T. Paul Thomas, FCB Executive in Residence, Came ‘Home’ to Teach

Posted: Friday, April 24th 2015 at 4:54 AM

Office 447 in The W. A. Franke College of Business is no ordinary faculty office. It’s in an area separate from the other offices lined up in a row, which makes it a little difficult to find. It has living plants but no window; and most noticeably, it is decorated thoroughly and tastefully with Walt Disney collectables. This is because its inhabitant, Executive in Residence T. Paul Thomas ('83 FIN), is an avid Walt Disney fan and autograph collector.

“I’m a big Walt Disney fan, so I have a large collection of Walt Disney autographs. Everything from movie scripts to letters to photographs to books — that’s been my one vice in life.”

He has merchandise ranging from posters to statues, to an actual sign from the original Disneyland parking lot. He is also the proud owner of Blaine Gibson’s original prototype of his famous Walt Disney sculpture, which was rejected by Mrs. Disney herself because she felt it did not capture his eyes correctly.

A former Boy Scout from Ohio, Thomas came to NAU in 1978 to study forestry. This move involved his first ever trip on an airplane and his first time west of the Mississippi, but these were not the biggest changes he faced in moving from the Midwest to the Southwest. By the end of his junior year as a forestry major, Thomas realized his passion lie not in the technical aspects of forestry but in the business side — so he changed his major to business administration. His change in major added two years to his undergraduate program, but he says graduating from the Business College was worth it. He has been able to incorporate his experience with forestry in one of his most recent professional projects.

“One of my last jobs before I started at [teaching at] NAU was working for a nonprofit called Komaza in Kenya where we help the poorest of the poor. We give them everything they need to grow an acre of trees — the water, the fertilizer, the seedlings — and then we help them plant these trees. Essentially what it does is take a family that is below poverty in Kenya and within 7 years it will put them on a sustaining, reoccurring income that puts them in middle class.”

Thomas’s background in administration as well as his knowledge about forestry made him the perfect president of such a company just getting on its feet.

“The founder was looking for someone who could help him raise money and turn it more into a real company... Today the company has about 150 employees and the majority of them are Kenyan. We’ve planted around 2 million trees for about 15,000 families.”

Thomas is still the chairman of the board of Komaza, though since he began his position at NAU he is not involved in its day-to-day operations. He also remains on the board of other companies around the world: the Grand Canyon Association, a software security company in France called Qosmos, and a marketing firm in Boston called SimplyDIRECT. He is also a member of the NAU Foundation Board of Directors and a former member of the FCB National Advisory Board.

Thomas graduated from NAU with bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in 1983, and from there he went into the corporate world. He worked for 25 years as the CEO of more than a dozen tech companies around the world including privately and publically funded ones as large as 500 employees and $130 million in revenue in China, Japan, India, and all over Europe and the United States.

With his return to NAU as an Executive in Residence, Thomas has been able to draw from his experience as a CEO to help his students be prepared for the corporate world.

“[As an Executive in Residence,] when you’re lecturing and talking to students you’re talking from a standpoint of experience, not necessarily from research or from a study, so you can say ‘Listen you know, the book says it’s always blue but it’s rarely blue; it’s usually red.’”

He specifically uses his involvement with Komaza as an opportunity for his students to go through a real-world job application process.

“During all of my classes I make them apply to an internship at Komaza, not because it’s a real job but because I want them to know how you should have your resume, how you should have your cover letter, and how to apply with that. I spend time in class showing them how to put [these] together. They actually apply to my Komaza e-mail address for the marketing internship. Because of the work I’m still doing outside of NAU I’m involved with searches and that keeps my perspective current, so I can show students exactly what they need to do to succeed.”

Thomas is teaching five classes for Spring 2015: two sections of MGT 405 – International Management; one section of MGT 101 – Intro to Management; one section of MGT 399 – Entrepreneurship; and one section of MGT 303 – Organization Management. He uses his job application project in each of these classes, in addition to a project that involves creating a LinkedIn profile.

After returning to NAU as an EiR, Thomas went on to get a master degree in Educational Leadership from the College of Education. Thomas says his experience as a student at NAU is what drew him back here. As a first generation student, he credits his success to several NAU professors who looked out for him during his time here.

“I would not have had the success I’ve had in the corporate world had it not been for NAU, and I would not have been successful at NAU had it not been for the professors and staff that took me under their wings.”

Thomas draws from his past experience as a student at NAU to make sure his current students can see he knows what they’re going through.

“I tell everyone that I was a first-generation student myself, and it helps. I get students coming to me with anything from not knowing what clothes to wear for something or not knowing how to tie a tie, to asking me to look over a resume or cover letter and helping them prepare for an interview.”

Thomas says his favorite part about being back at NAU is working with the students. He feels his work here at NAU is helping students prepare for the corporate world and believes they are gaining the skills they need to succeed.

“I just wish I could see some of these students in thirty years, because you can look at them now and say ‘Wow. That person is going to do awesome things.’”

Categories: t. paul thomas executive in residence walt disney komaza grand canyon association qosmos simplydirect nau foundation board of directors national advisory board fcb national advisory board faculty 2015 spring 2015 alumni paul thomas