When they started their own business, Jerry Ritter and Mark Scott were engineers. Today, they say there is still an “e” in their job titles, but it stands for entrepreneur.
From left: Dr. Carmen Calabrese, Director of Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship, Jerry Ritter, owner, Chancellor Allen C. Meadors and Mark Scott, owner.
Twenty years ago, the pair left corporate jobs and forged a company called Thermal Metal Treating, Inc., located in Aberdeen, N.C. With more than 30 employees today, Ritter and Scott have a successful business in metallurgical coatings and purchased a second business, Longleaf Collection, a high-end door hardware operation.
A new business required new talents.
“We were engineers with a reputation for problem solving,” Scott said. “We had to rebuild this business, and we didn’t know much about marketing or distribution.”
That’s when The University of North Carolina at Pembroke stepped into the picture. Dr. Carmen Calabrese, then director of the Master of Business Administration (MBA) program, put his “Strategic Marketing” class on the case for a five-week project.
“It was an intense five weeks,” Ritter said. “We didn’t have much time to get our learning curve up and running.”
The result was an 80-page report that focused on product branding, marketing and customer service.
“We’ve been implementing it ever since,” Scott said. “I cannot underestimate how fortuitous this relationship has been.”
“Carmen became so valuable to us in marketing our product,” Ritter said.
Dr. Calabrese has forged similar relationships with his MBA classes and other start-up businesses. When he moved to UNCP’s Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship, he continued the program.
“They were referred to us by Alan Duncan, director of the Small Business Program at Sandhills Community College,” said Dr. Calabrese.
“This is a very nice business with an elegant product,” Dr. Calabrese said. “The class was very inspired by this project and the benefits for them to be able to work in a real world environment were immense.
“This project was perfect for a class in strategic marketing,” he said.
MBA candidate Katherine McGinnis was part of the class.
“This was a great, great class and a great experience for me to be able to learn how different companies work,” McGinnis said. With a Master of Library Science degree and 14 years with Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Lumberton, McGinnis is director of the Community Health Education and Information Resource centers.
“Because I am a manager, the MBA program has really benefitted me,” she said. “Working with Longleaf, which is a unique business, was a great experience in learning how different companies operate.”
Scott and Ritter said they enjoyed working with the MBA students.
“It was a lot of fun to be in the class,” Scott said. “When they came back with this plan, we were very excited.”
Longleaf Collection owners will appear at an Entrepreneurship Summit that the Thomas Center is organizing at Sandhills Community College on April 7.
The company contributed $1,000 to the University and the Thomas Center.