Student Profile: Jed Cole and Phillip Niels – Owners of Cole Niels & Co.

BHP seniors Jed Cole and Phillip Niels started their own custom apparel business, Cole Niels & Co., together in 2011, and have printed close to 50,000 shirts since then and continue to bring on new customers. There were some bumps along the way, but their business has expanded significantly since that time and so has their knowledge of what it takes to run your own business. Jed will go to McKinsey after graduation and Phillip has one more year in the MPA program, but both plan to continue growing Cole Niels & Co. We sat down with them to learn more about the challenges they faced and the lessons they learned.

What is Cole Niels & Co.’s niche?

Phillip: We have positioned ourselves to serve student organizations, fraternities and sororities. They could get the same deliverable from other vendors, but our service is unique and valuable.

Jed: Leadership in student organizations and Greek organizations turns over each year. Our value proposition is that the new person coming in to handle orders won’t have to start from scratch. We tell each girl from the beginning that they can be as creative as possible, and we will take care of everything else. Because we know what they need from their previous orders and have a very high level of service, it is very easy on them to hit the ground running.

How did the idea for this come about? Had you always been interested in starting your own business?

Phillip: BHP brought the two of us together. We both had talked about wanting to start a business. We were on a train in Scotland, studying abroad the summer after our sophomore year, and that is when we really started talking about the business and how it could work. I had familial ties to screen printing shops and there was clear need, so it made sense. Jed got us our first client that August to do a print job for OU weekend.

Tell me more about how you got the business off the ground.

Jed: I called a girl I knew who was the apparel chair for her sorority and asked if we could lighten the burden on her by making their shirts and she agreed to let us do their OU shirts. On our first order we made some mistakes with trademark issues and therefore didn’t get to print all of the items. We learned a valuable lesson with that order to promise less and deliver more. From there I started connecting with other sorority apparel chairs and asking if we could work with them. The first quarter we had only worked with two sororities, but by the end of our first year of business, we were serving more than 10 groups, including fraternities and other student orgs.

Phillip: The business is very seasonal, so in the fall it is a bit slower, but by that spring we had a lot of orders. We have grown pretty drastically.

How did your coursework and BHP community help you in starting the business?

Phillip: Being in BHP, you are surrounded by natural entrepreneurs. The coursework along with the social aspect of it was inspiring. We have learned to be analytical and thoughtful in our decisions.

Jed: We started it in our junior year, so we had built a lot of the skills we needed in our classes. It felt very natural and comfortable to us.

Phillip: We also had to learn a lot along the way about how to start a business – things we hadn’t learned in a classroom. We had family and professors support us and offer advice.

What advice do you have for other students wanting to start a business while also managing school and other commitments?

Phillip: My attitude is that although as a student you will spend a lot of time in class, if you manage your time properly, you can accomplish pretty much anything. We did a lot of planning, and kept each other accountable. It is also crucial to be flexible. I think any student in BHP can accomplish whatever they set out to do, if they really set their mind to it, stay disciplined, and are passionate.

Jed: One of my favorite quotes is “don’t let school interfere with your education,” said by Mark Twain. I think that is very applicable. Starting our business has been an education in its own right. I think it is really fun and exciting and it is great working with a friend. It is like the greatest group project ever.

What were and are the biggest challenges you faced?

Jed: Being able to balance the line between friendships and customers. Our business revolves around the fact that we are friends with our clients and when something doesn’t go right, it is more personal because we feel like we have disappointed our friends. It makes it harder to leave work at work and not take it home with you.

Phillip: Being an entrepreneur, there is never a moment of the day when my work is not on my mind. I am always thinking about what needs to be done next for the business, so that has made it a bit harder for me to manage my time and give time to other projects and organizations.

How do you plan to keep the business growing after you graduate and leave campus?

Jed: Phil is MPA so he will be on campus another year. I will have to take on more of a supportive role since I will be in Dallas. We are going to try to bring a sophomore BHP student into the business next year to keep it going  while we can help facilitate forming relationships with the new apparel chairs before we leave. We hope to then pass off some of the workload to them once Phil graduates. We will always want to be involved, even when we move to other cities.

