John Spencer ’94

When I was with EDS (Electronic Data Systems), I was being moved around every six months, and I realized that I needed an MBA to have some stability in my life and the kind of job I wanted. So my good buddy Jeff Searcy said he was looking into Rice, so I went to visit to see if it would be good for me as well. When I was visiting Rice I had a conversation with Duane Windsor, and he told me in the hall to introduce myself to the first person I see and ask to be taken to class with him. I was sold immediately by having this meaningful conversation with a faculty member and then the size, approach, and content was also amazing.

The fact that 20 years later I remember the names of all the people tells you that it made an impression. People love to say this school is better than that school. I think that Rice does a great job finding students that fit what they are offering; that to me is a mark of a great school.

One of my favorite professors was Richard Shockley, who taught us about present value. Dr. Zeff told me I was the worst accounting student he ever gave a passing grade to. The core of what Randy Batsell taught is factors in a business and how they correlate or don’t correlate. I don’t know that I have ever used the mechanics he taught, but I have used the philosophy of what he taught a ton in my life and all my businesses. I remember Windsor talking about how when we use the legal standard as the ethical standard we are all in great trouble, and we have a responsibility as employers to employees and our clients. I remember Bob Westbrook said give me numbers, and all arguments had to be substantiated by numbers and analysis in his class. It wasn’t the mechanics of what I learned; it was the synthesis of all I learned that has been really valuable to me. I can honestly say the most important educational experience of my life was getting my MBA at Rice University.

My career is the most disjointed illogical thing. Before I went to the Jones School I worked for EDS. I was working in Chihuahua, Mexico, flying back and forth as an engineer and hating my job. After I went to grad school, I went to work at Compaq for two years and loved it. It was the best job I ever had. A group of us decided to jump ship to Dell, and it turned out to be a terrible idea. While there, I saw this chronic problem where they could never manage the website or content on the website. I started talking to people about this and found out my old boss at Compaq had joined a small company that specialized in managing content online. I got together with him in this little company called Vignette. We had phenomenal growth in five years going from 300K to 6 million. One of the problems you have with such quick growth is the company can outgrow the management. We ended up selling the company in 2006 for a nice profit, and my wife and I decided to pack up and moved to Crescent View, Colorado. I really loved that city.

While in Colorado, I read voraciously, looking for the next thing to do. One day I read an article about Chiang Mai, Thailand, moving their industry to Hong Kong. This company was moving this fly fishing lure- making business from Thailand to Hong Kong. So they were leaving their trained workforce and their space and equipment. I thought this was a huge waste. Two months later I was on a plane for Thailand, and I bought their old factory. I learned a whole lot from that experience; I knew nothing about the business going in, but I made it work. Six years later we built a business called Brush Creek Flies. My kids were growing up, and my wife and I decided we wanted to raise them in the States, so I went back to Austin and sold my company to two men who used to work for me. I found myself in Austin, again not knowing what to do. So I opened a hunting and fishing lodge in South Texas. I ran that for the next six years, and, as of January, I sold it.

Right now I’m looking into software applications. I see some really exciting things there.