The CSUF Center for Entrepreneurship’s (CFE) “Entrepreneurs in Residence” program plays a vital role in the educational development of business students in the entrepreneurial concentration. These experienced businessmen and women, provide students with a mentor that is a knowledgeable source of real world business applications, strategies, operations, and problem solving capabilities.
The mentor’s role of coaching individual teams through projects in the CFE’s Student Consulting Program is essential to the program’s ability to serve its clients at a high level. A professor may have as many as 6 teams serving 6 different clients in one semester’s class. Having one experienced mentor assigned to each group and its client makes the operation manageable for the CSUF faculty.
Conrey Insurance Brokers’ Agency Principal, Jerry Conrey, is one of the “Entrepreneurs in Residence” at the CFE. Jerry has been involved in Orange County’s business community for nearly thirty-years, twenty-five of those years as a licensed insurance agent. He was a District Manager for Farmers Insurance before founding Conrey Insurance Brokers of Tustin, and is an alumnus of Cal State University, Fullerton.
I recently sat down with Jerry to discuss his involvement with the CFE as an “Entrepreneur in Residence”
CI: You have very full schedule running your own business, Conrey Insurance Brokers. Why is it important to you to sacrifice some of your limited down time to the CFE?
JC: I think it’s important for every business owner to give back to his or her community. In my youth, I chose education as a cornerstone to my own success and wanted to give back to others who have decided the same. The CFE at Cal State, Fullerton was the obvious choice for me as I’m an alumnus of the university.
I first became involved with the CFE’s Student Consulting Program as a client. I purchased Conrey Insurance in 2002 and contracted the Student Consulting Program to do a study for my business. My experience as a client of the program led me to believe I could contribute my business experience to the program, as a mentor, and have been involved at least 1 semester per year since 2003
CI: Why is the Student Consulting Program an important experience for the business students at CSUF?
JC: The entrepreneurial concentration students, who are part of the management program, must complete 4 consulting projects as part of their core courses. I think it’s important for the students to get this experience because teamwork is an important aspect of successful navigation in the business world, as well as the experience of being able to take theoretical applications and apply them to a practical environments is invaluable. I know that coming away from the university, my classroom learning was not as important as my real world training. My classes that had a practical real world business component to them were far more valuable to my professional success.
CI: How has the development and educational experience of business students changed since you were in college?
JC: Boy, it really has changed. The access to information, the Internet, search engines, the numerous ways you can communicate with professors and classmates have really revolutionized the educational experience. Today, students learn collaboration, cooperation, team building, and goal setting. They learn about their personality, whether they are a follower or a leader, and when it’s best to follow or lead. These were things that were not available when I attended college, so it’s very different, and to be quite honest, I’m a little envious of their experience.
CI: How does the CFE’s Student Consulting Program prepare young entrepreneurs for life in the “real” business world?
CJ: Well, it’s real. The business questions are real questions, which apply to real businesses; they identify real problems, and supply real solutions. It is one of the best experiences to prepare them for life in the professional world.
CI: What is the most important piece of advice you give the students you mentor about how to prepare for future success?
CJ: Everything you invest into learning pays dividends in the future. Those who skate by now, will pay for it later; they will find that they lack the dedication and discipline to achieve their goals. In the corporate world, they will find that kind of behavior will cost them promotions, and even employment. I understand how difficult it is to manage work, personal life, and education, but the ability to prioritize and do things to the best of your ability will be rewarded in the end.
CI: In your experience what do the companies who submit case studies to the SBI consulting program gain from their involvement?
CJ: They gain practical advice; they gain out-of-the-box solutions to problems their businesses are facing. They get to preview potential employees, in the students, and gauge their abilities.
CI: What types of businesses have participated in the Student Consulting Program since you’ve been involved with it?
CJ: Oh, I have had at least one per year for the last 10 years, so many different business have been involved. They have ranged from restaurants, manufacturers, lending companies, resorts, and distribution companies to non-profits. There have been a wide variety of clients. The issues have been just as diverse as well, from leadership issues, company culture issues, marketing and branding strategies to operation issues. We have consulted on almost any business issue you can think of.
CI: Obviously your role in the program is to mentor and teach the students, but what have you learned from your students, and how have you grown from being involved in the program?
CJ: I will tell you right now, I have learned just as much from my students as they have learned from me. I have learned how to be objective in a different way; I have learned that a lot of times it’s hard to recognize the real issues facing your company from an “inside the bubble” point of view. I have learned how to better navigate the generational divide. It’s good to work with young people since they bring a fresh perspective to things.
CI: Conrey Insurance provides a scholarship every year to an entrepreneur major at CSUF. How long have you been providing that financial opportunity, and what characteristics do you hope the recipients have?
CJ: We have been doing it now for 6 years. We did it for 4 years at $2,500, 2 years at $3,000, and we have just committed to 3 more years at $3,000. It’s a very rewarding thing. Every recipient has graduated and gone on to be successful in his or her professional careers. I’m still in touch with every one of them.
CI: What about the students you have mentored in the Student Consulting Program? Do you keep in touch with them?
CJ: With some, it really depends on the interaction we had during the project and where their futures took them. I have been invited to weddings and over to student’s homes for dinners. As a matter of fact, I just got completely caught up on a student’s life since leaving school through a series of email correspondences. It has been a very rewarding experience for me to be involved with the CFE as a mentor and “Entrepreneur in Residence.”
CI: Thank you, Jerry.
Editor’s note: This blog was re-posted from the Conrey Insurance Brokers Blog at http://www.siatt.com/about-us/our-blog/entrepreneurs_in_residence-_cal_state_fullertons_center_for_entrepreneurship