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Student Spotlight: Rogan Donelly, President of Tervis, Seeks Wider Perspective as an Executive MBA Student

By Keith Morelli

TAMPA (January 9, 2018) -- Nestled between the sunset-drenched beaches of Casey Key and the lush expanse of the Myakka River State Park is the factory in Sarasota County that churns out the iconic Tervis tumblers; the popular insulated drink containers that come with a lifetime guarantee, don't leave rings on your coffee tables and are embossed with, well, whatever your interests may be.

The company with a global reach is family owned – has been for three generations – and now is run by the latest in the family's line, Rogan Donelly, who also is enrolled in the Executive MBA program at the University of South Florida's Muma College of Business. He is set to graduate this year.

"I was looking for a well-rounded perspective," he said, and the Executive MBA course offers just that. He already has a well-rounded view of the company that has been in his family for almost a half-century before he was born.

Donelly graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine in 2008 with a bachelor's degree in anthropology. He earned a graduate certificate in business administration from Northeastern University in Boston in 2009.

"As a business owner working in my family's company, I've been fortunate to gain a lot of experience from the 'top down,'" he wrote in the Executive MBA application letter. "I've worked with and learned from CEOs and other high-ranking officers as well as distinguished board members from companies such as Under Armour, Sun Hydraulics and Keurig."

"We've sent a handful of Tervis employees to the USF Executive MBA program and they all have great things to say," he wrote. "I thought I'd continue that tradition and experience the program for myself.

Tevis is a real family-owned success story. It has grown to 700 employees who work in a 90,000-square-foot plant just off Interstate 75 south of Venice. The corporation boasts about $100 million in revenues and has been a constant in Donelly's life.

His grandfather, John C. Winslow, purchased the company in the late 1950s and passed it on to Donelly's father, Norbert, in the 1980s.

Rogan Donelly has worked in every department, from sales and marketing to promotions and he even put time in on the production line.

As a middle schooler, he spent summers shuffling boxes around the old Tervis factory floor. In 2008, he became a member of the board and in 2009, after working in Boston at Bank of America, Donelly moved back to Sarasota and was named principal of Tervis. He became president in May 2016, becoming the third generation to be lead the business.

"It has been an extensive, glorified internship," he said.

For decades, the product faced little competition, but the past few years, companies have emerged and are focused on making inroads into the market and Donelly may be the first company president to deal with growing competition from a variety of cup and tumbler companies. In response, the 32-year-old president has transitioned parts of the product line into stainless steel models in order to compete against competitors such as Yeti, RTIC and Ozark Trail.

It was the first departure from the tried-and-true plastic formula that has spelled success for the cup-making corporation for more than seven decades. It was tough to come in as a millennial and convince the board of directors to change direction, he said.

"But, they did see the writing on the wall," he said, "and I do have the board's ear."

The tumblers keep hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold and come in thousands of designed logos from universities, professional sports, Disney, Marvel and the military. Customers visiting the company's website also can design their own products with personal photos.

In July 2016, just two months after being named president, Donelly headed to Washington, where he and others from around the country were honored by the White House as purveyors of American-made products. The event was to encourage others to manufacture products in the United States.

Donelly was the only representative from Florida.

"It's an honor to represent the 700 employees who design, decorate and build Tervis drinkware with American hands and values," Donelly said at the time. And, he sees his role as more than just keeping their companies profitable. He sees the value of giving back to the community.

Last year, Tervis donated more than $34,000 to Disabled American Veterans through a July 4 promotion. The company ran the patriotic promotion in each of its 45 official Tervis stores and on for the holiday weekend, donating $2 from every product sold online and through its retail outlets.

"DAV has been serving veterans as well as their families since 1920 and connects over a million veterans to their earned benefits each year," Donelly said at the time. "When we're celebrating our country's independence, remembering those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom felt right."

Donelly also serves as a trustee with the Mote Marine Education and Public Outreach Committee and serves on the board of the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County.

When he's not running the company or doing charitable work or traveling to Washington, he spends his time surfing, camping, golfing, scuba diving and cajoling with his German shepherd, Fritz, the unofficial Tervis mascot.

The top item on his bucket list, besides one day passing the Tervis helm on to the next Donelly generation: to catch a tarpon with a fly rod from atop a paddleboard.

Donelly is one of dozens of business managers, executives and CEOs who make up the 2018 Executive MBA class who seek out relevant research and wider perspectives they can bring back and put into practice at their own companies.

Nick Vojnovic, CEO of Little Greek restaurant franchise, enrolled in the program in 2010 and has no regrets.

"I felt USF would be a great fit for me," he said. "Seven years later I can honestly say that this decision was much more of a positive impact than I have imagined. In addition to a great learning experience, I have found great friends and through it all, it was a positive impact on my business.

"The Muma College of Business is truly a family," said Vojnovic, who served as president of the Beef 'O' Brady's restaurant chain for 15 years before taking the reins at Little Greek. "I am forever grateful to Dean Moez Limayem, staff and alumni for everything they have done for me."

Having a classroom full of executives both benefits the students and strengthens the program, said Andrew Artis, academic director of the MBA programs at the Muma College of Business.

"Modern CEO's know they have to learn faster than their competition and top-flight Executive MBA programs have to continue to update content to meet this demand," he said. "At USF, learning is a collaborative process between academic researchers with PhDs, experienced practitioner-scholars with DBAs (Doctorate of Business Administration) and students who run corporate America.

"Each grows stronger by serving the other," he said, "and this partnership better prepares each group to meet the needs of leaders in the executive suite."