Alumni Spotlight: Phil Canfield

In the thirty years since Phil Canfield graduated from the University of Texas with degrees in Business Honors and Finance, much has changed in the world, in Austin, and on our campus. We begin our conversation discussing the increasing number of hipsters in the city (we are meeting during SXSW, after all) and then move into talking about the dynamic relationship between artificial intelligence and business. Despite this rapid evolution, Mr. Canfield agrees that one thing has remained constant: The caliber of the Business Honors Program and the benefit of receiving a Business Honors degree.

“The BHP was a small group within a large university, which allowed for teamwork and the ability for us to have a small cohort of really bright students that I could work with, learn from, test ideas out, and play ideas off of each other. It was seamless going from that environment to sitting at a desk at Kidder, Peabody, and Co. working on financial models and being part of a deal team,” Mr. Canfield shares. Throughout our conversation, we keep coming back to this theme of the strong relationships students build with each other through their time in the program. He believes these tightknit relationships are one part of what make the honors program unique. “It’s not just the friendships, it’s also learning how to work with other people,” he says. “Also, the faculty. Those are the two things that make a great learning experience: A great group of engaged students whom you know and build relationships with combined with a faculty that pushes you, teaches you things that perhaps weren’t intuitive, that surprise you, and importantly, a faculty that is doing research in areas that are going to be important for the future.”

Mr. Canfield vividly remembers being pushed and challenged in his honors classes. When asked about his favorite memory, he laughs and says he doesn’t have a favorite memory, but he definitely has a class that he remembers the most. “I think everybody who comes to BHP is used to making A’s. So, we had this Operations Research class, and I remember about 4 weeks into the class, I was sitting with my group of 5 or 6 friends that we studied with and 2 or 3 of them really got it in a way that I didn’t. And I realized that I wasn’t going to get it. It was the only class at UT in my entire 4 years where I said, ‘You know what, I think I’m shooting for a B in this class.’ And it’s so funny because I think about that all the time; it’s the only time I’ve ever just stepped back and said, ‘Wow, there’s something about the way that they think that’s different than the way I think. This makes sense to them and this is really hard for me.’”

Mr. Canfield believes the difficulties that honors students face together, like challenging courses, are what allow the close friendships to form. “BHP is an intense program. Any time a group of people go through something with that intensity together, they create a bond. The great thing about bonds like that is they really stand the test of time.” As an example, he recalls calling his BHP peers when it came time for him to think about what he was going to do after his first two years in investment banking. “It was useful for me to be able to call friends of mine who I had this shared experience with,” he says. “At the time, most people only worked for two years and then went and got an MBA, and I was thinking about not doing that. That’s a big decision, it’s the kind of decision where there aren’t that many people you can really talk to about it.”

After two years at Kidder, Peabody, and Co., Mr. Canfield joined GTCR, a private equity firm. After two years as an associate there, he started thinking about getting his MBA. “At the time in private equity, there were very few people who did not have an MBA. I felt like as long as I stayed on track at GTCR, working with people I knew and who knew what I was capable of doing, things would probably be fine; but I had this nagging concern that there was more that I could know, so I decided to pursue an MBA.” Mr. Canfield started at the University of Chicago Booth School on a part-time basis, working full-time during the day and taking classes in the evening. “That didn’t last too long,” he chuckles. Eventually, he took two quarters off from work to finish his degree.

Reflecting on his experience in the MBA program, he recalls how prepared he was for the curriculum and how his past BHP classes allowed him to customize his MBA degree. “I was incredibly well-prepared. In fact, I got to skip a lot of the intro-level, first-year MBA classes. The neat thing about that was that it enabled me to quickly go to the higher-level classes and get a dual concentration in finance and accounting. I probably would not have been able to do that if I didn’t have the BHP background. The BHP enabled me to get a more broad experience when I did decide to go get an MBA, and it allowed me to tailor that experience more to what I felt I needed for my career.”

Mr. Canfield is now a successful Managing Director at GTCR, a leadership position he has held since 2007. He and his wife Mary Beth are also devoted philanthropists who focus on education. In November 2018, we celebrated the official naming of the Canfield Business Honors Program in the McCombs School of Business after a generous donation from the Canfields. They believe that contributing to education has the highest return on investment. “In my deepest part of my heart and soul, I’m an investor. I think, ‘Let’s do something early, let’s make an investment, let’s put capital into something, and then let’s see that have a return over a long period of time.’ For me, investing in someone’s education is exactly the same thing. I’ve always felt like it’s really important for our society to support getting everyone an opportunity to have a great education. I also think it’s a great investment that enables people to do something really fantastic.”

