September 6, 2016: In this edition
McNair offers career advice to enterprising Rice students, young professionals
Reflecting on his decades of business experience, Houston billionaire and philanthropist Robert C. McNair offered Rice University students and young professionals a key piece of advice: Don’t worry about your salary.
“That’s not the most important thing,” the Houston Texans owner said last week during an event hosted by the Baker Institute’s McNair Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “The most important thing is putting yourself in position where you can add the most value, and when you add the most value, the compensation will come to you.
“By learning how to add that value, you’re creating something that’s in great demand.”
After an introduction by Baker Institute director Ambassador Edward Djerejian, McNair participated in a moderated conversation with McNair Center director Edward J. Egan. He discussed major events that led to his business success, such as his decision in the 1960s to transition out of advertising and move his young family from South Carolina to Houston to start a car leasing company — with just $700 to his name.
"By virtue of having the experience of selling advertising space, which could be difficult, I gained an element of confidence to where I really wasn’t fazed by the question of, ‘Can you do this?’” McNair said. “Fortunately, I didn’t have anybody creating any negative thoughts in my head, so it worked out.”
McNair later established a trucking company that grossed more than $20 million in annual revenue at its peak, but he sold it as the deregulation of the trucking industry threatened to force him into bankruptcy.
However, he was able to capitalize on his contacts with chemical and refining clients to eventually establish Cogen Technologies, brokering deals with companies like Shell and ExxonMobil to exclusively provide the power they needed as deregulation forced them to cut costs.
“I saw what happened to us by deregulation,” McNair said. “So I said, ‘Why can’t I use my experience in going through this to my advantage? What industries are going to be transformed, thereby creating opportunities?’”
McNair sold Cogen Technologies in 1999 for $1.5 billion. That same year, the NFL approved his bid to start the league’s 32nd franchise — what would become the Houston Texans. Whether it's football or power generating plants, McNair said his management approach is the same: “The way I’ve always worked is, I try to hire people to do a job, make sure they understand what the job is, monitor what they’re doing and let them go out and do the job,” McNair said. “That still applies.”
The McNair Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation launched last fall at the Baker Institute with an $8 million endowed gift from the Robert and Janice McNair Foundation. The McNairs since have established five entrepreneurship teaching centers at universities across the country, a continuation of the couple’s philanthropic outreach in business and education.
“This is an opportunity for us to make a real contribution to society and to help create an environment that empowers ingenuity and creativity, unleashes the productivity of private enterprise and builds sustainable economic growth," he has said.
Before the event, McNair met privately with a group of McNair Center student interns, past and present. Egan recruited more than 40 interns to work on various research and technology projects during the 2015-16 school year. To accommodate these and other interns, as well as visiting scholars for various Baker Institute centers and programs, the third-floor storage room was renovated to create a 1,100-square-foot research lab. The space, pictured below, features a contemporary design and functional features like 14 movable intern workstations, four stationary desks, glass whiteboards along the walls for research collaboration and a conference room.
[back to top]
For a complete list, visit our event page.
[back to top
Research and News
- What Happened to “Japan as Number One”?, by Russell A. Green, Will Clayton Fellow in International Economics and Masaaki Yoshimori, contributing expert, International Economics Program. August 26
- Strategies that delay or prevent the timely availability of affordable generic drugs in the United States, by Hagop M. Kantarjian, nonresident fellow in health policy and chair, Department of Leukemia, MD Anderson Cancer Center, et al. August 26
- Floods, Wildfires, Extreme Heat: Is The Climate Fighting Back Against The Fossil Fuel Industry?, by Jim Krane, Wallace S. Wilson Fellow in Energy Studies. August 24
- HRMS Issue Brief #23, by Vivian Ho, James A. Baker III Institute Chair in Health Economics and director of the Center for Health and Biosciences, and Elena Marks, nonresident fellow in health policy and president and CEO of the Episcopal Health Foundation. August 23
- End all ivory sales worldwide, by James A. Baker, III, honorary chair, Baker Institute. August 19
- Turkey’s Impending Eastern Turn, by A.Kadir Yildirim, research scholar, Center for the Middle East. August 18
- Donald Trump vs. The ‘Blob,’ by Joe Barnes, Bonner Means Baker Fellow. August 15
For a complete list, visit our research library.