Bauer graduate cited for turning Goodwill Industries of Houston around
Back in 2008, Goodwill Industries of Houston was looking for a CFO who could wean the struggling non-profit off its contributed-income dependency and make it run like a business. Tony Van Slyke (MBA ‘91) was looking to expand his repertoire with a CFO position. It was the perfect match.
“It allowed me to use my accounting and financial skills with an organization where I really believed in the mission,” said Van Slyke, an executive with a wealth of experience in the banking, health-care and energy industries. Though it is known for its thrift stores, the purpose of Goodwill is to find jobs for people with barriers to employment.
Today the graduate of the University of Houston C. T. Bauer College of Business has proven his mettle. In May, Houston Business Journal named Van Slyke the Best CFO of the Year in the non-profit category. The award was a tribute to the remarkable turnaround of the financially challenged organization. Under Van Slyke’s watch, Goodwill Industries of Houston has become a self-sufficient entity that no longer relies on charitable gifts to operate.
The honor also speaks to Van Slyke’s ambition as a goal-driven businessman who realized early on that he needed to bolster his academic credentials in order to move up the corporate ladder. Van Slyke didn’t stop with his MBA in Finance from Bauer; he later studied accounting at Tarleton State University and became a CPA. We recently talked to the Houston native about his life and career.
Your B.S. is in petroleum land management from the University of Houston-Downtown. Did you start out thinking you would work in energy? I did. In the early ‘80s, the oil industry was booming. They were telling us, ‘When you graduate from college, you’ll be making $40,000. You’ll get a company car.’ Well, for a college student in 1980, that was unbelievable. You are set for life, you think, so I thought it was going to be this incredible career. In my late junior or senior year, the oil industry went in the other direction and just kind of crashed. By the time I graduated, nobody was hiring. Oil companies were just laying people off.
So what did you do? I did contract work for about three years. … But the oil industry continued to get worse and worse. … So that’s when I made the switch and got into banking. … I worked in banking for about 8 or 9 years. … And I always struggled with banking, because I was like, ‘We don’t do anything. We just push money around.’ … So I kind of made the transition to working more in industry. I worked for an oil company and a company that owned hospitals.
Why did you want to get your MBA at Bauer? I really felt like being in the banking world, I needed to go back and get a business degree. Being in Houston, it was a great fit. So I did it at night, as so many people do, and it was an incredible experience to be working as a young person in banking and then take those classes at night. They kind of complemented each other.
What’s the background on your Houston Business Journal honor? Goodwill was growing at such a rapid pace. Being the finance guy, the concern was always having your costs grow faster than your revenues. … The CEO had me head a task force that got people from the different areas of the organization just constantly looking at costs and how we can do things more efficiently. It was kind of amazing how it turned out. I am certainly not taking credit for it all; it was organization wide. We were able to drive our costs down during the growth. … That really helped us turn the corner, and we achieved our strategic plan of becoming break-even before contributions two years ahead of plan. The goal was by the end of 2013, and we actually achieved it by the end of 2010.
What next? I would like to go back to teaching an accounting/business course part-time in the evening each semester at the university level. I did that a few years ago and found it to be extremely rewarding. I loved being challenged by the students to stay sharp and current, and I loved being able to watch students grow and learn.
By Wendell Brock