If you didn’t know Randy Nicholson’s (’59) story, you might never suspect that the entrepreneur, benefactor and influential former ACU trustee faced extreme adversity and obstacles from the beginning of his life. Yet those circumstances that were beyond his control shaped the man he became – someone who helped others and lived generously.
At 18 months old, Nicholson and his siblings were placed in Boles Children’s Home in Quinlan, Texas after their parents could no longer care for them. There, he began learning about Christ, generosity, gratitude and the value of working hard. Regular chores at Boles Home taught responsibility and included working in the fields, tending to the animals and milking cows. Nicholson was also active in FFA and worked for Safeway supermarkets as a stocker, sacker and checker.
Nicholson’s college decision was heavily influenced by one of his Boles Home dorm supervisors, Abilene Christian College alumnus Robert Harold “Tex” Williams (’50). As for his major, Nicholson developed an early interest in accounting while working with Claude Covey, who did the accounting for Boles Home, during high school.
Nicholson chose not to accept the free tuition offered to Abilene Christian students who grew up in an orphanage. He felt he had been given much during his time at Boles Home and that it was time for him to start paying his own way. He worked full time at an Abilene Safeway and still managed to graduate in four years with a degree in accounting.
While at ACC, caring mentors and friends continued to shape Nicholson’s faith and character. His friendship with Hal McGlothlin (’58) led to multiple work experiences and partnerships with McGlothlin family businesses such as Radio London, United Network, Bank of Commerce, Locus Homes International, LaJet and even an attempt at forming a new television network. Nicholson also gained experience in the self-serve gasoline business as founder, president, chief operating officer and board member of E-Z Serve, and he also helped pioneer pay-at-the-pump equipment as chair and CEO of AutoGas Systems Inc.
Nicholson remained very active with his alma mater until his death in December 2020 because he felt strongly that a quality Christian education should be affordable and accessible to all students who want to learn in a Christ-centered environment. He served on the ACU Board of Trustees for 29 years. He also chaired the investment committee from its inception in the 1980’s until February 2010. When ACU established a separate entity to handle its endowment – the Abilene Christian Investment Management Company (ACIMCO) – in 2009, Nicholson served as the first chairman of the board.
He also played a large role in the land purchase to expand ACU in 1981 and was one of four individuals who contributed money to establish Student Trading and Research (STAR), a student-managed fund in the College of Business Administration. Nicholson worked closely with the past deans of COBA to help the college equip its graduates to be influential Christians in the business world. Most recently, he was on the advisory board for the Nuclear Energy eXperimental Testing (NEXT) Lab.
Nicholson’s greatest partnership was with fellow ACC student Barbara Hart (’59), and they married in 1957. The pair were married 59 years until Barbara’s death in January 2017. Those who knew Randy knew how much his wife, daughter Randa (Nicholson ’88) Upp, son-in-law Jeff Upp (’86) and grandson Braden (’17) meant to him.
Nicholson’s presence continues to be felt as he generously gave to others for causes that were dear to his heart. One of the legacies is the Nicholson-Upp Family Endowed Scholarship for the College of Business. “Dad felt compelled to help others, especially those who started from a disadvantaged place in life,” said his daughter, Randa Upp. “He knew the importance of having someone believe in you and being given a chance.” Randa recently told us about her father and the legacy he left behind.
Who inspired him?
Coach Garvin Beauchamp (’41) formed a relationship with Dad during his freshman year at ACC when Dad stayed with him until the new residence hall, Edwards, was ready for students to move in. Later, at the beginning of Dad’s sophomore year, Coach Beauchamp encouraged him to find a new group of friends. This advice changed the path that he was on. Early in Dad’s career, Hal McGlothlin (one of those new friends) encouraged him to sell his accounting practice and come to work for the McGlothlin family business, which placed Dad in a position to have many unique business experiences. Hal treated people with kindness regardless of who they were. This impacted Dad deeply. H.E. Hart, the father of Barbara Hart, inspired him in several ways. Mr. Hart was a man of integrity. He was the spiritual leader of his home and a man with an incredible work ethic. Nick Nicholson, Dad’s cousin who was the head football coach at ACC while he was there, was a wonderful example for Dad in the way that he lived his life, cared for his family and treated others. W.C. “Dub” Orr (’50) and Ray McGlothlin Jr. were two men who inspired him in his approach to business. Dr. Overton Faubus made a huge impact on Dad. He gave Dad advice about building credit which later put him in a position to be able to borrow the money needed to purchase an accounting firm.
