2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Keith Parry, University of Texas (McCombs)

Keith Parry

The University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business

Age: 52

Loving and Loyal Husband and Father; Decisive leader and mentor; Steadfast Friend; Life-long learner.”

Hometown: Palmerton, PA

Family Members: Nancy (Spouse), Ashlee & Zachary (8-year-old Twins)

Fun fact about yourself: I’ve exited perfectly good aircrafts 157 times and didn’t really enjoy 156 of those times! Parachute operations were a part of my previous job, and I was certainly glad they were NOT part of the curriculum at McCombs!

Undergraduate School and Degree:

University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy; BS, Pharmacy

National War College, National Defense University; MS, National Security Strategy

Where are you currently working? Lower Colorado River Authority, Vice President of Resilience

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: My previous career was in the Marine Corps and Special Operations, and I sacrificed a lot of family time due to deployments and just long hours of training. So now I try to devote my time and have most of my extracurricular activities revolve around my family – my beautiful wife and adorable (and chaotic) twins. We are having a blast exploring our new (and final) home here in Austin, TX and surrounding areas! I also enjoy most kinds of physical or outdoor activities and I’m also really looking forward to this year’s college football season! Hook ‘Em Horns!

As a former Fellow, I am now serving in Central Texas as an Ambassador for The Honor Foundation. The Honor Foundation (THF) is a unique transition institute and program created exclusively for members of the U.S. Special Operations community.  It provides professional development and world class support and technology to prepare these outstanding men and women to continue to realize their maximum potential after their service career. I am honored to be able to support such a worthwhile cause and exceptional organization.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? It was a privilege to be able to represent Texas McCombs as a member of the McCombs Ambassador Committee! I enjoyed speaking with possible future applicants to the program. While I never sugarcoated the rigors of the program, I always stressed how the academic challenges helped me grow and the lifelong friendships which I was developing. Hopefully I helped contribute to UT’s future by simply taking some time and talking to folks.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Being recently retired from the military, I have to revert back to that professional career to answer this question. I deployed six times to combat zones for a total of 55 months conducting very kinetic operations. Furthermore, and more importantly, I led units ranging from 200 personnel to over 1,100 during each of those six deployments.  My most proud moments were always our redeployments and homecomings with family and loved ones, knowing all the hard work, training, and support to one another enabled (most of) us to be able to celebrate these times.

This was not “my achievement”. If I’d call it anything, I’d say it was a very concerted team effort of preparation, unselfishness, loyalty, courage, and love that got us through our trials. I was just fortunate and blessed to have had the honor and privilege to serve with and lead such teams. My pride continues to come from seeing my former Marines and Sailors, and now their children, succeed and thrive – because most made it home.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? Sure, the rankings and reputation of the program and faculty were a part of my decision, but more important in my decision calculus were the numerous conversations I had with UT and McCombs’ alumni. While anyone can produce a polished and sophisticated website, it’s much harder to script people. Every single Longhorn I spoke with sang the praises of UT and the McCombs’ Executive MBA program, its faculty, and the student cohorts. More than anything, that made me want to be a part of this stellar program and community. To seal the deal, my personal hero, role model, and former Boss – Admiral McRaven – also provided his endorsement and first introduced me to the motto “What starts here changes the world”. I only applied to Texas McCombs, and it was the one of the boldest – and best – decisions I’ve ever made!

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? For me there wasn’t a single big lesson or even a favorite class. Instead, my epiphany came in my third semester during Operations Management when everything fell into place and I saw the big picture. From that point on, I focused on the interconnections and interdependencies of everything we had learned, not just the course that was right in front of me that semester. I thought about how strategy should drive business plans, how financial and operations management must be aligned with the strategy, and how marketing, sales, and customer relations are ultimately the test of whether you got everything else right.

I now get to see this at play every day at LCRA with the integration, interoperability, and interdependence of the various business units and corporate support areas, and it was showcased during the winter storm that struck Texas in February. All of the company’s component parts were aligned and worked together to overcome the challenges during the storms and perform recovery operations afterward. It was impressive to see and fueled my desire to continue to learn even more.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? My perspective regarding balancing work, school, and family is shaped and influenced by my previous experiences and time away from family during training and deployments. So, weekends flying to Austin from Washington, DC and time spent studying at home seemed easy by comparison.  Still, I had some doubts during the first semester; despite my rank and experiences, I wondered if I had what it would take to succeed in such an elite program. It was late in the semester when a tragic event occurred and really put things in perspective for me.

