Follow the Leader

BY Sandra Chambers

Business professionals in the Wilmington area are helping prepare future and current business leaders through hundreds of hours of volunteer one-on-one mentoring and educational programs. 

Dean Larry Clark calls their efforts the “crown jewel” of the Cameron Business School at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

“It’s the best thing UNCW has to offer ” former student Sean Ward agrees “and it’s an amazing school.” 

 The Cameron Executive Network (CEN) became a reality in 2002 when Dick Verrone and Skip Jones along with other UNCW faculty formed a committee to figure out how to tap into the talents of local business executives.

Executive Nick Rhodes a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel  provides leadership and guidance to UNCW students through the Cameron Executive Network. Students–Selika Newton Becky Shober Brad Jones Adrienne Strain Michelle Phan Britni Werling Jeff Manning Jonathon Morris.

What has evolved in the ensuing four years is “a program that is very unique for a regional business school ” says Verrone a Wrightsville Beach resident and co-director of CEN as well as full-time personal finance instructor at UNCW.  “I don’t know of another school in North Carolina that has the extent and scope of the program we have here.”
 Mentoring is the heart and soul of CEN insists Jones a retired New York City lawyer who teaches business law and negotiation skills at the university and serves as co-director with Verrone.

“The idea is if you have a business executive who has lots of experience he or she can be invaluable to a business student helping them transfer from school to the workplace.”
Last year about 100 local business executives participated in the program working one-on-one with 170 juniors and seniors. Students who are selected for the program meet potential mentors at a semi-annual mixer.

After that “we match the students with executives based on student preferences ” Jones says. “An executive normally takes one to three students at a time.”

The mentoring takes many forms and is unique to each relationship. It can vary from weekly lunch conversations to telephone and e-mail exchanges invitations to visit companies and sit in on meetings introductions to people in the student’s field of interest help with résumés and career searches. Most of all it is characterized by plenty of encouragement along the way.

Becky O’Daniell owner of Atlantic Quest Corp. which manages the Oceanic Bluewater Henry’s and Eddie Romanelli’s became a mentor for the first time last year.

“I would have killed to have something like this when I was in college ” the former graduate of the UNCW business school says. “Any student who doesn’t get involved doesn’t know what they’re missing.”

Bruce Gibson says the most satisfying aspect of mentoring is watching students mature. “It’s great watching them gain confidence to go out and find a position in the working world and be successful at it ” says Gibson who retired after 33 years in the sales division of Air Products and Chemicals Inc. and is one of the original 17 business leaders  who started with the program in 2002. “And some of my students like Benjamin Meggs who started Blue Water Yacht Brokerage at Wrightsville Beach have even started their own businesses.”

Jeff Manning a finance and entrepreneurship major in the Cameron Business School says the mentoring experience was the most rewarding program in which he has ever participated.

“My mentor Steve Michael former vice president and CEO of Oakwood Homes met with me on almost a weekly basis ” Manning says. “He took me out to lunch met with me in his Marine Max office in Wrightsville Beach … and every time I wanted to ask him a question or expressed an interest in something he found a way to go beyond my expectations in his response.”

In addition Manning says he learned by watching. “Throughout my relationship with Steve he taught me how to carry myself like a professional how to go after what I want in life and how to network.”

But Manning emphasizes that the most valuable lesson he learned from his mentor was the importance of giving back. “I was blown away by the time he invested in me with nothing but gratitude expected in return ” Manning says. “If I am ever fortunate enough to be successful I’ve been inspired by Steve Michael to give back.”

From Board Room to Bored Stiff (and back)

In 2001 when Andy O’Flahety retired after a 32-year career in financial services and moved from New York to Wilmington he says his life braked from 100 mph to just two or three. He tried the typical activities of retired folks but he just got bored. Now he chairs the Wilmington chapter of SCORE — a volunteer organization that bills itself as counselors to America’s small business.

The Wilmington chapter of SCORE which has been around for 25 years is one of 389 chapters located across the United States. Founded in 1964 SCORE is a resource partner with the Small Business Administration. While SCORE used to be an acronym for “Service Corps of Retired Executives Association ” it now embraces both working and retired executives and business owners.

Since its beginning more than 300 000 entrepreneurs nationwide have donated their time and expertise as volunteer counselors speakers and workshop providers.

