From the Stage to the Garden
Troy Hollar, Eller Evening MBA ’12
Co-founder, Merlin Organics
By Liz Warren-Pederson
After completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan, Troy Hollar moved to New York and launched a career as a theatre director and producer. “Over the course of a decade, I produced more than 60 plays and live events, and managed theaters including the award-winning Soho Rep and Malaparte, where I produced new American plays with Ethan Hawke,” he said. “I learned a ton about management and leadership in those years working with Ethan — about what works and doesn’t work — that I still use today.”
In the late 1990s, Hollar began freelancing in marketing and advertising, for “I was recruited to run one of the early web agencies in New York, and then shortly after 9/11, I left there to start my own web shop,” he said. The resulting company, MetaFoundry, still designs and develops web applications today, working with clients in healthcare and media, plus startups, artists, and filmmakers. “I also have another small software company that develops its own products. And I’ve remained active in the entertainment industry, directing the occasional play and working on film projects as a partner in CrossHollar, a production company.”
But Hollar’s professional life took a turn after he and his wife Katherine had their second child. “We realized we wanted to raise our kids in a place where we could spend more time outdoors and not spend a fortune to give them a good education,” he said. “Katherine grew up in Tucson and we both loved it here, so it was a natural choice. She’s a yoga teacher and a writer, so since we both work for ourselves, it wasn’t hard to take the leap.”
Once in Tucson, Hollar connected with his father-in-law over a shared interest in gardening. “My family grew up gardening in my hometown of Concord, Michigan, and I started gardening and composting again when my wife and I lived in Brooklyn, where you really have to learn how to produce outsized yields under serious space constraints,” Hollar explained.
Meanwhile, his father-in-law has gardened in Tucson for almost 40 years, with a vegetable garden and citrus grove that produce year-round for family, neighbors, and friends. “Tom has been a bit of a fanatic about aerated compost tea for years and has studied and trained in the latest organic land management techniques, which he practices on his own 10-acre property,” Hollar said. “He and I have a shared concern for the destruction that’s been wrought in soil and ecosystems worldwide, especially in large public spaces and industrial agriculture, by ‘conventional’ land management practices that use chemical inputs.”
Merlin Organics “Bear Down” Organic Land Stewardship Program at the UA
The pair founded Merlin Organics last year because they wanted to do something about it. The company works with organizations and institutions — including the University of Arizona — that manage large landscapes, helping them convert from conventional management to organic methods and working with existing organic programs to optimize results.
“Tom and I have a vision of building an enduring company that restores and protects healthy soil in the American West,” Hollar said. “Our hope is that, five years from now, biology-based land stewardship has replaced chemical-based practices in the mainstream, and that every municipality, park, golf course, school campus, farm, and ranch in the West is a part of this movement.”
Along the way, Hollar decided to go back to school for an MBA, deciding on the Eller Evening MBA. “It’s partly to build a stronger general management foundation for myself, and partly because I wanted to gain mastery in capital budgeting and accounting, which I think are critical tools in the entrepreneur’s decision-making kit,” he explained. “The simple answer is that I wanted to significantly reduce my chances of screwing up. You hear a lot of people say some variation of, ‘Ninety-nine percent of new ventures fail because of X,’ and they give one value for X.” He said that in his experience, startups fail for all kinds of reasons. “The more knowledge and skills and preparation I bring to bear, the more nimble — and less hubristic — I’ll be in making decisions in the face of challenges.”
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