Andrew Lenz (PMBA ’07)

SMU Cox Associate Board Opens Door to Budding New Career

One of the greatest benefits of attending the Cox School of Business is the ability to meet and network with top business leaders in Dallas and in the nation.  For Andrew Lenz, PMBA '07, the Cox network ultimately changed the course of life - What began as a mentor/mentee relationship grew into much more, namely a new horticultural business endeavor.

With more than 200 executive mentors, the Cox Associate Board Executive Mentoring Program, otherwise known as the Associate Board, is designed to facilitate professional development by matching students with a mentor according to career goals and direction. Students are provided background information about the members of the Associate Board so that they are able to identify those members they are most interested in meeting.  Once matched, mentors provides business contacts, career advice and industry insight.  

In November, 2007 while studying at the Cox School, Lenz met James "Jim" Cali, an alumnus of the Cox School (PMBA Class 44), through an official Associate Board meet-and-greet.  The two soon found they had many professional interests in common, and Cali became Lenz's official mentor.  At the time Cali was the Chief Operating Officer of Southern Botanical, Inc, a Dallas-based high-end landscaping firm. Lenz was director of operations for a local interior horticulture service firm, where he was responsible for service operations in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston markets.

Over the course of the next year Lenz and Cali continued to meet on a regular basis.  They discussed Lenz's career objectives, worked through challenges he was facing professionally, discussed course selection and drank a considerable amount of coffee, jokes Lenz.  

As the two came to understand each other's respective businesses it became evident that their might be a possibility for them to work together.  

Founded in 1995, Southern Botanical had become the Dallas/Fort Worth benchmark for high-end outdoor landscape and irrigation installation and maintenance, with a client list that includes exclusive hotels and Park Cities residences.  However, Cali was looking to expand and become a one-stop vendor for complete indoor as well as outdoor horticultural décor.

 "Southern Botanical was looking to build something from an interior perspective - first and foremost centered around customer service -  where only licensed and certified employees, complete with background checks, provide white glove service," said Cali. "After getting to know Andrew over a period of 16 months, I knew he grasped the key mantra of always going above and beyond, under-promising and over-delivering."

Not only was Cali impressed with Lenz's attention to detail and customer service, but Cali also understood his long-term goal of starting an interior business from scratch.  

"I set about building a business case to present to the CEO of Southern Botanical and Jim and I built the division's first projected P&L.  It was hard to believe that I was already putting into practice skills I had just learned in class," said Lenz.  

After numerous meetings and a significant amount of planning, Lenz joined Southern Botanical in late 2007 to launch the Interior Division specializing in the design, installation and maintenance of interior plants, orchids and floral décor.  

"My time with with my prior employer was critical to the success of the new division in Southern Botanical," said Lenz.  "Previously, I managed both the sales and operations sides of the business.  This well-rounded experience base was critical in developing, and now operating, the Interior Division."

At Southern Botanical, complete customer satisfaction is the number one goal.  It is this level of service and dedication that is allowing the company to thrive, even in today's tough economic times.  In fact, the company is planning a retail storefront and branch locations throughout the state.  "With hard work and a bit of luck I will continue to grow the Interior Division of Southern Botanical into the premier interior horticulture firm in Dallas," said Lenz.

"I am grateful to the Cox School for providing The Associate Board and to the many business leaders who donate their time and energy to helping Cox students," said Lenz. "The nice thing about Jim is that he was honestly helping me develop professionally - our relationship never started out as an interview.  Fate just happened to intervene."

Even two years after graduation, Lenz continues to lean on the Cox network as he progresses in his career, and he encourages all Cox MBAs to get involved.  

"Were it not for Jim's sincere and earnest participation in the Associate Board I would not have had the opportunity to launch Southern Botanical Interiors," said Lenz.  "I have continued to learn from him and am thankful that the Cox network was able to bring us together."