Phillip: We have done a good job of streamlining our process, so I think we can pass that on pretty easily. With our oversight, I think we will continue to grow and refine our services.

When you reflect upon your time in the BHP and on the 40 Acres, what do you think will stand out most to you?

Phillip: I was so excited when I got in to the program, but didn’t really know what it was going to mean to me. Now, I feel very fortunate to have been in the BHP and received such a strong education. I don’t think we would be where we are with the business without BHP. We are used to doing things at a high level. More than anything, the friendships will stand out along with having created a business that is successful. It is fun walking around campus and seeing everyone wearing a shirt that you helped make. We have made more than 50,000 shirts now.

Jed: It has been fun to start a business that meshes so many of our interests. We have gotten to meet so many new people, make new friends, and help organizations. It is the same thing we are doing in other orgs we are involved in, but it is also a business. It is also fun to see people happy when they receive their orders.

What are you most looking forward to about this new phase of your life?

Phillip: I am excited about starting another business in the future that is bigger, but also merges my interests like this one did.

Jed: We are both going to see what it is like to work for large businesses. I am going to Mckinsey and Phillip is interning at Bain this summer. I am excited to get back together after we have worked in this new big business environment and look at starting a business through a new lens. I think we would both like to start another business together again in the future. I never imagined that I would have a business capable of putting me through college and so it’s exciting to think of how high the ceiling can be 4 years from now as we expand our horizon’s and ambition’s.

Student Spotlight: Jeff Stevens – Senior BHP and Finance Major

Senior Jeff Stevens was recently honored with the Barbara Jordan Business Leadership Award, the BBA/MPA Alumni Advisory Board’s Rising Star Award, and the BHP’s top honor, the Doenges Award. What has set Jeff apart this year is not only his stellar leadership, service and academic accomplishments, but also the fact that he stepped up and took on several additional service and leadership positions in his senior year. During a time when most seniors take a step back, Jeff kept pushing himself to give more and have more of an impact before graduating. This year he lead the BBA Legacy campaign, headed marketing for the BHP Make-a-Mark campaign, served as a BHP recruiter, joined the Financial Analyst Program Advisory Board, and coordinated the BHP senior newsletter. We visited with Jeff to get some final thoughts on his time here before he leaves.

You have said that being a recruiter for the BHP was your favorite thing you did. Why?

Yes, there are two things that stick out to me about the experience. Being a recruiter has really made me feel like I am giving back to a program that gave me so much. I like to recruit the type of students who are going to make this program and the value of my degree even better. I also like interacting with the students. It gets me excited about school and has helped me push through all I do for my classes and extracurricular activities. In order to recruit the best students, I have to be on top of my game too. In order to sell BHP to them, I have to be able to tell them what I love about the program and all of the things I am doing.

How did you find your path of which organizations to be involved in?

I was drawn towards the people in the Undergraduate Business Council from the start. That was the vehicle through which I got involved in a lot more at McCombs. I had to pick and choose what was most meaningful and which I could give back to the most. I got involved in things my mentors were involved in. Michael Daehne and Bhargav Srinivasan were probably my greatest mentors in terms of how to be a leader and connect with people and how to choose which organizations to get involved in. My work this year on the Legacy campaign was motivating and I felt I could really make an impact on that campaign and improve it. I had a wide range of experiences at UT, which helped me explain to people why giving back to McCombs is important. A lot of the success of this year’s campaign was due to the strength of the committee and their network. We hit 28% participation, which was more than double the rate of any past campaign.

What lessons have you learned from all of the leadership positions you held? Were there any common themes?

I have always been good at managing tasks and getting things done, but I learned how to better manage people. Leading by example is very important, especially when interacting with underclassmen. I never approached them with the idea of me mentoring them, but I found that if I was open to learning from them and was open to answering any questions they had, that sort of mentorship relationship naturally progressed. I think it is important to always been kind to people and take time out of your day to develop relationships, and not just constantly ask people to do things.

What will you remember most when you look back on your time at UT?

