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Flight Path

I See The Benefits of my MBA in Everything I Do feat. Tracy and John Dennis, FTMBA ’00 and ’93

Owl Have You Know

Season 3, Episode 22

Tune into another recording from this year’s alumni reunion!

Tracy and John join host Maya Pomroy 22 to talk about their lives together, what brought them to Houston and to Rice, post-Partio Lamaze classes, and why they continue to give back to the Rice community.



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Episode Transcript

  • [00:00] Intro: Welcome to Owl Have You Know, a podcast from Rice Business. This episode is part of our Flight Path series, where guests share their career journeys and stories of the Rice connections that got them where they are.

    [00:12] Maya: Welcome, everyone, to Reunion Weekend here at Rice University. It's a fantastic weekend, so much energy and joy and excitement, and everyone is reconnecting, and some, some classes are meeting for the first time. And I just wanted to welcome both of you, Tracy and John Dennis, here with us today. Thank you for being here.

    We, we snuck you away for a little bit of Reunion Weekend because we figured this is the best time to, to snag our alumni and, and reconnect and, and talk about what you've been up to since you were owls here at Rice. So, thank you for being here today. You are both not only Harvard graduates but also Rice University MBA graduates, which is, which is fairly unique. How did you, two, meet?

    [00:58] John: We met at freshman week at Harvard. We were same class at Harvard.

    [01:02] Maya: Really? In what class was it?

    [01:04] John: 1986.

    [01:06] Maya: But which specific class were you in?

    [01:09] John: No, freshman week. That's-

    [01:10] Maya: Oh, the worst.

    [01:10] John: ... the first week of freshman year when you don't have classes and you're just drinking and chasing each other.

    [01:15] Maya: That's perfect. So, so, you met in Harvard and then, you know, you had very different backgrounds. So, tell me what, what you studied at Harvard and, and what led you to business school.

    [01:26] Tracy: I was a Russian and Soviet Studies major at Harvard. I went to undergrad thinking I was going to be a business major, but I never even checked to see if Harvard had an undergraduate business major. And it did not.

    [01:39] Maya: It did not.

    [01:39] Tracy: So, I started off at Economics, and I got into Economics, and I wasn't really loving it. And there was just, sort of, this impression among the, the freshmen that you had to go to graduate school. Like, everybody was planning to go to graduate school. And so, I thought, "Oh, perfect. I'll study something I'm truly passionate about and then I'll eventually go to business school."

    And, you know, it took me a few years to get to business school after I graduated. And I had a, a short career as a bond trader, but had always wanted to go to business school to, kind of, connect a bunch of dots. You know, there were a lot of things that I, I, that I was exposed to that I wanted to learn more about but just never had the time to do. And so, business school, for me, was the opportunity to do that.

    [02:29] Maya: So, let's back up to Russian and Soviet Studies. What, what interested you about that?

    [02:34] Tracy: Russian family. I had a Russian grandmother, and she was actually never lived in Russia, but she was born in Manchuria and married an American naval officer who brought her to the States. But her brother, my uncle Nikolai, immigrated to the Soviet Union, and he used to come visit and they would speak Russian and I thought it was the most beautiful language and I wanted to learn to speak the language.

    [03:02] Maya: That's interesting. So, I have a Russian grandmother as well.

    [03:04] Tracy: Do you, really?

    [03:04] Maya: I'm actually Russian. So, yes. That's why I was asking because what are, what are the odds, what are the odds of that? So, so, that's why. It was a familial reason-

    [03:11] Tracy: Yes.

    [03:12] Maya: ... that, that you wanted to study that.

    [03:13] Tracy: Yeah, it was a great major, right? I mean, it was history, government, literature, and language. So, it was just, sort of, a wonderful major.

    [03:20] Maya: And a naval officer connection as well, because you were in the Navy?

    [03:24] John: Yeah, I was in the Navy after college, but I had applied to the Naval Academy and thought about ROTC programs. So, when my junior/senior year when the idea came back, I was fortunate to be dating someone for whom it was not a terrifying thought.

    [03:39] Maya: So, tell me about your journey at Harvard.

    [03:42] John: I, I, I, I would tell you I was an, an academic wanderer at Harvard unlike all my roommates who had very clear ideas of what they wanted to do from before they arrived. I was just happy to get out of high school and get into a college.

