Perspectives In Time

Three Alumni Remember When: Lee Boothby, Caroline Goodner, Dan Friedkin

Lee Boothby 

Caroline (Caskey) Goodner 

Dan Friedkin 

Twenty years ago, three graduates of the Class of 1992 set off into the world with their MBAs. Today, Lee Boothby, Caroline (Caskey) Goodner and Dan Friedkin look back over the past 20 years to share their perspectives on careers, leadership, inspiration and experiences with the Jones School.

What were you doing before you got your MBA?

LB: I was working as a petroleum engineer. My initial job was with Tenneco Oil Company in Lafayette, Louisiana.

CG: I spent one year working for Pepsi in Phoenix and learned I didn’t want to work for a large company!

DF: I was very involved in our family companies and spent most of my time developing and formalizing a strategic planning process for our businesses.

Why did you decide to pursue your MBA?

LB: The company I was working for (Tenneco Oil Company) was sold by its parent company. I chose to pursue my MBA to broaden my business foundation and learn new skill sets in the hope of providing new career options and alternatives. I had interest in pursuing corporate leadership roles and felt that having an MBA would improve my chances.

CG: I felt I lacked any real business training from my liberal arts education at Duke, and wanted to learn more about all areas of business since I went to Rice only a couple of years out of undergrad. I wasn’t certain what I wanted to do yet and hoped that I’d find some direction at Rice. I wasn’t disappointed.

DF: My undergrad exposure to case study and real world business situations was limited. There’s just not enough time to cover all the base undergrad classes and have enough exposure to the things I felt I needed to know. I knew I would get much more exposure to classes that have practical application with an MBA.

Why Rice University?

LB: I wanted to get an MBA from a top flight academic institution whose professors and students represented the “best of the best” and could compare favorably with any of the top institutions in the country. Rice represented exactly the type of opportunity and environment I was seeking. Additionally, I had accepted a job with British Gas in Houston and was very much interested in pursuing the Flex-Time MBA Program then being offered at Rice. When I was accepted into the Flex-Time MBA Program later that year, it allowed me the opportunity to both work full time and go to school full time while pursuing my MBA. This proved to be a strong positive for me and my family and Rice was by then the obvious choice on multiple important criteria.

Which skills gained from your time at the Jones School do you still use today?

LB: The most important skills that I learned and developed at the Jones School were in the areas of leadership, effective communication and organizational behavior theory — the psychology of organizations. Leadership and communication skills are critical in business and there is not a day that goes by that I do not draw upon experience and education gained in these two important areas. However, the most important skill set and learning from my time at the Jones School was definitely organizational behavior theory. This was something I knew absolutely nothing about prior to my enrollment in the Jones School and has been a very significant “difference maker” for me in my career each and every step along the way from graduation to the present day.

CG: A love for entrepreneurship. It was my first exposure to creating a business plan, and learning how to write the essential components of a business plan is critical for raising money, demonstrating you understand what it will take to make a business successful, and communicating that you have the right ingredients. And though I was a mediocre student in accounting at Rice, I actually learned a lot. Accounting has never been my strong suit in practice, but now I look back on the foundation I got at Rice and realize that I would have been very lost in my professional life without it.

DF: The case study courses I took are the ones that stand out most. They helped me develop a feel for how to approach a unique set of variables. There’s not often one “right answer,” but those classes helped me learn to organize my experiences to formulate better solutions.

What do you think is unique about the Rice MBA and the school in general?

LB: The caliber of the students and faculty is second to none and thus extremely competitive both nationally and internationally today. The esprit de corps displayed within the student body, visible teamwork, the top flight leadership skills acquired and developed, and vibrant professionalism are infectious while providing a strong and unified foundation on which to build a career. The facilities are first class and the relatively small class sizes provide a level of familiarity and intimacy that would be difficult to replicate in almost any other institution.

CG: Rice was one of the first schools to adopt the ALP (Action Learning Project), which pairs students with real companies with real projects. It came to be after I had left Rice, but I thoroughly enjoyed working with ALP students for about six years during my Identigene days (the company I founded). We got several really helpful projects completed through that program, and I was able to see how the students just kept getting better and better each year.

What was one of your biggest challenges while earning your MBA, and how do you see that today?

LB: One of my biggest challenges while earning my MBA was the ongoing effort to balance the academic demands of the program with the professional demands of my job and the personal demands of my family. When I received my diploma, my wife said to me, “If we survived this, we can survive anything.” That was an accurate statement on that spring day back in 1992, and we have put it to the test on many occasions in the years since as my career has taken the inevitable twists and turns along the way. It is critically important to have a sense of balance in your life and it is something that I am still struggling with and working on today.

DF: The biggest challenge for me was juggling the MBA program with a full time job and starting a family. It was good to go through that experience and learn a bit of time management!

How has the Jones School changed since you were a student?