Being a part of the VIP Distinguished Speaker series was amazing. I got to hear from C-level executives, including Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo. I learned so much from them. I have also really enjoyed being involved in Make a Mark and reconnecting with all of my classmates who I haven’t had classes with in a while. Going to the football games is great and I have also enjoyed checking out the Austin food scene.

What are you most proud of and why?

I am most proud of the relationships I have built with not only those in my class, but also underclassmen. I have really enjoyed the mutual opportunities for learning from these relationships. Being a cheerleader for other’s success is so much more rewarding than just being successful yourself. I really enjoy helping people succeed and again, I think that is part of why I enjoyed being a BHP recruiter and helping students see how BHP can help them accomplish their goals.

If you could go back and give advice to yourself as a freshman, what would you say?

I would say not to give up anything that you are passionate about.  I was really passionate about band and music in high school and that is my greatest college regret that I didn’t pursue it further once I got here. I probably would have joined Longhorn Band if I had it to do over again.

What are you going to be doing after graduation?

I will be working for Exxon Mobil in Houston. My role is yet to be determined there, but I did my internship there last summer in their Internal Audit Division and really liked it. I feel confident in saying that I will stay with the company for many years. I hope that will afford me the opportunity to live and work in other countries. The travelling and study abroad experiences I did in college really opened my eyes and I would like to continue to broaden my world view and experience how business is conducted in other countries. I am actually going to be travelling this summer before I start my job and will be doing an internship in Shanghai, China. I found a program through the UT International Office and decided it would be a great opportunity. I will be working for an energy think tank, the China Energy Fund, doing research about the energy needs of China. That research will then be passed on to oil and gas companies operating in China. I am excited to start a new phase in my professional and personal life, but am also looking forward to staying connected to UT through my involvement with the BBA/MPA Alumni Advisory Board.


Annual MIS Dinner with a Professor Spotlights Indian Food and Culture

Written by Stephanie Morgan

This past Saturday, MIS 301 professor Ashish Agarwal, hosted the much-anticipated annual MIS DWAP (Dinner With A Professor). When we walked through the threshold of Professor Ashish Agarwal’s house, we were greeted by a burnt orange kurta pajama clad Agarwal and his MIS 301 colleague, professor Prabudev Konana, wearing his standard business casual.  After chatting with the professors and their families for a bit, they invited us to partake in delicious appetizers of Gobi Manchurian, samosas, a mango salsa, and, for those less adventurous students, bean dip and chips.

After stuffing our stomachs on the first course, we were treated to the entrée consisting of rice, yogurt, Shai paneer, chole, and the crowd favorite, naan.  The meal didn’t end there—we also enjoyed a custard-style dessert.  The Agarwals fed the 60-some students with a combination of homemade specialties and catered dishes from a local Indian restaurant.

Freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors alike enjoyed dancing to popular Indian music and learning some Bollywood moves.  Agarwal enjoyed hosting the DWAP for the first time and said that he plans to continue participating for years to come.  He enjoys keeping the tradition alive, and he was excited to get to know students outside of class.

Agarwal stressed that the DWAP is “a nice time to get together when everyone’s so busy and stressed out at the end of the semester.”  Students also enjoyed merrymaking with their classmates and professors.  Saloni Naik, a BHP/pre-med junior, exclaimed, “I really like that HBA gives us such fun opportunities to get to know our professors.  How else would I have known that Agarwal owns a disco ball?”

The Honors Business Association (HBA) coordinates DWAPs twice a year. The events offer students the opportunity to connect with their professors outside of an academic setting, on a more personal level.

Alumni Spotlight: Greg Gerstenhaber, Class of ’97 – Partner at Bain & Co.

Greg Gerstenhaber is a partner in the Dallas office of Bain & Company. Greg graduated in 1997 with degrees in BHP and Finance and joined Bain immediately after graduation. He has been with the company for 16 years now and his experience includes airline, automotive, defense, construction, retail, manufacturing, and waste management. Most of his recent work has been in the industrial practice covering strategy and performance improvement. We visited with Greg to hear more about what he is doing now.

Tell me about your career progression coming up to what you are doing now.

