If people didn’t know just how many successful area businesses are run by UH alums, they certainly do now — thanks to the inaugural Cougar 100.
Last year, businesses applied to be a part of the Cougar 100 based on three criteria: being owned or led by a Cougar from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2013; generating $250,000 or more of verifiable revenue in 2011 and having operated for at least five years as of June 30, 2013.
Now that it’s been launched, the Cougar 100 will become an annual tradition (and applications for 2015 are open now). After all, there are too many fast-growing Cougar businesses to only make this list one time.
The Cougar 100 demonstrates that UH alumni are making tangible differences in diverse industries, from designing breweries to producing oil and gas to programming strategic iPhone apps. But it is not just a list, and it’s not just about recognizing successful, thriving businesses. The Cougar 100 is about leveraging Cougar alumni and community relations to support even more success among us — whether it is providing a mentor to a student entrepreneur or establishing new mutually beneficial business-to-business relationships among alumni.
“It’s great to be a Cougar. Let’s all do business together. Let’s keep this city driving.” — Tilman J. Fertitta (FS ’78)
In that spirit, members of the Cougar 100 are automatically included in the Cougar Business Network, which will showcase Cougar-owned businesses and support Cougars doing business with fellow Cougars. Almost 200 businesses applied to be a part of the Cougar 100, demonstrating that even in the list’s first year, there is a surplus of thriving Cougar businesses to celebrate. A complete list of 2014 Cougar 100 members can be found now on the Alumni Association website at houstonalumni.com/Cougar100.
Cheers And Great Careers At The Cougar 100 Luncheon
“We are calling this the ‘launch lunch,’ because we’re launching a great new partnership with the Houston Business Journal and Houston business leaders,” said Mike Pede (’89), associate vice president for alumni relations, as he welcomed more than 700 guests to the Bayou City Event Center for the Cougar 100 Luncheon, which was held in November. Networking among the crowd of successful business owners and their employees were UH students — the next generation of business leaders.
“Cougar 100 members have proven to the city, themselves and the nation that education matters, and that your success is also our success,” UH President Renu Khator said as she introduced the most high profile business leader in the room — Tilman J. Fertitta (FS ’78). Widely known as “the world’s richest restaurateur,” Fertitta is also chairman of the UH System Board of Regents and chairman and chief executive officer of Landry’s, Inc.
“If you want to be inspired, get to know Tilman Fertitta,” said Khator. The secret to his success, she said, is not only his intelligence and hard work: “He puts his heart and soul into everything he does.”
Fertitta had the choice of becoming a regent at any Texas university, he said, but chose UH for its rapid growth, innovation and potential. He credited Khator with the amazing transformation the school has undergone in the past few years, elevating its status to Tier One.
After decades of successful business leadership, Fertitta recounted his personal journey. “Every day is still a learning process. All I do is solve problems, just like at your business,” he said.
Now the owner of numerous restaurants, hotels and casinos, Fertitta shared the early experiences of working in his father’s seafood restaurant, selling vitamins and launching a construction and real estate development company in his early 20s. It wasn’t easy. Fertitta’s first hotel in Galveston opened during a tough economic time. He sold it and ended up buying it again years later. “Operate at the highest level,” he said. “Nothing goes unnoticed, and don’t assume anything.” He also stressed the importance of inspiring others, especially your employees. “That’s what you always want: for your employees to believe in you as their leader.”
The changing tides of the economy keep things interesting, Fertitta said, and that challenge applied to all Cougar 100 members, no matter their trade. “It’s exciting to build a business. There’s nothing like it.”
At the luncheon, guests knew their business was on the Cougar 100 list, but did not know their ranking, which was based on growth percentage. As Mike Pede announced each business, loud cheers erupted and iconic film soundtracks played as representatives proceeded down a red carpet to receive their award. When Over the Top Linen was called at No. 46, CEO Clara Hough (’02) was greeted with a James Bond 007 theme.
“The experience was awesome — and what a great way to walk in style,” she said. Hough runs Over the Top Linen with her husband, Christopher Hough (’00), and they also supplied the table linens for the luncheon. “I have received many accolades throughout my career, but there is something pretty remarkable about being recognized and acknowledged by your alma mater,” Hough said. “Most of our employees graduated from, or are studying at UH, and this award is a reflection of their efforts.”
Leaders of the top 10 businesses on the Cougar 100 list were ushered to the stage with the iconic “Rocky” theme song to join Khator and Fertitta in celebration.
Partnering in this exciting new initiative to celebrate Cougar businesses were PFK Texas, Bank of Texas, TDECU Credit Union, BB’s Café, Bassler Energy Services, John (’82) and Kim (’81) Clarke and the Houston Business Journal.
‘You Never Know What You Can Do Until You Try’
When pharmacists from McClaugherty Consulting Services were instructed to dress in their “Sunday best” for their quarterly staff meeting, they must have been curious. But ultimately, CEO and founder Larry McClaugherty (’72) succeeded in surprising them with the Cougar 100 Luncheon. All four staff members present graduated from the UH College of Pharmacy, joining Larry and his wife Kathy (’79), who is a registered nurse and the company’s CFO. Like all of the business owners, they listened to the countdown with anticipation. They were thrilled when their business was announced at No. 61. “We’re very honored and humbled to be recognized, especially at this historic, inaugural Cougar 100 event,” McClaugherty said.
McClaugherty Consulting Services works with elder care and nursing facilities to make sure their medication administration and internal systems are functioning effectively. McClaugherty formerly worked as a consultant for larger companies, but when mergers changed their organization, he opted to start fresh.
“Everything seemed to be pushing me back to owning my own business. I have two plaques hanging in my office: one says, ‘Don’t let anyone steal your joy,’ and the other says, ‘You never know what you can do until you try,’” he said.
That “try” has certainly paid off. McClaugherty used his reputation in the industry advantageously and formed mutually beneficial partnerships with related businesses. Over 10 years, their number of partnering facilities grew from two to 50. He acknowledges Kathy as one of the main reasons the company has grown at the rate it has: “A nurse and pharmacist team works very well in this business.”
The importance of a strong team dynamic is precisely why McClaugherty made a point of bringing his staff to the Cougar 100 Luncheon. “Encouragement from their fellow Cougars is important and will inspire them down the road,” he said.
The company almost didn’t make it to the luncheon; when he started the application, McClaugherty was skeptical about providing the financial information needed to apply. Luckily, he had a change of heart.
“I’m so glad that we did it. When you enter our office, our team photo at the Cougar 100 is hanging right there. We’re extremely proud of that.” McClaugherty said he would encourage other businesses to apply — but, jokingly added, “not too many, though, since we’re going to apply again.”
A Bright Future For Cougars
The Cougar 100 celebration of Cougars and their businesses not only is a testament to the value of a UH education and how UH powers Houston, but also provides inspiration to current students, including Ami Hazel (’15).
A retailing and consumer sciences major slated to graduate in December, Hazel also plans to earn her master’s degree at UH. She recounted the well-known advice of writing your goal on a piece of paper and putting it someplace you will see every day.
“For me, that specific goal is to make it on the Cougar 100 list in the next 10 to 15 years,” she said. “The day I got home from the luncheon, I hung up the Top 100 list right beside my vanity mirror so that every morning while getting ready I see it — every morning it lights a fire in my soul. I can’t wait to watch the program grow, and one day become a part of it.”