Alumni Spotlight: Cindy Lo – Owner of Red Velvet Events, Class of 1998

Cindy Lo, BHP ’98, was the McCombs BBA commencement speaker this past weekend. Cindy was also honored with the McCombs Rising Star Award this year, which is given to only two McCombs alumni annually who have been successful professionally, and have helped strengthen the McCombs Alumni Network. Cindy is the owner of Red Velvet Events, a full-service event management company based in Austin. She is also extremely involved in UT and her community. We were happy to chat with her recently about her career path and lessons learned along the way.

Tell me about your career path leading up to what you are doing now and what prompted you to change from consulting to event planning.

When I was at UT, I started as a BHP and accounting major, but I did my first internship with one of the big accounting firms and realized it wasn’t for me. That prompted me to switch to BHP and MIS as I always had fond memories of my computer science class back in high school. I graduated in 1998 and worked for a startup software company called Trilogy Software. When I started in my career, I thought I was going to go down the traditional business path, which is work your way up, then go to graduate school and continue down the executive track, but then it all changed. Working in a startup environment, I learned so much and I no longer had the desire to go on to get my MBA. I was at Trilogy for five years. When 9/11 happened, the company saw a shift in client’s pausing their existing contracts, so an opportunity came up for me to take a leave of absence without immediately affecting my employment status. I took advantage of this leave of absence option, and during that time reflected on what I wanted and realized I wanted to get into events and meeting management. I had difficulty getting hired to do what I do today because I didn’t have any formal background in this industry. I thought about starting my own event planning business, but was very hesitant because I knew how much work that would take. I had just come off of working 80-100 hour weeks and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that again. Out of necessity, I did end up starting my own company because no one would hire me. I put together my business plan with the intent of going to work for someone else after I had some experience. That never happened because surprisingly the business took off. I would never have guessed that this is where I would be.

Describe the services offered by Red Velvet Events.

We offer full service event management. We will pair you up with the best caterer, florist, hotel, etc. We are the event architects. We help design your event program and manage all the details. We make sure everything happens the way you had envisioned. We do it all.

You started your company as a one-woman show and now have a staff of 13. Tell me about the growth of your company and what plans you have for the future of Red Velvet Events.

We have seen the most amount of growth in the last six years. We are bringing on three more in January 2014. In 2007, we started really aggressively growing our company (yes despite the downtown turn in the economy in 2008). Destination management and graphic design became a core part of our company during that time. I have another idea I am trying to launch in the next two to three years, but I am not ready to talk about it yet. I will stay true to events though.

In your industry I would imagine that innovation and creativity are very important. How do you encourage innovation and creativity amongst your staff and yourself?

Yes, they are important. I always ask my team to look around them and be a tourist in their own city. Look at things that are influential. When TV shows are a big hit, clients start wanting to incorporate them into their events. Knowing how to spot the trends and hits early is the key. Always be hungry and looking for ideas. I try to read as much as I can so I can stay on top of what is going on. Travelling internationally has also been great to get new ideas.

Are there any events you have planned that really stand out to you or that you are most proud of?

I have some favorite corporate, social and other events that stand out because they were just really challenging and in the end, we were excited we pulled it off. A client came to us once with a very simple idea and we made it a huge production. They wanted Santa Claus to come to their house to take some photos, but I turned it into something more elaborate and we basically turned their house into the North Pole. We did it all with only one week’s notice. I like to push the envelope to see where they want to take it, but we don’t push beyond what they want to do. I always want to bring the wow factor.

What would you say are the top 3 lessons you have learned as an entrepreneur.

1) If you think you have communicated enough, you haven’t. Never think you have over communicated.

2) Always be learning. You may think you know what to expect, but new problems come up every day. I am always pushing to see what I could have done to be better. If you think you are done learning, you need to move on to another career.

3) Always be thankful. Tell people you appreciate them, no matter how busy life gets.

What do you love most about what you do and what do you find the most challenging?

It is so rewarding to see my team grow both professionally and personally. It is a great feeling. I also enjoy seeing the event come to life; being able to put it all together and pull it off. I love seeing the end result and love the challenges that come with it. It is problem-solving and creativity rolled into one.

