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Big Plans for Small Business

Amy TanksleyAfter working in energy and insurance, Amy (Elson) Tanksley, BBA '02, put her University of Texas business skills to the test and opened Uncle Classic Barbershop in Nashville. Tanksley, a finance and BHP grad, saw a need in the community for an upscale barbershop and turned that need into an opportunity to combine her business savvy with her love for the beauty industry.

Now opening her third location, Tanksley says she's proud to be a part of developing the small business community in Nashville.

What led you to McCombs?

I grew up in Omaha, Neb. I fell in love with everything about UT and everything about Austin. I think the best word I can use to describe UT and Austin is energy. I fell in love with the energy of the students, the city. It was exactly what I was looking for, and what I have found in my personal life and my professional life is that I love surrounding myself with creative people. I really found that at Texas and specifically at the business school.

Texas was the best experience of my life. It was absolutely the right college decision for me and I support Austin and Texas 100 percent. I really think that it is such a unique place, it is so special. It was such a great way for me to grow up, and to get confidence, and to try a lot of new things.

How did your career path begin after graduation?

My senior year I made it to the final round of interviews with Enron, and then they called me to cancel the interview because of course they were, in their words “not going to be having an analyst class.” So I wound up at Duke Energy literally as Enron was going to the Supreme Court. I thought I had landed at the best place possible, I was really excited to be in Houston and I was really excited to be on the trading floor. Within three months, the analyst program I had joined was terminated and everyone in my program was laid off. So, right out of college I was one of the first of my friends to have a job and the first of my friends to have lost a job.

I was 22 years old and living in Houston, with not many connections, no family in Houston. The best thing I can say is that Texas prepared me for that. Texas, the business school especially, gave me a taste of the real world--through my case study classes and the Business Honors Program, through meeting people from all over the country and from all over the world, through my internship opportunities.

I guess the bottom line was that I wasn’t afraid. I knew I was going to land on my feet, I knew I had the support of a great degree and a great network of people I had gone to school with. So, being unemployed at 22 and looking for a job wasn’t as scary as it could have been.

Has your career played out the way you expected?

It got off to a rocky start, maybe we’ll leave it at that. Graduating in 2002, it was right after 9/11, a lot of people who had been recruiting at Texas, especially in the business school were not recruiting that year. It was an interesting time to be graduating from college.

Since then, the great news is that I moved to Nashville in 2003 through networking, and literally the company I started with in Nashville (Asurion Insurance Services) hired me exclusively because I was a part of the Business Honors Program. They had experience with BHP grads and that really sealed the deal with why I was offered an analyst job. I never really imagined myself as an entrepreneur, worked for an insurance company for almost five years here in Nashville and then really had to make a hard decision about whether I was going to get my MBA or start my business.

It was really the best decision for my family to go the small business route and to really sort of jump off a cliff, so to speak. It has been very rewarding.

What are some pieces of wisdom that have guided your career?

Don’t be afraid of risk.

Texas really taught me to believe in myself and gave me a lot of confidence with the education I received. I am always encouraging people to be careful about what they want to do, and to create a path to do that. I feel like a lot of people, especially coming out of college, feel like they’re stuck or wind up in a career by accident.

I’ve given a lot of people in Nashville and a lot of students that I work with at Vanderbilt the idea to really put yourself on that path that you eventually want to be on. It may not always be glamorous to get there, but think with the end in mind.

Don’t take no for an answer if it is something that you really believe in. What I’ve found is the more people told me no, the more I thought I was on to an idea that would probably work.

Uncle Classic Barbershop in NashvilleWhat unique challenges do you face owning your own business?

I think it was just how to start, where to start. When I got to Texas I didn’t know anybody. I had come from out of state, I didn’t have the network and I had to figure it out. Knowing that I could do that while I was at Texas—I made great friends, great relationships and a great network—I knew I could do that here in Nashville. I could go out and ask anybody to lunch, really start having that conversation and frankly just not be afraid to try it.

How do the small businesses communities in Nashville and Austin compare?

Austin and Nashville obviously share the music connection. I think the greater thing is that they share the creativity connection. You are getting a lot of people in both communities who are high energy, think outside the box, creative folks. That leads to a really dynamic environment.

I think the biggest difference is that Austin has embraced small business for a long time. My favorite places to go in Austin are all local, small businesses that you can’t go to anywhere outside of Austin. And that is what I think makes Austin so special. When I come to Austin I have a list of 35 places that I have to go eat at, and shop at and I have to hit Amy’s Ice Creams at least four times. Nashville, their small business community and their entrepreneurial activity is catching up. It is certainly a high priority here in Nashville, and as a small business owner myself, an entrepreneur, it has been a really fun time to be in Nashville because there is a lot of energy around that segment of the business community.


#1 Congratulations Amy. Your

Congratulations Amy. Your story is a great inspiration, especially for young women and men graduating from college these difficult days!

#2 Kudos, Amy! You're an

Kudos, Amy! You're an inspiration.

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