Pfeiffer Business Symposium explored importance of failure

Published 9:21 am Tuesday, March 1, 2022

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Students at Pfeiffer University have learned how to fail up.

The Department of Business’ Spring Symposium 6.0 was held Feb. 21-22 on Pfeiffer’s Misenheimer campus, and featured several Pfeiffer alumni and friends sharing their stories of turning setbacks into success.

Dr. Sandra Holley, an associate professor of accounting at Pfeiffer, organized the symposium. She called “Fail Up” an appropriate theme for the event “because of all that’s happened over the last couple of years, with the COVID-19 pandemic and everything.”

The symposium also included an informational session for anyone interested in pursuing a master’s degree at Pfeiffer, led by Rachel Bryant, the director of graduate enrollment operations at Pfeiffer, and Camden Hartsell, an admissions officer at Pfeiffer and 2021 graduate of the university’s business management and leadership program.

The symposium speakers included:

Dana Jefferies ’01 MBA

Jefferies, a former Marine, holds a bachelor’s degree in business from Limestone University and an MBA from Pfeiffer. He attended both schools while working full-time, an experience he says was tough but very rewarding because he could apply principles he learned in the classroom to his work each day.

He is now the practice leader at The Innoviant Consulting Group, which offers “Customized HR solutions for the People Powered Enterprise.” He described his principal duties as “leading the client delivery activities associated with our enterprise Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) practice,” which “helps companies innovate faster and drive better business outcomes via increased employee engagement and participation.” The work of DEI entails ensuring that all of a company’s employees have a strong sense of belonging, are fully supported and are encouraged to thrive and grow, both personally and professionally.

In his symposium talk, Jefferies reflected on innovations that resulted from people taking on assignments in which they “failed” to accomplish their original objectives. Such innovations include the Slinky toy and the pacemaker.

He also talked about steps that can and should be taken to create and maintain these types of innovations. He espoused a “fail up philosophy” with three maxims: 1) Stop doing so much and start thinking and imagining more; 2) Take corrective, rather than punitive, action when failures occur; and 3) Include diverse team members and their perspectives when solving business problems.

Christine Rodocker ’93

Rodocker, who holds a B.A. degree in English literature from Pfeiffer, is vice president, distribution and consumer marketing at the INSP television network and at INSP Films, which is part of Imagicomm Entertainment.

In distribution marketing, she works in support of two different sales teams. One team aims to distribute INSP across all platforms in the United States: cable, satellite and streaming; develops and executes marketing campaigns and local events; and creates sales materials. The other team, called Off Network Distribution, focuses on selling INSP content to other networks and streaming services, inclusive of deals to distribute DVDs to companies such as Walmart, Amazon, Target and others.

In consumer marketing, Rodocker employs various marketing and advertising strategies to bring new viewers to the network and to make sure existing viewers are watching more INSP, all with the aim of driving ratings. Also, once a movie has been sold to a distributor, Rodocker and her consumer marketing colleagues work to develop and execute campaigns to drive sales of that title.

Rodocker, who began working at INSP in 2013, assumed her current position there three years later. She’s particularly proud of transforming INSP from a Top 20 Primetime Rated Network in 2020 to a Top 10 network in 2021, especially when most networks are losing viewership.

During her symposium talk, she talked about various career failures during her career and what she learned from them. She also illuminated how she prevented “near misses” from becoming failures.

Howard Kies ’76

Kies holds a B.A. degree in accounting from Pfeiffer. He was profiled last April in Forever Falcons, a bimonthly e-newsletter published by the university. He is the recently retired managing partner for Richmond, Virginia-based Cherry Bekaert LLC, one of the largest accounting firms in the country.

Kies was promoted several times at Cherry Bekaert, his sole full-time employer, morphing from a staff accountant into a leader with a knack for orchestrating strategic acquisitions. During his 27 years as managing partner, Cherry Bekaert expanded into all the major metro markets in the Southeast, and its revenues grew from less than $20 million to more than $200 million.

Kies’ symposium talk focused on how you learn and grow from failure and mistakes for greater success. He discussed his personal journey and how his experiences influenced his leadership style in growing Cherry Bekaert into one of the largest accounting and consulting firms in the country. He explored different types of failures, how individuals and organizations can learn and benefit from failure and how individuals and organizations can reduce the risk of failure for greater success.

Andrea Nachtman Blair ’92

Blair, a CPA, holds a B.S. degree in accounting from Pfeiffer, and she holds a master’s in accounting from the University of North Florida. She’s the executive vice president of accounting and financial reporting for Hueman People Solutions, LLC, which “recruits, hires and manages quality individuals for quality positions.”

At Hueman, Blair is responsible for the monthly and annual reporting of the company’s financials and for its quarterly and annual budgets. She also oversees annual financial audits, corporate risk management and the 401k plan. Over the years, she has analyzed Hueman’s business divisions in many ways. enabling the company to determine how efficient and profitable each division is and helping the company manage its operations better. Resulting initiatives have spurred increased bill rates, reduced spending, a change in the company’s sales focus and greater profitability.

During her symposium talk, Blair focused on ways to have more successes than failures during the course of a career, namely by following 10 lessons for life outlined in Admiral William McRaven’s “Make Your Bed” videos.

Each such lesson starts with the words “If you want to change the world.” Examples: “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed”; “If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks”; and “If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.”

