2017 Alumni June 2017

SMU alumnus Mark Lau ’06: Finding a perfect fit at Nike

By Karen Shoholm
“I met Michael Jordan during the first week of my internship,” says Mark Lau ’06. “Right then I knew that Nike was the place I wanted to work. Eleven years later, I haven’t looked back.”

Mark Lau ’06, global director of Nike’s EKIN Experience, sports some favorite kicks outside the Nike store in Portland, Oregon. “There’s no such thing as a typical day at Nike, and that’s why I love it,” he says.

Lau, who graduated with degrees in marketing from the Cox School of Business and in advertising design from Meadows School of the Arts, works at Nike’s World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. As global director of the company’s EKIN Experience – named in 1981 for the Nike reps who “had to know the product backwards and forwards,” according to Nike – Lau leads the team responsible for curating Nike’s stories and delivering inspiration and innovation to athletes around the world through a grassroots approach.
“My internship played a huge part in getting a full-time job at Nike,” he says.
Lau also credits his SMU Abroad experiences studying in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Suzhou, China. “I believe that some of the best learning experiences take place outside the classroom. The study abroad programs provided the opportunity to interact with students from around the world and experience global cultures.”
Adapting to different kinds of people and cultures was good training for what Lau does at Nike. “There is no such thing as a typical day at Nike, and that’s why I love it. We are a consumer-driven company, and the consumer moves fast. We learn, adapt and evolve quickly to keep up with today’s fast-paced environment,” he says.
“We call Nike’s World Headquarters a campus because it is designed like a university and fosters an environment of learning and sharing. Our maxim, ‘Be a sponge,’ inspires us to constantly soak up and share information.”
From the SMU campus, Lau is grateful for what he learned in his marketing classes, especially those taught by Judy Foxman, senior lecturer of marketing at the Cox School. Lau says she made learning fun. “She merged the classroom with the real world, providing valuable insights and experiences.”
Foxman calls Lau “a fabulous student whose marketing and communication skills were enhanced in my Honors Marketing Practicum class. When you are relating academics to a real-world project, a company knows that you will be able to hit the ground running. You earn more than a marketing degree; you acquire a level of confidence and professionalism.”
Lau serves as the co-president of SMU’s Portland alumni chapter and helps organize events for fellow Mustangs who live in the area.
He adds that SMU’s location in Dallas gave him an ideal launch pad for getting to Nike and Portland. “Dallas is strategically located so it is attractive to companies. Whether you want to work for a big company or a small company – or start your own – Dallas and SMU can provide those opportunities.”


Carl Pankratz: Rising Star In Business And Public Service

Carl Pankratz ’03, ’06, city councilman for the City of Rowlett, Texas, and vice president/legal counsel for Capital Title, was recently named to the Dallas Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” list of the area’s top young business executives and entrepreneurs. The rising stars are recognized for their work both professionally and in the community.

