‘Radical sabbatical’ leads to big change

Published on March 28, 2011

Non-profit consultant Kaye Patterson credits higher education with transforming her life

Non-profit consultant Kaye Patterson (MBA ’98) stays connected to her alma mater by mentoring students from the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, including current mentee Scarlett Taylor.

Kaye Hodges Patterson (MBA ’98) has spent a good deal of her 65 years overcoming obstacles and accomplishing what others said she could not. Her doctors said she should never have children. She gave birth to three sons. Her father-in-law felt that women had no place in the business world. She went on to found the first female-owned independent insurance agency in Tyler and tap into the entrepreneurial zeal that guides her today.

When she decided to pursue her MBA at the University of Houston C. T. Bauer College of Business in the mid-’90s, she had to face down other fears and demons. What she wanted was satisfaction in her work, even if that meant giving up her considerable income. “We had ridden the horse of being wealthy by most standards and going to Europe two or three times a year and driving Cadillacs, and I didn’t want that  to define my life anymore,” says the plain-talking grandmother of five.

Age was another concern. She was over 50 — and worlds away from her Baylor University undergrad days. “I was crazy enough to think that all I had to say was,  ‘I want to go back to school,’ she says, “and I sat down for the GMAT and just went brain-dead. I got up and walked out.”

But giving up is not in the DNA of this plucky steel magnolia from the small town of Waxahachie, Texas.

Patterson credits her experience with the Bauer College’s entrepreneurship program, now the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, with giving her the tools to re-engineer her life. “The University of Houston inspired me and gave me the courage I needed, not to be petrified and afraid but to feel like this could be done in midlife and that I could reinvent myself and find a better way to serve mankind.” She not only received remedial post-baccalaureate help and graduated with MBA honors, but also found an abiding affinity with the non-profit world—carving the niche that has become the hallmark of her rejuvenated career.

And she liked UH so much that she stayed.

From 2000-2007, Patterson was advancement director at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture, where she led the capital campaign for the Burdette Keeland Jr. Design Exploration Center and helped persuade architect Philip Johnson to give his name to the school’s Endowed Chair. “I fell in love with the College of Architecture because they are mavericks. They are renegades. They get in the street and roll up their sleeves. It was a perfect fit.”

In 2009, Patterson started her own company, Mpact Consulting, with the vision of helping non-profits become more sustainable. Though no longer a UH employee, she is never far away: she is a dedicated Wolff Center mentor and counts the College of Architecture as an Mpact client.  In fact, she’s at UH so often that her grandkids know all the bus routes and think they rule the campus. “I’m working to integrate the joy of higher education with the grandchildren,” she says of her two great passions.

While studying for her MBA at Bauer, Patterson made international friends with whom she now shares business interests. Her latest venture, Sterling Travel, will engage Bauer professors to build communities with other cultures.  It will also continue fulfilling her vision of helping non-profits create earned revenue streams.

“I had a blast going back to college,” she says. “I didn’t know how small my world was until I got to UH.”

By Wendell Brock