In closing, Mr. Canfield offers the following words of advice for our current students: “Enjoy the experience, but also make sure that whatever you choose to concentrate in, really make sure you focus on the fundamentals of that concentration.” He talks about Novak Djokovic, the best tennis player in the world, and how he drills and works the fundamentals with a hitting partner and his coach. “Why does he do that?  Because those fundamental skills need to happen automatically. If your concentration is accounting, then you need to work on it so hard that it is just intuitive to you. The test of knowing the fundamentals in a particular topic is you can look at a problem that you’ve never seen anything like it before, and you can intuit how it must have to work. That’s when you know you really understand it at the detailed level and the abstract level because you can take all the stuff you know about that particular topic and say, ‘Well, I’ve never seen this particular area before, but it must work this way.’ In business, to succeed in your career, you need to be functioning at that level.”

He also has some advice for prospective Canfield BHP students that we wholeheartedly agree with: “You should come here because it’s the best undergraduate business program in the country. You will learn a tremendous amount, you’ll make great friends, and it will serve you very well in your career.”

Watch the video celebrating the newly named Canfield Business Honors Program here.

Student Leadership Skills Reach New Heights Through Outdoor Expedition

By Stephanie Cantu. As told by Cindy, Derek, Elmer, Evie, Jerry, Kirsten, Nachiket, Richard, Robert, and Sreya.

The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) is a one-of-a-kind immersive educational experience that teaches Canfield BHP students about leadership and decision-making in the unscripted context of the wilderness. Over the course of eight days in January, ten CBHP students travelled through the Galiuro Mountains of southeastern Arizona. Although conditions were largely cold and wet with intense precipitation, the group also experienced highlights such as making pizza, seeing a full arc double rainbow, throwing a backcountry birthday party, and forging deeper bonds and connections. As a group, we put together our top four take-aways from the trip:

  1. Gaining perspective and making the abstract more concrete

In the wilderness, concepts like self-care become real and you actually have to internalize what to do in difficult situations. We had a saying on our trip that we heard on day one: “Cold is a choice.” Essentially, it reminded us that if we were cold, we had to do something about it – put on another layer, do some jumping jacks to generate body heat, etc. This saying applied to any other feeling, such as sensing the start of a blister or being hungry or tired. “It is a simple concept, but one none of us had needed to act on before,” said Sreya. Also, the difficulties we faced on the trip put every day annoyances into perspective: “I complain less about the cold,” said Evie. And everyone else chimed in that “MIS 301H is not that bad.”

  1. Appreciation of nature

Backpacking for several days without technology may not be how most people envision spending their winter break, but everyone agreed that their love of nature grew as a result of attending. “I’m more motivated to get my friends together and go out into the Hill Country for a hike,” shared Kirsten. Jerry added, “I’m more romantic about the absence of technology. I bought this small notebook to take all my notes on instead of a laptop or a tablet.” The students also shared how rewarding it was to “work for the view” and hike to the top of Kennedy Peak for the sunset. “On most other trips, I would normally just take a bus to the top of a vista. It was much more satisfying to know I hiked to the top myself,” said Evie.

  1. Building character and leadership skills

Each day, we learned NOLS curriculum before the day’s hike began or on the trail. For example, one day a few of us took a snack break and learned about risk assessment and likelihood using red and green peanut butter M&M’s and our instructor’s hiking poles. In addition to formal curriculum, we also developed our personal leadership styles and skills through daily feedback from our hiking groups. “I learned I’m a stronger person and leader than I realized,” said Sreya. The leadership feedback also impacted Jerry, who has carried what he learned on the trek into his honors courses: “When I got my MIS 301H group, I immediately sent out a schedule with due dates for completing parts of the project. I was worried about being too commanding or dictatorial, but then I remembered all the feedback I got on the trip about how helpful it was when I took charge, and I felt less doubt,” he said.

  1. Closer friendships

Ultimately, the greatest take-away from our time in the backcountry were the bonds we formed. “I got close to people I didn’t really know well before,” said Elmer. A lot of bonding happened during the evening down time in camp, either over (responsibly-built!) campfires or having 8 students crowd into a 3-person tent to talk until 11:30pm. Because the students didn’t have any form of technology with them, they had ample time to connect interpersonally. “I’m more conscious of being on my phone now,” said Kirsten. “I think if we had had our phones on the trip, we wouldn’t have bonded as much.”

In the end, NOLS provides invaluable leadership experience and the chance to connect with the great outdoors and each other. The 2019 expedition encourages you to attend because, according to Cindy, “We’re the only undergraduate program in the country to do a course like this. It’s such a unique experience; when else would you have this kind of opportunity?” We promise if you go, you won’t regret it.

Check out a student-made video of our experience here!

You can also read Evie’s personal blog account of her experience here.

