Building community through business

Terry Trailblazers lean into community building during 2024 student roundtable
Chris Allen, Tonya Davies, Dean Ben Ayers, Laura Picott and KB Yabuku

Success isn’t defined by the car you drive or the square footage of your house — it’s the opportunities you create for others that let you know how far you’ve come.

Sometimes, it’s as monumental as the first person who looks like you taking a C-level role at your company. Sometimes, it’s as simple as letting young people know what you do for a living.

“Lots of times, kids would ask me, ‘What do you do, Mr. Allen? Why do you come to practice in a suit every day?’” hospital CFO Chris Allen (BBA ’92) told a group of University of Georgia students gathered at the 2024 Terry Trailblazers Roundtable on Feb. 7, recounting his years as a youth football coach.

“I would tell them what I do. And they’d ask, ‘How did you get into that?’ It’s that continuation of helping kids understand that whatever career or job you think you might want to get into, there are so many opportunities out there if you continue to work hard.”

Allen graduated from the Terry College with a finance degree and is the chief financial officer of Keck Medicine at the University of Southern California. He is one of four Terry alumni recipients of this year’s Terry Trailblazer Award.

Tonya Davies (BBA ’95), chief operating officer of Professional Risk Management Services (PRMS) and vice president of Fair American Insurance and Reinsurance Company (FAIRCO); Laura Picott (BBA ’11, AB ’11), a business and legal strategist for companies such as Coca-Cola and UPS, and KB Yabuku (MBA ’10), a vice president of brokerage for Colliers International, joined Allen as part of the roundtable.

Each year, the Terry College recognizes distinguished alumni who reach new heights in their careers, mentor young people, create inclusive communities at work, and foster the next generation of leaders.

This year’s Trailblazers came from different generations and took varied paths to build careers in diverse industries. However, they all credit the skills gained and networks built at Terry to help guide them to successful careers. But each also discussed the pressure of being in rooms where they were the only people who looked like them.

Like Allen, Yabuku found a calling in trying to eliminate those sometimes uncomfortable situations for future generations.

“For me, it’s finding a way to give back to the little boy that I once was on the south side of College Park in Atlanta and not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, not having an environment where people, whether in my family or my direct surroundings, were even going to college,” Yabuku said. “To me, it was foreign to see somebody or know someone who worked in commercial real estate, which is what I do on a daily basis.

“Commercial real estate is a hard business to get into unless you know someone. What motivates me is to kind of break that cycle. It’s part of my, ‘why.’”

That means introducing young people to the career possibilities in commercial real estate and building a solid network he can share with young businesspeople who will follow in his footsteps.

Building those relationships are critical for career mobility and success, said Picott. When you take the time to get to know people and let them get to know you, you will not only be better at your job but also break down barriers for someone after you.

“One piece of advice I give myself is to fall in love with falling in love with people and getting to know people,” she told the students. “Part of what we do — it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in — is dealing with people on a day-to-day basis. And no matter how tense a situation, you can turn a bad situation into a more positive one by learning to work with people.”

She added the ability to value and better understand people from all backgrounds is the one thing the students should take from their time at UGA, no matter their major.