COLUMBIA — Only 15 years removed from being an MU senior who had little idea of what he wanted to pursue in life, Richard Maltsbarger didn't expect a phone call inviting him to return to Columbia and share his career experiences.
For Maltsbarger, though, the trip represented a chance to reconnect with his alma mater and to see his family.
Maltsbarger visited with MU students Monday morning and held a seminar in the afternoon with the public as the 40th participant in the Robert O. Reich Family Executive-in-Residence program.
The program, which began in February 1997, is overseen by the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and allows students to meet and ask questions to business executives who have experience in the agricultural field.
"I was surprised and honored by even the consideration," Maltsbarger said. "I figure there's still so much more that I need to learn in the world that if there was anything I could actually bring to the people I was going to speak with, I'd just feel deeply passionate around a way of actually helping anybody."
Now senior vice president of strategy at Lowe's Companies Inc., Maltsbarger credits a class with MU professor Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes during his senior year with launching his career.
"I took an (agricultural) econ (class) because it was the closest thing I could find in our coursework at the time to ag business," he said. "My whole point of coming to college was to get a job. I wasn't here to learn. I was here to get a job. It was only after I've been here for a few years that I realized, 'Wow, I'm actually here to learn. And to learn a lot of things.' But his class started that.
"Nicholas gave me structure and perspective and opportunity that I didn't know existed."
After thanking Kalaitzandonakes, Maltsbarger paused to jump off the stage inside Jesse Wrench Auditorium in MU's Memorial Union and seek out his former professor in the audience for a hug.
Kalaitzandonakes said he couldn't help but feel excited for and proud of Maltsbarger, who was the only undergraduate in the 1997 class but still managed to set the curve.
"It's difficult not to, in a sense that the best thing about doing this job is seeing people come in and really do well for themselves," Kalaitzandonakes said. "Much like your kids, you watch them grow and takes the next steps and become successful. In that sense you’re always proud of your students making a difference both for themselves and others around them. And Richard has done that."
Bob Maltsbarger, 34, attended the seminar and listened to his brother's message about the importance of setting time aside for your family. He works at IHS Global Insight in Columbia as an agricultural economist and is pursuing a doctorate in agricultural economics at MU after finishing his master's in December.
He said his brother taught him a little about managing his life when it comes to both working and studying.
For instance: "Sometimes you get less sleep."
Three Lowe's store managers also came to listen to Richard Maltsbarger. Andy Fleetwood, the Columbia location's store manager, said they attended to learn different perspectives from within the company.
"It's what we do," Fleetwood said. "We know that we have to be better managers, better business people and better merchants. And how we do that is learn from each other. Whether it's Richard coming down from the corporate office or not, we have to listen. We should never be compelled by a title to come listen to this."
After the seminar, Maltsbarger was scheduled to have dinner with Thomas Payne, dean of CAFNR. Maltsbarger will attend three classes Tuesday before a closing reception in the MU Student Center at 3:30 p.m.
Maltsbarger is visiting Columbia using vacation time from Lowe's and said it was an exciting opportunity to visit his family.
"I never expected it, and this has been really fun," he said. "Already, in only half a day, I've had a chance to interact with people, some of which I knew from years ago, some of which I've never met before, and all have wonderful questions."
Photo courtesy of Patrick Schneider Photography.