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Reiman School of Finance honors two Daniels alumni

Rob Smith (BSBA 1992, MBA 1999, MS 2000) is the founder and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Microfinance Institute (RMMFI). Mary Rhinehart (MBA 1998) is the chairman of the board of Johns Manville, serving as president and CEO for more than seven years. The two Daniels’ alumni have achieved tremendous success, but had very different journeys.

The two were honored Feb. 12 at the 15th Annual Distinguished Alumni Panel hosted by the Reiman School of Finance. Nearly 100 attendees showed up to the virtual event to watch Professor Mac Clouse honor Rhinehart and Smith, then listen to a Q&A session with the guests.

Clouse asked each honoree to share about their career paths. Rhinehart, who has eight siblings, shared how she started working at an early age in order to pay for college. She was already doing auditing work before graduating from the University of Colorado, Boulder with a degree in finance. While she held several positions after college, she spent nearly 42 years with the same company: Johns Manville (JM). She worked in auditing, global banking, finance, human resources and business leader, working her way up to CFO, president and CEO, then chairman of the board.

Mary Rhinehart

“I would change positions every two or three years,” Rhinehart told the audience. “They knew I always wanted and need challenges. In spite of my fear, I would accept the new role and put all I had into succeeding at it.”

Smith joked that he is a three-peat from DU, earning three degrees from the University. Following his undergraduate degree in finance, Smith moved to the mountains to work at FirstBank in Avon. While there, he was able to attend the MBA program that was offered in Vail at the time. He tacked on a Master’s of Science in Information Technology and then launched a consulting career, traveling 52 weeks a year.

But it was a health scare and a stint at a coffee roasting company that sparked Smith’s true passion, which is supporting local businesses and budding entrepreneurs. Since founding RMMFI in 2008, he and his team have launched 300 entrepreneurs.

Speaking about the impact of the pandemic, Smith said, “We were really scared that this was going to be a death blow to the organization.” Explaining how the organization is so relational, the team was worried about moving to the virtual environment.

“The team has demonstrated such leadership over this time,” he said. “What the team did was build an environment true to the one guiding principle of the organization, which is connection.”

In two weeks, the RMMFI team moved their curriculum online. In addition, they didn’t want their entrepreneurs to fail, so the organization dedicated funds to pause loan payments, even sending an infusion of cash to some clients.

Rob Smith

Between the pandemic and social challenges of the past year, Smith said, “There was a lot of doubling down on the culture in the organization, which was fun and exciting to see. Our culture is stronger now than it was before the pandemic. It’s a testament to the team to make sure connections still exist in a virtual environment.”

Just as Smith was putting a priority on connection in his organization, Rhinehart was doing the same at JM, figuring out how to keep more than 8,000 employees safe across 46 manufacturing plants in North America, Europe and China.

“We’re a relationship business,” Rhinehart said. “We try to communicate as much as possible, with our employees, with our customers, with our suppliers. We did a lot of virtual meetings.”

Rhinehart, who was used to traveling weekly, took her last flight at the end of February 2020. While she got advance notice about COVID-19 because of JM’s operations in China, the company had to pivot quickly to comply with local regulations and ensure employee safety at each manufacturing plant.

Because most of the JM employees were working on location, so was Rhinehart.

“Our businesses were very strong last year,” she said. “Hats off to all of our employees, especially our supply chain employees who really kept us up and operating as well as our business leaders working closely with our customers.”

While the two honorees fielded many more questions during the panel, their shared stories communicated a message of constant learning—learning about yourself, your passions, your field, your organization and your community.

“Broaden your experiences, look for different learning opportunities,” Rhinehart said. “Reach out as much as you can and it never ends throughout your career and life to expand your knowledge, expand your wisdom.”

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