“Maverick Icons: Leaders with Big Ideas”

Maverick alumnus speak about leadership and their success

Maria Ly
Staff Writer

To celebrate 70 years of success since its founding in 1948, the College of Business hosted an event this past Thursday on October 4th, “Maverick Icons: Leaders with Big Ideas.” 

Four former alumni spoke about their experiences in a fireside chat style interview with the Dean of the College of Business, Brenda Flannery, as the host. The event was equal parts inspirational, informational, and insightful with four big guest speakers: Daren Cotter, Rhoda Olsen, John Frawley, and Robyn Waters.

The Dean took the stage and presented the first speaker with a video introduction. The first speaker was Rhoda Olsen, class of 1981 and owner/CEO of Great Clips, who spoke about her experiences at MNSU and what led her to her current position.

Majoring in sociology and psychology with an intention to go into counseling, she was told by her psychology professor that she’d make an awful counselor because of her bossy demanding nature.

However, she claims that her major in sociology and psychology influenced her career in business and ultimately aided her in building relationships.

She was recruited into Great Clips by her brother and became president of the company in 1998. Her story showed that even though she began with a different future in mind, connecting the two helped her build strong relationships that helped in her success. 

The next alumni introduced was Darren Cotter, who graduated from MNSU in 2004 and is now the CEO of Inbox Dollars. He spoke about his experience starting a business in his dorm room and the valuable relationships he gained from his time here at MNSU.

He met his wife during his 3rd year of college and his two close friends and business partners during his freshman year in the dorms. His big idea was to take an old idea, reward programs that paid consumers to participate in online activities such as watching ads and make it better.

What had gone from a dorm room hobby turned into a multi-millionaire business. His story showed, through teamwork, going after your passions, and perseverance, big ideas can turn into big things. 

Next to grace the stage was Robyn Waters, class of 1975, and founder and president of RW Trend, LLC and former vice president of Trend, Design, and Product Development for Target. Coming from a small town and a high school graduating class of 52, Mankato State was a big, brand new world for Robyn who double majored in business and textile clothing and design. 

While studying abroad in London, she developed an interest in international business and so started her 10-year long career in the department store world. After these 10 years, when the retail market crashed, Robyn switched jobs and brought the Tar-jay to Target as she helped them become a national fashion destination.

After 28 years she decided to leave the corporate world and became an author/speaker with two published books, and was even quoted on a Starbucks cup. Her story showed that big ideas don’t have a time limit and that big ideas can simply be doing the things you love. 

Ending the event, the last speaker was alumni John Frawley, class of 1988, and Director and CEO of the Minnesota Zoo. As a Redwing boy and a shy kid who spent most of his time with his dog up in the woods, Mankato was a whole new experience for John.

From being the middle linebacker in the football team, ballet, public speaking classes, and a Taiwanese roommate, John was exposed to many things that he never knew possible. One of those things was also potential career paths.

Initially starting with a biology major, he quickly switched to majoring in recreation parks and leisure services. During his time at MNSU he got an internship at a zoo in Brownsville, Texas. This opened opportunities of connecting his love for nature to potential careers and eventually the Minnesota Zoo.

His big idea is connecting and reconnecting people to nature, which he does through the zoo. His main advice to students is, “Find what you’re passionate about, because in the end that’s where you’re going to find success is right behind passion.”

Jen Cucurullo, Director of Marketing and Communications for the College of Business, who played a huge part in organizing the night, was pleased with the huge success of the event. “All four of the speakers, it was like they all had this common theme that tied together, all of them were inspirational, and that’s not anything you can plan for.” 

Many students and Mankato residents left with a belly full of meatballs and new inspiration to chase after their big ideas. I certainly did. 

Feature photo by Nidia Sepulveda | MSU Reporter.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.