    So, I, I got through Harvard, had some great summer jobs, and one of those, my, my summer job before my senior year, was with an investment bank in New York. And a whole bunch of the senior partners had all been military officers, and that's where the, the idea of being a naval officer came back to me.

    [04:18] Maya: That's fascinating. And so, and so, you did investment banking but then you wanted to pivot?

    [04:24] John: Yeah, so, I, I, I went to the Navy after college and when I came back from service, I went into investment banking, but into corporate finance, so slightly different from sales and trading, and had the opportunity to come back to Houston where Tracy had already relocated to Houston with her company out of New York.

    And Houston, while I enjoyed growing up here, I never thought I would come back, but I think seeing, seeing Houston through Tracy's eyes gave me the opportunity to, kind of, look at it with an open mind, and it's been very, very good to us.

    [04:59] Maya: And so, you started at Rice Business, and so you graduated in 1993.

    [05:02] John: Right.

    [05:03] Maya: And you graduated in the class of 2000.

    [05:05] Tracy: That's right.

    [05:05] Maya: And you were saying that you put him through business school. So, tell me about that.

    [05:10] Tracy: I mean, I was working, and he decided to go back to business school, and so I just worked. And business school cost a whole lot less back then, so it was a little bit more manageable.

    [05:22] John: Yeah.

    [05:22] Tracy: I mean, I had always thought that I would go to business school, but I had a boss who said, "You don't need it for what you do. I'm not going to pay you any more money, you know, if you get it, if you get your MBA." And that's when you say, "I need a new boss."

    [05:41] Maya: That's...

    [05:41] Tracy: Exactly, and exactly. And so, I worked while he was in business school. But I, you know, I came to partios and I, you know, fed his team when they would come over to work on projects. And so, I, I swam with one of his classmates. I would write the workouts. I was a swimmer-

    [06:04] John: Come swim here in Rice.

    [06:05] Tracy: ... and we swam at the old pool together. So, I'd pick her up after class and we'd swim laps. And so, I very much felt like I was part of having an experience with them as well. And so, I, you know, I waited a few years, waited until we had a couple of little kids just to-

    [06:23] Maya: It's the perfect...

    [06:23] Tracy: ... dial it up a little bit. Yeah. And then, you know, and then we, sort of, switched roles.

    [06:28] John: Tracy, Tracy became pregnant in my second year of business school. And in the spring, our first daughter was born in June. Tracy would come and pick me up at the partio, and...

    [06:40] Maya: Wait, she let you go to the partio while you were at home with the baby?

    [06:43] John: No, no, no, the baby wasn't here yet.

    [06:44] Tracy: Oh, no. I picked him up of that since...

    [06:45] John: So, this, this is, like, April and May.

    [06:47] Maya: Oh, good.

    [06:47] John: We're going to Lamas' classes-

    [06:48] Maya: Oh.

    [06:48] John: ... and Tracy would come pick me up at the partio, literally drive up on the curb and say, "Come on, it's time for you to get in the car." And we'd go to, we'd go to Lamas' classes. And, and by that point, I'd had, I don't know, three or four beers or maybe more.

    And we would get to Lamas' class and the first thing that they would do is, sort of, want everyone to do these deep breathing exercises. And Tracy would be wide awake, and I was apparently falling asleep in the Lamas' class. So, I distinguished myself with some...

    [07:17] Maya: What grade did you get in that class?

    [07:18] John: I didn't do very well, I didn't do very well, didn't do very well.

    [07:21] Maya: And so, so, after Rice, you started your own company.

    [07:25] John: About later, but there were a series of, sort of, entrepreneurial steps in the way.

    [07:31] Maya: Well, tell me about those steps.

    [07:32] John: Immediately out of business school, I went to work for a, a private family here in Houston that was trying to buy Continental Airlines out of bankruptcy. And...

    [07:42] Tracy: And it wasn't United.

    [07:43] John: Well, it turned into United later, but it was Continental still at the time. And they ended up not being able to do the deal themselves, but they did it with a partner. That led to another airline acquisition that they did called America West. And then they also backed a, a purchase of a spare parts inventory from the Eastern Air Lines bankruptcy.

    So, I spent a couple of years in airline aerospace-related deals, and then that same group of folks decided to back an oil field service company, and I had the opportunity to go work in that. And so, that was a business that we grew and built, and, and, and that was probably the most entrepreneurial opportunity I had in an operating company. So, that was good.

