Growing America

Dallas native takes MBAs on journey to change America's business model

Dallas native takes MBAs on journey to change America's business model

Casey Gerald of MBAs Across America
MBAx founder Casey Gerald, left, speaks with Veronika Scott, founder of the Empowerment Plan in Detroit.  Photo courtesy of MBAs Across America

Most Ivy League MBAs strive to find a summer internship with the country’s most powerful companies, but a new show on HLN chronicles several graduate students’ cross-country journey to work with thriving small businesses. Leading them is a Dallas native who wants to create “a new field manual for business.”

The six-episode series, Growing America: A Journey to Success, premieres Sunday, November 16, at 8 pm. Hosted by Ty Pennington, it follows teams from MBAs Across America (MBAx), a movement designed to pair business school students with entrepreneurs.

The program is the brainchild of Casey Gerald, a Harvard Business School MBA who just landed on the cover of the November 2014 issue of Fast Company. Gerald, who had a rough childhood, played high school football in Oak Cliff and was recruited by Yale, where he earned his BA.

 “We want them to understand the country and business in a totally different way and see it’s about supporting people on the ground,” says MBAs Across America CEO Casey Gerald.

For MBAx, he wanted something more hands-on for graduate students to do with their summers than sitting in an office.

“Some of our MBAs will go off to run big companies in big cities, and some will go to start-ups all over the country,” Gerald says. “We want them to understand the country and business in a totally different way and see it’s about supporting people on the ground.”

In the two summers since Gerald and his friends launched MBAs Across America, teams have logged more than 40,000 miles while visiting 28 cities and working with 50 entrepreneurs.

With each small business they visit, teams game plan how to improve margins, impact and overall operations. But Gerald is quick to point out that these teams — which hail from Harvard, Stanford, Columbia and more — aren’t there just to impart strategies their professors have taught them.

“We tell everyone in MBAx, ‘You’re not going to save anyone, you’re not smarter than anyone, you’re going in humbly and you should listen more than you speak,’” he says. “It’s about knowing that week has to be the start of a longer-term relationship, and we can only prove it by doing it instead of saying it.”

Gerald sees it as an opportunity for the program’s teams to learn from small business owners who are on the ground every day, trying to improve their communities, and to understand why entrepreneurship is a growing model. 

“I think we’ve been forced to do it,” he says. “The institutions that we grew up with have been compromised. The economy collapses, and it’s tough to figure what’s going to happen. As a direct result, people have to figure out how to create enough jobs to survive, and entrepreneurs see things that are broken and want to fix them.”

With Growing America, Gerald believes that viewers, who will be able to vote on the “most inspirational business” in the show, will pick up the spirit of the owners and students.

“It’s about seeing extraordinary stories of entrepreneurs on the front lines, creating jobs and changing lives in their communities,” he says. “I hope they have hope the country is going in a more positive direction because of people committed to making an impact in lives and careers.”

The first summer of MBAx, Gerald and his teams were traveling on their own dime, and although many of them will go on to Fortune 500 companies, they were still students. This past summer, Holiday Inn sponsored them as part of the show.

“It’s been a game changer,” he says. “Holiday Inn has taken this program from kids camping in cow pastures in Minnesota to having a place to stay and work in 27 cities.”

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