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What Would You Do: Raven Magwood ’12

With a highly successful, multifaceted career, Magwood didn’t always know what she wanted to do. Until her mother asked her a question that changed her life.

Raven Magwood

Raven Magwood co-owns and operates her own gymnastics training facility; has written four books; established a foundation to support underserved kids in Upstate South Carolina; has written and helped produce an independent film; and gives motivational speeches to schools and groups all over the country.

And she’s only 26.

Magwood, a Greenville native, started school and gymnastics early. At age 10, she was competing in the highest level of the sport while getting perfect grades on her report cards, which fast-tracked her through middle school and saw her starting high school at age 12. That same year, she became a national gymnastics champion.

During this time, Magwood was once asked if she’d ever thought writing about her unique experiences. She replied tongue-in-cheek: “No, I’m 12 years old!”

Nevertheless, she did start writing. Her first published book, On to Victory! The Winning Edge, scored her an invitation to be the keynote speaker at a promotional event for Stedman Graham’s new book at the time, Move Without the Ball, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Despite her nerves and nausea, 12-year-old Magwood got a standing ovation.

It’s obvious that writing and speaking came naturally to her at a young age, and yet Magwood remembers always hearing, “‘You’re smart, so you should be a doctor.’ It was just kind of drilled into me, not by my parents, but just by outside people.”

So, when it came time for college, she followed a pre-med track and excelled in her classes — but she wasn’t happy. Her mom noticed, sat her down and asked her, “What would you do if someone would pay you any amount of money to do it?”

Magwood’s answer was almost immediate: “I would speak. I would write. I would inspire people.”

Magwood changed her major and graduated from Clemson at 19 with a degree in communication studies. Since then, she’s continued her filmmaking; gymnastics coaching; writing with her most recent book, The 7 Practices of Prosperous Women; and motivational speaking. One speaking experience in Columbia has stayed with her.

After a day filled with speeches in different schools, Magwood remembers feeling tired and worried that she might not have gotten through to the kids who were on free or reduced lunch at the first school she spoke at, or the kids whose parents were paying $15,000 in tuition at the next. Then she heard the coordinator of the Columbia tour say to one of the school’s principals, “It’s amazing how Raven has spoken to all of these kids with all of these different backgrounds, and they’ve all related to her and gone away inspired.”

In that moment, she knew she had found it — what she would do if someone paid her any amount to do it.

School of Nursing opens Greenville education and research facility

Clemson Nursing building in GreenvilleSouth Carolina is one of seven states projected to have a shortage of registered nurses by 2030, according to a 2017 report by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. South Carolina’s nursing shortage is expected to top 10,000; it’s one of only four states expected to have that significant a shortage.

A collaboration between Clemson and the Greenville Health System is designed to address that shortage. The Clemson University Nursing building, an education and research facility housing an expansion of Clemson’s baccalaureate nursing program at GHS, opened in August.

The new building allowed the School of Nursing to increase first-year enrollment from 64 in fall 2015 to 173 in fall 2018. By fall 2021, total enrollment in the baccalaureate program is anticipated to top 700, an increase from 256 in fall 2015.

“The collaboration will not only expand our enrollment, but will also integrate teaching and clinical practice in innovative ways that will positively impact nursing education and patient outcomes,” said Kathleen Valentine, director of Clemson’s School of Nursing.

Nursing students will take their general education and nursing foundation courses on Clemson’s main campus during their freshman and sophomore years. After that, they are placed into one of two cohorts: One will take nursing courses in Greenville under the guidance of Clemson faculty and complete clinical rotations across multiple GHS campuses; the other will take junior and senior nursing courses on Clemson’s main campus and complete clinical rotations at health systems across the Upstate, including GHS.

Graduate nursing students will have priority clinical rotations within GHS to be prepared to care for rural and vulnerable populations.

“This innovative collaboration will help ensure that GHS and the entire region and beyond have high-quality nurses in spite of a nursing shortage,” said GHS President Spence Taylor.

Soccer Startup: Blakely Mattern M ’16

It was like something out of a movie. Blakely Mattern was picking up her journal one day in 2014 when a newspaper clipping slipped out of its pages. It was a small article she’d cut out months before from The Greenville News. Flipping it over, she saw, fitting perfectly in the cut-out square, an advertisement for Clemson’s MBA program. Mattern took it as a sign.

