12th Annual Alumni Gala

THE TWELFTH ANNUAL Alumni Awards Gala brought together students, staff, faculty, and alumni at the Knoxville Convention Center on Friday, November 12th. The evening recognized three alumni and one corporation for outstanding contributions to the college and to business in the state. 

THE EVENT, BENEFITING the College Fund for Haslam College of Business, honored Tom Bell (Distinguished Alum), Wesley Rich (Outstanding Young Alum), Ryder (Outstanding Corporate Partner), and Randy Burleson (Outstanding Entrepreneur). 

Wesley Rich – 2021 Outstanding Young Alum

A native of Knoxville, Wesley Rich (HCB, UT Law, ’15) decided to combine business with his early interest in law, pursuing a dual JD/MBA degree at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “I realized there are many law cases where business entities are at the core,” says Rich. “I wanted to be able to understand my clients’ challenges.” 

After graduation, Rich took a position as a senior associate with ExxonMobil. “That role was really influential for me,” he says. “My background in law gave me an edge in the realm of contracts, as we were drafting contractual provisions and sending them off for review.” After 18 months, Rich was promoted to lead the contract negotiations team and traveled around the world training teams on best practices and working on implementation projects for contract lifecycle management system (CLCM) software. 

The experience working on technical projects prepared him for his next role at Google, where he currently serves as a policy and legal manager—a mix of law and business that perfectly fits his passions. Rich works alongside other attorneys to analyze new laws, consider their implications for Google, develop policies for compliance, and share insights with cross-functional stakeholders. “I truly sit at the nexus of business and law,” says Rich. “It’s unique because we’re tackling situations in the online world that humans have never had to consider before. My education at Haslam is valuable in this role because it taught me to solve problems creatively and in real time.” 

Rich has been involved with the Haslam Mentors program and currently serves on Haslam’s Young Alumni Board, where he enjoys engaging with other alumni and offering feedback to faculty. “It’s been a great opportunity to network with fellow graduates and share ideas with Haslam leaders,” he says. Rich is also teaching a section of BUAD 300 this fall, bringing his experience back to the classroom as a lecturer. 

For his career success and continued investment in the college, the Haslam College of Business is proud to name Wesley Rich as the 2021 Outstanding Young Alum.

Ryder – 2021 Outstanding Corporate Partner

A leading logistics and transportation company founded in 1933, Ryder is a pioneer and innovator in supply chain solutions. Ryder and the Haslam College of Business share a focus on preparing the next generation of leaders to tackle challenges and opportunities facing global supply chains, including looking for ways to make them more resilient. To that end, Ryder encourages women to pursue leadership roles in the field through its support of research and the NeXxus Initiative at Haslam, funding scholarships, internships, and other opportunities for students to gain expertise. 

Ryder also partnered with the Girl Scouts of Tropical Florida to create the Ryder supply chain merit badge in 2020. Mary Long, managing director of the Global Supply Chain Institute’s supply chain forum at Haslam, and NeXxus Ryder scholarship recipients helped develop the curriculum and launch the badge. “NeXxus is continuing to play a role in helping spread the word, and in educating girls about the supply chain and career opportunities in the industry,” says Kitty Dumas, manager of the Ryder System, Inc. Charitable Foundation. 

Steve Sensing, president of global supply chain solutions at Ryder, is a UT alumnus who also works to ensure the company stays connected to his alma mater. Sensing currently serves on the advisory board for the Global Supply Chain Institute and has been actively engaged in supporting the college for years. 

In 2021, the Ryder Charitable Foundation funded an endowment for a professor of supply chain, enabling the college to hire Ryder Professor of Supply Chain Yemesi Bolumole. 

For its continuing commitment to serving the college, the Haslam College of Business is proud to honor Ryder as our 2021 Outstanding Corporate Partner. 

Randy Burleson – 2021 Outstanding Entrepreneur

After studying political science and economics as an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Randy Aubrey Burleson (’88) immediately enrolled in graduate business courses at the Haslam College of Business. During that time, Burleson interned with legendary Knoxville restaurateur Grady Regas and cultivated a deep interest in the business. 

Burleson opened the first Aubrey’s Restaurant in 1992, but soon found it struggling. He credits his education at Haslam for helping him turn things around. “Instead of trying to be all things to all people, we decided to identify who we were as a restaurant and deliver fewer offerings with higher quality and excellent service,” Burleson says. “We focused on efficiencies, and that’s how we were able to survive those first few years.” 

Nearly three decades later, Burleson operates 20 restaurants in East Tennessee, including Sunspot, Bistro By the Tracks, Stefanos, Barley’s Fieldhouse Social, and 14 Aubrey’s locations. “We’ve been very blessed to see this company grow beyond our expectations,” he says. “Restaurants are not rocket science, but they allow you great creativity. Every day is different, and that’s what makes every day fun.” 

Burleson has remained involved with the college, serving on the Department of Economics Advisory Council for a number of years. He enjoys catching up with faculty when they come into the restaurants and recommends the college to young employees. “They often come and ask, ‘What should I study in college?’” Burleson says. “My advice is that everyone interested in running a business should get as much accounting education as possible. It’s the language of business.” 

For his entrepreneurial success and continued investment in the college, the Haslam College of Business is proud to name Randy Burleson the 2021 Outstanding Entrepreneur. 

Tom Bell – 2021 Distinguished Alum

Tom Bell’s storied career includes serving as chief of staff to a US senator, leading an aerospace company, running a think-tank, leading a global marketing firm, and working in real estate. “I’ve had a serendipitous business life, moving from one thing to another,” Bell says. “I’ve found a lot of commonalities, particularly the soft skills you develop over time and need in every kind of work, such as the ability to communicate, to lead, and motivate people.” 

Bell came to the Haslam College of Business as a student in the late 1960s, where he met then-congressman Bill Brock, who became a mentor. Bell eventually worked for Brock’s senatorial campaign and continued to pursue a career in politics until 1982, working in both the Nixon and Reagan presidential administrations. 

In the 1980s, Bell was president and CEO of the Hudson Institute, a think-tank, before becoming executive vice president for Ball Corporation. He then served in leadership of Y&R, a large marketing firm, and Gulfstream, an aerospace manufacturing company, before joining Cousins Properties, a national real estate development firm, in 2001. In 2011, he became chairman of Mesa Capital Partners, another real estate investment firm based in Atlanta. During his career, Bell has served on the board of directors at 14 NYSE companies, including Georgia Pacific, Credit Suisse, Norfolk Southern Corporation, and Emory University. Bell also served as chairman of the US Chamber of Commerce. 

Bell has enjoyed reconnecting with his roots at Haslam over the past few years. “I didn’t set foot on campus for 20 years, and it’s been great to come back, meet the leadership team, and see what’s being done physically and in terms of academic excellence here at the college of business,” he says. “It’s rewarding to be involved once again.” 

For his career success and continued support, the Haslam College of Business is proud to present Tom Bell with the 2021 Distinguished Alum Award. 

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