What was his favorite ACU memory?
Many of Dad’s favorite memories came from times with friends that spanned six decades of experiences together at ACU. Some of those memories were from the first mixer as a freshman in 1955, Sing Song and socials with Sub-T-16 and Chapel in Sewell Auditorium. Other favorite memories included seeing myself, nieces and nephew, future son-in-law, and grandson attend ACU. He was so proud to see his grandson, Braden, participate in STAR with Dr. Terry Pope and work with Jack Rich and the endowment.
A special memory for Dad was when he, Ray McGlothlin Jr., and Dub Orr were named the College of Business Administration’s Distinguished Business Leaders of the Year in 1996. That honor focused on something very special – three humble, godly men who relied on God and each other.
How did his faith impact his work and personal interactions?
Dad was often heard saying he knew what it was to be at the bottom of the social ladder. He also knew what it was like having everything given to him by people he would most likely never meet. This not only formed a spirit of humility in him, but also created a compassionate and generous heart.
He knew that nothing makes one person better than another person. He treated people the same whether they were a busboy at a restaurant or a powerful politician, a brilliant CEO or a famous celebrity. Dad had three families: his physical family, his spiritual family and his work family. Relationships were very important to him. He cared deeply for people. As Dad looked back on his life, he realized that the times that were hard – when he felt he was facing the greatest adversity – those were the times when God was placing him on a path for blessing. He was an encourager, and he looked for ways to be a part of the blessing for others who were facing adversity.
COBA’s vision is to inspire, equip and connect Christian business and technology professionals to honor God and bless the world. How do you think your dad lived out that vision in his work?
He wanted the quality of education in COBA to be top-notch while also providing practical application and experience. Dad felt that it was very important for professors to develop relationships with their students and for them to provide a godly example in and out of the classroom. He was constantly introducing people to each other. He would host luncheons and other gatherings to introduce people. He strongly believed in networking and relationships. He always wanted time with the students to encourage them that it didn’t matter where they started – what mattered is where they finished. He wanted them to know that their work and determination was important. He was always willing to encourage and mentor others.
What advice do you think Randy would give to current students to prepare them for their future?
- Your relationship with Jesus is the most important thing. Surround yourself with people who will always encourage you in your walk with Christ.
- Foster a spirit of gratitude. No matter what your situation – you are blessed. Focus on your blessings. “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
- Dedication and hard work go a long way. Don’t expect people to hand things to you. Go out and look for opportunities.
- Remain humble and treat everyone with respect.
- Seek out mentors and listen to their advice. Surround yourself with people who constantly challenge you to be a better person. “The way of the fool seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” Proverbs 12:15 “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end, you will be counted among the wise.” Proverbs 19:20
- Learn from your mistakes and don’t forget to forgive others of their mistakes
- Don’t forget to give back. No matter where you are in your life, you can always give back. You can give your time, your talent and/or your money. You can mentor those who are younger than you, and you can help people connect with each other and build a stronger network of relationships.
- Be content. Find a way to be happy regardless of your circumstances. Remember, looking to others to complete you is always a mistake. Find happiness in your relationship with God.
The Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy, located in COBA, founded the Springboard Student Venture Competition to support the growth of ACU undergraduate and graduate student businesses and nonprofit organizations. Winners receive one-time funding from $500 – $3,000.