A Greenville native, Mattern attended the University of South Carolina on a soccer scholarship and graduated with an international business degree in 2009. She went on to play professional soccer abroad in the Netherlands and Sweden before returning to the U.S. and taking a head trainer position at a gym in Greer. In between playing overseas and nursing an ACL injury, Mattern met India Trotter through a mutual friend. Trotter was the assistant coach for the USC Upstate women’s soccer team at the time but had previously played overseas and on the U.S. women’s national soccer team.

While playing on various teams and coaching different groups, both Mattern and Trotter discovered a need in the young soccer community: comprehensive, supplementary soccer training. In addition to regular practice, girls were paying monthly gym memberships to keep up their strength and were also seeing trainers or personal coaches for technique and speed work. While Trotter was coaching and Mattern was training at the gym, the beginnings of a business model were taking shape.

“A couple of girls that summer asked if India and I could train them, so we started putting together sessions. … The funniest thing is that we started on this random baseball field like a mile away from my house, probably the worst field possible,” Mattern laughs. “But it was all we had at the time.”

Soon after, Mattern began to think of grad school, and the fateful newspaper clipping practically fell into her lap. She decided to pursue her MBA at Clemson, a decision that would help to catapult 11.11 Training from a developing idea to a full-fledged business.

11.11 Training, cofounded by Mattern and Trotter in 2016, is an all-inclusive soccer training facility for girls in the Upstate. Ages range from 10 to 18, and every girl is asked to come in hungry for improvement.

“Any girl that comes here is obviously taking the time and financially investing whatever it takes to get better, but those who grow fastest are those that learn — those who are humble and listen to those who have gone before them,” Mattern says.

While it was certainly a winding road to get to where she is now, Mattern is in her element — back in her hometown, training young girls in the sport she loves.

“11.11 is very much who I am and who India is. It’s a product of both of us and our experiences. And now, we’re giving back to the community and the girls that are trying to achieve what we’ve done.”

Gambles are a safe bet: Jason ’00 and Hesha Nesbitt ’00, M ’01 Gamble

 

Gamble_012Ensuring the health, safety and well being of others via the roads you drive or the buildings you enter isn’t just a day job for Jason and Hesha Nesbitt Gamble, but a desire they’ve each pursued since teenagers. The couple are stand-out licensed professional engineers who found their route to Clemson by way of high school internships, which also set into motion a path to each other.

As an exam development engineer for National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) in Seneca, Jason is one of only five people in the country commissioned with managing the creation of 25 national licensing exams that examinees take to become licensed in 17 different engineering disciplines. Jason is tasked with managing four of those 25 exams. Hesha serves as county engineer for Greenville where she oversees 77 employees as well as the engineering and maintenance of all county roads, approximately 1,760 miles serving 450,000 residents.

“We take that job very seriously,” said Hesha. “If there’s a problem, we need to fix it. Greenville is my community so of course I want the best for my community.”

“I’ve never had a job that didn’t affect people in some way,” chimed in Jason. “What I do now at NCEES affects the future of the profession and affects what (engineering) is going to be for the next generation.”

Even beyond technical skills, the pair says honing soft skills like communication and public speaking prepares their teams to execute a project efficiently. “You can be the smartest person in the room, but if you can’t effectively communicate or explain something, you’re not going to be successful,” said Jason. “It’s about knowing how to interact with people. I’ve worked with Ph.D.’s to someone with only a third-grade education, but we all had to work together in order to get a job done.”

Those so-called “soft skills” were picked up in Clemson classrooms, where the two met each other through study groups for upper-level undergraduate courses. The couple praise their time at Clemson for making them effective engineers today. They especially credit the PEER program for many of their successes.

“We bring engineers and experts from all over the country to do a job, and to be able to relate to each of them individually and not just professionally, just to be able to hold a conversation, Clemson was where I learned to do that,” said Jason. “I have no doubt it makes me better at my job to be able to relate to people and just work with them regardless of where they’re from.” Jason and Hesha, despite their busy careers, find the time to be “All In” raising their five-year-old son, Justus.

Business meets cultural impact: Kerry Murphy ’91, M ’92

 

Kerry Murphy_020aWith a $6.3 million economic impact on the Greenville community, Artisphere is the annual arts and culture fair that’s served as a signature event since 2005. As executive director, D.C.-area native Kerry Murphy is the face behind making sure the event goes smoothly. “I have a real passion for Greenville,” she said. “Working for Artisphere makes me feel ensconced in the community.”