Your company was selected by the Austin Business Journal as one of the best places to work this year. What sets your company culture apart from others and what did that honor mean to you?

I have to thank my team for nominating the company. I felt very touched that my team took it upon themselves to do that. As far as the culture, we are very open office. If there is something bothering them, they can come to me and tell me. I am trying to take care of our team so that they take care of the clients. For example, we pay full medical benefits for everyone. They shouldn’t have to worry about that. I want them focused on our clients’ needs, and not worried about things like paying for medical coverage.

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

The teamwork we practiced in the classroom was really beneficial. It was useful to learn to work with different personality types. We were required to take all of the different business courses, which helped me a lot because I had to do it all when I started the business. The networking skills helped me find people who could help me along the way. I couldn’t have asked for a better network. It also taught me to be goal oriented and break down big goals into small chunks.

You just received the McCombs Rising Star Award, honoring your professional accomplishments, as well as your commitment to the McCombs Alumni Network. Tell me more about your involvement in UT and McCombs and why you think it is important to stay connected.

I started giving back because I was one of the lucky few who got a full-ride to UT. I wanted to pay it forward. The more involved I got, the more I realized it was good for not only my business but also help me with my soft skills. I served on the MIS Advisory Board, then the university’s 1883 Council, which then led to getting involved with the Forty Acres Scholarship Board. I love meeting the new students and seeing how driven they are. Giving back is very important to me. I value education and want to help in that realm. I know who made it possible in my life to receive the education I did and am so grateful.

What advice would you offer current BHP students?

Take the time to enjoy school. Get involved with the things that you love doing. Do something non-academic; try to be more than one-dimension. Make genuine friends and find friends outside of the business school. I was involved a lot in the business school, but love the friends I made outside of the school. I think it is very important. Keep in touch with your friends beyond just sending Facebook notes for their birthdays.

BHP Students Take First Place In SCI Case Competition

It is no secret that Austin, Texas is the place to be right now for anything to do with business. Entrepreneurs are flocking to get their startups off the ground, businessmen and women are migrating from the Silicon Valley to the Silicon Hills and everyone who’s anyone is talking about ATX. As businesses are growing, they’re also presented with bumps along the way, which is when consultants are able to lend a helping hand. The UT Student Consulting Initiative (SCI) is more than happy to offer their services to the booming business of Austin.

SCI hosted their Annual Fall Case Competition Saturday, November 23, which was sponsored by the BBA Alumni Excellence Foundation, EYAdvisory, OSL, Student Government and SCI alumni. The competition lasts two months and teams were tasked with assisting a local business with their needs from internal communication to marketing and more. Nine teams competed in the competition pairing with different local businesses. “We were very impressed with the results this year,” said SCI Co-Chair, Holli Wertheimer. “The students created a wide range of deliverables from marketing campaigns to inventory management tools to compensation requirements among many others.”

The winning team worked with Fair Bean Coffee on their internal communications and employee retention for a prize of $1,200. The team consisted of Jason Prideaux, BHP, Finance and Plan II ’16, David Kaplan, BHP & Corporate Finance ’16, Douglas Berkman, BHP ’16, and Catherine Anne Prideaux, BHP & Plan II ’16.

“This was a tremendous learning experience,” said Douglas Berkman, a member of the winning team. “The case competition provided me with insight on what it is like to be a consultant for a real company with real employees and a real owner.” Many of the students felt it was a good experience even for those not currently pursuing consulting, “I entered the competition for experience,” said Catherine Anne Prideaux. “I would highly recommend doing SCI even if you’re not considering consulting!” All four team members noted that their group meetings were one of their favorite parts of the competition.

If you’re interested in learning more about SCI, visit their website.

This article originally appeared on BBA News.

BHP Finance Major Creates A Mobile Application To Increase Productivity

If you’ve ever wished for an easier way to organize and manage everything you need to get done then you are in luck because there’s an app for that; Cluster. CEO of Mobylsoft LLC and BHP student, Ram Anantharaman, created this iOS application. “Cluster is a productivity tool and visual planner,” said Ram. “It provides information that a simple to-do list cannot. It tells you what you should be working on right now, which is a question I was always asking myself as a student.”

