University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Episode 37: Mario Ramirez

Mario Ramirez is the President of MRamirez Group, LLC, a consulting firm based out of the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Mario is an alumnus of the Walton College and has been a member of the Dean's Executive Advisory Board for nine years. In addition to this, Mario also serves as the Managing Director of Avalon Net Worth and a Strategic Advisor at NewRoad Capital Partners. Mario has a passion for bringing people together, and has a unique background in financial markets, government relations, the Hispanic market, and higher education.



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Episode Transcript

0:01 Matt Waller: Hi. I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to Be EPIC, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality, and what those values mean in business education and your life today.

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00:25 Matt Waller: Today, I talked to my friend and a member of my advisory board, Mario Ramirez, about EPIC. Mario is President of MRamirez Group, LLC. He's also an investment banker with Avalon Net Worth, a boutique investment bank in New York City, and strategic advisor for NewRoad Capital Partners in Northwest Arkansas. Before forging out on his own, he was an executive with TIAA for 21 years. We are talking today about collegiality. Be sure to listen for his advice about building genuine relationships, not just networking. Mario, you've been... You're on my advisory board, the dean's executive advisory board, thank you for serving on that.

01:15 Mario Ramirez: It's my pleasure.

01:17 Matt Waller: You have been a very successful businessman within the financial industry, at TIAA. And now you are an entrepreneur, you have your own businesses, and you're involved in investments. You're doing a lot of different things, but I've noticed... As you know, the tagline of the Walton College is "Be EPIC," and that's our tagline. It really represents our vision of being thought leaders and catalysts for serving and transforming lives of students and others. But the EPIC part, excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality, it's kind of amazing that we picked those values before we knew what the word "epic" was, because back then, when we did that originally, epic simply meant like a long poem or a heroic story of some sort. And now it means great. But those components... I think you really exemplify our call to action which is "Be EPIC."

02:37 Mario Ramirez: There are four critical aspects, I think, of business, and you capture them in that one acronym, EPIC. Excellence, and we should all... Whatever we do, we should do our best at. And that's such a simple principle to convey to students. Professionalism, to me, that's something that is so critical because it creates consistency. And if you know you have to be a certain way, present a certain way, come across a certain way, impress in a certain way, that's consistency. And from that, your reputation is created. Innovation, there's... I certainly had a time in my career where there was a major pivot, and I had to get creative quickly, and I think I did that in transitioning from the corporate world into an entrepreneurial world. Innovation is what sets you apart and what can create a sustainable business model, I think.

04:03 Mario Ramirez: And collegiality, that is, to me, probably the biggest, probably the foundation. It starts from... Well, when I created MRamirez Group, I picked those words very carefully. Obviously, my name, but that's because people knew me and that was going back to the reputation, there was a certain reputation there. And the group part of it, well, it's just me. Pretty much, it's just me. However, the group extends into different business lines, into different partnerships, professionals that I work with, that are true partners, that are a part of my group and I'm part of their group, and that goes back to middle school. Even right now, we're sending in Lipscomb Insurance and it's an insurance firm in Dallas.

05:13 Mario Ramirez: I am with Lipscomb Insurance. I'm a licensed agent, and so any insurance work that I do, I do through Lipscomb Insurance. Well, Lipscomb Insurance, one of the founders, Charles Lipscomb, he and I went to school together in middle school, and so we kept that relationship up all these years. But I work with others as well through college. Clete Brewer in NewRoad Capital, I work with Clete. He's a fraternity brother, so we've known each other a long time. And there are so many relationships like that that go way back many, many years. And so that's the collegiality of it.

05:54 Matt Waller: Of all the people I know, if someone were to say, "Who is the most networked person you know," you come to mind. And one thing I've noticed about you, when I've met with you over the past four years, it's always obvious you really care about the other person you're talking to. Have you always been that way, or is that something you cultivated?

06:21 Mario Ramirez: I've always... Relationships are the foundation to a network. I kinda don't like the word "network." Networking, maybe that's more... Because when I think of networking, I think of the kind of an event where you come with just a bunch of cards and you give out as many as you can. That kind of networking isn't very effective. But building relationships is different and critical to any career. I do so very genuinely. I genuinely wanna learn more about who they are and what they do, but I really want them to know me. And in business, if you can win trust, establish relationship, establish trust, then you can enter into business.

