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Q&A With Rogan Donelly, President of Tervis

Posted January 26, 2018 by Hannah DeBevoise - Coordinator, Social Media - AACSB International

The popular manufacturer of naturally insulated, double-walled plastic drinking tumblers known for their durability was founded in 1946 in Detroit, Michigan, USA. Now, the company produces an average of 16 million tumblers per year, employs 700 employees globally, and holds over 200 license agreements with a variety of major brands as disparate as popular entertainment brands like Star Wars® and educational institutions.

Though much of his life was spent close to the inner-workings of the enterprise, third-generation president, Rogan Donelly, of Tervis® didn’t enter the organization with a business education background. After being named president in 2016, Donelly made the decision to return to school and pursue his Executive MBA, or EMBA, through the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business.

In this Q&A, Donelly shares with Best Business Schools his perspective on what it’s like to return to school for his MBA while running a successful business.

Q: Why did you make the decision to return to school for your EMBA?

A: I decided to return to school for my EMBA in order to get well-balanced experience for my career. I was an anthropology major at a liberal arts college managing a business of 700 employees who didn't care anything about anthropology. Though I spent five years, since 2009, working in the company, I realized I needed to hone my skills in order to be successful in my new position. I'm the president and owner of my family's 72-year-old family business, and a lot of what I learned about business management is inherent. I have lived the brand and the lifestyle my entire life. Not to mention, I grew up working with the company in some form from the time I was in middle school. This type of experience is invaluable; however, it is not very formal. In order to better understand business and be able to communicate not only within my organization but outside of it, I felt a more structured education would be beneficial for my business and my career. The exposure to different ideas and lessons on leadership throughout the EMBA program encourages me to think differently on how I can manage the company.

Q: What advice do you have for working professionals who are considering advancing their business education but aren’t sure about the right time to do it?

A: Now is the time to get your MBA or graduate degree. The program is an extremely large time commitment. Life seems to only get busier with family, career, and community obligations. The longer you wait, the more challenging it will be to fit into your schedule. But you can manage your time between school and work to the best of your ability by planning your days and weekend as far in advance as possible. Blocking out time to focus on school work and group meetings establishes the commitment you will need to make to succeed in the program.

Q: How have you been able to apply the knowledge and skills gained so far from your EMBA to your current position as CEO of Tervis®?

A: In business you're always learning, regardless of whether you're in an MBA program or learning on the job. I've found I learned the most when I was the most uncomfortable in a situation or position. You have to be willing to put yourself in new and unfamiliar situations in order to learn what you don't know. When every fiber in my body is telling me to "retreat" or "run away," I make myself follow through because I know there's a beneficial lesson to be learned. I wasn't the most diligent student in my undergraduate program, and the idea of going back for my EMBA in my 30s made me quite uncomfortable. Recognizing that you are uncomfortable because you are not as familiar or as confident with a subject as you feel you ought to be is a good indication that you are doing the right thing by further exploring. In this sense discomfort can be positive because, in the end, the confidence you gain on a topic will be worth the difficulty.

Q: Do you believe your graduate business education can be a complement to your undergraduate degree in anthropology, and would you recommend this interdisciplinary approach to others?

A: I'm not sure my EMBA is a perfect complement to my undergraduate degree in anthropology. I felt that I needed an MBA because I didn't major in business or management in my undergraduate studies. That being said, I don’t think it is crucial to put a lot of weight into what your major was in college if you are interested in a graduate business degree. A lot of success is due to what type of person you are, your willingness to succeed, and how you build your professional network. If you're honest, hard-working, and loyal, I believe you have the potential to do well regardless of your college major. The most important characteristic is being happy with yourself and confident in your abilities. Confidence is contagious!

Q: Do you have any advice for how someone new to business can build a professional network?

A: Be active in the community and make good use of your time. Any opportunity to introduce yourself to someone new is a networking opportunity. Have a quick, natural “elevator pitch” about yourself and what your goals are when you meet someone new. Also, don't be afraid to ask for someone's business card or contact information; these days it's expected. They may even be flattered.

Rogan Donelly is president of Tervis® and a current EMBA student at University of South Florida's Muma College of Business.