Curious what our 2017 and 2018 cohorts have to say? Read about them here and here.

Newly Named Canfield Business Honors Program Recognizes Generous Alumnus

Written by Kylie Fitzpatrick

Phil Canfield drew on his UT business knowledge to become a successful private equity investor. Now, he’s investing in the university that helped launch his career, making a generous multimillion-dollar gift to advance the Business Honors Program at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin.

Canfield, managing director at the private equity firm GTCR in Chicago, and his wife Mary Beth are giving the program $20 million. In their honor, it will be renamed the Canfield Business Honors Program.

“We both believe if you’re helping education and you’re helping people get access to education, that is the single highest leverage and best ROI investment you can make philanthropically,” Canfield said.

A Texas native and 1989 Business Honors graduate, Canfield has been deeply reflective and thoughtful about the decision to make the gift. He says it’s his way of showing gratitude to the university for the substantive education he received.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t been in that program,” Canfield said. “It launched what’s been a really fun and successful investment career, and in many ways, I feel like it’s a dividend back to the school for the investment that the school made in me back then.”

The gift will provide full-tuition scholarships, improve recruitment of the brightest and best students, increase the national reputation of Business Honors and help boost and broaden program offerings and student resources.

“In order to make a gift like this, you have to have confidence in the leadership,” Canfield said. “My conversations with Dean Hartzell give me faith and trust in his vision for the program and his ability to execute. My confidence is very high.”

Canfield says one of his defining moments in deciding to make the gift was when he returned to campus three years ago as a parent of a prospective Business Honors student.

“It made me realize two things,” Canfield said. “First, for as great as I thought the program was when I was here, it’s 100 percent better now. Second, it’s the best undergraduate business education in the country and world, but it’s not broadly recognized at the national level, so part of what I want to do is elevate the status of BHP.”

“Phil and Mary Beth’s transformative gift will take McCombs’ outstanding Business Honors Program to new heights, and they’ll provide greater opportunity for business students to come to UT, pursue their dreams and make vital contributions,” said Gregory L. Fenves, president of the university. “The Canfields’ gift will change the game for the McCombs School of Business. And, for future UT students, it will also be a life-changer.”

We are thrilled and grateful to the Canfields for their investment in our honors program. Their generosity will allow us to improve what is already an amazing program, and to ensure that we will always provide our students with the education, exposure and community they need to become excellent leaders in business and society,” said Dean Jay Hartzell. “I also firmly believe that this investment will make a material difference — not only in the honors program, but also in the broader community, increasing our national reputation and the impact of our school and university.”

The Canfields’ gift will not only assist UT Business Honors students, it will also leave a lasting legacy for generations to come.

“Mary Beth and I try very hard, in all the organizations and all the communities we’re involved with, to lead by example and do it with kindness and humility,” Canfield said.

An Utterly Amazing Alumni Speaker Visits BHP Sophomores

Written by Victoria Bennett

Lynn Utter, CEO of First Source, recently visited the Honors Lyceum course attended by all Business Honors sophomores. In a lively conversation driven by student questions, Lynn shared her experiences navigating the business world as a woman and her path to her current success.

Lynn began her academic and professional career as a student on the Forty Acres. She is Business Honors Program alum, so she was once in the same position as the sophomores in the class, and she encouraged students to both maximize and enjoy their time in the program. After her time at UT, Lynn took the next step in her education at Stanford Business School where she earned her Master’s in Business Administration. She then began her professional career as a manager at Strategic Planning Associates in DC.

As she walked the class through her path to the role of CEO, Lynn revealed that her career path has been defined by tough decisions. She emphasized the importance of knowing what decisions are best for yourself, as she shared the story of her move to Denver during her time with the Frito Lay Company. Despite the fact that first position she took did not immediately advance her career, she knew it was the right career step for her at the time, and eventually led to her position as Area Vice President. Lynn’s story is full of these kind of decisions, as she pivoted through numerous leadership roles. Following her time at Frito Lay/PepsiCo Lynn worked at Coors Brewing Company both in Operations and as a Chief Strategy Officer and Knoll as a President and Chief Operations Officer, all preceding her time as CEO at First Source.

In her time as CEO of First Source, a US leader in packaging and distribution of specialty candy and snacks, Lynn led the company through mergers and managed full strategic and operating responsibility. Most recently, she transitioned into the role of Chief Talent Officer of Atlas Holdings LLC, where she works closely with the company’s partners and portfolio company leaders.

Throughout the session students were curious to hear Lynn’s advice and asked numerous questions about her biggest challenges and lessons. She talked about the importance of finding community in the workplace and she described the close bond she had with the other women in her office. In this conversation, she emphasized the importance of not only finding coworkers or peers who will support you, but also give you honest and critical feedback when necessary. She shared about her experience on numerous boards outside of her job, including the boards for WESCO, Merchants Metals, and numerous non-for-profit boards. In reference to these experiences, she encouraged Business Honors students to find work they are passionate about despite their busy schedules.