In order for the students to be able to compete in front of the Springboard judging panel, the students must be enrolled at ACU, must own at least 51% of their venture, and must be engaged in entrepreneurial activities such as the Founders Club, a student venture club led by Mindy Howard, the Student Engagement Coordinator in the Griggs Center. Awards are based on the panel’s assessment of the potential of the business and the “spirit of entrepreneurship displayed by the student(s)”. Students come prepared with a 3 – 4-minute speech and the necessary financial reports for their business. Each student receives feedback on their presentation/business model and a chance to compete again in the next competition for those who are not awarded funding in the current competition. This year, the students gave their pitch to three local business owners via video chat.
A.J. Brown, senior management major from Midland, Texas won this round of competition receiving a total of $3,000 to put towards his business, Southern Sno Shaved Ice.
We asked Brown about his business and how he got started. “Southern Sno is a mobile shaved ice trailer in Midland. We have a location that is open daily during the summer, while also catering to events/parties with an outfitted gas-powered cart that we like to call the ‘Jolly Trolley’. We pride ourselves on being the fastest shaved ice drive-thru in town, with the nicest employees. Our sno-cones have fun and unique flavors with the softest ice.”
One thing that unites many of the Founders Club members is how they got started. Each student has a unique story, but they could all agree that they put themselves out there and went for what they wanted to achieve. “During my freshman year of college, I changed my major to business after the first semester. Because of that, I was looking for something that I could do in the summer that could teach me about business while still getting to hang out with my friends. Options were limited because it had to be a seasonal business, so that is where the idea of sno-cones came into play. I used the money I saved up from a mobile car detailing business I ran in high school and hit the ground running!”
We love hearing Brown’s story and his inspiration to create his own work experience based on what he has been learning in COBA. From beginning his business to winning the competition, we asked Brown what he learned from the experience. “The competition was a great experience for me. It gave me a reason to step back, analyze what things I have done well, and what things I need to improve on. I also loved the experience of having to come prepared and confident about presenting my business in front of a group of successful entrepreneurs. I am very grateful for the Griggs Center and all that it does!”
Now that Brown has won, he says, “In all that I do with this business, I want to go about it in a smart and professional manner. I have heard of many companies that scale too fast and it ends up hurting them. My dream is to expand Southern Sno into other cities in Texas. But for now, I am focused on mastering the operations in Midland. At Southern Sno, everything is made in-house: syrups, ice, etc. The last two years I have been very blessed to be able to use a commercial kitchen from a group in Midland. I have realized that this isn’t a great long-term solution for scaling the business. So, with the money I have won from the competition, I will outfit the small warehouse that Southern Sno leases from a group in Midland. This allows me to have all of the supplies, ice, syrups, and trailers all in one place which really helps operations. Once we master that, we will look to move forward with possibly expanding into other markets.”
Owning a small business during COVID-19 has proved to be a difficult task for business owners all across the nation. We asked Brown what it has been like to continue operations as a young entrepreneur. He told us, “COVID-19 brought about some crazy instances. The first crazy thing we had to deal with was on our ‘Opening Day’ that we had been advertising for over a month. Thirty minutes before opening, the owner of the lot we were using called and said we could not be there. So that was a mess, but we recovered and ended up finding a great location. I would say the main thing that we had to change was we completely pivoted into a drive-thru only location. Before, people could only walk up. The drive-thru actually created a quicker and more efficient way for us to get cars in and out, and it showed in our daily revenue. The biggest downside we faced was that our business was hurt with not really being able to do many events throughout the summer. The year before that was our primary source of income. We are hoping to increase both of those streams of revenue this next summer, hoping that Covid calms down!”
Congratulations to A.J. Brown for all of his hard work and accomplishments that have led him to this point in his entrepreneurial journey. We look forward to seeing his continued growth as an entrepreneur as he continues to learn and expand his business.
You can check out Southern Sno Shaved Ice here!
Accomplishing their goal to add a new venture this semester, Wildcat Ventures acquired Right Hand Media (RHM), making it their sixth student-run business on campus. President of Wildcat Ventures, Riley Simpson, originally founded Right Hand Media as a freelance videographer. However, seeing that it would thrive in the market Wildcat Ventures caters to, the team made the decision to bring the business on board, hiring Tres Cox as the CEO.