I was still on active duty in the Marine Corps serving as the Executive Director for Special Operations at the Pentagon during the first semester. I received a phone call on a Saturday afternoon to report to work to track a casualty that had occurred in Afghanistan. It was a non-school weekend and was supposed to be family and study time, but it wasn’t the first-time military duty interrupted family (and now study) plans. I spent the next 36 hours tracking information and the evacuation progress of a friend from the battlefield half a world away…while intermittently (and not very successfully) studying for Dr. Limberg’s Financial Accounting final exam.

That Saturday and Sunday I spent trying to study for exams and, on the phone, talking with airfields and hospitals – until my friend finally arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center – was a revelation for me. After all the deployments I had done (and put my family through), I made a commitment to myself and my family that I would absolutely make it through the program – as I had done with every other challenge I had faced – through hard work, perseverance, and by relying on my family and my McCombs’ teammates. Also, I vowed I wouldn’t stress over the “little things” – like exams, papers, and projects. I adopted the position that since I wasn’t getting shot at anymore, I wouldn’t complain about my work, study, and life balance one bit.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Be committed and be prepared to put the time and effort into the program. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time, and that of the faculty and your classmates. That’s because you won’t be contributing your knowledge and expertise – which is a large part of the educational experience, for you and your classmates.

And be authentic – grow as a person, but do it with sincerity and humility…because it’s very possible you won’t be the smartest kid in the class. In my case, that was a certainty! So, I embraced that fact and pledged to learn from everyone that would teach me!        

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? Algebra comes back to you like riding a bike! Just kidding…sort of! For me, the biggest myth I was told by many was that someone who already had a full career (as I had) didn’t need more education. I’m a lifelong learner – and I enjoy learning – so I intuitively knew this myth was wrong. McCombs did not disappoint! The faculty, curriculum, and my classmates dispelled this myth and kept life interesting for the entire program.

What was your biggest regret in business school? COVID! More specifically, it was the bonding opportunity which COVID protocols curtailed for our class. Life is all about relationships!  When I can’t remember what I learned in Dr. Rao’s Financial Management class, I’ll be able to call or Zoom with a classmate because of those relationships.

I believe the relationships we developed with one another during the program will endure, and actually will be strengthened going forward due to the shared hardships we faced. However, you can’t make up for lost time, and I do regret not being able to spend more time in Gabe’s or The Dive Bar or just on class breaks with my McCombs Teammates.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This is a tough question because I honestly admire so many in my class. Many went above and beyond with their time to assist me during my transition from the military and into the business world.  Many of my classmates also moved here from other countries and learned at least another language (English) – multilingual ability amazes me because I don’t have that skill!. They are also extremely successful in their careers and in our very demanding program.

That said, since I must commit, it would be…Indra Gutiérrez. She is already an amazing executive and experienced leader, running her own construction company with her husband. As for class, she’s always prepared, works extremely hard, is completely unselfish and always ready to assist others, and is tough and committed to every endeavor. It will not surprise me to see her company continue its growth under her impressive leadership.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I was retiring from the military after a very rewarding and successful 30-year career. But I knew very little about the corporate world which is what I wanted to enter. Therefore, I felt I had to jumpstart my education and combine with being around classmates who had a greater wealth of business experience than I did. The McCombs’ Executive MBA program fit those requirements much better (in my mind) than did the part-time or online alternatives.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal?I really like my current company – Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) – because of its mission to enhance the quality of life of Texans through water stewardship, energy, and community service. I like the diversity of our business portfolios and I love the culture and our people. Although I spent my first 30-year career serving our nation, I find my current role serving my new state, community, and fellow Texans equally as rewarding and I hope to remain with LCRA and continue to learn and advance into roles of even greater responsibility.

At the same time, I want to repay the kindness, guidance, and support I received through the Marine Raider Foundation and The Honor Foundation by paying-it-forward to support these two exceptional organizations that do so much for our active duty, veteran, and retired military members and their families.

What made Keith such an invaluable addition to the class of 2021?

“Keith Parry has the most incredible story of resilience and continued leadership development as he transitioned from veteran service to our country to an outstanding civilian leader. Keith’s motivation for continued learning and development was evident and unwavering from the first touch point in admissions until crossing the stage at graduation. The cohort even voted him as most likely to become President! He has continued to share his valuable insights and advice to prospective McCombs MBAs.”

Rebecca Gutierrez, Managing Director of Student Affairs
Sharon Barrett, Director of Working Professional & Executive MBA Recruiting & Admissions
Alma Moore, Career and Talent Development Consultant, Executive MBA Program
Joe Stephens, Sr., Assistant Dean & Director, Working Professional & Executive MBA Programs


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.