Ryan Hurst (BBA ’99)
Entrepreneur Grows Portfolio Through Hard Work and Cox Connections
After a semester at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, Ryan Hurst (BBA ’99) knew he needed a change. He didn’t know, however, that with the guidance of his sister Hillary Hurst (MBA ’94) he would find himself at the Cox School of Business getting a jump start on a career as a serial entrepreneur. With companies focused on marketing and Internet services, consulting, and—most recently—jewelry wholesale, Hurst has lately joined the ranks of highly successful SMU Cox entrepreneurs.Like most people, Hurst had always thought about owning a business, but the first time he gave it serious consideration was after taking Professor Jerry White’s Starting A Business class. He learned that when you start or buy businesses, you are involved with a wide range of business activities such as accounting, legal issues, and marketing. While Hurst liked all these subjects, he quickly learned what he most enjoyed was the combination of using them all.
“Jerry White’s course was hands down my favorite class I’ve taken in my life. He prompted me to think about the fundamentals of what it really takes to get and keep a business off the ground,” said Hurst. “Jerry always said, ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’ and I have carried those words around with me in ‘Entrepreneurland,’ another Jerry White term.”
As a Cox student, Hurst also took advantage of the Cox network, interacting one-on-one with world-class entrepreneurs and business leaders such as Don Carty, now CFO and vice chairman of Dell, Inc.; Ed Cox, Dallas businessman, oil tycoon, and SMU Cox namesake; and Norman Brinker, chairman emeritus of Brinker International. He also frequented the SMU Cox Business Leaders Spotlight—a speaker series sponsored by Bank of America that brings leaders from some of the top organizations throughout the nation to speak to members of the Cox, SMU, and DFW business communities. Hurst was also inspired by the countless business heavyweights he listened to, including Ted Turner and Louis Rukeyser, a U.S. business columnist and economic commentator.
“This level of interaction early on allowed me to establish personal relationships with Fortune 500 CEOs that raised my confidence and allowed me to immediately start contacting them directly to schedule my first set of meetings as I entered the business world,” says Hurst. “Looking back, I’m surprised at just how accommodating they were in helping me jump-start my career.”
Hurst received his BBA from Cox in 1999 and immediately started his first company, Liber, LLC, a marketing services company. In 2004, he continued to grow his portfolio with Marion 250, LLC, an Internet-oriented business. In 2006, Hurst acquired his latest business, Debra Shepard, LLC, a unique jewelry company, famous for its Earstrings® earrings. Hurst had been handling sales and events for the company for years, and he still manages marketing through Liber, LLC.
With almost 1,000 accounts in 11 countries, the Debra Shepard business is booming. Debra Shepard jewelry has been featured in more than 30 fashion magazines. And it doesn’t hurt to have celebrities like Paris and Nicky Hilton, Beyoncé, Ashlee Simpson, and Hilary Duff sporting these stylish new earrings and necklaces known for being comfortable without sacrificing style.
Hurst has also enjoyed tapping into the global marketplace with Debra Shepard. “There is never a dull moment when you are switching between a wide range of activities, which on any given day could vary from reviewing new designs, dealing with production issues at factories in China and Thailand, negotiating with distributors in countries as far away as Japan, or handling any number of contract or legal issues,” he said.
At 29, with three businesses to his name, Hurst has made his entrepreneurial dreams come true. But he is not about to stop. “Initially, my goal was to own multiple businesses,” he said. “My goal now is to own multiple, larger enterprises by growing my current portfolio of companies as well as starting or acquiring additional businesses over time.”
As Hurst’s career continues to blossom, he credits his alma mater for giving him “an invaluable, unrivaled level of direct exposure to world-class business leaders, in the dynamic city of Dallas and beyond.”
Hurst’s message to budding entrepreneurs is simple: “Live your own life, not someone else’s. Original thinking always prevails in due course, and in time you will find yourself leading instead of following. You get out what you put into life, whether in business or personal matters, so make the most of your time and live your life like a conscious dream in which you are the narrator. Then you are sure to realize your goals.”