Rey Ellis, an online MBA graduate from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

Being involved in the music industry will always be a “hobby and passion” for Reylon Ellis. In addition to still doing plenty of consulting work in his free time, he’s about to produce a song for the first time in two years.

Ellis co-owned a production company, Catalyst 01 Productions, in his hometown of Chicago until 2007. However, he lacked the business acumen he needed to continue to successfully run the company.

“If I would have known certain business concepts, like cost for customer acquisition and customer lifetime value, I could have stayed in business into infinity,” Ellis said. “Because I was making money — I had customers. It’s just that I would have really known how much to spend for advertising. I would have known how much to allocate toward customer retention. That’s why I knew I needed a skill set.”

Nine years later, Ellis has acquired that skill set after graduating from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi with an Online Master of Business Administration in December 2016.

“I’ve had several opportunities to go back to school, but for some reason I never pulled the trigger,” Ellis said. “I went to A&M Corpus Christi because of the A&M brand, and then I was like, ‘$12,000 for an MBA? I’m a smart guy. I’m going to get my MBA.’”

Reylon Ellis in the Army
Reylon Ellis during his Army days

The Road Less Traveled

Ellis attended Chicago State University for two-and-a-half years as a criminal justice major after he graduated from Percy Julian High School on the south side of the Windy City.

After his father passed away, Ellis decided it was time for a change in his life. He quit college to enlist in the Army. He was active duty for four years at Fort Stewart in Georgia.

“I was in a hardcore infantry unit,” Ellis said with a laugh. “Sweating in that desert made me realize, ‘You know what? I need to finish my degree.’”

That’s exactly what he did. Ellis returned to Chicago State and completed a Bachelor of Science of Criminal Justice in 2003. However, by then, he had lost interest in that career field. He was also working for Jewel (now Jewel-Osco), the largest grocery retailer in the Chicago area at the time, as a perishables manager. He was also making good money as a union manager.

“I had one of those ridiculous hourly rates with overtime,” Ellis said. “I literally had a 1960s contract; it was one of the last really good contracts. I had an interesting role in management, but it was hourly. I think I made more than my bosses.”

Ellis not only maintained his high-paying job while he was in the Army, he continued to get pay raises during those four years thanks to the Soldiers and Sailors Act.

“It was like I was on the schedule, I just didn’t have hours,” he said. “Under the initial enlistment, they have to keep your job for you. It’s a big company; they can’t say they don’t have a spot for you. So, when I came back, no job could compete with going back to school and making $45,000-$50,000 a year.”

He left that job to go to pursue a career in higher education in 2006. Ellis did his music work on the side until the death of his business partner and the introduction of newer, more advanced technology into the music industry. He shut down his business in 2007, but he still loves being a part of the industry.

“I’m big on my name,” Ellis said. “I really don’t pass my name around unless I like you. My biggest thing is I don’t have to like the music. I’m a work ethic guy. If you put the work in, I’ll put the work in. I’ve opened doors for a lot of people.”

Ellis relocated to Texas a few years ago after visiting his brother, Alonzo, who had already taken up residence in the Lone Star State.

“There was the violence, and Chicago is an expensive city to live in,” he said. “I lived in a decent neighborhood, but you saw a lot going in. After visiting Texas, I fell in love with it. There’s no state income tax … it was a no-brainer. My kids love it. The cost of living is better.”

Corpus Christi Calling

Once Ellis finally decided to go back to school, the online MBA program at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi ended up being ideal for him because he could balance the coursework with a full-time job and his family.

“It was perfect,” Ellis said. “I work a lot of hours. I usually do 45 hours a week … sometimes more, sometimes 50, so it was demanding. I just wanted that balance to say, ‘Okay, it’s one class, one instructor’s expectations, one set of assignments due. That was better for me.”

Ellis said time management is an essential part of earning a degree online.

