Robinson College of Business connects alumni donors  

Smith, Crawford honor impact of GSU education with successful challenge grants  

The initial challenge for T. Dallas Smith was staying enrolled at Georgia State University. He was already making a living in commercial real estate in 1983 and wore a suit to Professor David J. Schwartz’s marketing class.

The successful career in commercial real estate that unfolded from that single class led to Smith’s recent challenge to his fellow J. Mack Robinson College of Business alumni: If a GSU faculty member changed your life, honor that by making a donation ―and Smith will match it.

Smith promised to match donations up to a total of $12,500, and Charles B. “Charlie” Crawford made a similar challenge of $5,000 to his fellow EMBA alumni. As a result, more than $30,000 is being raised through these two challenge grants for scholarship and financial aid to students, as well as special programs for student leaders in business.

The challenge was issued through the GSU Student Call Center where students reach out by phone on weekday evenings with requests and opportunities for support.

The Smith and Crawford challenge grants leveraged the passion and value these alumni have for the knowledge and contacts gained through a GSU education.

“I was challenged by the faculty and learned from my classmates,” said Crawford (M.B.A., 1997), the president, CEO and chairman of Private Bank of Buckhead.  “My career was enhanced because of this educational pursuit.  The journey of balancing my GSU education along with my family and career responsibilities simultaneously gave me great confidence that I could successfully complete any challenge that I embraced.”

Funds from the challenge grants will provide scholarship and financial aid to students. The challenge grants also support funding of resources such as the Career Management Center, which provides students and young alumni with career planning services and workshops.

Alumni gifts also allow students to participate in national competitions, internships, study abroad and other travel opportunities. This support also funds the Robinson College of Business Honors Mentoring Program, which pairs such business leaders as Smith and Crawford with Honors students to prepare them for global business challenges.

“I feel great about being able to give time and dollars back to Georgia State and I wanted to encourage others to do the same,” Crawford said.

Challenging students to acknowledge influential educators

Last week, Smith (B.B.A., 1986), who also serves on the GSU Foundation board, visited the Call Center to thank the students. He also asked the students the question what they had been asking Robinson alumni: Did you have a memorable professor during your time at Georgia State?

“He changed my life,” Smith said of Schwartz, a marketing and psychology professor who authored best-selling motivational books including The Magic of Thinking Big.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of him. I wanted to figure out how to honor that, and I felt that other alumni might feel that way about other professors who had helped them. A challenge grant is a great platform for a person to give back.”

Challenged by Smith’s question, several of the student callers named professors who had influenced them.

Deborah Robbe, instructor in the Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality Administration, “doesn’t just teach, but she lets us learn by doing by planning big events,” said senior business major Robert Truitt. “And she’s kind of funny, too.”

Susan Laury,associate professor of economics in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, “teaches intermediate microeconomics, and the class is kind of tough,” said economics junior Cory Wade. “It’s the knowledge that I need, and she gets you going.”

Jeanne G. Bohannon, a doctoral student in English who teaches composition and rhetoric, “taught me that if there is something I am passionate about, I should be an advocate and give a voice to the voiceless,” said Miranda Densley, a student in the Byrdine F. Lewis School of Nursing and Health Professions.

For donors, an investment with a big return

To Crawford, a challenge grant appeared as a fitting incentive to the EMBA community to appeal to their appreciation for leveraging value. For every dollar they put up, he matched ― up to $5,000.

“I compare it to when a company like our bank matches our employees’ 401K contribution, dollar for dollar,” said Crawford, past winner of the Robinson Alumni Award for Entrepreneurship. “By definition, a challenge grant has the benefit of a multiplier effect.”

That appeal held true for donors, said student caller Mykel Kennedy, a junior journalism major at GSU.

“People are more and more willing to give if they feel their money is getting doubled, or even tripled if their company offers matching funds,” she said. “It’s an easier call when their $50 will be $100 or even $150.”

The impact of the challenge went beyond dollars. Besides staking $12,500 to the challenge, Smith also honored his mentor by passing his knowledge to current students.

He spoke to a Real Estate Perspectives class last fall and made an impression on Mykel Kennedy, who later would make calls on behalf of his challenge.

“He said you have to do what you have to do first, before you can do what you want to do,” she said of Smith. “My dream job is to write for Essence magazine, but I have to make money to pay off my loans. After he spoke to my class, I’m interested in doing what he does in commercial real estate.”

The difference a single professor can make

For Smith, the challenge was all about his beloved mentor, who was best known for The Magic of Thinking Big, published first in 1959.

“In 1983, I was making money in commercial real estate and didn’t think I needed school,” Smith said. “Everyone either loved or hated Schwartz, and I found that to be intriguing. When he walked into the lecture hall filled with 200 of us students ― and put his unfiltered Marlboro under the ‘No Smoking’ sign ― I knew this guy was unlike any professor I had ever had.”

Schwartz ran his marketing classes like a corporation with a budget of grades, not money. The final involved a presentation “of how you will make a living the rest of your life,” Smith said. “The rest of the class was the board of directors and stockholders, and it was up to them to shoot holes in the presentation.”

Smith ended up taking all eight classes taught by Schwartz, and making A’s ―even though Schwartz only gave one A per class. After GSU, Smith built a career of structuring and closing real estate transactions. He has negotiated more than 1 million square feet of commercial property, 5,000 acres of land acquisitions and 125 leases valued at more than $200 million.

He was the first African-American to work with the noted firm Cushman & Wakefield and the only nonwhite student in Schwartz’s class in 1983. Schwartz taught him all the skills to further stand out in business, and Smith relies on that knowledge today.

“Even just yesterday I was dealing with a difficult situation in business and before I replied, I thought, ‘How would Schwartz handle this?’“ Smith said. “So I dealt with it head on and did not make it personal. That’s how I teach my sales force today ―all of Dr. Schwartz’s lessons.”

—By Michelle Hiskey; Contact Kim Cretors, (404) 413-3424