Chris Bennett ’02

Bennett holds a bachelor of business administration degree from Pfeiffer. He’s the founding owner and CEO of Elite Care Services, a human services agency assisting aging adults with mental, physical and developmental disabilities.

He described his principal duties as keeping everyone on his staff excited and motivated about enriching the lives of Elite Care Services’ members. He expressed pride in having operated a business for 20 years. He also called himself a happy father of two beautiful kids and husband of his best friend.

He devoted his symposium talk to ways you can rebrand or recreate yourself when things seem to be going the wrong way in your life.

James Harroun

Harroun is the global software lead at SAS, which offers analytics software and solutions. He has presented on several occasions to computing student groups and analytics classes at Pfeiffer, and he has worked closely with several faculty on developing analytics curricula that incorporate the latest data science technologies from SAS. (Pfeiffer now offers a professional certificate in “Joint SAS/Big Data Management.”) He is also a member of the Pfeiffer Business Advisory Board.

At SAS, Harroun is responsible for guiding the development and deployment of globally-hosted SAS software used in higher education teaching and research. This includes two platforms that provide on-demand access to SAS’s most powerful analytical tools. He connects customer requirements, internal development teams and administration teams to improve the customer experience and continually improve its software offerings. He is most proud of his company’s expansion of its most recent cloud offering, SAS Viya for Learners, which has been scaled up to accommodate an even greater number of global users.

Harroun says that data contains all the information we need to know to investigate and find answers from the past that can guide us on determining future decisions. Often, though, the analytic evidence within these data is diffuse and difficult to identify under normal circumstances. During his symposium talk, Harroun stressed that through data, you don’t always confidently come to an answer right away; you must often iterate and learn through failure to achieve a continually improving answer.

David Beaver ’05

As president of Uwharrie Bank and chief risk officer of Uwharrie Capital Corp, Beaver is responsible for the overall management of the bank, for internal and external reporting and for immediate and long-range strategic planning at the Albemarle-based banking institution. Promoted six times in his 17-year tenure, he has made significant contributions in asset/liability management, managing the bank’s investment portfolio, streamlining operational efficiencies, system/process automation and enterprise risk management.

In 2014, Beaver graduated from East Carolina University with a master’s degree in business administration. He is a resident of Stanly County and a 2005 graduate of Pfeiffer University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting, while playing on the tennis team and earning accolades as a NCAA Division II All American Scholar Athlete.

Beaver is an active member of his church, where he serves as a member of the administrative council and chairperson of the finance committee.  Additionally, he serves his community through his work with Habitat for Humanity, United Way, Gray Stone Day School board member, and his alma mater, Pfeiffer University.

Beaver said he’s honored to work for a company that, in a global pandemic, supported communities by providing funding through the Small Business Administration to small businesses in the form of Paycheck Protection Program loans. Uwharrie Bank was able to save more than 18,000 paychecks of businesses in the region and distributed nearly $129 million in government funds.

During his symposium talk, Beaver told the story of how the bank started, and he recounted how it came to make a positive impact on the communities it served. This meant overcoming some difficult setbacks: In the early 1980s, for example, textile industries were relocating and large banks were closing. Many individuals and businesses were skeptical of a local bank, and, therefore, would not give their support. Uwharrie Bank remained strong despite lots of skepticism, mergers and acquisitions, economic cycles and the crisis of 2012.

T. David “TD” Hill ’85

TD Hill holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration/financial administration/economics from Pfeiffer. He’ll receive a master of science in financial fraud investigations (MSFFI) from Pfeiffer this summer. In December 2021, he became the head of audit at Tanger Outlets, having left Hanesbrands Inc., where he worked for 13 years. His title at Hanesbrands Inc. was global senior audit manager.

Hill credits the MSFFI program with giving him the kind of resume “facelift” that helped him fulfill his “lifelong goal” of becoming a head of audit. At Tanger Outlets, he’s responsible for all internal and external audit initiatives, investigations of ethics violations and for risk assessments. He’s already reworded the company’s whistleblower policy to include more broad-based language, including “suspected” violations of the company’s Code of Business Conduct and Ethics.

At Hanesbrands Inc., Hill’s many accomplishments included enhancing the operating performance of a key distribution center in California. And while performing data analytics, he caught an associate who had embezzled more than $1 million from the company over a 10-year period.

During his symposium talk, Hill touched on many personal qualities that have enabled him to “fail up.” One has been the flexibility to adapt (he wasn’t accepted to N.C. State University, where he’d wanted to study agriculture, so he made the most of his backup plan: attending Pfeiffer, which he still calls “home.”). Another has been determination: Hill has reached the pinnacle of the accounting profession, but he got a D in a Principles of Accounting course taught by the late Mary Russell, who retired in 1996 as Professor Emerita of Accounting after nearly 30 years of service. TD would take the CPA exam 10 times before he passed all the required parts of it.

In Holley’s eyes, the stories of the symposium speakers this year reinforce what she stresses regularly with her students.

“You often have to take your lumps and pay your dues to get where you want to get,” she said. “You have to keep trying and trying, and you have to figure out a way to get up when you fall down. I think that sometimes, students need to hear that message from somebody other than faculty — which is why the symposium was so important.”

Ken Keuffel is Pfeiffer’s assistant director of communications. He welcomes story ideas from Pfeiffer’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. The form for submitting story ideas is at​