Tres is a marketing and management major from Lewisville, TX. Working alongside Tres is account manager Bekah Penton, content creator David Mitchell, creative designer Ashley Lang, videographers/editors Emily Shafer and Tavian Miles, and videographer and web designer Matthew Jungling.
Tres sees RHM as helping to fill a communication gap on campus. “In this season, everyone is looking for an effective way to connect with their audience, and visual media is one the best ways to do that. Our services help our clients make an impression and make connections.” RHM specifically works in video production, digital marketing, photography, and design.
CEO, Tres Cox
Cox said that their customer base is varied. “Our services are businesses and organizations who want to present themselves and express their message with quality content. At Right Hand Media, we encourage our partners to play their best hand.”
RHM has worked on many projects over the semester that encapsulates the mission behind that statement. Every project has elegant evidence to show for the team’s workmanship. The company has been working closely with Dr. Dennis Marquardt and Nick Gonzales from the Lytle Center to produce the Leadership Link podcast. Nick is a fan of the work of RHM, saying, “What is unique about Right Hand Media is that they are an organization that is very easy to work with. Their adaptability is a trait that no one should take for granted. They have worked with the Lytle Center for multiple episodes and each time we pitch a new idea or have second thoughts on something they are quick to go with the flow, brainstorm, and even build upon ideas.” Gonzales noted that working with RHM means “working with excellence” and gives high praise to the team’s professionalism and collegiality.
RHM filming Mary Gregory’s Class
Another great testimony about what RHM is helping clients accomplish is the growth of painter Mary Gregory’s online painting class, Egg, Feather, Nest. Cox detailed how RHM has worked to help Gregory market her talents. “Our team films and produces the video lessons that go into her courses, creating graphics and promotional content, and managing the digital marketing strategy for the company’s online presence. It’s been an incredible journey, taking Mary from teaching only small workshops when she had the time to now teaching hundreds of students online.”
Account Manager, Bekah Penton
Not only have these client accounts created experiential learning opportunities for RHM student employees, but the students are also building on their strengths and gaining valuable experience for their future careers. Bekah Penton said, “Working at Right Hand Media has been different than any other position I have held before, but I have learned something new every day. While I have done freelance social media management before, this position at RHM has allowed me to take more of a leadership role on a team instead of independent work. It has also allowed me to continually grow in my knowledge of digital marketing such as social media, email, and content creation.”
Creative Designer, Ashley Lang
Ashley Lang told us that she loves her team because “Our people are diverse and incredibly creative in unique ways. Everyone has something different to bring to the table, and we get to utilize those strengths to create killer projects that cater to the needs of our clients. Each of us is heavily involved in things outside of RHM, and I think that reflects the potential for leadership and the amount of talent that exists within our team. These are people that come willing to learn and try new things together, and I couldn’t be more excited about it!”
Inspiring and equipping students is part of the vision of the College of Business – to connect business and technology professionals to honor God and bless the world. The creative spark that the Right Hand Media team shows through their work to help others shine while continuing to learn and excel at their professional skills is something that COBA aspires to instill in all of its students. To follow RHM’s team on their Instagram page click HERE.
The Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy, located in COBA, founded the Springboard Student Venture Competition to support the growth of ACU undergraduate and graduate student businesses and nonprofit organizations. Winners receive one-time funding from $500 – $3,000.
In order for the students to be able to compete in front of the Springboard judging panel, the students must be enrolled at ACU, must own at least 51% of their venture, and must be engaged in entrepreneurial activities such as the Founders Club, a student venture club led by Mindy Howard, the Student Engagement Coordinator. Awards are based on the panel’s assessment of the potential of the business and the “spirit of entrepreneurship displayed by the student(s)”. Students come prepared with a 3 – 4-minute speech and the necessary financial reports for their business. Each student receives feedback on their presentation/business model and a chance to compete again in the next competition for those who are not awarded funding in the current competition.