Last year the arts and culture event received a record 1,090 applications for 135 booths. The event also boasts being one of Top 20 events for the Southeastern Tourism Society 2016, one of 2015’s Best Art Fairs as voted by artfaircalendar.com and one of 2016’s Top 10 Fine Art Shows according to Art Fair Sourcebook.

Murphy said her undergraduate and MBA work at Clemson, as well as the network she’s made over the past 20 years, have allowed her to bring a balanced perspective to the event. She always works to maintain classic favorites people expect, but she also wants to be on the edge of trends and broadening Greenville’s acceptance of new artists and mediums.

“I just have such a sense of pride. To be able to contribute to [the art scene] and know what our team does has an impact just means a tremendous amount,” she said.

Murphy said although she’s structured and methodical, she wants the event to reflect the lively, energetic and colorful personalities of not only herself and her team, but also the vibe of Greenville. “I love attention to detail. You’ll find lots of little things in Artisphere that from a user perspective can have a big impact,” she said.

Even though the event is only in May, Greenville visitors can create a “mini-Artisphere” experience just by taking a trip through downtown, Murphy said. “Just visit a local restaurant or take a walk through the open studios in the fall,” she said. “There is a good mix of stuff for every level of interest.”

Murphy was lured to the upstate after she saw a glossy Clemson brochure a friend had during their senior year of high school. “I went to the career center and looked it up — I want to say ‘Googled’ it, but I’m not even sure what we did before Google,” laughed Murphy. “I kind of always knew I wanted to go away to college. … When I saw Tillman [Hall] and Bowman [Field] I knew immediately this is where I was going to go. It had a warmth about it.”

As a member of the Student Alumni Council, she saw first-hand how influential a Clemson network could be even though she hadn’t settled on a career path. “We were celebrating the 100th anniversary [of the University] and traveling to different clubs, and I went to Florence. That experience is where I had the ‘a-ha’ moment about the power of the alumni network. People who didn’t know me were offering to assist me. Just their willingness to help you out because of a shared affection for an alma mater was just powerful.” Murphy makes sure to pay that forward through her work in Artisphere and as a sorority adviser.

“Nonprofit work can be very rewarding. I would, as a tip, suggest to students an internship. It was more rare when I was a student, but start internships as soon as freshman year,” she said. “Interns at a nonprofit really become part of the team, and working as an intern means you get to know the board of directors and make connections even before you’re out of school.”

OOBE: A word, reimagined, becomes a blueprint for business and life

THE GENESIS OF THE APPAREL COMPANY OOBE, strange as it may seem, was an infomercial for the Psychic Friends Network, hosted by Dionne Warwick.

Mike Pereyo and Tom Merritt

Mike Pereyo and Tom Merritt

Students at Clemson, Tom Merritt and Mike Pereyo were hanging out at the lake with their soon-to-be spouses Allyison Clark ’92 and Melissa Magee ’92. Merritt was cooking steaks, and they were halfway listening to a Psychic Friends infomercial when someone started talking about having an out-of- body experience, an “oobe.”

That caught their attention. “We had come to faith a couple of years earlier,” says Merritt. “Spiritual things were a big deal to us.”

It started a conversation about a different kind of “oobe”: an out-of- Bible experience. “That’s been our ultimate experience since we came to Clemson,” says Pereyo.

They coined the word and began using it, and their friends picked it up as well. An “oobe” day for Merritt and Pereyo was the kind of day you’d have if you were going to skip class (not that they would recommend that) and go to Whitewater Falls. Or if you played ball at Fike and were hitting every shot. The kind of day that makes you feel like you’re doing what you were born to do.

“It was our ultimate-day experience,” says Pereyo, “and Tom just wore that word out.”

HEADS OR TAILS?

 

Fast forward several years. Both were married and working, Merritt as a high school counselor and coach in Easley with two small children, Pereyo in a corporate job in Charlotte with a baby on the way.

 

“We recognized that we were entrepreneurs at heart, having grown up watching our dads either go from the bottom to the top like [Pereyo’s] dad in a real boot-strap-type story, and my dad had a dairy farm before getting into the landscaping business and figuring it out,” Merritt said. “So we both had this itch that we had to create and do something.

Merritt can’t help but laugh when he recalls the one particular phone call on April 29, 1994, that served as their future-company’s first springboard.

Pereyo had called to say, “We’re incorporated. You owe me half of $300.” “Awesome. What’s our corporate name?”

