Gregg Van Gelder had the rhythm of running his own business down pat after more than 20 years, but that didn’t stop the 56-year-old New Jersey native from improving the arrangement.
“Going back to school was to make me a better entrepreneur,” Van Gelder said. “Some of the things I learned in college in the late 1970s and early 1980s are not relevant anymore. So, in order for my business to survive, I needed to go back to school.”
Van Gelder is one class shy of finishing his MBA in Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise online from LSU Shreveport and is scheduled to graduate in December 2016. He owns Van Gelder Music Center in Monroe, New York.
“In addition to my other duties, I’m a luthier, which means I’m an instrument repairman,” he said. “We also teach, sell instruments and rent instruments. So, we’re a full-service mom-and-pop business. We do everything. We sell guitars, band and orchestra instruments.”
Once, Twice, Three Times the Grad Students
Van Gelder had plenty of company throughout the majority of his online MBA. His two kids were also in graduate school for most of that time.
“My son and I would be texting each other at one o’clock in the morning,” Van Gelder said. “‘You still up studying?’ ‘Yeah, I’m still up studying.’ It was pretty cool, actually.”
His son, Michael, 24, recently graduated from SUNY-Albany with a Master of Public Health degree. After earning her undergrad in physics from Colgate, his daughter Elise, 22, began working on a Master of Engineering Management from Dartmouth. His wife, Kathleen, has a Master of Fine Arts and teaches high school art.
“They were very encouraging,” Van Gelder said. “We’re a very education-oriented family, and we always support each other. Knowledge is one of the most important things you can give yourself. To continue to move forward and educate yourself is invaluable.”
Because he was already helping pay for two kids to go through graduate school, Van Gelder was looking for an MBA in Entrepreneurship that was affordable, accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and had brand recognition.
He researched the 5 percent of business schools in the United States with AACSB accreditation and found that LSUS had everything on his checklist.
“The other criterion I wanted was flexibility,” he said. “That was the whole idea of being an online student — I work full time, and I needed flexibility. I also specifically liked the fact that LSUS had one in entrepreneurship. That was really important to me because that’s what I do; I’m an entrepreneur.”
Being in the LSU system was also a big plus.
Most importantly, Van Gelder quickly knew he was getting exactly what he wanted from his online degree.
“I’ve been at the same job for many, many years,” he said. “I do the same thing. I have the same routines, the same processes. The same this, the same that, all of a sudden I’m thinking about things differently again. It was not just to get the piece of paper for me.
“My perspective may be different than some of the younger people taking this course. I read in some of my fellow students’ bios that they were getting an MBA to ‘move up the chain.’ Being self-employed, I am the chain. The chain stops with me. This is to improve myself, and it really has in a tremendous way. The LSUS degree is something I would recommend to everybody.”
Making Music, Too
In addition to his skills as a luthier, Van Gelder is a working musician who plays 30-plus weekends a year. In addition to leading his own Gregg Van Gelder Band, he is also a freelance musician.
“I often get calls sometimes to play with other bands last minute as a fill-in for a guy who can’t make a gig,” he said. “I play bass, I play guitar, and I’m a vocalist, and sometimes I do all three. I’m an hour from Manhattan, so I work with a wide variety of professionals.”
Van Gelder said he plays everything from standards all the way up to current songs. His band falls more into the jam band category.
“My kids are both musicians,” Van Gelder said. “Elise plays cello and guitar. My son, Michael, plays the upright bass. Sometimes my kids join me during a gig, how cool is that? People say to Kathleen, ‘Your kids play. Your husband plays. What do you play?’ She says, ‘I play the radio.'”
The Home Stretch
Van Gelder said he saved his toughest course, Quantitative Methods in Business (ISDS 702), for last. However, there were several courses he thoroughly enjoyed, including his favorite, Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Creativity (MADM 751) as well as Organizational Strategy and Policies (MADM 760) and Small Business and Family Enterprise (MADM 752).
“Hands down, the two courses I took with Michael Meeks are the two best courses I’ve taken in the program,” Van Gelder said. “Those were the courses I really felt were giving me an in-the-classroom learning experience.”
In addition to applying his knowledge to his business, Van Gelder also found that what he was learning would come up in his everyday life. Elise recently got to have lunch at Dartmouth with Mary Ann Pesce, who was the leading force behind the Venus women’s razor by Gillette.
“She’s on her own now as a consultant, but she told this story about developing strategies with her team to market razors in emerging markets while working at P&G,” Van Gelder said. After his daughter recounted this story, Van Gelder exclaimed, "I just studied this with Meeks!”
Class of 2016
Although he won’t be able to attend his graduation ceremony because it’s the week before Christmas, which is a very busy time of year for his business, Van Gelder is very proud of what he has accomplished.
“I really wanted to attend because I feel like this is a really big accomplishment in my life — to go back to school after a 33-year gap,” he said.
Van Gelder, who earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Ramapo College and an associate degree in retail business management from Bergen Community College, says he couldn’t be happier with his decision to earn his MBA at LSUS.
“The work was very hard, extremely useful and enormously rewarding,” he said. “I'm glad I did it!”
Learn more about the LSUS online MBA in entrepreneurship program.
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