With her lively personality and years of experience and wisdom, Lynn Utter created a fun and informative class experience for the sophomores. Students loved hearing from a fellow BHP alum, and were inspired by her and her work.

Program News: Interview With New BHP Director Andres Almazan

Andres Almazan

Professor Andres Almazan is the new Director of the Business Honors Program. Appointed by Dean Hartzell, Professor Almazan has taught Finance and Economics at the University of Texas at Austin for the past twenty years. As the new Director, Almazan says he is “looking forward to immersing [him]self in the BHP community and sharing very special moments in students’ lives.” Taking over the mantle from Professor Prentice, Professor Almazan demonstrates the same enthusiasm towards starting a new semester. “I feel that I will learn a ton from the students, from the rest of the BHP team, and from the undergrad McCombs community. Having a leadership role in a program like BHP is indeed a once in a lifetime opportunity. I can’t wait for the school year to start!”

Professor Almazan has historically been recognized for his great teaching by graduate schools both here at McCombs and elsewhere. When asked about the differences in teaching undergraduates and graduates, Professor Almazan highlighted compelling points about the advantages he sees in teaching undergraduates. “In both cases, my teaching style and philosophy has been very similar. I always have high expectations about my students’ performance and I think it is fair that they have high expectations about my performance in class,” says Almazan. “I want to establish clear pedagogical objectives, to develop critical thinking, and to offer the students state-of-the-art knowledge of the subject matter. With that being said, undergraduates may have a relative lack of professional experience compared to graduate students. This, however, is amply compensated for by their energy, passion, and ability to learn new ideas with very little preconceptions. Having the opportunity to teach a student relatively early in their life allows me to have a greater impact on the student’s mind.  This is particularly true with subject matter like Finance that requires students to develop new ways of thinking about problems.”

Professor Almazan also believes that the Business Honors Program is successful because of the quality of students enrolled in the program. “Our main strength is having access to a pool of students of superb talent. Our students have the potential to think and behave as the leaders that our firms and our society demand,” says Almazan. “We must do everything in our hands to enhance students’ human capital and ensure that such potential materializes. To accomplish this objective, we must keep doing the many good things that we now do in BHP without losing sight of what is happening in the business world and in society.  Our permanent and long-run challenge is to ensure that we are keeping up with our mission of making our students systematic thinkers, individuals who act with integrity and conscientious leaders.

When asked what he would like students to know about him, Professor Almazan was quick to highlight his personal investment in the well-being of students. “They should know that I care,” says Almazan. “This means that I strongly value the success of the BHP community and fully identify my success as BHP director with the success of the BHP students.  I embrace this responsibility and look forward to giving my best to accomplish what I consider as a very noble goal.”

An interesting fact about Professor Almazan is that he has a multitude of global experience. “When I arrived to the US in 1991, I could spend months without paying attention to what was happening in other parts of the globe,” says Almazan. Now with a background replete in experiences such as teaching in London, presenting at conferences in Amsterdam, Montreal, and Beijing, and being a dual Spanish-American citizen, Professor Almazan is well-aware of what students need to compete on the global stage. “Nowadays, globalization is a reality in business and in everyday life. We recruit, compete and measure our success in the global arena.  We prepare ourselves to address challenges that affect the whole world and should embrace such challenges with passion and an open mind.”

One of Professor Almazan’s major goals of his first year is to engage with students and let them know that he is here for them. “I want to be visible to the students and available as another resource to them. I want to become a familiar figure in the program,” says Almazan. How does he plan on starting? “I will meet freshmen in a kick-off event, teach all sophomores this semester, organize some town-halls for upperclassmen and ensure that all students can visit me if they wish to do so. I plan on having an open door policy in my office — to be frank, this will be the policy even after the first year.  I want to know what is going on in students’ experience in BHP and I want students themselves to talk to me about it. Of course, I will also be delighted to participate in students’ initiatives and events. In fact, I would like take this opportunity to invite the students to visit me and to ask students to invite me to their activities as well.”

Finally, Professor Almazan has a unique and ambitious long-term vision for the Business Honors Program. “Technology is playing a more crucial role every day. We can seize this opportunity to be more interdisciplinary without losing any of our current strengths. It is paramount that we keep the special character of BHP, a program that produces visionary business leaders who act with integrity.  If we do our job, we will be among the top business programs in the world, and we aspire to be second to none. Since I see no ceiling in the achievements that our students can reach, I set my expectations accordingly. I firmly believe that the sky is the limit.”