Ram came up with the idea for Cluster as he attempted to juggle the chaotic schedule of a college student. “I came up with the concept out of pure need,” said Ram. “I turned to the App Store for help and as I went through the productivity options, I realized that most of them took a lot of time to enter tasks and then didn’t offer a good picture of how to complete those tasks.”

Since high school Ram has taken an interest in writing code and taught himself to do so, “I used online resources, like the Stanford lecture series and would spend eight hours at a time reading books and doing as much as I could to get my feet wet,” said Ram. “Writing code for apps is tangible. It’s a way that I can hold my creation in my own hand. I wanted to dive into the tech world and create something I myself could use. It’s a simple and beautiful way to have a startup and not spend a lot of time and money on it.”

Ram holds a high amount of confidence in his product and offers his consumers a personal money back guarantee, “I absolutely will give the customer their money back,” said Ram. “If the consumer feels that I’ve done an inadequate job making them more productive then I think that’s a problem and I’ll do anything to fix it whether it’s adding a new feature or giving their money back.” Cluster has been in the App Store for about six weeks and has over 150 downloads. Although only available for iOS (iPhone and iPad) currently, Windows phone, Windows 8 and Mac are in the future plans.

In the future, Ram would like to shift from selling straight to the consumer to working with businesses, “I would like to create a project management app for businesses with some of the interface from Cluster,” said Ram. “I think it’s a much more sustainable way to sell and make money. Also, I’m currently taking Operations Management right now and learning about supply chain management and I think I’m well equipped to create a project management application.”

Ram is projected to graduate next year and hopes to go into consulting, “I want to work for a consulting firm to build a better client network and leverage those skills to become a better entrepreneur,” said Ram.

BHP Alumni Accepted Into Top MBA Programs Across The Country

Choosing to pursue a MBA degree is common for BHP graduates. We don’t always hear from alumni when they have been accepted into graduate school, but this year we received news from several BHP alumni letting us know that they had been accepted into top business schools across the country. In fact, seven alumni let us know that they are attending Harvard Business School, and others wrote to tell us of their acceptance into the Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Northwestern Kellogg School of Management and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

 

Andrew Schwaitzberg graduated from BHP in 2008 with additional degrees in Finance and Government. Schwaitzberg worked in the energy industry for four years before applying and being accepted into the Harvard Business School. “I wanted to meet new people and find new ideas,” said Schwaitzberg. “I’m finding different ways to be a good leader and rethinking the type of manager I want to be.” Since entering the Harvard MBA program, he has found his experiences in BHP to be extremely relevant. “Whether it’s grad school or any other situation, knowing how to learn with other really talented and smart people to find a common solution is always valued highly,” said Schwaitzberg. “Being in a program where you’re constantly working and being challenged always forces you to better yourself – those are the types of skills valued most, not just whether you can build a financial model or not.”

 

Alpana Kelkar graduated with dual degrees in BHP and Marketing in 2009. She has noticed a lot of parallels between the Honors Program and the MBA program at Chicago Booth. “The curriculum is molded based on our background and interests as students,” said Kelkar. “I was attracted to the good reputation at Booth and the top-notch professors. It reminds me of BHP because everyone is really driven and collaborative.” She also notes that making connections has been an important aspect to both programs. “The teamwork and collaboration required for all BHP classes has been instrumental for me. Relationship-building is really important, especially in grad school. You never know when you’ll want to start a company and need to rely on your peers.” Kelkar describes the Chicago Booth application process as intensive and stresses the importance of telling a clear-cut story for admissions. “You have to really make sure you know what you’re trying to get out of your ultimate experience,” said Kelkar. “Make sure everything you’re portraying is accurate. Link what you’ve done in your past to what you’re going to do after school to tell one story and tie everything together.”