This year Founders Club President, Karson Tutt, and Founders Club member, Lauren Gumm, were awarded for their presentations. Gumm, an elementary education major from Abilene, TX, runs a screen printing company called Wear It to Share I”. Lauren screen prints thrifted shirts by hand in order to bring people environmentally conscious and unique shirts. Tutt, a senior management major from Tuscola, TX, started Karson’s, an online jewelry company, which is now in the process of adding an in-person location in Abilene where many other products will be available. We interviewed both award winners to learn about their experiences participating in the Founders Club and the Springboard Student Venture Competition.
Wear It to Share It
How has being involved in the Founders Club impacted your business?
Lauren: “Founders Club has provided so many resources for me and my little company! I’ve gotten financial advice and marketing consultations and had the opportunity to speak in front of members of the Abilene community about the awesome entrepreneurs at ACU! I started my business in my dorm room and being able to have an office space where I can work is another great resource that the Founders Club has given me. Founders Club has also given me a community to walk through business ownership with. My friends have always been super supportive of my business but having a group of people who also own their own businesses that I can talk through ideas and problems with has been a huge blessing.”
Karson: “I have loved getting to meet with other student entrepreneurs who understand the struggles I go through. I also participated in one of the pitch competitions and won money to put towards opening my store.”
What did you learn from the competition experience?
Lauren: “The competition gave me a sense of confidence in my abilities as a business owner. To be able to present the work I constantly pour into and receive validation that what I’m pursuing is smart and in demand was really reassuring! I also learned how important it is to be confident in your abilities. The judges were looking for business owners who happen to be full-time students. I walked away really feeling like they saw me as a business owner and a student.”
Karson: “I learned that I am actually more confident in my business as a whole than I thought. I used to think my business was just kind of small and not that big of a deal, but it’s actually really cool that I’m doing this and it’s not as hard as I thought to talk to adults about what I do and my plans for the future.”
What is your plan for your business now that you have won the competition?
Lauren: “Winning the competition gave me the ability to purchase new equipment that I desperately needed. The equipment I started out with in 2018 still functioned perfectly fine but it was the cheapest option available and therefore required every element of the process to be done by hand. My new equipment is what allowed me to fully pursue printing on thrifted shirts! I simply didn’t have the time to thrift and print but with the time saved using my new equipment I am able to do both!”
Karson: “I was planning on opening the store regardless of if I won or not, but now that I did win the extra funding I was able to literally expand the space of the store and get nicer versions of the things I was already going to be getting (ex. cash register, security system, light fixtures, etc.).”
Is there anything you would like to add?
Lauren: “I just want to encourage anyone who thinks they want to begin a business to go for it! Even if it isn’t a business you want to pursue long-term you can learn so much through the process! I have an appreciation for entrepreneurs that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t taken a leap of faith and started Wear It to Share It!”
Karson: “The Griggs Center and Founders Club truly have been a great asset to me and my business. I love the community that has come from being involved.”
In the College of Business Administration, students across the board have experienced the challenge of creating and selling a product to their peers however students this semester are facing an additional challenge: creating and selling their product — from home. All business students are required to take the class Intro to Business. This class gives students an idea of what different fields of business are all about. One of the main projects in the course is an entrepreneur-type activity called ‘Venture Out’. Teams are built to create, market, and sell a product to the ACU community; incentives include grades throughout the course, entrepreneur experience, and the opportunity to donate additional profits to the beneficiary of the team’s choice. Products in the past have ranged from t-shirts, stickers, sweatshirts, or anything that can be dreamed up. The teams must keep track of expenses, create a business plan, and pitch their product to a board of professionals for approval.
While this project provides students with valuable experience, current Intro to Business students impacted by the campus closure are having to promote and sell their products remotely. Intro to Business professor Dr. Monty Lynn explained that due to this issue, not all of the teams were able to proceed with the project due to funding and selling issues. Venture Out teams who were already underway in their project chose to continue and are now facing the challenge of selling that product away from the ACU campus. Dr. Lynn commented that despite this extra obstacle, “They are doing a tremendous job”.