At the Wilmington office of SCORE 4010 Oleander Drive counselors volunteer for half-days Monday through Friday. “People call seeking advice about anything and everything related to owning and operating a business ” says Mort Flohr a counselor who joined forces with SCORE in California 11 years ago. “That includes business plans marketing organizing a business bookkeeping and legal aspects of [owning a business].”

Flohr who was in the computer field for several years then communications and marketing has been with the Wilmington chapter for three years.

“Most counselors volunteer for one reason ” he says. “It’s the ability to give something back for what they have already received.”

Pat Geyer a volunteer with SCORE for the past 15 years was in fashion marketing in New Jersey before she retired to Wilmington and began working with the organization.
  “Many women in business don’t know about the services SCORE offers ” Geyer says. “Sometimes women will come in with their husbands but not always on their own.”

Frances Rowe is one of the exceptions. Almost two years ago before opening DWI Assessment & Counseling Services LLC — a Wilmington-based alcohol and drug assessment education and outpatient treatment program Rowe consulted SCORE. 

 “It’s great to have a group of people who have run different businesses sit down and help you outline what you want to do where you want to go with the business and make sure it’s going to pay for itself ”  Rowe stresses. “It’s scary to go out on your own to take that leap of faith. But when you have people who help you realize that your leap of faith is not only courageous but the right thing to do it’s great.”

“About three-fourths of the people who come for counseling want to start a business ” says O’Flahety. “So we try to give them the process — the steps on how to go about getting business licenses incorporating and so on. There are certain steps they have to follow whether they’re going to be a chiropractor or run a Dairy Queen.”
 O’Flahety says they also try to make sure that people are aware of just what they are getting into — that they understand the difficulties they will encounter not just in starting a business but also in running it.

In addition to mentoring the Wilmington SCORE chapter also sponsors seminars on business topics of interest to local entrepreneurs. Six seminars are planned for 2006 including one on Oct. 28 titled “Great Beginnings ” which surveys the steps necessary for new business formations.

The local SCORE chapter also offers a wide variety of publications on topics that range from how to write a business plan to how to set up a home office. In addition the national organization’s Website ( provides information on more than 600 business topics.

Many Wilmington-area businesses have benefited from SCORE’s multi-faceted program. They include a downtown hair salon a furniture and home store an automotive repair facility and a drug counseling center.

Arnie Cullipher owner and CEO of Blue Hand Home (furniture home furnishings interior design and gifts) in the Forum Shopping Center at Landfall received advice from mentor John Cowan when he developed his business plan back in 1999. 

Arnie Cullipher and John Cowan
Arnie Cullipher (left) owner of Blue Hand Home and John Cowan SCORE counselor have developed a friendship since their first meeting in 1999. Photo by Joshua Curry.

“I was really impressed with SCORE. It was a good experience and they were a huge help and really effective ” Cullipher stresses. “John went out of his way to help and I have an ongoing relationship with him.”

Cullipher says Cowen was also instrumental in helping him win the Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Excellence Award in 2003.

“Our counselors provide quite a valuable service to the community — one which I feel is a very under-utilized asset ” O’Flahety stresses. “We offer a lot of real-world business experience and we’re hoping to make people more aware of our organization and its potential use to the community.”

Top Guns

In addition to the Cameron Executive Network mentoring program the CEN Consulting Group comprised of 15 to 20 executives provides consulting services to all students in the Cameron School of Business. The Résumé Assistance Program (R.A.P.) helps students with résumé writing interviewing networking skills and career counseling. 

The consulting group also provides a pool of speakers for professors to draw on for their classes. In addition the group teaches a one-credit course Intro to Business which is open to any UNCW student.

“Not many students in business schools have this kind of opportunity ” says Dick Verrone a Wrightsville Beach resident and co-director of CEN as well as full-time of personal finance instructor at UNCW. “We’re very fortunate to have the caliber of executives — the who’s who of Fortune 500 companies — right at our back door.” 

Get Into It

If you would like to become a counselor with the Cameron Executive Network or with SCORE please contact one of the following:

Cameron Executive Network (CEN)
Skip Jones   910 962-7137
Dick Verrone    910 962-7463

Andy O’Flahety  910 452-5395