 

Angelique Obiri, who graduated in 2004 with degrees in BHP and Marketing, worked for the same company for eight years and was looking to switch industries and functions. She began applying to grad schools with the help of Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) and took the GMAT three times, which paid off when she was accepted into four of the five schools to which she had applied. Obiri chose the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern because of the people, the curriculum and the opportunity to try new things beyond her comfort zone. She believes her time in BHP had a positive impact on the decision to admit her into the program, “In my interview I explained how I transferred into the program as a sophomore and it helped to tell my story of seeking new challenges,” said Obiri. She also offered advice to current BHP students considering getting a MBA, “Really know why you want to go to business school,” said Obiri. “The time goes by quickly and you don’t have much time for exploration once you’re actually in. Many people that come into school thinking they will figure it out are surprised about how soon you have to start making career decisions.”

 

Current BHP students and alumni of the program who are interested in pursuing an MBA and speaking with a BHP alumnus in a particular MBA program can contact Shelley Nix in the BHP office.

 

BHP Professors Use Innovative Techniques In The Classroom

We often hear from alumni and parents asking about the BHP classroom experience and what new things students are doing in the program. This semester two BHP professors tried something new with their classes. Dr. Leigh McAlister, who teaches BHP Principles of Marketing, paired BHP alumni with students in her class for a day to coach them in their area of interest. And Dr. Ethan Burris, who teaches Organizational Behavior, an upper-division management class, paired his students with MBAs in a challenge to raise money for the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

Dr. McAlister: Connecting BHP students and alumni

Vivek Shah, partner at Consortium Finance and BHP alum, speaking with students interested in investment banking

Vivek Shah, a 2003 graduate of the program and chair of the BHP Advisory Board Mentoring Committee, was happy to help when he heard Dr. McAlister was looking to bring alumni from all career paths in to talk about how marketing relates to what they do. “We on the board are looking to find ways to increase the connection between alumni and students, and to play a larger role in helping students as needed,” said Shah.

BHP alumna and CTO at Tiff’s Treats Cookie Delivery in Austin, Jocelyn Coe Seever, speaking with students interested in consulting

The class was broken down into smaller groups and matched with an alumnus who is currently working in the student’s chosen field. Each group was asked to come up with a new product idea to meet the needs of some customer segment in their business. The second task was to write a positioning statement for that new product. Groups fragmented throughout the classroom and into the Atrium. Idea generation began and students listened closely.

Shah hopes to see interactions like this continue. “As for the future, I think we could see more professors finding interest with bringing students into the classroom,” he said. “We could also have guest speaker sessions where an alum gives a relevant lecture about a topic being taught in class but bringing a real world and real time vantage point. Hopefully we have just scratched the surface here.”

Dr. Burris: Pairing BHP students with MBAs

In Dr. Burris’ management class, students competed in a Donald Trump-esque ‘Apprentice’ like challenge. Each group, consisting of BHP students and MBA students from his Power and Politics elective, was tasked with raising enough money to fund one wish for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, about $5,000, in ten days.

Dr. Burris replicated a technique used by Wharton professor, Adam Grant, author of New York Times bestseller, Give and Take. Students were able to apply influence techniques to “real-life” situations when soliciting donations for Make-A-Wish. Pairing undergraduate students with MBA students added another element to the process, “It was a two-fold debrief,” said Burris. “On the one hand influence played a part in tactics and strategies of getting donations. Secondly, group members also had to influence each other, bringing high power and low power dynamics to the surface.”

After the ten-day challenge, the final outcome of all groups combined was $136,065 in donations for Make-A-Wish Foundation. Students used various approaches ranging from low cost options such as email and Facebook to high effort options like reaching out to family and previous employers. Some groups took a “divide and conquer” approach while others worked together as a cohesive team. “The winning group had one member who interned for Google connect Make-A-Wish with Google Grants,” said Burris. “They applied and will most assuredly secure the grant, which is worth $10K per month in ad words. They prorated it for the year.”

We are always excited to see this kind of innovation happening in the classroom, and appreciate that our professors are always finding ways to challenge the students more and expose them the all of the resources available to them while they are here at McCombs. Thank you to Dr. Burris and Dr. McAlister, and to all of the alumni who gave up a full day to be with our students. Those alumni involved were Vivek Shah, Betsy Greytok, Jocelyn Coe Seever, Allison Steinberg, Craig Wielansky and Maneesh Verma.