An Amazing Adventure
Tony Stovall, Executive MBA ’08
Doctoral Candidate, Retailing and Consumer Sciences, The University of Arizona
By Liz Warren-Pederson
An MBA is generally the first step on a major career shift, and it was for 2008 graduate Tony Stovall. But the Eller Executive MBA alum also took on a challenge of a completely different variety: he teamed with his best friend to compete on the new season of CBS’s The Amazing Race.
“I’ve been watching the show since season one, and it always looks like so much fun,” Stovall said. He’d thought about applying to be on the show in the past, and would run through a mental checklist of possible partners-in-crime. “Then one day, my best friend Ron said, ‘We should do this!’ We went through the application process, came up with the video, and we couldn’t believe that out of the thousands of people who apply every year, we were chosen.”
Stovall is originally from Birmingham, Alabama, but his father was in the military, so his family moved around when he was young. He earned his undergraduate degree in international relations at Stanford, and planned to go into law school. Many of his friends were taking the same route, and he saw firsthand from their experiences that it wasn’t the right fit for him.
“I had to rethink my plan,” he said. During his junior year at Stanford, Stovall co-founded an a capella group called Everyday People (“Still going strong in year 23!” he noted). He decided that what he really wanted to do was act. “I moved to Chicago instead of New York to pursue acting,” he said. “There was a lot going on, but it wasn’t as intimidating.” While he was acting, he started work with Encyclopedia Britannica, focusing on its CD-ROM project, a position that gave him a start in technology and capitalized on his writing talent.
“After four years in Chicago, I was missing the warm climate,” Stovall said. He returned to Los Angeles. “A dear friend of mine was working for the XFL, and she needed someone to help in a producer role with the XFL cheerleaders.” Stovall took on the role. “It was very interesting work, because the XFL was a startup company and operating very much in that mode, with much antagonism coming from the NFL, which was defensive from day one. It is hard to get a company like that off the ground, but I had a great time.”
After the XFL folded, Stovall took on a two-month assignment for executive recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International. The assignment turned into a full-time position, and he ended up as the manger of the firm’s internet services division.
“At that point I was coming to a crossroads and trying to figure out what I wanted from life,” he said. “I could stay in IT, or I could make a shift into something else.” By that time he acknowledged that acting wasn’t working out. And, he said, “I need to eat!” One thing was clear: “To make the shift into something else, I needed my MBA.”
Stovall began researching program options. “At that point, I’d been out of school for 18 years, so an Executive MBA seemed like the best fit for me. I looked at programs in Los Angeles, and the cheapest viable option was $85,000 to $90,000. I said to myself, ‘I’m 40. I can’t take on that much debt!’”
Then he found out about the Eller Executive MBA program. “It was a one-hour flight away and cost less, even with the airfare,” he said. After completing the program, Stovall stepped back to assess his skill set.
As a writer and an actor with analytical expertise from the MBA program and his years of technology-focused experience, he began thinking of a completely new direction: teaching. “I talked to several professors — Lisa Ordóñez and Steven Permut were cheerleaders for me in this process — and now here I am, living in Tucson and back in school.” Stovall began his doctoral degree in consumer sciences in August at the University of Arizona, after filming The Amazing Race.
To prepare for that challenge, Stovall said with a laugh, “I did a lot of internet shopping! We found out our team color was orange, so of course I had to get us orange shoes, orange shirts, orange backpacks . . . but seriously, we knew we needed to do a lot of mental prep for the challenges. Being in a different environment is stressful, and even though we’re both world travelers, we were not used to that kind of stress.”
Whatever the result, Stovall said that he and his teammate went into the competition with the same attitude. “Our friendship is the most important thing,” he said. “We had to ask ourselves, ‘Do we think we can do this without killing each other?’ We’ve been friends for 20 years now, so for us the answer was yes.”