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Chris Evans: Consortium MBA boosts family business

His MBA allowed him to take T-shirt King, the family business, to the next level. The Consortium opened the door so he could make a direct impact on others.

When The Consortium’s Karen Green reached out to a family friend for help producing #GivingTuesday T-shirts, we soon discovered that her friend was actually an alumnus of the organization. T-shirt King Chris Evans graduated with his MBA as a Consortium fellow from the University of Michigan in 2004.

In spite of the “side-eye” he received from professors, classmates and even his friends, Chris decided to take his MBA back to his family’s Kansas City business, where he turned T-Shirt King Inc., from a local concern to a national powerhouse in branded apparel and other paraphernalia.

We followed up to learn more about the charge he gets being closely connected to his community, his nonprofit foundation to create “Kings” in his hometown, and the need to be happy before becoming successful.

How did you hear about The Consortium?

I learned about The Consortium from my mentor/co-worker and fellow alum of Morehouse College Eric Gilkesson. My first job out of Morehouse was with A.T. Kearney and every year we would have a meeting with all of the African American consultants in the firm at the National Black MBA conference.

This particular year, the conference was in Detroit and I had the chance to hang out with Eric, his Michigan classmates and other Consortium alums. I was immediately impressed with their career success and level-headedness…just all around “good people.”

Upon doing the technical research, I immediately knew that I wanted to be among the network of Consortium fellows.

You received your MBA at Michigan in 2004. How was that experience?

Cold. No, like really cold.

Seriously, The Consortium afforded me the opportunity to truly live my dreams. While at Michigan, I studied finance and entrepreneurship. I was always fascinated with the idea of Wall Street and I was “good” with numbers, but I also had a burning desire to return to Kansas City and run my family’s T-shirt business.

During the spring break of my first year, I went to New York to finalize the details of an investment banking internship. My return flight was to Kansas City, where I spent the remainder of my spring break.

During that time, I spent a few days working with my dad in the business. Upon returning to school, I made the decision to “intern” in Kansas City with T-Shirt King Inc. instead of going to Wall Street.

While it was a tough decision, I figured if things did not work out as planned, I could always return to school and navigate the traditional second-year recruiting process. Needless to say, I spent my second year of business school re-writing the business plan for T-Shirt King.

Yep, I got the side-eye from classmates, professors and even my mama. Being a Consortium fellow with a Michigan education, I knew phase two of the family business would be a success.

What is T-Shirt King? Tell us more about the family business.

T-Shirt King Inc. has been providing schools, churches, businesses, sports teams and community organizations with the highest quality promotional products, custom screen-printed apparel and embroidered garments since 1985. We specialize in creating marketing solutions for our customers. Our aim is to ensure that their brand has the confidence it deserves.

T-Shirt King was started by both of my parents, so they were excited that I wanted to take their “baby” to the next level. Both of my parents always had a full-time job outside of the business, so the business was for supplemental income.

In fact, I was technically the first full-time employee. My dad was actually ecstatic when he found out that I wanted to re-write the business plan! He was in charge of the day-to-day operations and this would mean instant change for him. One of the things that I love about my family is that we were able to pass the business along from generation to generation without the negative issues that you see in many family businesses.

How did your MBA affect the T-Shirt King business?

The T-shirt business is more or less a trade. However, when you combine it with the technical business training of an MBA, the possibilities are extremely exciting. Branding the business and packaging our story was an extremely important part of our growth.

When I started, we had almost 20 years of experience serving the Kansas City community. Combining our reputation and customer loyalty with a clearly defined strategic plan enabled us to secure corporate and government contracts, serve customers outside of Kansas City and develop relationships with new suppliers.

While we had the pedigree of an experienced company, I approached every aspect of the business as if we were a startup. This included upgrading our equipment and processes. It sounds crazy now, but in 2003, we had no internet access. Everything was done via fax.

How did The Consortium help?

When I started working in the family business, T-Shirt King’s total revenue was less than the average MBA salary. On paper, this was a huge financial risk for me. The bottom line is that without The Consortium, I would have never considered returning to Kansas City to run our family’s business.

When I say CGSM enabled me to “live my dreams,” I mean just that. We live in a world where we choose salaries and prestige over happiness. The Consortium is the springboard that opened the doors for me to return to my community and to make a direct impact on others.

Tell us about that impact.

Part of the draw of running the family business is the excitement of being closely connected to my community. Last year, I started the I AM KING FOUNDATION, which provides a strong foundation for boys to become Kings.

We use competitive baseball as a platform to teach our young Kings character, discipline and integrity while developing them into positive community leaders. We have 70 boys across five teams—including the 2016 8U state champions. Off the field, we have developed the Badges & Baseball program with the Kansas City Police Department.

Badges & Baseball is a sports camp designed to engage our Kings with law enforcement officers at an early age. In this one-day camp, Kansas City Police Department officers teach the fundamentals of baseball, but more importantly, they teach the proper protocol when interacting with law enforcement.

Advice for current students?

Graduate school is a time to be selfish. Take the classes that you are passionate about and spend time building a solid foundation for a happy life. It’s easy to get caught up in the “traditional” career path that may lead to an unfulfilled life.

We live in a unique time. Technology is changing our lives at a faster pace than textbooks are being created. The traditional methods of learning have changed drastically. Use graduate school as a time to build yourself into a learning, loving machine.

Contrary to popular belief, happiness precedes success.

ABOVE: Chris Evans models the #GivingTuesday T-shirt he created for The Consortium. Photo courtesy Marquan Dunson.

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