“What I had to do for every course was make sure I set hours up like I was going to school,” he said. “If I was going on campus and taking one class, I’d be in school on Monday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Since this program is accelerated, that’s the equivalent of being in school Monday and Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., so I made sure I blocked out six hours every week just for school time. Depending on what was due, I blocked out time to make sure I had time for it.”

The time he scheduled for schoolwork varied depending on what courses he was taking at the time.

“Some of the theory-based courses, like leadership and entrepreneurship … those types of courses came natural, so I probably spent about six hours a week on them unless it was an exam week,” Ellis said. “It was accounting, finance and operations management … those three courses you have to make sure that you study really hard because those also have proctored exams, so you have to know that material. You can’t reference the book. You have to know the formulas. I won’t say they were unreasonably difficult, but they had a high level of difficulty.”

But Ellis also thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of the latter courses, which he believes made his degree well-rounded.

“It’s like I say, ‘No battle plans matter until first contact with the enemy,’” he said. “It was real work — that’s the key thing. It’s a commitment to see it through. You have courses where you literally have no hair anymore, but you’re earning it. So, I would say students should understand this is a degree you’re going to earn. There’s a reason why you’re going to this school. There’s a reason why you want the brand and the AACSB accreditation. And that reason is there’s going to be some difficulty there.”

New Insights

Entrepreneurship [MGMT 5350] was Ellis’s favorite course in the online MBA program.

“They gave us a supplemental book to read that was very helpful,” he said. “I liked how the instructor incorporated that book into the course. It was a book on entrepreneurship that was written like a novel. The book kind of changed my life a bit — being an entrepreneur who is planning to go back out there.

“The course kind of exposed different ways of thinking to say, ‘If the market doesn’t really have a lot of openings for restaurants, that doesn’t mean you can’t be in the restaurant industry. You may be able to use a strategy and find a whole new area.’ It changed my hubris, as they say, to kind of look at it deeper. To kind of say, ‘Let me look at it more scientifically, let me do some more research and not let my passion drive me into the ground.’”

Managerial Finance [FINA 5320] was another course Ellis found beneficial.

“Even though it was the hardest course I ever took in my life, it really helped me understand the statement of cash flows,” Ellis said. “I really understood business more. It was valuable. I put 20 hours a week sometimes in that class.”

My kids were real excited for the achievement. But what I also loved was my daughter was like, ‘Oh, I want to go to college.’ It just inspires. Everything I do is for them, to benefit them…
Reylon Ellis, Online MBA Graduate

Setting an Example

Another benefit of earning an MBA online for Ellis was showing his children — Tyra (12) and Jalen (10) — the importance of higher education.

“You can do the stuff you need to do,” he said. “It’s going to take away from things because you’ve added a new commitment, but it’s not going to stop you from being able to spend time with your spouse or your kids. It actually kind of changes the dynamic in a positive way. My kids were able to go to my graduation because they weren’t born for the first one. They see me working hard and say, ‘Hey, Dad’s doing it.’”

Ellis, who has been married to his wife Natasha for 14 years, was glad he made the trip from Dallas to Corpus Christi for graduation.

“It was fun,” he said. “My kids were real excited for the achievement. But what I also loved was my daughter was like, ‘Oh, I want to go to college.’ It just inspires. Everything I do is for them, to benefit them. But I wouldn’t say I’m motivated by anything but success. Whatever general success is, I’m motivated by what I need to do at the time. I know, as an intelligent man, that it does matter.”

His mother, Janice Boykin-Miles, instilled that same thing in him when he was growing up. She has a Master of Social Work and is a licensed social worker.

“Three of her four children have master’s degrees — that’s not a coincidence,” Ellis said. “The standard was set. It’s wasn’t a question of if we were going to college, it was where?”

So, what does Ellis plan to do with his newly acquired MBA?

“I want to leverage myself to get a job that’s going to somehow allow stock options to where my productivity will basically generate me revenue,” he said. “Whether it’s within an organization or out on my own, I want to benefit from it financially.”

That would be music to his ears.

Learn more about the TAMUCC online MBA program.