The window frame from that first office is framed and on the wall of the 105-B conference room.

The window frame from that first office is framed and on the wall of the 105-B conference room.

“I just put OOBE.”

“Brilliant!”

“Are you in or are you out?” “I’m in.”

“That’s great!”

“What do we do?”

“I have no idea. That’s why I called you.”

That phone call led to months of meetings at a Waffle House halfway between Charlotte and Easley, where they begin to imagine what OOBE would look like, crafting a business plan for what they saw as their niche: a segment of the outdoor industry that had to do with apparel. After a year, they handed in their resignations on the same day and moved into their first office: a rundown auto body shop in Easley that rented for $50 a month.

They bought two desks and a FAX machine, had two OOBE bags made along with their first T-shirt samples and caps. “For the first several months,” says Pereyo, “while samples were being made, we called every outdoor store within driving distance several times a week, asking them if they carried OOBE.”

oobe_filesWhen the samples were done, they packed the car and started driving. When they’d introduce themselves as being from OOBE, the response was, “Oh, folks have been calling for that. Come on in.”

Merritt ticks off the names of those outdoor specialty shops that were early adopters: Sunrift Adventures, Halfmoon Outfitters, Highcountry, Outdoor Experience. “They took a chance on us,” he says. “They are such a part of our story.”

As the business began to grow, they realized they needed to divide responsibilities. They swear it’s a true story: “We flipped a coin,” says Pereyo. “Heads, you’re in charge of sales, marketing, business development. Tails is design, sourcing, all of that. The way it landed, it’s still that today. It’s really worked.”

“Mike,” says Merritt, “went into management.”

COMING BACK TO TIGERTOWN

That approach is no more conventional than the way they raised enough capital to move forward. When they were selling out of their cars to outdoor stores, Merritt began stopping by dive shops and selling scuba diving-themed shirts. It seemed to be a successful ploy, so they created “Dive Jive, the company that wants to go under,” with a series of shirts and hats sporting phrases like “Zero Visibility,” Deep= High and “Deep Thinker.” They went to the Jockey Lot in Anderson, bought tanks, a velvet Elvis, plywood and lava lamps, then drove to New Orleans and set up a booth at an international dive show.

The result? “We wrote 6 figures worth of orders,” says Pereyo, “and that gave us the capital to get OOBE off the ground.”

Sitting in the auto body shop, handwriting invoices on carbon paper, Merritt and Pereyo realized they needed help to move their company to the next level. They drove to Clemson’s Small Business Development Center with their yellow legal pad to meet with Becky Hobart (now Van Evera). When she asked to see their financials and their balance sheet, they handed her the yellow legal pad.

“They were a super dynamic couple of guys,” she says. “My job entailed taking them and tying them to the ground so they could get from where they were to where they wanted to be.”

At that point, says Pereyo, the BSDC “wrapped their arms around us and helped us put together a strong financial model.”

“You can’t get very far in our story,” says Merritt, “without coming back to Tigertown.” Pereyo concurs. “Clemson engaged in the OOBE story and has pretty deep roots in there for the past 20 years.”

Not long after, Van Evera and Clemson successfully nominated the pair as Young Entrepreneurs of the Year. But they’ve never been able to take themselves seriously for too long. They got up to receive the award, and the first thing out of Merritt’s mouth was, “Who came in second? Or were we the only ones?”

The award paved the way for their first loan from the Small Business Administration, which enabled them to get over a bump in the road and on their way.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

oobe_clothingThe corporate offices of OOBE that overlook the Reedy River in Greenville are a far cry from the Easley body shop. But beginnings are important, and Pereyo and Merritt make a point of remembering theirs. The window from that first office is framed and on the wall of the 105-B conference room, a gift last year from their current OOBE family. The name of the room refers to 105-B Hollow Oaks Lane, the address of the body shop.

They have no sales force, no business development staff. That money and energy, according to Pereyo, goes into the service strategy instead: treating people well and exceeding their expectations. They want to have partners, not customers, who will become storytellers and ambassadors on their behalf. “Our customers are our sales staff if we treat them well,” he says.

It’s a philosophy that sounds like it reflects a small business with four or five employees, not one that outfits the employees of companies like Chick-fil-A, Krispy Kreme and Race Trac and has three offshore offices.

oobe_Mike PereyoBut it’s a philosophy that fits Pereyo and Merritt, who have run a business together for 20 years with the kind of love, respect and trust that most people reserve for their spouses. “If you really want to make a relationship work,” says Merritt, “it’s got to be about the other person at some point. If it’s always about you, that gets old in a hurry, in a marriage or a business partnership. It’s never been about what can I maximize personally, but what we want to do next, and what does God want us to do.”

