MAY 28, 2014
Traditionally, schooling leads to business opportunities. But sometimes things happen backwards. That’s exactly what happened to Executive MBA student Dan Simpson last fall.
The Nashville resident’s first visit to West Virginia University was thanks to business. Simpson is co-founder and CEO of ToGo Technologies, a hospitality industry mobile and web ordering technology firm. There, he is responsible for market research, business planning and budget forecasting, strategy, corporate sales and strategic partnerships to 20 markets across the southeastern United States. He came to Morgantown to discuss potential opportunities between the University and ToGo Technologies with one of his business partners, restaurant veteran and 1970 WVU MBA graduate Michael Bodnar. On the flight up, Bodnar asked Simpson a question.
“What’s on your bucket list?” he asked. Although Simpson had several answers, one really resonated.
“I said, ‘You know, one of these days I’d love to teach at a university. I love educating. I’m a passionate person who loves to inspire others,’” Simpson recalled. “But I knew I needed to get my master’s degree first. I told him I’d love to get my MBA someday, but it wasn’t even on my radar for the next five years.”
After the business meeting, which included folks from B&E who are involved with Taziki’s Mediterranean Café in the WVU Mountainlair (which serves as a working lab for hospitality and tourism management students), Bodnar introduced Simpson to Nancy McIntyre, senior associate dean for research and outreach.
“She said, ‘You’re not leaving until you sign up for the EMBA program,’” Simpson said. But McIntyre didn’t have to twist his arm into it. “I’ve been a jack of all trades and master of none my whole life, and what I’m learning in the EMBA program is enabling me to have an educated conversation about a number of (business topics,)” he explained.
Simpson’s background is diverse. He’s been all over the east coast – born in Philadelphia, then moved to rural Maine, then attended Clearwater Christian College in Florida before settling in the Music City. But no matter his surroundings, he’s always been creative. He’s done extensive work for sustainable nonprofits, the healthcare industry, and is an accomplished musician.
“While I was in college was my first foray into the entrepreneurial space. I was part of three different start-up companies. I came in as an entry level nobody, but at all three I ended up migrating into a marketing role where I helped the company start thinking about its branding, thinking about a business plan and about structures for growth. I didn’t have any formal training for that, but it tied into my creative personality,” he said. “I noticed I love being part of things where I can be in the creative process, where I can take things from nothing to a vision and execute it.”
Simpson moved to Nashville in 2000, where he joined a start-up in healthcare. He helped grow the company to 2000 employees and they sold it to United Health Group.
“The whole time I still had never taken a business class,” Simpson admitted. “One of the things that really nagged at me was I realized there were a lot of things I knew about 85% of the way. It was happening frequently. I could walk into many diverse settings and hang with the conversation, but because I didn’t have any academic training in business or marketing, I was missing some of the pieces, and I couldn’t quite fill in the gaps.”
Filling in those gaps is what he’s most excited about with the EMBA program. He’s already put it to use at ToGo Technologies.
“I could not have negotiated the current deal if it were not for the financial statements class,” he said. “That class, in real time, educated me on how to understand and assess financial statements. I couldn’t believe the timing of taking that class and doing this deal.”
Between operating his own venture, going to school and family obligations, saying Simpson ‘has his hands full’ is a gross understatement. He has come to peace with the fact that he will not find a balance.
“Instead, I’m trying to find rhythm,” Simpson explained. “Balance is where everything fits perfectly, but it doesn’t always work like that. It’s actually a lot of imbalance – I spend bursts with my family, then bursts with work, and bursts with school. It’s best to be fully present at one thing,” he said, explaining that excelling in all three areas does take significant commitment.
But he’s alright with that. He has goals to achieve. Simpson will graduate with his master’s degree just shy of his 40th birthday in December 2015. In the meantime, he’ll have many goals to meet and exceed at ToGo Technologies and in life. But one goal in particular is especially crucial for this new Mountaineer.
“I have never been to a college football or basketball game – ever,” Simpson said, saying that attending a game is one of his ambitions. “I’m quite excited for the day I show up with a Mountaineer hat or shirt on and go to the game.”
And he should be excited. The flood of gold and blue that will be waiting for him to join is indescribable in all the best ways – the passion and pride found in Morgantown is just, well, different. His musical background will come in handy when it comes time to sing “Country Roads” with 60,000 fellow Mountaineers.