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A Pathway to Success

By Drew Menard, February 10, 2017

There is an expectation that comes with Liberty University School of Business graduates when they are hired — whether they asked for it or not. The past performance of their predecessors and the tireless work of their school, both in identifying what employers want and tailoring their programs to match, have contributed to the impression that Liberty graduates bring a higher standard to the table.

liberty-university-students-201609150357KJ2As more and more alumni reinforce this notion, interest in hiring Liberty graduates has been compounding, from Wall Street banks, boutique investment firms, and Fortune 500 companies, to major nonprofits, leading software developers, and industry giants.

In some cases, employers are hiring graduates as fast as Liberty can produce them.

“We emphasize a strong work ethic in our programs,” said Dr. Gene Sullivan, who has served at Liberty since 1987 and is currently directing the Doctor of Business Administration program. “Our graduates are leaving here and putting forth the extra effort, going the extra mile, and doing an outstanding job. Employers see an employee with a strong work ethic, good character, and integrity — you don’t get that in a lot of places — and they say, ‘We want more of that.’”

Bringing Dreams to Fruition

Every workday, Tom Cirbus (’13) walks 12 blocks up Park Avenue from his Manhattan apartment to New York City’s historic Seagram Building, the skyscraper where he works as an investment banking analyst at Wells Fargo Equities. When his three-year commitment is up this summer, Cirbus will be promoted to associate.

Cirbus is in the thick of equity market strategies, working with some of the nation’s largest consumer retail companies.

“It’s front-of-the-Wall-Street-Journal kind of stuff,” he said. “It’s what every (business graduate) dreams to do one day.”

Top candidates from the nation’s leading universities are lining up around the block to land similar jobs, Cirbus said, and though he was a little intimidated when he first walked in the door, he quickly realized that “Liberty prepared me more than I could have imagined.”

“I never felt behind,” he said. “Liberty taught me to find a way to add value wherever I go, to connect with people and foster relationships, and to be helpful beyond the stated ask. That is what I was told would take me further, and it has proven to be true.”

He added that while it is by God’s grace that he is sitting where he is today, his education empowered him to chase his dream.

“Liberty taught me to be well prepared and humble along the way,” Cirbus said, “and that I can knock down any door in front of me.”

While Liberty graduates are succeeding in the world of high finance (read about Connor Carew, who was hired by a top investment firm while he was still a student, below), the same is true in related business fields, such as accounting and information systems.

“For the most part, our accounting majors are getting hired in their junior year,” said Dr. Melanie Hicks, chair of accounting, economics, and finance for the School of Business. “If you are an accounting major and you are graduating without a job already lined up, it isn’t because there hasn’t been a company interested in you.”

Accounting’s Big Four — Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PwC — all reach out to Liberty directly to help them fill positions. These companies, which have offices in major cities around the globe, recruit only from select universities. The same is true of other large companies, like the nonprofit accounting firm Tate & Tryon, which Hicks said “will hire as many students as we can send them.”

“They know the quality of our students, and they want them,” Hicks said. “There is this expectation that Liberty graduates have a higher moral code because we have been instilling Christian values and reinforcing what their parents have taught them. When you are talking about an industry like accounting, their work ethic, Christian ethics, and humility is what businesses want.”

Through the Career Center, business students are presented with internship and job opportunities at hundreds of companies throughout the year. Many of these opportunities are made available through large career fairs held every semester. Auto-Owners Insurance, a Fortune 500 company, was so pleased with its Liberty recruits and relationship with the university that it recently donated to the center.

Laying a Solid Foundation

Dr. Scott Hicks, dean of the School of Business, said that this success is a “reciprocal effect” of encouraging a culture that focuses on serving God first.

When he took the helm five years ago, Hicks shifted the school to a student-centric focus. Applying a business mindset, Hicks realized that while students are “customers,” ultimately they are “products” that Liberty sends to market. Employers, then, are the true customers.

“There is only one you. There is not going to be another one just like you,” Hicks said. “So how do we take those people who are coming in the door with all of the right raw material and refine them into something more polished?”

The question is rhetorical, but Hicks explains the school’s educational philosophy: “It is knowing at the beginning that you are here to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your strength, all of your mind, and loving your neighbor as yourself.”

You then build on that foundation, he said.

“We send out students with phenomenal critical thinking skills and good communication skills — students who are teachable, who know how to embrace conflict, challenge, crisis, and change in a Christlike manner, students with a hard work ethic and good moral ethics, students with confident humility, knowing Whom they are serving.”

That mindset is emphasized, whether a student is studying online mid-career or on campus as a recent high school graduate.

