#BearsGive Featured Alumnus: Ryan Hochmiller
Ryan Hochmiller (BA-07), today’s #BearsGive honoree,epitomizes all of the qualities that make the UNC alumni base such a vital and inspiring group: drive, creativity, altruism, and a generous dash of idealism. Since earning his degree in Business Management from UNC’s Monfort College of Business, Ryan has taken on a variety of professional pursuits. From his family’s small business, Active Truck Parts and Sales Inc., to a board position in the Colorado Auto Recyclers Association to an advisory role in a 3D printing start-up, Ryan has rarely shied away from a new and exciting venture. With this penchant for novel approaches to communal action, it’s no wonder that he’s been so involved with our recently formed Young Alumni Council as co-chair of the Membership and Governance Committee. We spoke with him about the qualities that define an effective leader and mentor as well as his vision for the future of alumni engagement.
What first got you interested in joining the YAC and what do you enjoy most about your involvement?
I’ve been involved with Alumni engagement on a number of levels up to this point, so when I was asked to apply to the Young Alumni Council, I jumped at the opportunity without any real hesitation. I most enjoy the fact that I’m able to serve the YAC during this critical, formative period. I’ve learned a lot throughout this process of getting the group up and running. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with new graduates and a wide array of professionals who have all benefited from their UNC education.
Did you serve in any other leadership roles as a student at UNC?
I never served as a leader in any organizations at UNC, but I did receive good deal of guidance at that time that’s proven to be highly applicable in my current roles. As a freshman, I already had two jobs and those kept me very busy, but the structure they provided also helped drive me to finish school in 3 1/2 years. In my work, I was mentored by a number of successful coworkers and businessmen. Through these relationships I learned a lot about leadership, our potential as individuals, and our ability to carve out our own path. I also learned to be a servant-leader, that nothing great can be achieved alone, and that we can only control our attitudes and actions, no one else’s. I’m honored to have a small leadership role in the YAC because it gives me the opportunity to practice those leadership principles.
What are the most interesting and challenging aspects of what you do for a living?
I think my ultimate challenge is that my professional future largely depends on my continued personal growth. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to run a small business or a psychologist to understand a family business; but as a student of these institutions, I’ve found they can still be very complex and engaging.
Being a leader in my family’s small business and pursuing my own personal ventures, I’ve been seriously challenged to manage our employees as well as our companies’ internal affairs. I’ve also had to learn some very complicated industries from the ground up. The learning curve for dealing with all these demands only seems to grow steeper over time. The deeper I dig into my professional aspirations, the more I understand how little I know. In spite of this, I feel like I always have the capacity to learn more. Plus, the great thing about business is that you never have to go it alone. There are always leaders you can go to for guidance. Personally, I’m grateful and indebted to those leaders.
What skills do you need to work in your field and how did UNC help to equip you with those skills?
Leadership, obviously, is a huge must! UNC helped me with that in an indirect way. My education at UNC and the Monfort College of Business gave me the confidence and competence I needed to make decisions and take calculated risks. That, in turn, has helped me to lead people in my day-to-day work and exert leadership through the board position I hold with the Colorado Auto Recyclers Association.
Another concept that’s proven to be incredibly useful is the idea of maximizing efficiency. In college I learned tools and methods to enhance efficiency and take advantage of the benefits it yields. Now, as a good example of its application, our family business is undergoing a complete overhaul of its business model to improve efficiency across the board. I owe UNC a lot of credit for my progress.
Are there campus organizations or faculty members at UNC who were influential in steering you down this professional path?
Of course! One great thing about professors is that, if you demonstrate a willingness to learn, they’re often happy to give of their time to help you out—for free! One of my primary mentors is Dr. David Thomas, a professor in MCB. Dr. Thomas is a seasoned business professional who really enjoys sharing his experience and knowledge. I’m blown away that he’s always more than happy to give me an hour of his time. As a graduate, being able to talk through an idea with a professor like Dr. Thomas is an enormous blessing . I am extremely thankful to all of my professors, especially those in the business school, for having such a great impact on my future.
How did you get started assisting small businesses and entrepreneurs with their business plans?
My dream to do business consulting started early in my freshman year and just kept growing from there. My senior year at MCB, we were asked to write a business plan and compete against our fellow classmates. From this challenge I gained my first spark of confidence and inspiration. I have written several plans since then,”unofficially,” and my wife—more than anyone—has heard me talk about how one day I’d like to do this for a living. I’ve also helped write marketing plans for different associations and small groups of UNC alumni.
So far I’ve had an interesting mix of results. Some of the plans I’ve started for others have stopped abruptly because of unfeasible business ideas; others I’ve been able to put to use within the family business; still others I’ve written for competitions. So in 2012, after all that practice, I began to broadcast to my family that I was officially going to start pursuing this dream of mine. Since then I’ve helped two small businesses get off the ground. How did I hook these first two? I got lucky. They’re both family-run, home-based operations: the first is an interior design business and the second is a 3D Printing business—of which I am a co-owner.
What are the most important things these sorts of entities should be aware of as they’re getting started?
At this point, I think I can give a few basic recommendations to prospective small business owners. Make time to plan, research, and think about your business. Then, drop all of your work. Sleep on it or watch TV. Oftentimes when you go back to planning after that little break, your mind will surprise you. That rest period can help break down walls that all of your intentional thinking couldn’t even begin to crack.
Also, don’t underestimate the power of estimation. Financials in particular deserve plenty of attention, so sit down with a professional early on and start creating detailed estimates. Positive thinking is key, so it can be good to talk about your ambitions like you would about a goal you’ve already achieved. Finally, I’ll paraphrase one of my favorite quotes: You become the things you read and listen to, the people you hang out with, and the ideas you embrace. Take positive in, and positive will come pouring back out.
What are the most rewarding aspects of the volunteer work that you do with the YAC? What positive changes would you like to see accomplished through that work?
Being able to volunteer alongside all of the other accomplished members of the Young Alumni Council is a great reward in and of itself. The experience of working on the structure of a new organization is exciting and thought-provoking. The people involved with the YAC— the President of UNC and her staff, council members, leadership, and Alumni Board—all expect to bring about a true transformation in the alumni experience through this new Council. In my opinion, this has already begun to happen within the first three quarters of the organization’s existence.
As far as the effects that will be brought about by that transformation, I have a number of positive changes in mind. I would like more opportunities to reconnect with my college friends through UNC functions. I want there to be more events where we can begin to tap into some of these awesome social networks we all share as UNC alums. I’d like to see our alumni give more, so that more can be given back to the school and its students. My ultimate ambition is to help create a more prosperous, generous, and connected group of alumni.
A big thank you to Ryan for taking the time to share his thoughts with us and all that he’s done to blaze the trail into this brave new world of alumni involvement. If you’d like to learn more about the Young Alumni Council, check out their official organization page and consider attending their upcoming Bears and Brews mixer in Ft. Collins on 6/25. Interested in exploring other UNC alumni organizations, social occasions, and volunteer opportunities? You can view our events calendar here, contact the AA here, or apply to be a part of our first ever regional chapter in Denver here. For MCB-specific alumni news, be sure to visit their lovely new webpage—which, incidentally, Ryan Hochmiller helped to plan and implement—here.
Were you inspired to pursue your entrepreneurial ambitions as a student at UNC? Do you know of a philanthropic alum who deserves a #BearsGive spotlight? Please share with us in the comments section or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
(Photo: Ryan Hochmiller with his wife Jenny, a teacher and fellow UNC alum. They live together in Reunion, CO.)