I started with Bain as an associate consultant right after graduation. I did that for three years, then left for two years to get my MBA from Harvard. My business school tuition was paid for by Bain with the expectation that I would come back, and I did. When I returned, I was a consultant for two years, then was promoted to a manager and did that for four years. I was promoted again in 2008 to partner. Now my time is mostly spent on strategy work as well as performance improvement.   I also lead our MBA recruiting efforts for Texas as well.

You consult with a number of different industries. Which type of industry do you enjoy working with the most and why?

There isn’t any one industry. I have the most fun when I am working with industries that are going through a lot of change and the work we are doing has significant impact on our client’s business. In 2008, I was working with home building and there was so much change taking place with home prices falling dramatically that it was really challenging and exciting work.

What is most challenging about the work you do?

It is fast-paced. It is always a challenge to learn a new industry. To learn a new industry you have to really dig into analyst reports and other industry materials to try to absorb as much knowledge as possible. We have found over time that one of the key ways of delivering value to clients is integrated expertise. By being able to work in different industries and different types of companies, we develop our expertise in a certain industry, but we also bring new ideas and perspectives from having worked with other industries and clients. There is a threshold level of expertise that we bring to a client, but we also know that we create a lot of value by bringing a broader perspective to the table.

How do you approach the strategy work you do?

We have a tried and true approach that we use for strategy work. We start with the same core sets of tools. We first make sure we understand the current situation and have a data driven factbase.  . We then work closely with our clients to identify strategic options and then evaluate them with data. We will come up with a hypothesis of what the answer might look like, then collect the data and do the analysis to prove or disprove the hypothesis.   Through all of this, we use a methodology called “profit from the core”. Companies should define and understand what their core is, and look for opportunities that are as close to the core as possible. We have a very tried and true core strategy approach that is very effective at creating value for our clients.  .

How can students prepare themselves to do something similar to what you are doing?

We look for people who are passionate about what we do and have a track record of being challenged and doing well academically. We also want people who have been involved on campus and have taken on leadership roles on campus. Strong analytical skills are important in this job.  We utilize a case interview method which is a very effective way for testing fit for the associate consultant job.

How have things changed at Bain over the 16 years you have been there?

I will tell you what has and hasn’t changed. What has changed is that we have grown at a very high rate. We are substantially larger now vs when I started in 1997. We have probably grown about 10 percent a year since I started working here. We have also moved towards more of a practice area focus. We have developed and advanced IP, while still enabling people to have a variety of work experience. The biggest thing that has not changed is our core mission and our core values of how we work with and deliver for our clients. We take the time to periodically reevaluate our mission and priorities, but we always come back to the same core set of values.  Our business is all about our ability to deliver for our clients and help them to achieve results.  Our entire DNA as a firm revolves around that.

The one constant at Bain no matter what level you are at is that you will always feel challenged.  The type of work you do and roles and responsibilities will change overtime. I am less involved in the analytics and spend more time with the actual clients now. Someone coming into Bain could expect that their responsibilities will continue to grow over time, as they have for me.

How do you think your BHP education prepared you for what you are doing now?

I think it prepared me really well. The emphasis on case studies really helped to lay the ground work for the variety and the types of cases I see. The curriculum was challenging and it prepared me well. BHP has so much respect within Bain. We know that people in BHP are being prepared well and coming from a respected program. The program has benefited me in such a tremendous way.  We are truly excited to come back to campus each year and meet the BHP students.

Do you have any regrets from your time on the 40 Acres? Anything you wish you would have done differently?

I wish it didn’t go as fast as it did! I feel so fortunate to have been in the BHP. I was really involved in the business council and was president of that my senior year. I was in HBA and the Cabinet of College Councils as well. These experiences were incredibly valuable to me and gave me real practical experience in working with teams to accomplish something. It was also just a lot of fun. I made friendships that have really stayed with me.

I have had a lot of good networking opportunities with my BHP classmates since graduation. When I started by MBA at Harvard, there were a couple BHP grads there who I connected with. I have also kept in touch with BHP grads in the Dallas area who are in prominent positions that I can call upon when I need advice or help.

Do you have any advice for current students?

Your time in the BHP is one of the best times you will have to learn. Take advantage of the variety of great learning experiences you get to have. Get involved in various activities on campus and have fun.