Two of these current participating teams shared their experience so far. “It was more difficult to connect with our customers and explain why we were selling this product,” explained Berkley Bruckner, member of Team Foundation T’s. They chose to sell t-shirts, and created the design in hopes of boosting school spirit and promoting awareness for Big Brothers Big Sisters, their chosen beneficiary. “Since most of our group members are freshmen, we wanted to incorporate a class we all have to take this year. We chose our Bible class and wrote ‘Wildcats’ in Greek”.
Another team experienced similar issues. When asked what has been a challenge for them, member Estefany Hernandez stated that “We couldn’t express our feelings about where the money will be donated or to express our love for children and giving back”. They chose the Hendrick Home for Children as their beneficiary and decided on t-shirts as well for their product.
Despite the challenges posed for this unprecedented sales environment that COVID-19 has brought on, these student teams are persevering and are learning valuable skills. Dr. Monty Lynn shared a customer’s experience with one of these continuing Venture Out teams: “An ACU graduate student recently contacted me to say she purchased some stickers from a team and was so impressed with the transaction. She received the ordered stickers in the mail shortly after purchasing it online. The product even arrived with customer service touches and an e-invoice! So just a shout-out to our freshmen business teams who have pivoted quickly and are serving well!” COBA is proud of these teams for their success and perseverance during this time and believes that unique business lessons are being learned about the need for flexibility and agility in small businesses that will stay with these students for a lifetime.
On January 27th, senior chemistry major Claire Shudde entered the Improve ACU Competition and left with a cash prize of $500 and the opportunity to make her idea come to life. The competition was co-hosted by the ACU Student Government Association (SGA) and the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy.
Mindy Howard, the Student Engagement Coordinator for the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy explained why they chose to create this competition. “We wanted to try and reach a larger sector of the student body and engage them in entrepreneurial thinking. The prompt was simply what are your ideas to improve ACU? We had 139 total entries and the finalists and winner were picked by the SGA student team. There were several really creative ideas submitted. Some of the top ideas included a community garden, a low-cost food pantry for students, and a student led spirit team at the ACU basketball games. Our hope was that students would take a moment to look around and see how their ideas could lead to real change at ACU. Every successful business, initiative or service starts with a great idea.”
Claire told us, “My idea to improve ACU is to have selected accounting and business students help lower income citizens in Abilene file their taxes. Filing taxes isn’t always easy and for people who either don’t have the education or ability to file for themselves, it can be a daunting task. If students at ACU — ideally selected by faculty who have witnessed the student’s desire and ability to serve the community in this way — can help locals file their taxes, they can gain real world experience while also benefiting the community.”
Shudde gave credit where credit is due for the idea. “I got the idea from a friend who attends St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Their school is situated in an impoverished part of town and the students intentionally work on reaching out and ministering to the community. As a Christian school, I think ACU could follow suit and reach out to the community in this way. There is potential for this to be an incredible ministry in Abilene, and while accounting/finance majors help people with money, other students can minister to the people waiting.”
Claire continued, “I think the best way to establish this would be to partner with ministries like Love and Care or the Mission that are currently working and established. As a senior chemistry major, I am fairly far removed from accounting and finance, so I doubt I could be involved in the actual functioning of the tax clinic. Rather than be hands on myself, I would love to brainstorm with those who are knowledgeable in this area and will be in Abilene longer than me. I think breaking the ACU bubble in this way will benefit both the community and the ACU students involved. My hope and prayer is that through simple actions such as helping a single mom file for a tax return, people can experience the love of God. Isaiah 1:17 says ‘Learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, take up the case of the widow.’ While setting up a tax clinic does not fix all the problems in Abilene, I think it would be a chance for christians to live out this charge. I hope that in a few years I can look back and see ACU taking steps into the community beyond just a tax clinic.”
The ACU community often talks about the “ACU Difference”. Bright minded students who have a passion not only for ACU, but for making ACU and Abilene a greater place, are living, breathing examples of that difference. Congratulations to Claire Shudde on winning the competition! Want to learn more about the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy and how you can get involved? Click here to learn more.