Business Alumni Award Winners

We will honor the achievement and service of this year’s award recipients at the 2018 College of Business Alumni Awards. The College of Business Alumni Awards recognize alumni who have made exceptional contributions to their professions and are recognized leaders in their fields. Nominations are open annually January – March.

2018 Award Winners

group of people standing with awards and smiling.

Business Hall of Fame
Iris Harrell ’69

Distinguished Business Alumni Award
Melinda May ’91
Cara Parker ’05
Rob Whitt ’93

Young Business Alumni Award
Glenn Gray ’07
Rob Davis ’12
Abbas Haider ’12
Darien Thall ’04


Transcript of Iris Harrell’s speech from October 19, 2018:

“It is such an honor to be here tonight to receive this recognition from Mary Washington.

The Business College did not exist when I was here in the dark ages of the 1960’s.

Chandler Hall looks quite a bit improved since I last stepped foot in this building.

When Ken Machande called me months ago to tell me I had received this award and why, I was kind of speechless, which is very rare. Why was I speechless?

One…because I am only one of many highly accomplished Mary Wash alums over the last few decades. Truly Mary Washington is a great place to get an education.

Two…because I was retired and psychologically moving forward with my next adventures…

Like a 17 year old let out of school to go to perpetual summer camp, I was playing golf, pickleball (my newest sport) and volunteering heavily in my community in Santa Rosa, California, especially since the firestorm last October. After being evacuated for 8 days, I made a deal with God. If my house was preserved, I would help anyone who asked me to help them rebuild…as that is my skill set and trade

No one in my family has ever had the wherewithal to spend much of their time, day in and day out to volunteer their services to improve their community. They were too busy making just making a living.

In my working class mind, volunteering and philanthropy were for wealthy people who needed to add meaning and purpose to their life other than hitting a golf ball. 

Though not spoken of much in America, this country has 4 classes of people. Each class has its strengths and weaknesses. The poor, the working class, the middle class and the wealthy. Most people in America including my family tend to believe they are middle class. 

You may ask what defines these 4 classes. Here is the short answer. 

1. If you are raised poor, you wake up hungry and do not know where your next meal is coming from. 

2. If you are raised working class, you or your parents have jobs and you live from paycheck to paycheck. If you lose your job, you go get another job or two parttime jobs like my 66 year old younger brother or my 70 year old sister. You do whatever it takes to get a paycheck next Friday. Another paycheck on Friday means all is right with the world. The future is far away and nothing to worry about.

Regarding society’s rules, a working class soul will figure out what rules he can break without going to jail or getting in trouble. 

3. If you are raised middle class, you came out of your mother’s womb thinking about how to plan for your retirement so you don’t have to work your entire life. You plan on how to pay for your kid’s college tuition with 401ks, IRAs, savings accounts, stocks and you own your own home. You learn the rules of society and how to succeed by following those rules. You are shocked and dismayed at people who break those beloved rules. 

4. If you re raised wealthy, you don’t care about the rules of society. You can buy your way out of them…and you can influence the laws that are made so that you remain wealthy. 

Having personally spanned 3 of those 4 classes in my lifetime, I still think and act like a working class person. 

My beloved spouse of 40 years, Ann Benson and I went to a workshop on classism in America 20 years ago in California ( yes, the “left” coast, which has some very interesting workshops…including one on “how do you know you are a lesbian?” Fyi-I passed that workshop with flying colors…rainbow colors, to be more exact.) 

What Ann and I learned at the classism workshop was that all of our arguments were class related. She was raised in the upper middle class and I was raised as a working class person. When we learned that all 4 classes have different strengths and weaknesses and that a cross-class relationship made for a stronger union in a couple (if you didn’t kill each other), we settled into a mutual appreciation of our differences instead of trying to convert each other to our own way of thinking. 

My North Carolina Father had an 8th grade education and was a farmer and a truck driver. My North Carolina mother finished high school at 16 without getting pregnant…which was a major feat in rural North Carolina. She had a lot of ambition…which is where I got mine from. 

By the time she was 18, she was married and pregnant with me. We had no running water or electricity. Outhouses and cold chamber pots under the bed were normal. But in my mother’s eyes, that was not acceptable. Step by step she moved us into the middle class first by becoming a hairdresser and next by owning her own beauty shop with other hair stylists working for her. She was a proud small business owner and she was an entrepreneur. And she was a staunch feminist. 

Mama also had ambition for me. She did not get to go to college. She would live her college dream through me. I loved school. Learning to read was magical to me. It widened my world. 

When I was 11 years old, she asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. She wanted me to think about my future. She wanted me to plan ahead. I quickly thought about what my limited options in 1958 were as female, and a “girl” and only 3 options showed up in my mind….

1. Nurse ( I faint at the sight of blood.) 2. Missionary ( I had no desire to got Africa, where all the Baptist missionaries seemed to go.) 3. School teacher-Bingo! I loved school. That would be perfect. Just move from one side of the desk to the other. 

My mother beamed with pride at my answer. 

Notice that Option 4…becoming a farmer’s wife, never appeared on my mental television screen….just another clue that I might actually be a Martian from outer space…and very different from all of my girlfriends. 