Dr. David Calland, associate dean for the School of Business, joins business students Alex Kooistra and Elfrida Johnson at the Jerry Falwell Library.

Dr. David Calland, associate dean for the School of Business, joins business students Alex Kooistra and Elfrida Johnson at the Jerry Falwell Library.

“Students have bought into the (Liberty) culture because they get a sense that we care about them and that we are here for them — because we are — and that we are here to come alongside them, not just for today, but for a lifetime,” Hicks said.

The school also works with businesses to find out what they want in their employees, pairing them with students and providing those students with invaluable learning experiences to develop their skills before they graduate.

From an academic perspective, students are receiving the theory and rigorous application necessary for any good business education. But hands-on experience, coupled with a Christian worldview, produces a “product” that stands out in the marketplace.

“We are fortunate to have a culture wherein God is present and where we have this synergistic relationship with our students striving to create value wherever they are,” Hicks said. “Businesses see that mentality, and they fall in love with it.”

Developing Workers for New Frontiers

Dr. Michael Hart, chair of Business Management Information Systems for the School of Business, explained that careers in software development regularly place in the top 10 nationally in terms of growth and new jobs.

Liberty was among the first to offer a simulated computer networking environment online — a tool that lets students gain experience in an “enterprise-class” environment (a computer network large enough to serve a major company or Internet Service Provider) — through its partnership with Cisco Systems. The relationship has led to several internship and job opportunities for students at large companies.

Through other strategic partnerships with leading companies, such as Adobe, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and VMware, Liberty students are not only able to earn system certifications as part of their education, but they are also getting a foot in the door with these top employers.

“Every one of these partnerships has produced jobs that students were given as a result of the relationship,” Hart said.

For example, students who earn certification in Oracle Database, the lead enterprise database provider in the world, are “earmarked before they even leave” for employment.

And Hewlett-Packard Company (HP) has hired Java developers from Liberty.

“We have these organizations that keep coming back for more,” Hart said. “It is a regular supply channel because they are finding that our students are doing well. And the value system they have helps a lot, especially in realms like cyber security and accounting information systems.”

He said that the FBI’s Cyber Division, which also regularly hires Liberty graduates, has confidence that Liberty graduates will clear security screenings and will “uphold the highest standards of character and integrity” on the job.

Building for the Future

After Commencement this May, Liberty will begin demolition on the Elmer Towns Religion Hall to make way for a new 78,000-square-foot, three-story building for the School of Business.

This facility will complement the classical Jeffersonian architecture of Liberty’s main campus reflected in the nearby Arthur S. DeMoss Hall and serve as an aesthetic landmark for drivers passing Liberty along U.S. 460.

Features will include meeting, conference, and executive boardrooms, a 500-seat auditorium, and a number of innovative spaces, from information technology labs to networking and data centers. Plans call for a simulated stock trading room, which faculty envision serving as the building’s centerpiece. The trading room would be visible from behind glass and include a real-time ticker, New York Stock Exchange display boards, and computer terminals, giving the building the feel of a financial center. It will serve as a training ground for finance, accounting, and international business students, as well as benefit Student Asset Management, a student group that invests actual funds for the university (under faculty supervision).

“We will be able to emulate multiple types of large-scale trades — we are talking millions of trades — that we couldn’t even do in real life because of the physical hardware, servers, and systems, and the type of bandwidth that is necessary to complete that type of trade,” Hart explained.

Numerous spaces will encourage student collaboration, including the 2,000-square-foot Center for Entrepreneurship, which currently serves both the campus and local communities. The center connects students who have ideas for business ventures with faculty who can help them determine if their ideas are viable and, if so, develop and launch them. Students can also connect peer-to-peer to draw from the different talents they need to be successful — be it programming, marketing, or engineering.

Though relatively new, the center is already yielding results.

Several companies have expressed interest in testing software developed by senior Luke Rettstatt.

“The center helped me to develop a completely different business model from my initial idea, (producing) a new media platform with high growth potential,” Rettstatt said.

Within the new world-class facility, Dean Hicks envisions increased collaboration across the university’s schools and colleges, as well as with the local community. As entrepreneurs find success in the marketplace, they will share their experience and give back to future endeavors, fueling the fire of ambition and innovation, which was sparked for them at Liberty.

“Where else but Liberty is there a more sustainable mission that you can use to impact the world for Christ through business students?”

  • The School of Business offers some of the university’s most popular degree programs, from the associate to the doctoral level, with specializations ranging from information technology to digital marketing and advertising, entrepreneurship, and health care management. Graduate programs include Accounting (M.S.), Business Administration (M.B.A.), Executive Leadership (M.A.), Health Informatics (M.S.H.I.), Information Technology (M.S.I.T.), and a Doctor of Business Administration (D.B.A.) with several concentrations. Minors in accounting, business, and information systems are also available.