They’ve known each other long enough and worked together enough that they finish each other’s sentences. Which is somewhat the secret of their success. They have a firm understanding that no decision goes forward that they don’t both feel good about.

“We’ve always been on the same trajectory,” says Pereyo. “We want to honor God; God doesn’t honor greed or selfish ambition. For us, it’s more about people than a product.”

They dote on OOBE like an only child. “It feels like parenting in some ways,” says Merritt. It’s something we desperately want to grow up and do well without it becoming an idol.”

And now, with OOBE’s growth, there’s a village raising that child. “There are people here taking care of OOBE in ways we are not capable of doing. As a parent who birthed the company, that’s one of the coolest things in the world — to see other people love the company and want to do right by it. There might be something here other than just schlepping clothes.”

AN OOBE APPROACH TO BUSINESS

Ten years ago, Merritt and Pereyo took OOBE in a new direction, positioning themselves “as a strategic branded apparel company specifically looking to provide the world’s best brands with large-scale uniform services.”

That leap, like most things in their company, comes with a story filled with self-deprecating humor. They had worked with Chick-fil-A in smaller ways, providing clothing for special events, when they found out the company had issued an RFP for uniforms.

Pereyo called the corporate office and spoke with the vice president handling the RFP. The questions came like quickly:

Have you every shipped to 100,000 employees before?

Do you have a customer service department?

Do you have a warehouse?

Can you pass financial due diligence?

Is this contract bigger than your whole company?

oobe_Tom MerrittThe answer to all of those, except the last one, was no. The question that followed was this: “Then why should we include you in the RFP?”

Pereyo’s response? “Because we’re NOT a uniform company. We’re a strategic branded company.”

“We changed the battlefield,” says Merritt. “We clearly focused on their team members, providing them a better product, leveraging performance fabrics, helping the team members feel better about themselves so they could provide better service.” That answer resonated with Chick-fil-A.

Chick-fil-A was followed by a number of other companies and organizations: a wall at the Greenville office sports logos of their clients including YMCA, BMW, Race Trac, Herschend Family Entertainment, among others. They’re deliberate about which companies they pitch: “We want to align ourselves with companies that value the same things we value,” says Merritt.

In the midst of this shift, something seemed to click for OOBE. Pereyo sees it as an OOBE moment of a sort, where the owners and the company shifted from a focus on themselves and building their brand to focusing on others. “When we put others first, and put ourselves behind them, we were able to move forward and help propel these great companies. That’s when we found success. That’s servant leadership. That’s where God allowed us to succeed — not when it was all about us.”

There are other organizations that might not be on the wall, but who have been beneficiaries of OOBE’s commitment to give back. They outfitted all the teachers in Greenville, Pickens and Anderson counties with branded shirts. And they recently provided the Clemson student tour guides with branded apparel that the guides say makes them feel more professional. “At this stage of life,” says Merritt, “we have to be focused about what we give our time and energy. Family and church are really important to us. But Clemson has won a place in our hearts as well.”

FAITH, FAMILY AND FRIENDSHIP

OOBE hit its 20th year recently, and it was an emotional milestone. Neither Pereyo nor Merritt can (or wants to) imagine what it would be like to have gone it alone these past 20 years.

In the company celebration, Merritt told the staff that it was their relationship and the support of their wives that kept them pushing the ball up the hill all these years.

Pereyo calls Merritt a truth teller, one of the few people who will unabashedly speak the truth to him. “He gets to speak whether I like to hear it or not. It creates friction, but I come around to ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ Few people, except Melissa, know me better.”

Merritt characterizes Pereyo as an encourager in his life. “For me, it’s been a massive blessing to have a partner. If he was down, I was up. If I was down, he was up.”

As they talk and tell stories, it’s clear that faith, family and friendship (plus humor) are all intertwined in their lives and in the story of OOBE, and there’s really no way to separate them.

More and more often, they’re asked to share the story of their company and their personal partnership. Recently, they were invited to speak to the Clemson Alumni group in Atlanta. On the ride down, they were talking about the upcoming presentation.

Pereyo looked over at Merritt and said, “Tom, do you know the common denominator of every mistake we’ve made with OOBE? It’s us!”