    [08:27] Maya: That's good. And so, you had actually, Tracy, been... you just served as the president of the Alumni Board Association. You've, you've been a part of, of the Alumni Board for quite some time. So, tell me why you chose to continue to give back to Rice. Like, what, what is it that, that makes you want to still remain such an integral part of this university?

    [08:49] Tracy: I just mentioned this in the other room. I, I see the benefits of my MBA in everything that I do. Every single day, I see it. I see it at work, I see it at home, I see it with our daughters who are in their early careers, you know. You know, I feel like I have benefited immensely from my MBA.

    And, you know, I'm grateful. I really want to give back because of it. And also, I want to just continue to be a part of it just because it played such a big role in my life. And it's an exciting place to be right now. There's lots of great things going on. I'm, I'm teaching an ILE. I've taught it for two years now.

    [09:37] Maya: Explain what an ILE.

    [09:39] Tracy: An ILE is an intensive learning experience, and it is a intensive three-day course. That is three quarters of a credit. And I teach the courses called Principles of Survey Design. I've been a researcher ever since I graduated. That was a pivot for me after business school. When Barb asked me to teach this class, I thought, "I don't have three days’ worth of material. I think it's 18 hours’ worth of material."

    But when I sat down and I thought, "You know, what would I share with people on this topic?" realized I had a lot to say on it. And so, it's very much an experiential. You know, the first day's a little bit of lecturing, but this 10-hour Saturday is just roll up your sleeves and do the work. And it's so much fun and so rewarding just to see people connecting those dots and the light bulbs going off.

    And I, I put them in teams, and I give them an opportunity to choose a project. And a lot of them are working on something for their new enterprise class or working on something outside of school for their companies, if they're professionals or EMBAs, or for nonprofits that they're working on. And so, to really see that all come together for them is just so rewarding.

    [10:53] Maya: I was telling my own daughter about survey design and how that works, and she was fascinated. So, I don't know. I mean, maybe in a couple years, you think she might be in that ILE class. So, so, how many daughters do you have?

    [11:05] Tracy: Two.

    [11:05] John: Two daughters.

    [11:06] Maya: As do I. Girls are the best.

    [11:04] Tracy: Yes.

    [11:08] Maya: So, I'm just going to say that. And so, how old are they?

    [11:10] Tracy: They are 29 and 26.

    [11:12] Maya: And how long have you been married?

    [11:13] John: 37 years.

    [11:14] Tracy: 30 something years.

    [11:16] Maya: Oh, trick question.

    [11:17] Tracy: I know.

    [11:17] John: I'm sure it's seven.

    [11:17] Tracy: I never know the number. He always knows the number.

    [11:19] Maya: And did your, did your girls go to Rice?

    [11:21] Tracy: Our girls? No, neither one went to Rice. But our older one, our older one has an MBA from Colorado, Leeds, in Boulder. And Sharon Matusik, who was my strategy professor, was the dean. She's now gone on to Michigan, but was the dean when our daughter was there, which is, kind of, fun.

    [11:43] Maya: That's amazing. Yeah, that's, that's a, that's a great story. So, I want you to also tell me the story, tell me the story of how she got into Rice Business, because this is a great story.

    [11:52] John: We were moving back from Wichita, Kansas, and the decision to move back was, sort of, late, sort of, in May and June of the, of the academic year. And one of the things was what was she going to do? She had always been in sales and trading, and she believed those skills weren't transferable. And, and so, the idea of maybe going to business school came up.

    And I had worked with Bob Westbrook, who's the assistant dean when I was here, on a couple of committees, and I had been very fond of him. And we called him and said, "You know, we're going to be in Houston next week." And this was literally, like, in late May. All the deadlines had passed. Everyone had been accepted and, and decided they were coming or not. And we took Bob to lunch. And we were very, very upfront with... you know, just, "What do you suggest?" And his comment...

    [12:46] Maya: Were there drinks at lunch?

    [12:47] John: No, no. No drinks. It was Chinese restaurant in, in Rice Village.

    [12:49] Maya: Yes.

