Over time, these Jerry S. Rawls College of Business alumni have discovered they’re connected in more ways than one.
When flipping through the Ralls High School 1981 yearbook, readers learn a lot about the students inside.
For instance, Eric McDonald and Dory Wiley were both active. McDonald was a class officer who participated in extracurricular activities like Future Farmers of America (FFA), track and tennis. Wiley was an honors society inductee who could be found on the football field or competing in Number Sense.
What no one could guess from the pages is these different teenagers from a small town of about 2,000 people would graduate and embark on paths that would intersect time and time again.
“It's not like Eric and I hung out a bunch, because he was two years older than me,” Wiley said. “But we knew each other. And when you're from Ralls, you kind of have this lifelong kinship.”
There was one place their age difference did not matter, though: the farm.
Other teenagers may find summer jobs at the pool or local ice cream parlor, but McDonald and Wiley were farmhands.
“We would spray or hoe weeds in the field for Eric's dad on his farm,” Wiley said. “I remember my goal in life at that time was, ‘Man, I'd like to be sitting in a pickup with the window down at the end of the turn row watching everybody else work. That'd be a pretty cool job.'”
Little did Wiley know, McDonald was dreaming too. The gears in his head turned in rhythm with tractor tires. “Dory and I had this vision for what we wanted to do,” McDonald said. “We probably didn't know what it was, but we knew it was something different. That's what motivated us.”
McDonald's plans for his future were guided by results from aptitude and personality tests his mother requested he take before he walked across the Ralls High School graduation stage in 1981.
“One of the glaring traits was that I would not be happy in a large corporate organization,” McDonald said. “Being a farm boy really molded me into being somebody that wanted to do things my way and be my own boss.”
With that in mind, McDonald packed his bags and headed to the big city of Austin to attend the University of Texas in pursuit of a finance degree.
Meanwhile, after a serious sit-down with his mother late one summer, Wiley set his sights on becoming a Texas Tech University student. He enrolled after his high school graduation in 1983.
“I started out in electrical engineering, but there were no girls in the engineering school at the time,” Wiley joked. “So, I went to the business school and there were a lot of girls over there. My major was finance and accounting.”
Wiley was on campus three years when he saw a familiar face.
“I began to run into him in student organizations and things like that,” he said. “That's kind of when we got reacquainted.”
Sure enough, McDonald had returned to West Texas for good.
“I wanted to complete the MBA program at Texas Tech,” he said. “I knew I wanted to start my business at some point in Lubbock.”
By some odd coincidence, McDonald and Wiley both graduated as Red Raiders in 1987 – an experience they agree changed their lives.
“The camaraderie that I had with my instructors and the friendships that I still have in my professional peer group from graduate school in the ‘80s are an intricate part of my life,” McDonald recounted.
As these young men began their professional careers, they shared a common mentor along the way: McDonald's father, Craig.
“My dad was a farmer, but he had a finance degree and that was somewhat unusual,” McDonald said. “I learned about opportunity costs and other financial terms from him. Then, when he was a bank director, I got to listen to him talk about loan committees, the bond portfolio and stuff like that.”
Craig imparted the importance of financial education to both his son and Wiley, and they took his advice.
From Lubbock, Wiley moved to Dallas and received an MBA from Southern Methodist University.
Then, on separate accords, the two added Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) charter holder to their resumes – a postgraduate professional certification McDonald is thankful he pursued before he had children because of the extensive study nights.
“This organization was trying to standardize and hold analysts accountable, and from an ethical standpoint, that appealed to me,” McDonald said. “If I was going to be proficient and have people's trust, I needed to know these things.”
While Wiley enjoyed the extensive dive into finance with “like 30 books,” he also relished the job security of a CFA charter holder.
“It was tough, but it made me more hirable,” Wiley said. “So, if things go wrong and the company fails, I can go find another job and work for somebody else.”
As they began the pursuit of founding their own Registered Investment Advisory (RIA) firms, McDonald worked at a bank and Wiley worked for broker-dealers for a stretch. During that time, they both gained knowledge in asset liability management and other critical experience.
“The bank had made a lot of bad deals, and I got to see all of them,” McDonald said. “I saw how lack of liquidity affects exit strategies, and how these banks had put themselves behind the eight ball.”
McDonald took those lessons with him as he left, moved back to Lubbock and opened an RIA firm called McDonald Capital Management in 1990.
“I had two accounts of about $400,000 apiece to start off with, and that was the beginning of my RIA journey,” McDonald said. “It was pretty crazy.”
On the other hand, Wiley had about 20 years of professional experience before he co-founded Commerce Street Holdings, LLC in Dallas.
“October 2007 is probably not the best time in the world to do a broker dealer, or an RIA, right in the middle of the downturn of 2008,” Wiley said. “But it's worked out really well.”
While they worked to grow their companies, McDonald and Wiley discovered key players were interns and employees from the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business.
“I ran a solo practice for the first decade where I pretty much did everything myself,” McDonald said. “But I started getting interns from Texas Tech around 1996, and that was huge for me. I really enjoyed staying connected with the school in that manner.”
Wiley believes overall, he has hired around 30 Texas Tech graduates.
“I started finding out that Texas Tech graduates are extremely hard-working and driven to succeed,” he said. “As an employer, those are the traits I want the most. I can teach people things, but I can't teach them work ethic, perseverance, or moral values.”
Their careers caused Wiley and McDonald to run into each other periodically over the decades, until a unique opportunity linked them again in the 2000s – serving on the Board of Trustees of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas to oversee investments and management of the pension and insurance funds for educators.
“I decided to serve because I saw they needed some finance people,” Wiley said. “This is a $100 billion pension fund, and we made a lot of changes while I was there that helped its performance. So, it was a very rewarding time. I think I learned as much from that as I gave to it – perhaps more.”
Wiley was appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and served from 2003 to 2009. McDonald was appointed by Perry in 2009 and served until 2013.
“It was a ton of work, but it was very worthwhile,” McDonald said. “If you really want to make a difference and be a good trustee for these teachers, coaches, and administrators, you really had to spend the time and do the work. I learned a tremendous amount.”
Even though their time on the TRS Board came to a close, their service is far from over. McDonald and Wiley make sure to impart their knowledge to young business professionals just as Craig did with them.
“You need to pray for these kids that are using us as mentors,” Wiley said.
McDonald laughed, then replied, “Well, they're looking at us, but they're looking at things not to do.”
All jokes aside, McDonald and Wiley continuously invest in the next generation as they not only donate money to the Rawls College of Business, but also their time.
“I am who I am today because of: first, God; second, my parents; and third, Texas Tech,” Wiley said. “So, there's a warm spot in my heart for Texas Tech, and I like helping in any way I can.”
From Ralls to Rawls, each time these small-town kids turned financial gurus are reunited serves as a reminder of their successful progression from a humble past.
“I think it can show that small-town America can excel along with people from elite high schools,” McDonald said. “If you have the right ambition and the right mindset, you can come from nowhere and go somewhere.”