, Friends of Finance offers another direct benefit for students. The group invests its proceeds in TU students through scholarship money generated in a unique way.

In 1997, Friends of Finance established the Student Investment Fund (SIF), TU’s student-managed investment portfolio. The organization raised over $300,000 to fund the SIF’s first round of investments and over the years has contributed more than $2.3 million in gifts. Through the hard work of students tasked with managing and growing the fund each semester, today the fund’s assets stand at more than $4.5 million and its earnings have provided more than $928,000 in scholarships to more than 200 students.

The SIF gives students the opportunity to gain firsthand experience in managing investment portfolios through a semester-long course led by Professor Tally Ferguson, senior vice president of risk management at BOK. Students must apply to join the fund each semester, with 15 to 20 new members selected by the current class membership.

“The number one value of Friends of Finance is what it does for students at TU,” said MacLeod. “Providing the opportunity to run an investment fund and being able to use those earnings for scholarships is a win-win for the university.”

Quint said that while it’s easy to take the fund for granted, he was reminded of its magnitude when touring colleges with his son six years ago. “He was looking at eastern seaboard schools and one university mentioned that its fund had about $500,000 in assets. I’m thinking, ‘We have $2 million or $3 million.’ It really gives you a sense that the size of TU’s fund is unusual, as is the fact that the students manage real money.”