07:16 Mario Ramirez: Several years ago, I was in LaGuardia Airport, and I see people taking pictures with somebody. I can't tell who it is, his back is to me. And then I see him, and he's Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida. And I thought, "I need to meet him. I'm gonna meet him." But I took just a minute to Google and do just a quick research on him, find out what is he doing now since he's been governor, so that we actually have something to talk about. And so after that minute or so studying on him, I went up to him and I introduced myself. And I said, "Governor Bush, I'm a big fan of your family's. Thank you for your service, your family's service. You've been a huge advocate for education. Are you still working in education right now?" He said, "Yes. As a matter of fact, I am very involved. And what do you do?" "I work with educators at TIAA." Right away, we had an immediate connection. He immediately invited me to an event with him and Tony Blair, and we started our friendship. And we have been friends for many years. That opened a lot of doors. I got to know a lot of people that way, that I wouldn't otherwise have not have met. And now, I do a lot of work with the Bush family, and with people that he's introduced me to, and that they've introduced me to. Specifically, I work with Jeb's family.

08:58 Matt Waller: You were talking about relationships, relationship building and trust building. Building trust is not easy. Clearly, you've done a lot of that when you... How long were you at TIAA?

09:13 Mario Ramirez: Twenty-one years.

09:14 Matt Waller: Twenty-one years. So, over 21 years, you met a lot of people that you were doing business with.

09:21 Mario Ramirez: Right, and a lot of people with influence, which is critical. So, over 21 years, I was in different roles. I mentioned the role of executive planning, and there, you're talking to leaders, you're meeting with leaders. And then our CEO, Roger Ferguson, said, "I like what you're doing, now I want you to do that for the whole company. Not just for wealth management, I want you to lead executive relations for the whole company." So, my job became building relationships with key leaders around the country for the company overall, and then connecting our CEO and other members of the cabinet with those relationships.

10:15 Matt Waller: Now, when you build lots of relationships like this, relationships take maintenance. And it's easy to forget about maintaining relationships with people. Right?

10:27 Mario Ramirez: Right.

10:29 Matt Waller: How did you remember to do that?

10:32 Mario Ramirez: Well, you know what, I kind of keep a list of people geographically where they are. If you're going to San Francisco or if you're going to South Florida, or wherever you may be going, you wanna reach out to those that are there and keep them engaged or keep them caught up. That definitely helps both you and them to remember you, staying in touch. And really the biggest thing is how deep is that relationship, and how genuine is it. Because if it is genuine, and it is, then that relationship will last longer than if it's not.

11:21 Matt Waller: In addition to being an executive at TIAA for 21 years, you were also a strategic advisor to a very successful private equity firm, NewRoad Capital Partners, which was founded by Clete Brewer, who is now a managing partner. Clete is also an alumnus of the Walton College. And the current president and CEO of NewRoad Ventures is Jeremy Wilson, another alumnus of our college. And I know they've hired a number of people, including some recent graduates, and they've got interns there as well. But how did you meet Clete? What's the story behind that?

12:17 Mario Ramirez: Sure. Clete and I are actually fraternity brothers, Sigma Nu, so we met during college. And he graduated, I guess, two years before me, but we got to know each other then and we stayed connected after graduation. And then when... And I kind of followed his career, very successful career. Then when I left TIAA, and went out on my own essentially, I got together with Clete and helped him with some investor relations, as I'm doing now, investor relations throughout Texas, and sourcing deals for NewRoad Capital. NewRoad Capital is a fantastic firm, doing very well, and they have a good reputation and a good name. And so some of the relationships that I have, you go back to EPIC, the excellence part of it. One of the key things to remember in any relationship, if it does turn into a business relationship, you wanna make sure that you're bringing them excellence. And when there is an opportunity, some kind of opportunity, you better make sure that that opportunity is the one that you would call and categorize as excellence, and of value to that individual or to that organization. In that way, you maintain that trust, you build on that trust, and you continue to be a trusted partner. And so some of the introductions that I've made, I've made for Clete, were... And for NewRoad are easily done because they're such a successful and well thought of firm.

14:25 Matt Waller: Mario, this has been excellent. And I wanna thank you again for taking the time to meet with me and do this podcast, but also for serving on my advisory board. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

14:36 Mario Ramirez: My pleasure.

14:39 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of the Be EPIC podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching BeEpicPodcast, one word. That's BeEpicPodcast. And now, be EPIC.

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