DidYouKnowLiberty’s business graduates are working for some of the top 10 companies on Universum’s World’s Most Attractive Employers – Business 2016 list, including Google (1), Apple (2), Ernst & Young (3), Goldman Sachs (4), PwC (5), Deloitte (6), Microsoft (7), and KPMG (8).


connor-carew-201611058996NSIn one of the most competitive financial markets in the world — Manhattan, New York — Liberty University junior Connor Carew has landed an enviable position at an elite asset management firm, even before completing his college degree.

As a sophomore, Carew was persistent in seeking an internship with Permanens Capital, which he was offered and then completed over spring break last March. He impressed the executive staff so much that they offered him a full-time position; he accepted and started in September.

Alan Alsheimer Jr., a senior investment officer at Permanens Capital, said that positions similar to Carew’s are usually filled by graduates from a short list of elite business programs and Ivy League schools.

“Upon his departure, we all loved his ‘I don’t care what it is, I’ll do it’ work ethic,” Alsheimer said. “We were sold on the character and the friendly natured person that Connor is. There was a universal buy-in from everyone he touched or dealt with.”

In industry terms, Permanens Capital is a boutique asset management firm, meaning it provides custom investment solutions for institutions. It currently oversees about $2.3 billion across multiple asset classes for institutional clients.

Though Carew was a residential student at Liberty when he was offered the position, he was able to easily transition to Liberty’s online education program while in New York in order to continue working toward his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in finance and minor in accounting.

“I am overwhelmingly thankful and humbled by the opportunity,” Carew said. “I realize there are millions of people just as hungry who want to do the same things that I want to do. If I don’t do my job with excellence, there is no guaranteed spot for me here. I have to do my absolute best to glorify God.”

An alumni success story

lauren-thomas-bell-201612167800KMBefore their lives even intersected, Thomas and Lauren Bell came to Liberty, graduated, and built their own successful local businesses from nothing.

And before she earned her business degree with a concentration in marketing in 2006, Lauren Bell waited tables so that she could pay to purchase and flip a house. She became incorporated for real estate investing while still enrolled in college and, two years after graduating, became a licensed realtor. Regularly a top performer in the local community, Bell started her own company last year. For two straight years, she has been the No. 2 realtor (out of about 600) in the Lynchburg area, with $21 million in sales in 2015 and $27 million last year.

While he was studying business at Liberty, Thomas Bell (’05) approached a contractor in Wyndhurst, now a local upscale community with apartments and single-family homes, looking for work. He worked through college and then earned his Class A contractor license. He began by asking a bank for a loan to build one custom home — a project that sold quickly. He founded Thomas Builders of Virginia in 2006, and the company has continued to build custom homes, as well as purchase and develop land. He has built homes in Lynchburg’s Cornerstone community and in other new developments.

The couple met after Lauren sold a home that Thomas built, and they married in 2014. Their businesses now work very closely. Together, they have purchased land for high-end subdivisions, including Lake Manor Estates in Forest, Va., where he builds and she sells custom homes.

Their work has its fingerprints all over the community.

“It is a really good feeling to leave a mark here,” Thomas Bell said, noting that principles he learned at Liberty have helped him to make wise business decisions.

Lauren Bell added, “Liberty developed and encouraged a strong Christian foundation in each of us, which we took into the business world. We try to put God first and honor Him in the way we do business, and I think that is why our businesses have been blessed.”


hendrick-autodealership-2ljws17This semester, Liberty began piloting its first course in automotive dealership management, thanks to a partnership with Hendrick Automotive Group, the nation’s largest privately held automotive retail organization. Liberty plans to offer a full specialization in the fall, both residentially and online, under its Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.

“I couldn’t think of anybody better to partner with on this journey than Liberty,” said Dan DeHass, executive general manager for Mall of Georgia Mazda, Mall of Georgia MINI, and Rick Hendrick Buick GMC.

Only two other colleges in the nation have similar programs, even though the U.S. has the second-largest automotive industry in the world (behind China).

Students will be trained in managing a dealership as well as adapting to technology in an ever-changing marketplace.

The North Carolina-based automotive company has an extensive training program in place, which is being incorporated into Liberty’s expanding curriculum. Hendrick employees contribute to course instruction, including prerecorded and live videos.

In addition to classroom learning, the specialization will include two eight-week internships at a Hendrick Automotive Group dealership.


In addition to the university’s full regional accreditation, all of Liberty’s business programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) or are in the process of ACBSP accreditation.

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