5 Questions with Distinguished Alum Darryl Schoen
Darryl Schoen (Business Administration, ’77) is an entrepreneur and president of Manufacturers Financing Services, a multinational equipment financing company he started following his collegiate career and a brief start in banking. MFS has stood as an industry leader for decades, financing equipment for businesses across the world. Schoen serves on the University Foundation Board and the Center for Entrepreneurship Board, and has been honored as the Orangewood Children’s Foundation Volunteer of the Year. He is one of eight distinguished alumni to be honored by the University this fall, and he spoke with us to reflect on his success, his career, and his Chico State experience.
How did you discover that business is what you wanted to do with your life, and when?
It came from my parents’ beliefs, to determine where our interests lie and try to confirm it. I have an identical twin brother, and he’s still my most beloved, closest friend. From the time we were 8 years old, we had a large lot. We grew up in Woodland Hills and had a bunch of fruit trees, much more than our family could eat. My mother would save the green containers, the kind you get strawberries in, and we’d fill them up with peaches, plums, and apricots, and we’d load them in our wagon and go door to door selling them. We did that for years, and we enjoyed it.
We also took an interest in the stock market. My dad showed us how it works, how you pick stocks, and by the time I was in eighth grade, my brother and I had picked a stock. We thought, “This makes a lot of sense.” Well, it was way before the dotcom boom, and it was a tech company—we bought four shares at just the right time. We made enough money to buy round-trip tickets to Boston to see our friends when we were 15. For my parents, it was clear that business is what we both had an interest in.
Why did you choose Chico?
I grew up around Los Angeles, and my parents had said they’d pay for my undergrad and graduate school, but my undergrad had to be a public school in California, to save on the tuition costs. At that time, it was still only $84 per semester. I knew that I wanted to go to school up in Northern California because it was greener, and I wanted something totally different from L.A. At that time, nobody in Southern California had ever heard of Chico.
I wanted to keep an open mind, and went on a tour to look at schools. We looked at a couple of major ones that were very popular, especially for Jewish students, like I am, and I came away from those so unimpressed—no one said “hello,” the campuses were nothing special. Then we went to Chico. It had the beautiful brick buildings, and in those days, everything was covered in ivy. People were welcoming and warm. It was exactly the environment I was dreaming of.
Why do you continue to stay connected to Chico State?
Those were four wonderful years for me. It was so different living in a college town, especially the connection I had with the professors. I had a girlfriend there, and she came from a great family and she was one of four siblings, but she had lost her oldest brother in a train crash. Well, in my senior year in my apartment one night, her parents came to my door, crying—their second son had just been killed in a motorcycle accident. It was right during midterms, so I had to take time off to be with her family.
I went to each of my professors during my midterm schedule, and every single one of them understood, said, “Don’t worry about it; take the midterms when you come back.” If I had been anywhere else, any of those schools I first looked into, they wouldn’t even know who I was. But at Chico, they knew me, and it was so special. I’ll never forget that.
And I also never realized, until this stage of life I’m in now, how much public institutions rely on private funding these days. I went public with my company in 2001 and sold in 2007, and then I took some time off to travel. But outside of traveling, I thought, there’s got to be something more, and I knew I wanted to start giving back. I always had a love of Chico, and I enjoyed working with young people. Giving to Chico State and working as a mentor to entrepreneurs really makes me feel good and helps me reconnect with the students.
What advice would you give your graduating self?
Consciously know your value system and stay true to that through your life. It provides a good guide and helps provide a better chance of success and more happiness. I learned those values a little later on, after I got some experience and really discovered what had the most meaning to me.
To me, it was the value of culture. When I’d visit companies, I’d become so aware of the feel, how happy people were working there. When I started mine, I wanted to create a culture I was most comfortable in, and trust that the people I hired felt the same way. Family was part of that for me. I don’t want to ever miss any of my sons’ games or school plays, and I don’t want you to miss any either. So when you have something you’ve got to do, go do it. We’ll never get that time back. I’ve only had one person leave my company since 1991, and that is one of the most important accomplishments of my life. It validates the values I follow.
What does the Chico Experience mean to you?
The key benefit of Chico was a more personalized educational experience. When I was applying for MBA programs after my undergrad, and I got all my acceptances and rejections back, I had a finance professor who was a great guy—he actually was one of the ones who let me take my final in his office. At the time, his son was getting his MBA, and he was in town visiting. My professor invited me to dinner to ask him questions and spend time with his family. It was such a cool thing to be able to do. Chico gave that personalized experience to me. We hear about reputation all the time: Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, or whatever, yet I think the environment at Chico is such a special environment—that personalized education is almost nonexistent anywhere else.