During a global pandemic, adjusting to uncertainty and even learning how to embrace it are keys to success.
That mindset drives Brittany Brunson, Philip Miller and Gaurav Sethi from the Naveen Jindal School of Management in their academic and professional pursuits. It also earned them each a $15,000 Mitchell Family Foundation Scholar Award from the Texas Business Hall of Fame Foundation.
Executive committee members of the board of directors at the Texas Business Hall of Fame Foundation had to do some adjusting of their own.
“We did the interviews virtually, whereas we usually would have done them in person," said Dr. Diane McNulty, associate dean of external affairs at the Jindal School and vice-president of scholar awards and endowment for the foundation’s executive committee. “We took the pandemic into consideration when we asked the candidates about their plans.”
In the end, two of the Jindal School candidates selected did not enroll this fall so that they could stay focused on their careers and keep their entrepreneurial ventures alive during the the pandemic.
“The ability to pivot during this unfortunate situation is one of the things that the board decided was critical for selection this year,” McNulty said. “We asked ourselves whether the candidates’ startup ideas could realistically be launched at this time. Even candidates who have successful or promising startups found themselves in a situation that is challenging at best. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.”
Realizing that the candidates required a serious commitment to their professional pursuits just to survive, the committee decided that students who had existing relationships with their universities would be eligible for the awards even if they did not enroll in the fall semester. Two of the three UT Dallas students are waiting until the spring semester to continue their education at JSOM. Brunson is the only Jindal School student who is currently registered and attending classes.
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“I work for an airline — probably not the best industry to be in right now,” said Brunson, an MBA student who works at Southwest Airlines as an associate manager on the customer experience planning and delivery team. “Everything that we used to focus on has shifted since the pandemic, so being able to pivot really quickly to come up with new and innovative ideas within a big corporation has been an incredible thing to be a part of.”
Brunson is also a co-founder of Brunson Bump System, a company that developed a sorority recruitment software tool. She created the product while an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas.
“It basically makes the matching process much more efficient,” she said. “It helps make sure that the sorority recruiters are talking to the right individuals — making sure they have something in common and can have meaningful conversations.”
Sororities at the University of Arkansas still use it and the company has sold the product to the University of Alabama. Brunson said she plans to continue with Southwest while pursuing the software business on the side.
Philip Miller, who graduated in May with a master's degree in marketing, co-owns Crull Fitness, an elite performance training facility in Richardson. He will continue pursuit of his MBA in the spring. He also is president at PM3 Sports, a sole-proprietorship sport management company where he represents professional athletes. Both ventures have had to make adjustments since COVID-19 hit.
“Each day is different,” he said about the businesses he runs. “I never know what the COVID-19 studies or news are going to say — especially with sports. I’m just trying to roll with the punches.”
Gaurav Sethi, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in finance and actuarial science and plans to enroll next spring in the graduate innovation and entrepreneurship program at the Jindal School, is a risk analyst at J.P. Morgan, a financial services firm. He is also CFO at CampusOven, a service that connects university employees and students with caterers who are focused on healthy eating options. He started the company while a student at UT Dallas.
“Eating healthy and sustainably is really difficult for most college students,” he said. “So this service is what I’m currently working on — and that’s why I’ve wanted to take a lot of the more entrepreneurship-focused classes.”
Gaurav took the position at J.P.Morgan to learn about risk and embrace uncertainty, which he says will pay off in pursuit of his ventures. Since the pandemic hit, CampusOven has expanded to offer meals not only to students but also to employees. Companies and institutions can offer them meals as a benefit while they are working remotely.
Brunson, Miller and Sethi will be recognized this fall at a virtual event instead of the usual annual induction dinner and ceremony. The official induction ceremony is planned for fall 2021. Among the 2020 North Texas inductees are Mark Cuban who owns the Dallas Mavericks and is chairman and CEO of AXS TV; Morton H. Meyerson, chair of 2M Companies and namesake of the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas; and Randall L. Stephenson, chairman of AT&T.
— Jimmie R. Markham