COLUMBIA — Shanghai, Tokyo, Madrid — Richard Maltsbarger has seen it all, flying more than a million miles for various corporations since leaving MU with bachelor's and master's degrees in agricultural economics in 1999.
Now the senior vice president of strategy for Lowe's Companies Inc., Maltsbarger, 36, returned to Columbia and MU on Monday to meet with students through the Robert O. Reich Family Executive-in-Residence program. The College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources administers the program, which began in February 1997 with an endowed gift.
Maltsbarger is the 40th participant in the program, which has included executives from Monsanto and Epcot, among others.
Reich wanted to emulate a similar program in the Trulaske College of Business and bring in people from the agricultural industry to have one-on-one interactions with students and faculty, Christine Pickett, the school's director of external relations, said.
Pickett said four to six people are nominated every year, and two to three accept the invitation. Guests usually have a relationship with MU or Columbia, and might be close to several of the faculty. Ken Schneeberger, a program manager at the school, suggested Maltsbarger.
Maltsbarger visited with five students and two administrators from the school Monday morning, talking about his career path from growing up in tiny Green Ridge through working for a large corporation.
In 1993, Maltsbarger came to MU only looking to graduate with an office job after seeing his grandfather toil in farm fields on a tractor in blistering 90 to 100 degree heat.
"I realized there's something better than this," Maltsbarger said, adding that he was 16 at the time.
He spent six years at MU but still had only a vague idea of what to pursue. He credited professor Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes with convincing him to enroll in graduate school and offering him a fellowship, opening the door for his first job at Monsanto.
"It was a combination of luck and timing and placement," Maltsbarger said.
Maltsbarger performed predictive analytics with the company and worked with advertising agencies for the company's Dekalb and Roundup brands. The former is a genetically-engineered type of seed, while the latter helps kill weeds.
In November 2000, Maltsbarger bounced to IBM and worked in consumer and market research, conducting surveys and interviews. The job helped him learn about individualism and how to study peoples' behavior and translate it into business, he said.
But after working 60-hour weeks in addition to earning a full-time Master of Business Administration from Washington University in St. Louis, his wife, a broadcast journalism major whom he met at MU, issued an ultimatum.
"My wife asked me, do you want a new career or a new wife?"
He decided to join Lowe's in 2004, and has climbed the corporate ranks from customer analytics to his current position, which he attained in January 2011. He is responsible for the company's five to 10 year outlook and oversees six major initiatives and the spending of $1.2 billion toward them in the past year.
"I'm in a role bigger than I ever thought I'd be managing."
Maltsbarger still works 55 hours per week, but only travels about once every two months. In addition, he finds time to read a book and watch a movie every week, while also coaching soccer and taking his children to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
The key is balance, he said. He looks at his life in thirds, with blocks for work, sleep and free time. The latter is what makes the difference, and he tries to spend it with family as much as possible.
"It's how you choose to spend the 168 hours (in a week)," he said. "There's so much you can do. So many leisure activities, on top of 10,000 business books."
So he listens to audiobooks while mowing the lawn, learns Japanese on the flight to Tokyo and looks at the picture of an oak tree on his desk with the inscription: "Sometimes the biggest successes start as the smallest opportunities."
Maltsbarger shared that his biggest regret was not studying abroad while at MU, and asked students to talk to as many people as possible who hold different world views.
Business is about people, and he said most of his work week is meeting with other people to help shape and implement company initiatives.
"My job is to get people to behave and interact with each other to create knowledge, to create excitement and to create flow," he said.
Maltsbarger ended the session asking students to not ask themselves what they need to do in order to pass a test, but rather what they need to do in a class in order to pass life.
"I really like the idea that he still focuses on his family a lot," said Clarissa Brown, a freshman in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. "Even sitting around the table here talking to a group of people, he still mentions his kids and his wife and how important it is to use those 60 hours towards them and just finding that balance."
Maltsbarger was scheduled to hold a seminar with MU students and the public Monday afternoon before concluding his visit by sitting in on classes Tuesday.