A master’s degree worth more than the money

KU Edwards Campus MBA graduate and CMO Trice Alford reveals the lessons learned from his graduate school experience.

Trice Alford

MBA grads in the class of 2020 are projected (pdf) to make more than $20,000 more on average than grads with a bachelor's degree in business. 

But KU Edwards Campus Masters of Business Administration (MBA) graduate Trice Alford says his degree is worth way more than just the money. It’s the lifelong colleagues and friends he met, the deep business knowledge he gained, and the ability to open his mind to different ideas and ways of thinking, especially about leadership.

Trice Alford at shop
KU Edwards Campus graduate Trice Alford watches as a garage door is loaded out to a customer from the DH Pace warehouse. Alford is now the chief marketing officer at the multi-location, nationwide, commercial and residential door and dock company headquartered in Olathe, Kansas. “Even though the pandemic, our team of technicians has been working with homeowners and businesses to ensure doors stay operational and safe,” Alford said.

“I had a really great mentor who said getting a master of business administration degree would really open so many doors for me and would be the difference for me getting the types of positions I wanted,” Alford said. “He was totally right. It’s really been a great experience professionally and personally.”

It’s the experience he most recently used to navigate the communication hurdles to internal and external audiences across the country for his company through the COVID-19 outbreak. Alford is the chief marketing officer for DH Pace, a multi-location, nationwide, commercial and residential door and dock company headquartered in Olathe, Kansas. When the coronavirus hit, he was charged with managing the messaging and the timing of those messages for the company and its subsidiaries.

“We partnered with the leadership and management team to develop pieces for social, website and collateral our sales organizations could use,” Alford said. “We worked with our HR [human resources] department to communicate with our employees — most of that was around legalities, roles and responsibilities. Next, we developed ongoing messaging letting people know we are available and operating in some capacity. As we progressed, our conversations with our customers escalated so they could understand how this would be affecting them, and what they could expect from our technicians going to their homes and businesses. Our next phase had to address delays in installing new construction sites due to manufacturing shutdowns.”

With an undergraduate degree in communications and a 10-year career in publishing, this Wichita, Kansas, native decided in 2008 that he wanted more for himself and his career. 

“I wanted to get an MBA and I wanted to get a focus in marketing so I could leverage myself more on that front,” Alford said. “I was helping marketers understand the impact that ads and promotional opportunities could have for them and I came to realize that you’re an extension of someone's team but you're not making decisions about the brand. You don’t really have the influence over what sort of initiatives a company might take. I really wanted to be a part of that and work with leadership, set strategy, make decisions, and figure out budgets and just really get in the weeds of the planning cycle as well as the tactical execution of the marketing program.”

Alford turned to KU Edwards Campus for practical reasons.

“I honestly chose KU Edwards for the convenience,” he said. “The ability to attend class in the evenings, its convenient Kansas City location, the way the program is structured where you can stack courses in a variety of ways that allow you to finish in two to three years — all of that was great for me.”

Alford said he wasn’t sure what to expect as far as types of people he would meet, but both students and professors turned out to be the best experiences and memories he has of the KU Edwards Campus. 

“I had classmates that were in the full-time MBA program at KU mixed in with business professionals from Kansas City like myself,” he said. “I ended up in a lot of classes with these four people and I was the only one who had a marketing focus — one was in banking, one was an engineer with GE and one an engineer with Bayer Crop Science. Having these business people from different backgrounds really helped me see other people's viewpoints. They look at questions differently. Hearing other business industries talk about the topics that you cover in class and then being able to talk as the marketer of this group — to bounce things back and forth with each other — was great. And we’re all still really close. Building friendships with these three classmates and the times we had is my best grad school experience.”

While Alford enjoyed his professors, one made a significant impact. 

“Dr. Frank Jurden taught Marketing 400 and his class was great,” Alford said. “He’s brilliant. I really loved his perspective on things. He works in the industry and has a really deep understanding of consumer behavior.”

Professors and classmates helped Alford gain a deeper understanding of business and leadership, giving him the ability to transition from his publishing career into corporate marketing. 

“I really wanted to have a deeper understanding of business, what CEOs and C-level people expected from business people,” Alford said. “I managed sales-focused people but that’s only one piece of the business. I was able to learn how human resources functions, how operations functions and how marketing can integrate with that. I wanted to see the bigger picture and understand it all. My MBA has opened doors and opportunities for my career and given me leadership opportunities I would have never had otherwise.”

