We cannot talk enough about the role of scholarships and financial support when it comes to the future of our cities, our country and the advancement of young people — particularly those in underserved environments, the keynote speaker said at the Naveen Jindal School of Management Scholarship Breakfast on Oct. 15.
Not only that, said Fred Perpall, CEO of The Beck Group, but businesses should play a meaningful role in helping make positive change in the community.
The Beck Group is one of the architectural design, development and construction firms that has built or renovated buildings at The University of Texas at Dallas. Perpall, who has been CEO for eight years, is active in the Dallas community and co-chairs the Dallas COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force.
Held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the breakfast event raised $109,000 this year, the largest amount ever. All the money will go toward scholarships for Jindal School students.
“We’ve been saying that our students need support now more than ever, and our community definitely responded with generosity,” said Doug Anderson, Jindal School assistant dean for development and alumni relations.
More than 170 people tuned into the event and accompanying networking sessions via a live video stream. (View a video of the event on the Jindal School’s YouTube channel.)
Dr. Calvin Jamison, vice president for facilities and development at UT Dallas, moderated a chat with Perpall. He began by asking Perpall what role education played in his life.
Perpall, born and raised in the Bahamas, said that the role of education cannot be understated.
“I grew up in [the] inner city on a small island in a very tough neighborhood, but I had the value of having parents that were really focused on education,” he said. He also said that his parents did not allow him and his brother to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities unless they were making good grades.
A former basketball player at The University of Texas at Arlington, Perpall said he would not have made it out of the environment in which he grew up without the benefit of having financial aid and scholarships — first for sports but eventually for academics.
Support necessary for advancement extends well beyond the academic environment, Perpall said. Not long after graduating from UT Arlington with a master’s degree in architecture, he went to work for The Beck Group. There he found support and guidance in the way of mentorships from passionate leaders at the firm. He also took advantage of continuing education opportunities.
“The combination of those things allowed me to excel pretty quickly in my career,” he said. “By [age] 32, I was running our entire eastern division. By [age] 36, Peter [Beck] had appointed me as his successor.”
Dr. Hasan Pirkul, Caruth Chair and dean of the Jindal School, shared updates about the school before introducing Jamison.
“We have good reason to look to the future with confidence and optimism,” Pirkul said. “In short, Jindal School is doing well, and will continue to do well.”
Other University dignitaries who participated included Dr. Diane McNulty, associate dean for external affairs and corporate relations at the Jindal School, who welcomed the audience and introduced UT Dallas President, Dr. Richard Benson.
Benson updated the audience about recent UT Dallas history and looked to the future.
“I am so proud of the resilience and unity within our campus over the last half year,” he said. “Looking ahead, I know that UT Dallas will continue to be a major asset for the Dallas-Fort Worth region. We are indeed fortunate to be located in the midst of such a dynamic environment, and you may be sure that as the Metroplex regains its economic strength, that UT Dallas will be an engine of that rebound.”
Up next, Dr. Inga Musselman, vice president for academic affairs and UTD provost, provided a brief University update, pointing specifically to the aid that the University is providing to UTD community members affected by the pandemic.
Musselman also updated the audience about the actions performed by the Living Our Values Task Force, a group of leaders tackling issues of systemic racism, inherent bias, equity, diversity, access and inclusion within the campus community.
“The team has done a lot of listening and has sought many viewpoints,” she said. “Most importantly, the task force has made recommendations that are actionable and that will lead to improvements in inclusion, access and equity for all at UT Dallas.”
In his conversation with Perpall, Jamison at one point turned the discussion to the topic of race by stating that The Beck Group, with its more than 100-year history, had never had a CEO with his complexion. Jamison asked how Perpall managed to navigate that process.
“I think we’re at a point in our American life where we have to all lean in on being American,” Perpall said. “I love that ‘American’ is our last name. So whether you’re Asian American, Indian American, African American, we all have the same last name, and that’s American.”
When Perpall joined The Beck Group, he said he quickly found out that they all had the same values.
2020 Scholarship Breakfast Donors
The Beck Group was the presenting sponsor of the Jindal School’s annual Scholarship Breakfast this year.
Dallas Indian Lions Club
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas
Chuck and Stacey Butler of Palomino Capital
Merit Energy Company
Joel Roebuck (in honor of the Adolescent Reasoning Initiative)
“We believed in the same thing: hard work, discipline … integrity,” he said. “It was really the belief structure that attracted me and retained me in a company like this, because whereas I didn’t see many people that looked like me, what I did see was a culture that I could thrive in and people that believed the same thing.”
When Jamison asked Perpall about how businesses should respond to public social issues that have become so prominent in 2020 — diversity, equity, healthcare, immigration, inclusion, racial justice and social justice — Perpall personalized his answer.
“I’ve been a CEO for eight years, but I’ve been a Black man my whole life,” he said. “These issues are not awkward issues to me.”
He said these issues are not only for the boardroom, but also for our lives.
“I think the responsibility of companies has never been clearer and the opportunities that companies have to help solve these issues have never been greater,” he said. “Let me tell you that I believe businesses can do better in this regard than governments can. I love being a capitalist. I love being a businessman because business should be good for people — to give people an opportunity to actually express and apply their talent with a group of people who treat them well and believe [that] a common approach to life should offer the opportunity for people to actually work themselves up. This is the beauty of the American Dream.”
This dream, Perpall said, has not been shared equally among all Americans. Businesses can play a meaningful role in working intentionally to ensure that economic opportunity, education and healthcare are distributed among all members of the community.
“This cannot just be altruism,” he said. “This cannot be flinging coins to beggars and just writing checks [to] your charities — that’s the easy thing for companies to do.”
Getting shoulder to shoulder with the people businesses are trying to help is more difficult, he said, but more meaningful.
“When it matters, it becomes personal,” he said.
Jacob Gonzalez, a junior accounting major and member of the Jindal Young Scholars Program, concluded the event by making a few closing remarks, specifically thanking donors.
“Because of the generosity of donors like you, I can carry my family’s legacy on my back, and my dreams are closer to reality than they ever have been before,” he said. “I am truly grateful for your contribution to not only my education but my future.”
— Jimmie R. Markham