So if you are sitting in this room wondering if you, too, are a Martian…never fear! You are not alone! There is a future here for you on earth. You have so much to offer this world.

So let’s talk about you…what advice would I give? 

1. You may ask “what should I do to become financially independent so I can follow my passions and my dreams?” 

I bear good news! You don’t have to be financially independent to follow your passions and your dreams. You just have to learn how to make money following your passion and dreams. I never worried about money, or how much gas cost, even when I only had $5 in my pocket.

I would buy $3 worth of gas at any price and spend the $2 on feeding myself. 

In high school I babysat for money. As a high school senior, I had a part-time job in the telephone company as an operator, so I could buy clothes and text books for college. I had state teacher loans and scholarships for tuition costs. 

2. I advise being fearless and undeterred when the first 10 doors of opportunity don’t open for you. Door number 11 could be the winning ticket!

And if door number 11 does not open, start “being the door”… your own business…that is door number 12…be an entrepreneur.

Part of my childlike fearlessness was because I was ignorant of what could possibly go wrong. Ignorance is sometimes helpful. I never lived in the “worst case scenario” dialogue. 

However, I set my sights high, but not too high.

(For example, I never intend to run for President. So far, that job is reserved for men. I hope you can fix that!) 

The other part of fearlessness and resilience is my belief in God and answered prayer. Sometimes the answer I received was different than I expected, but it was still an answer. 

When I first became a contractor, I did not know how to build, estimate, negotiate, make a business plan, how to do payroll, or use a computer. I did not know what a fax machine was. I learned each part as the need quickly arose.

My liberal arts education at Mary Wash taught me I could learn whatever I needed to learn…when I needed to learn it. 

3. My third piece of advice is take full advantage of your precious education you are getting here right now….be curious, be studious, be sober, take good care of yourself, whatever that may entail…and don’t be narcissistic! No one wants to live with, be with or work with someone who only cares about themselves. Improve your emotional intelligence…take “touchy feely” workshops. Get out of your comfort zone. 

4. Mary Washington teaches you about the importance of personal honesty and integrity.

Integrity is the key to your success and your happiness, no matter what class you come from or move to. In many ways, integrity is all that counts in the end. 

No one can be considered successful or truly happy if they make their money unfairly off the backs of others. In my opinion, paying the people who faithfully help you grow your business with the minimum wage is not acceptable. 

Part of integrity (being “integrated”) is creating a company that reflects your values.

When I founded Harrell Remodeling in 1985 in California, our motto was “We Never Forget its Your Home”. We had and have very strict dogs, no radios, no cursing, no smoking, no alcohol….This is a person’s home! It is not a jobsite, not an ashtray, not a dump for trash, not a dance hall with a mariachi band. 

These simple policies were radical then…after all, “ boys will be boys”, as the saying goes.

Now the professionals in the entire home remodeling industry have moved toward these policies. Frankly, it took a feminist perspective as a woman to realize, ”Hey, guys! This is important!” 

5. You may ask does capitalism allow you to be moral, ethical and good to your employees? I think it can if we are moral, ethical and caring company owners.  

For example-When I realized at age 50 I was not going to live forever, my thoughtful wife, the long range planner, asked “What’s going to happen to all of your employees if you get hit by a bus tomorrow?”

I knew the company by reputation was already more valuable than most residential companies nationally. I did not want to sell the company to strangers. And I was nowhere near ready to retire.

Ann and I decided to form an S Corp employee stock option plan, so that eventually at my retirement, all of the employees would own the business. That meant we had to start grooming the employees for taking ownership of the company over time.

Over a 14 year period, the company became 100% employee owned when I retired in 2015. That was the best business decision I ever made. Now that company does not have to pay federal income taxes as a 100% S Corp ESOP.

I find this approach is a more equitable way to be an entrepreneur and a capitalist with a clear conscience. 

Fyi- along the way Ann and I bought commercial real estate to house the company operations…1.4 miles from Google headquarters. Real money in American is made by owning real estate. Get some at your first opportunity.( There is nothing more aggravating than dealing with pesky landlords while growing your business.) 

My final piece of advice is to fall in love with someone who is good for you and good to you…someone who loves you unconditionally. You will benefit greatly from living with someone who is different from you.

But what you do need to have in common is shared values.

There is nothing more satisfying than having a partner you can count on…”in sickness and in health”. That “holy grail” is worth seeking. You deserve no less. 

Because each of you is unique, you have special skills and gifts to offer the world.

Life’s journey is often difficult, sometimes fun and charming…but it is always more bearable and enjoyable with a devoted life partner that you love and loves you back…and has your back. 

I wish you all the best in your next endeavors and I am asking your generation to raise the bar on what being successful in America means.

Your generation has much to fix and correct that our current generation of leaders have neglected or done wrongly… 

1st & foremost is climate change

2nd-becoming world citizens and partners with other nations and not acting like narcissistic 2 year olds in a sand box.

3rd- the full meaning of family and community Reinvent what progress and success really mean in a global sense. 

God knows you have your work cut out for you.

But you can do these things by being your best selves every day.

I am counting on you.

I believe in you.

Do what you need to believe in yourself.

 May God bless your efforts. 

Iris Harrell
UMW Class of ‘69We are all in this together…2018