Carl Pankratz ’03, ’06

Pankratz specializes in closing industrial, multi-family, office and retail properties, as a commercial escrow officer; oversees the real estate firm’s legal department; and manages more than 200 employees.
His service to the community of Rowlett, the growing city in northeast Dallas County that he calls home, is equally multidimensional.
Active in civic affairs, he was elected to the Rowlett City Council in June 2011, having previously been a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Adjustment. He has drafted several key ordinances, including an ordinance to reserve oil and gas rights for the city and a program that requires outside vendors to carry a “pink badge” when soliciting homes. Currently, he is drafting an oil and gas drilling ordinance.
He also is co-founder of the Rowlett Association of Non-Profits, a network of more than 100 arts, service and support organizations.
A passionate champion of and participant in the arts, Pankratz has starred in more than eight productions with the Amateur Community Theatre of Rowlett and has been selected for the Texas Ballet Theater’s Leadership Ballet for his commitment to the performing arts.
In addition, he has been selected as one of the “Top Five Dallasites” by the Dallas Junior Chamber of Commerce.
Pankratz graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in advertising from Meadows School of the Arts. He earned a Juris Doctor from Dedman School of Law, where he served on the Moot Court Team and National Mock Trial Team, and founded the SMU Dedman School of Law Sports and Entertainment Law Association.
The busy alumnus was able to “take five” recently to share some Hilltop memories with SMU Magazine.
Did you do any acting at SMU?
I only took one acting class, The Art of Acting, and I was never in a production. But I remember being blown away by the first production I saw at Meadows as a freshman, The Threepenny Opera.
What was your favorite course/professor?
Don Umphrey [professor emeritus of advertising] and his Advertising Research class. On a smaller group project before our big final project, he gave us a lower grade than I thought we deserved. He and I had a passionate discussion about it before I took the group and decamped to the library. For the next two weeks, we worked almost around the clock on that final project. When we turned it in, he said it was the best he’d seen in 20 years of teaching the class. He was the first professor to challenge me in that way, and it was really motivating.
What is your favorite SMU memory?
I’ll never forget the feeling of being part of the first Mustang football team to play in Ford Stadium. [Pankratz was a field goal kicker for two years.] Running through the tunnel, the energy, the excitement. It was amazing.
How did your undergraduate experience prepare you for the road ahead?
The advertising degree program gives you a great foundation, regardless of where you go with it. You have to present frequently, and the more you do it, the more polished and confident you become. Public speaking is a valuable asset for your toolbox in any field.
What do you value most as an SMU alumnus?
As a commercial real estate attorney, I attend a lot of networking functions, and at almost every event, the vast majority of the successful professionals there are SMU alumni. The distinction of being part of this large network of people who excel in their fields is a priceless opportunity. Success breeds success.


SMU Alumna’s Dazzling Designs Win Spot In Belk Showcase

Jewelry designer Ali Howell '86 was among 13 winners of the Belk Southern Designers Showcase.
Jewelry designer Ali Howell ’86 is among 13 winners of the Belk Southern Designer Showcase.

Jewelry maker Ali Howell ’86 is among 13 winners of the second annual Belk Southern Designer Showcase. Howell, the founder and designer of ali & bird jewelry, was selected from nearly 300 entrants. Her pieces will be sold in Belk department stores throughout the country and online in spring 2014.
Howell, an Atlanta resident, started ali & bird in 2009. She describes her original pieces as “affordable statement jewelry that reflect current fashion and color trends, bringing modern flair to classic looks.” The jewelry is handcrafted with semi-precious stones in the United States and is sold by more than 75 retailers.
A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Howell dived into the design realm as an SMU student when she landed a summer job in the Dallas Market Center showroom of a friend’s mother. “That led to an internship and a job offer after graduation,” she says.
After earning degrees in advertising and psychology from SMU, she moved to New York City where she launched a career in visual merchandising. Howell’s talent for mixing bold colors and classic designs served her well as the creative force behind the marketing, showroom displays and advertising campaigns for Herend USA, a fine china company, for 10 years.
At first, jewelry making was strictly a hobby. “I’ve always been a creative person, and when a friend started making jewelry, I watched her and asked her to show me a few things. I got hooked,” says Howell. “I made a several pieces, and every time I would wear one, people would ask where I got it.”
Shark Tank panelist Barbara Corcoran wears an ali & bird necklace.
Shark Tank panelist Barbara Corcoran wearing ali & bird jewelry.

Bucking conventional wisdom, Howell took a chance on her own business just as a recession gripped the global economy. As it turns out, her timing was perfect. She found that while women weren’t investing in new clothes, they were buying distinctive, well-priced jewelry to freshen last year’s looks.
Celebrity fans of her line include Barbara Corcoran, real estate expert and Shark Tank panelist, and Maria Cardona, political strategist and CNN contributor.
Howell’s company is truly a family business. She designs and creates the pieces in her home studio with the help of several assistants and off-site “stringers.” Her 12-year-old daughter, Lindsey, also known as “Bird,” not only lends her nickname to the enterprise but also a hand in making the jewelry. In addition to his job in the corporate world, husband Ward handles marketing for ali & bird. The Howells also have a nine-year-old son.
As a winner of the Belk designer competition, Howell looks forward to introducing her jewelry to new Dallas customers when the retailer debuts its 170,000-square-foot flagship store in the Galleria mall. When she’s here for the opening next spring, a trip to the Hilltop will be on her to-do list.
“Whenever I’m in Dallas, I try to make it back to campus,” Howell says. “SMU was a great place for me. I feel I got a good education and started on a path that has led me to where I am today.”
– Patricia Ward