Here is a brief look at some of the recent news stories that featured Neeley students, staff and faculty. For a complete look at Neeley in the News, check out In the News Archives.

D Magazine
September 16, 2013
A New Dawn for RadioShack. The struggling electronics retailer regroups again, this time with an experienced merchant at the helm. - By Steve Kaskovich

Joe Magnacca is in his element as he bounces around RadioShack’s new concept store on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The struggling retailer’s CEO is talking a mile a minute, eager to impress that this store offers far more than the customary batteries, cables, and cellphones.

Up front, there’s a display of stylish Beats by Dre headphones with docking stations, so shoppers can test out their tunes. He points to touchscreens displaying product information and taps an iPad by the checkout counter, triggering music from a speaker wall to entertain shoppers while they wait in line.

“I like to say that technology creates change, and change is good for RadioShack,” says Magnacca, a former Walgreens executive who joined the electronics retailer in February. “We sit in a relevant space, the technology space, but for a time we’ve had an irrelevant brand. Our job is to revive that brand.”

Well, no one would argue with that. RadioShack needs to change. For the better part of a decade, the Fort Worth-based company has been either retrenching or on its heels, losing out to big-box rivals, websites, cellphone companies and new technologies.

Before Magnacca arrived, the company was run by two bean-counters, Julian Day and then Jim Gooch, both finance specialists who spent more time reining in costs than driving revenue or improving the product mix.

The focus on cost-cutting kept the company profitable through the recession and appeared to set it up for a sale. But when no buyers showed up, the lack of merchandising attention became painfully obvious. The company lost $139 million in 2012, as sales declined by 2.7 percent and the stock fell to an all-time low. Gooch was let go last September.

With Magnacca, the board has put the chain back into the hands of a merchant. The big question is whether it’s too late.

The company lost another $96.4 million in the first six months of this year as sales fell by 3.9 percent. In August, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the company’s already junk-rated debt by another notch, and warned of a possible default within 12 months unless the business turns around. After making a $214 million debt payment in late July, RadioShack had about $215 million in cash left, S&P said.

Now the upcoming holiday shopping season appears to be a do-or-die affair, but Magnacca says there’s no impending crisis. During the company’s second-quarter earnings call in July, he said that a turnaround will take several quarters and that the company is making progress. Still, the company hired an investment banker to help with financial options.

About a dozen full-blown concept stores, like the one in Manhattan that opened in July, will welcome shoppers by the holidays in high-traffic locations, including Fort Worth’s Sundance Square. Most of the 4,300 company-owned RadioShacks will simply adopt a cleaner look, with fewer products grouped by brand, and cellphones pushed to a wall to make way for trendier goods like headphones and speakers. The fresh ideas are winning good reviews on Wall Street, though the jury is out on whether RadioShack can pull it off.

In a report titled “Welcome to the 21st Century,” David Strasser of Janney Capital Markets called the New York store design “Applish” and “much more shoppable.” But he said RadioShack must show that it can stock the hottest products and better train its sales staff in order to generate higher sales. And changing consumer perceptions about RadioShack will be no small task.

George Low, a marketing professor and associate dean at the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University, says there’s still strength in the RadioShack brand, but it’s also a liability. “RadioShack screams old technology. The word radio is in it,” Low says. “It’s sort of the Oldsmobile of electronics retailers.”

He believes the company got off track by not having merchants in charge of the store. “That’s why they took their eye off the ball,” he says. “The CEO of a retailer needs to be a merchandising guy, and that’s who they’ve hired.”

Magnacca acknowledges as much. The company’s previous management was “risk-averse; it was a finance-run company. In that environment, unproven inventory is not a bet that you make. I’m the opposite.” He wants RadioShack to return to its heritage by developing unique private-label products that can attract a new generation into the stores.

TCU’s Low likes that plan. He recalls how the late Charles Tandy built RadioShack into a national chain, with innovations like the first portable computer. That success made Tandy a business legend and a huge civic benefactor in Fort Worth.

“I’m cheering for them,” Low says. “My office is in Tandy Hall.”  


September 5, 2013
Neeley School celebrates anniversary with ball pit - By Katherine Love

How does one of the top business schools in the world celebrate 75 years?

It practices “business not as usual,” Homer Erekson, dean of TCU’s Neeley School of Business, said.

That means sending college students back 20 years to their childhood, to days of playing in rainbow-colored ball pits.

Students don’t need to go to Chuck E. Cheese’s or McDonald’s Playplace to travel back in time, however. They can find a ball pit in Tandy Hall.

The Neeley School of Business set up a purple ball pit in the building’s lobby as one element of its 75th anniversary celebration this semester.

The ball pit, which contains about 8,000 purple balls, measures approximately 6 feet long, 6 feet wide and 4 feet tall. Some of the balls have questions relating to the Neeley School written on them.

Students can even film themselves asking each other questions and submit them. A panel of judges from the Neeley School will choose the best six videos and award an iPad mini to the first-place contestants and $75 TCU Barnes & Noble Bookstore gift certificates to the five runners-up.

The real question is: why a ball pit?

The idea came from Erekson himself after seeing the “Take a Seat, Make a Friend” video on YouTube. In the video, SoulPancake, a Los Angeles-based media company has strangers ask each other “big questions” inside a ball pit on a busy street corner, according to the SoulPancake website.

Erekson decided Neeley should recreate this idea.

“We were thinking about how we can celebrate in creative and new ways that people might have fun with,” Erekson said, “and we’re already getting ideas about how to build community and build up the business school.”

Erekson said the ball pit also fits with the Neeley Promise of unleashing human potential with leadership at the core and innovation in the spirit.

“Part of being innovative and creative is for people to have fun together and build community,” he said.

Though Erekson said he can think up creative ideas, it takes someone else to execute them.

That’s where Brian Buck comes into play.

The husband of a TCU graduate and the senior vice president of Cox Commercial Construction LLC based out of the Houston area, Buck said he accepted Neeley’s request to build a ball pit about six months ago.

Buck first partnered with the Neeley School last year, he said, making the 75th anniversary diamond-shaped countdown clock, which also sits in the Tandy lobby.

Buck said he likes making custom things, so the school’s ball pit request did not seem strange.

“It’s a hobby of mine,” he said. “I had never made a ball pit, but I thought, ‘Yeah, I can make something like that.’”

The ball pit did seem a bit strange, however, to Yun Lim, a freshman business major.

“I was kind of surprised the first time because it’s really random, you know, a ball pit,” Lim said. “But then I realized it was for a video contest, and then I was like, ‘Okay, this might be kind of fun.’ I like it.”

As of August 27, Lim had not gotten in the ball pit, nor had he decided if he would submit a video into the contest.

But the Neeley School plans to get more entries next week, when it hosts videotaping sessions 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on September 9-13. Entrants can upload their videos to the Purple Pit YouTube page via the Gmail address password: purplepit.

The contest ends September 25, and winners will be announced at the November 2 gala event for Neeley’s 75th anniversary.

As the Neeley School continues beyond this milestone, Erekson said he wants to be sure the School adapts to new ideas about education and becomes a leader in those ideas.

The purple ball pit begins that endeavor, taking a colorful, old pastime and generating new, fun and innovative ideas for carrying this internationally-recognized business school into its next 75 years.