CG: Students are more diversified, class size is larger, facilities are newer, and there is a heavier focus on entrepreneurship, which I personally applaud. The Rice Business Plan Competition is the best in the world. It attracts students from other highly ranked schools, which has raised national and international awareness of Rice far higher than when I went there. When I was there, more students concentrated in finance, accounting, and were geared towards careers in larger companies. Accreditation was accomplished in a short time period, and though Rice has always been a great school, accreditation is important for national comparisons.

DF: I think the Jones School has great standing as a national business school and has really grown in positive ways with infrastructure and quality of professors. Although we had a good taste of things to come, it’s a much more developed business school. I’m very impressed with the way it’s grown.

What inspires you?

LB: I am inspired by the challenge of pursuing great achievements on an organizational scale in an environment where the achievement of the “team” eclipses anything that we could ever accomplish as individuals. It is important to follow your heart, to be passionate and enthusiastic and to “dare greatly” when the opportunities present themselves along
the way.

CG: In business: successful growth companies and leaders who are respected and admired by their employees. In life: people who balance their personal lives and professional lives in a way that allows them to enjoy every day. My husband does all this — he’s a great person to emulate!

DF: I’m inspired by many things, but our kids and their development is a great motivation for me and my wife Debra. I love to fly and spend a lot of time doing that, and it inspires me and allows me to clear my head and think about how to deal with challenges.

What are some important leadership lessons you've learned along the way?

LB: The most important lesson, in my opinion, is that you must be an authentic leader — a leader who operates from a position of honesty, integrity, trust and character. There is only one road in life that is worth taking — the high road. The best test of character is “doing the right thing when nobody is looking.” Surround yourself with talented people of high integrity and character and you will go far.

CG: Everything is about people. Hiring well and appreciating the people you work with. I try to give people freedom, autonomy, and tools to improve themselves. It’s not always easy to do that in a small company, but it’s important to care about people’s development. The people I hope to work with are people that always want to grow and learn.

DF: I think failure in various business decisions along the way has taught me more than anything. Fairness and staying close to your values and never compromising them are essential. I learn all the time from everyone around me.

What gets you excited about going to work?

LB: I get up each and every day excited about going to work and facing the challenges ahead. The most significant factor in maintaining that level of excitement is a genuine love and appreciation for the talented men and women whom I am privileged to work with each and every day. Life is too short to work in an environment that doesn’t excite you and keep your spirit young!!

CG: Right now in the consumer products company I work for, seeing the marketplace reaction to something new, whether it’s a new product or a new marketing campaign. As much research as we do, it’s never clear until you’re in market what will work. In my previous work, there was substantial satisfaction in making a life-changing difference to the customers we helped through DNA testing.

DF: Being involved with great people and working with them to build our business.

What are some words of wisdom for our current students and younger alumni?

LB: Always follow your heart and do things that you are passionate about and that bring you joy and success will always follow. Study both the successes and failures of others to help refine your judgment skills and always maintain an introspective and honest self-portrait as your career unfolds. The opportunities to “dare greatly” will come your way during the course of your career…don’t be afraid to take a chance and pursue your dreams when they present themselves. Good luck in all that you pursue.

CG: Enjoy what you do, and treat people (including yourself) well. Life is short: be happy.

DF: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and keep trying. It’s generally not the mistake that matters; it’s how you recover from it and redirect that leads to success. Gather input and information and then be decisive. Keep trying always. Everyone has it in them to be successful if they try hard. Your integrity is the only thing you can control.

Lee K. Boothby was named Newfield’s chairman in 2010, prior to which he served as president, CEO, board member, senior vice president — acquisitions and business development, vice president — mid-continent, and managing director — Newfield Exploration Australia Ltd. Prior to joining Newfield, he worked for Cockrell Oil Corporation, British Gas and Tenneco Oil Company. Lee serves as a board member for ANGA (America’s Natural Gas Alliance) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and is chairman of the board of the American Exploration & Production Council (AXPC). He is a member of the Jones School’s council of overseers and holds a degree in petroleum engineering from Louisiana State University and an MBA from the Jones School.

Caroline (Caskey) Goodner ’92 is CEO of UpSpring Baby, an early-stage consumer products company focused on the health, wellness, and safety of mothers and babies.
She joined UpSpring following the sale of her two companies: MendelWorks, a mouse genotyping laboratory that served the scientific research community; and Identigene, a DNA identification laboratory that provides paternity testing to consumers and forensic DNA testing for law enforcement and defense attorneys. Along with her MBA from the Jones School, Caroline earned her BA from Duke University.

Dan Friedkin is chairman of The Friedkin Group, a privately held group of businesses and investments primarily in the automotive industry. Its core business is Gulf States Toyota, Inc. (GST), which distributes Toyota and Scion vehicles, parts and support services to one hundred and fifty dealerships throughout Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. He is chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission and oversees multiple luxury safari operators and the Friedkin Conservation Fund, a charitable organization established to conserve the wildlife and wilderness of more than seven million acres of Tanzania’s protected areas. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and an MBA from the Jones School.