Alford said he also wanted to be a better marketer.

“I had a communications undergraduate degree - so getting an MBA with a marketing focus allowed me to apply the communication of a message,” he said. “I think that’s the big separation between advertising and journalism school versus business and marketing is that advertising is so focused on the message and reaching people and what are they interested in, while marketing is the other side of that — why they are interested in that and the message that applies to then and the management of all these different connections made with people.”

Alford said he puts his MBA knowledge into action every day at DH Pace, specifically in three ways:

  1. He has a great understanding of the many roles marketing can play in business.
  2. He now has a great deal of fundamental accounting information. 
  3. He has an open mind about leadership style and developed leadership skills. 

“My MBA degree started forcing me to think about not just being smart but also being a great leader,” he said. “You start to realize you can be a leader in a lot of different ways. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. You really start to understand that there are a lot of smart people with a lot of expertise across organizations. Your job as a great leader is to empower the smartest people to work together and be smart about how they interact. You have to be great with people, understand people, connect people together to help them get the best out of each other. That’s really what I focus on a lot more. That started with getting an MBA."

Alford said he never expected to be a CMO and is humbled daily by the experiences and opportunities he has received. While he uses his MBA skills every day at his current job. It isn’t without its challenges. 

“When you get in a room of top-level people across organizations, by default they are mature, smart, enthusiastic, passionate people who know their business,” Alford said. “They wouldn’t be in the position they are in if they weren’t like that. So the hardest part is trying to understand what’s the role of marketing, what’s my role and how do I partner with all these people who are just as passionate about what they do as I am about what I do. That’s the hardest part of leadership for any organization. Understanding how to work with leaders across the whole organization and then understanding how to translate business needs into marketing solutions — those are the two most challenging parts of my job.”

Besides the leadership and marketing challenges, Alford said hiring the right people in the marketing industry is really hard.

“I’ve made some bad hiring decisions and those bad decisions have guided me more than anything else in the last five years,” he said.

“Now, I Iook for people that can fit my company’s culture, people with emotional intelligence, not just book smarts,” Alford said. “People wouldn’t have a degree if they weren’t smart, capable people. Most organizations will teach you the way they want to do it. So I’m not necessarily looking for someone who can teach me to ‘scramble the egg.’ I’m looking for people with essential skills who are capable, smart and are going to bring something to the table. There’s a lot of chaos in marketing departments — it moves very fast. There’s a lot of mixture with technology and marketing together so people who can handle that, who don’t cause a lot of drama themselves but bring a lot to the table are the things I’m looking for. I’m obviously looking for marketing skills, but they wouldn’t get a seat at the table with me if they didn’t have that already.”

While Alford spends on average 50 to 55 hours a week on the job, he does enjoy relaxing at his Kansas City home in his spare time with his wife and four dogs. He also volunteers on various boards and in organizations — usually in a marketing consultant capacity. Besides serving as a speaker and board member for KU, Alford is on the board of directors for Operation BBQ Relief. The Kansas City-based organization mobilizes competition BBQers across the country to provide food to people displaced following disasters across the country.  

“As a marketing person, it is fantastic to talk to people about something I’m super passionate about and talk to other people who are passionate about it,” he said. “At the same time, when you go to work every day, it’s great to step away from the focus on your business and talk to people who are doing something completely different from you. I would always encourage others to just go do some of that on some regular basis for no other reason than it causes you to think about something in a different way, and from a different angle.”

Alford said he also spends time helping his wife with labor and outdoor landscaping projects for her home renovation passions.

“I’m great for manual labor to her general contracting,” he said.

Returning to college after 10 years was no easy decision and required an investment of both time and money. But Alford said it was worth it. He offers this advice to others considering earning a graduate degree: 

“Grad school is 100% about what you put into it,” he said. “I took it very seriously. Obviously there is a time and financial commitment, but it can pay off great dividends both personally and professionally.” 

Photo Above: After earning his MBA from KU Edwards Campus, Trice Alford works as a chief marketing officer - both remotely at home with the "help" of his English Bulldog puppy, Sheananigan, and in his DH Pace office.

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