Three successful entrepreneurs offered the same advice to University of Southern Mississippi business students during an informal panel discussion held recently on the Hattiesburg campus – “be a risk taker.”
“You can’t listen to the naysayers out there,” said Kathy Freeland, founder and president of FI Holdings Inc. “When you entertain the idea of risk-taking you need to ask yourself, ‘what’s the worst that can happen and what’s the best that can happen?’ And always make sure you have a fallback plan.”
Freeland joined Eric Hoffman, chief operating officer of Hoffman Media LLC and Beverly Ann Dale, retired director of business development of Roche Molecular Systems Inc. on the expert panel for the Q&A program held on Dec. 3 at the Southern Miss Business Honors House. Students prepared questions in advance that were selected at random by moderator Brian Lee, Honors House faculty in residence.
Shannon Woodward, director of development in the Office of Advancement at Southern Miss, said the format gave students more time to contemplate appropriate questions for the esteemed panel.
“Sometimes, students are caught off guard and don’t really know what to ask in a regular Q&A discussion,” said Woodward. “This not only allowed them to prepare questions in advance, but also come back with follow-up questions if they so desired.”
Marketing major Brennen Hancock of Jackson is set to receive his bachelor’s degree during graduation ceremonies Friday, Dec. 11. He considered the opportunity to rub elbows and share ideas with proven business leaders invaluable.
“This is an experience that I never thought I would be a part of,” said Hancock. “Hearing about their accomplishments and how they managed to achieve their level of success is something that’s very inspiring to me.”
Hoffman, a University of Alabama graduate, put his risk-taking personality to the ultimate test after college by heading straight for New York City and the high-stakes world of Wall Street. Hoffman took off for the Big Apple with three suitcases and a one-way airline ticket. He eventually worked his way up to analyst in the investment banking division of Susquehanna Financial Group, where he specialized in mergers and acquisitions advisement and public and private equity offerings.
“I tell people all the time that it was the best decision I’ve ever made,” said Hoffman. “It was a great character-building experience. And I found out that a guy from the South could be just as good, if not better, than guys who had degrees from Harvard and Princeton.”
For junior finance real estate major Jessica Browder, the panel discussion served as another special benefit of the unique Honors House experience. The Honors House opened for the first time this semester as a living/learning community for College of Business students who meet certain criteria.
“This Honors House has been a true blessing to me,” said Browder, a Picayune native. “I really didn’t know any of these people before the semester and now we’re like family here. To live with people who have similar academic goals has just been an amazing experience.”
Freeland spent part of her visit to the Southern Miss campus autographing her new book, “Navigating Your Way to Business Success, an Entrepreneur’s Journey.” Freeland served as founder and CEO of RGII Technologies before selling the company to Computer Horizons Inc. in 2003. Today she oversees Freeland and Associates LLC, a consulting service firm that partners with businesses in all facets of the marketplace.
She offered another piece of proven advice to students seeking a career in business.
“Put together a plan of action and stay committed to it,” said Freeland. “Everybody doesn’t always applaud our achievements and that’s why you need to develop a strong work ethic. But, most importantly, follow your dreams.”
For more information about the College of Business Honors House call 601-266-4659.
Panel experts, from left to right: Beverly Ann Dale, Eric Hoffman and Kathy Freeland answer questions during a student-led discussion at the The University of Southern Mississippi College of Business Honors House on Dec. 3. (Office of University Communications photo by Van Arnold)
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.