Red McCombs at McCombs

“Never in my life did I dream they would put my name on this school,” laughed Red McCombs this afternoon. “But we are creating a strong enough brand that I know this school is going to be one of the greatest schools ever. I’ve already seen this school change the world.”

It was a privilege to see Mr. McCombs in person at the newly launched Graduate Business Council McCombs Speaker Series.  I loved hearing his life story, his thoughts on business, and his thoughts on donating to this school.

Red McCombs has been fascinated with business for his whole life. Growing up in a small town in West Texas, he was always asking questions about the businesses in his community. He had a fascination for taking things that didn’t work, making them better, and then turning them into something successful. This entrepreneurial spirit was seen in high school, when McCombs declared himself a senior (instead of a junior, which was what he actually was), graduated early, and hitchhiked around Texas to earn a football scholarship. After graduation from Southwestern University, he was drafted into the army, and then came to the University of Texas to study law.  This is when his business roots really came forward. Upon realizing that law was “too tedious,” he consulted with a professor in the business school who recommended,”you need to sell, Red!” Sell he did, taking his skills first to the auto industry and eventually to some of the most successful companies in the world, including Clear Channel Communications, Koontz-McCombs, and McCombs Partners.

“I don’t have toys in business” was the response to a question about McCombs’s investment in the Minnesota Vikings. He said his sports affiliations were never hobbies, rather he was just good at sports.  A highlight was turning a near bankrupt baseball team in Corpus Christi to Sports Illustrated’s 1954 Best Lower League Operation in Baseball. McCombs did this at just age 27.  He would later go on to receive the NFL Owner of the Year with the Vikings, and own both the NBA Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs.

At age 84, McCombs is still making business magic. He is heavily involved with successfully launching Formula One in Austin, claiming “F1 isn’t an impossible project, but I don’t believe anyone else can do it. If we make it work, we will really make a difference in Central Texas.”

McCombs offered the following advice to MBA students. “Pick something you like. Be smart and aggressive. The opportunities are so vast and there is not a better time in the world to be in our position.” He also spoke about what’s most important to him. “When I’m with my family, there is nothing else. Nothing interferes.” He also talked about overcoming setbacks, and how his greatest accomplishment is his wife of 62 years Charline. His secret to overall success? “If it’s possible, I will find a way.”

I was most surprised to hear that McCombs had never intended to donate $50 million to the business school. However, after constantly asking questions like, “what difference would this make to the business school” McCombs was impressed when he saw what could happen.  Thanks to his donation, we are well on our way to being one of the top schools in the world. And what happens here does change the world – largely because of the opportunities he has afforded us.

Bravo to the GBC on a great first event, and on behalf of all the McCombs MBAs, we want to thank Mr. McCombs and his family for their continuous support and generosity.

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