    [12:51] John: And, and, you know, the point was, he was like, "Why would you go to business school? What would you get out of business school? Would business school be a pivot for you to other things?" And Bob, who is a marketing professor and a market research guy, you know, he, he basically said at the end of lunch, "Look, I think you'd be a great addition to the class. I have the ability to, kind of, make some things happen, but you actually really do have to take the GMATs." And so, she, she was able to take the GMATs online and she sent him his score. And I think, you know, he, he literally called her back the next day to say, "Okay, we got a place for you."

    [13:27] Maya: Well, and what a great decision it was since you were just awarded the Volunteer of the Year award. So, tell me about, about how rewarding that must feel for you to, to get an award like that for Rice.

    [13:39] Tracy: I, I mean, I can't even really put it into words. When I got the letter, I got the letter FedExed from the business school and I thought, "Oh, my gosh, what did I do wrong?" I mean, this is serious, right? There's e-mail, there's a phone call. And the letter said that I was receiving this award.

    And luckily, it said why, because my first reaction was, "Why?" Because I don't think of what I do with Rice Business as volunteering. I mean, I do it because I, I feel strongly about Rice Business and, you know, personally, I get so much out of it, and I, I want to give back to the school because it's given me so much.

    [14:25] Maya: Well, those are the best kind of volunteers, the ones that don't think about what they're doing to, to actually give back because it's something that's just... you know, they just do it, right? And they don't think about, you know, being a volunteer position. It's a, it's a, it's a work of, of love and devotion and, and passion. So, and congratulations to you.

    [14:42] Tracy: Thank you very much. Yeah, thank you.

    [14:44] Maya: And thank you for being here today.

    [14:47] John: [crosstalk 14:48].

    [14:47] Tracy: I really, really enjoyed just getting a snippet of, of your lives. And, and I look forward to, maybe we can have you back on, on an Owl Have You Know Podcast and we can dive a little bit deeper into, into your life.

    [14:59] John: Do we have one more minute? Because I have a great story.

    [15:01] Maya: Absolutely. Yes.

    [15:03] John: So, we arrived here at 12:15 today. And at 12:17, my phone rang, and it was a dear friend, David Okere. He was just leaving Rice campus with his daughter, her fiancé, a young man, and they had just driven off of the Rice campus and he was calling me to say, "My future son-in-law has been accepted to Rice Business School and Duke Business School. Would you tell him why he should come to Rice?"

    So, I walked around out on the courtyard and basically made the case that, "You know, you need to come to Rice. And, you know, here's what my wife and I are doing, here's what my wife's receiving an award today. You know, we really, really like this place." And at the end of it, we got off the phone. I said, "You know, wish you all the best. Call me if you need anything more." I get off the phone and I text back to my friend, and I said, "Okay. Did I say everything you wanted me to say?" And he said, "Yes, you did, and he's already decided he is coming to Rice."

    [16:00] Tracy: Oh, that's awesome.

    [16:01] John: So-

    [16:02] Maya: That's what...

    [16:02] Tracy: That's great.

    [16:03] John: I don't even know the guy's name.

    [16:04] Maya: I was going to say the same thing. That was my question, is what's his nickname.

    [16:06] John: I have no, I have no idea, I have no idea. I know his future father-in-law. That's all.

    [16:05] Maya: Well, he made one of the best decisions of his life-

    [16:11] John: Absolutely.

    [16:11] Maya: ... thanks to, to both of you.

    [16:12] John: Absolutely.

    [16:13] Maya: So, that's a great story. I love it, I love it.

    [16:15] John: So, always hustling. That's the word. Always hustling.

    [16:19] Maya: Well, I mean, if you're, if you're going to be at Rice, you know, and you're going to, you're going to change the world, that's-

    [16:24] John: Got to do it.

    [16:24] Maya: ... the, the first step.

    [16:25] John: Absolutely.

    [16:25] Maya: Always hustling.

    [16:26] John: Always hustling.

    [16:26] Maya: Words to live by.

    [16:27] John: Thank you.

    [16:28] Maya: Thank you so much.

    [16:29] Tracy: Thank you so much for having us.

    [16:30] Maya: Thank you for being here.

    [16:30] Outro: Thanks for listening. This has been Owl Have You Know, a production of Rice Business. You can find more information about our guests, hosts, and announcements on our website, Please subscribe and leave a rating wherever you find your favorite podcasts. We'd love to hear what you think. The hosts of Owl Have You Know are myself, Maya Pomroy, and Scott Gale.

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