State of the heart

It isn’t unusual for a professional with an MBA degree to manage the operations of a multibillion dollar investment advisory firm. Dave Randall does that. What’s interesting is that he also does his heart’s work using those same skills to run a non-profit foundation dedicated to the memory of his son and to finding a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Cole Parker Randall lived for 76 days. He taught his dad many things.

“There are a number of ways to find meaning in the work we do and to use the skills we develop,” says Randall. “For me, there has been nothing more meaningful than starting a foundation in the name of our third son, Cole.”

When abnormal breathing and heart rate led to an ambulance ride to their local children’s hospital when Cole was 5 ½ weeks old, the Randalls knew something was severely wrong. After 15 days in the pediatric ICU, Cole eventually was diagnosed with a terminal, genetic, neuromuscular condition known as Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 1. It is the No. 1 genetic killer of children under two and it took Cole Parker Randall at 11 weeks old.

Dave Randall and his son, Cole
CSU graduate Dave Randall combines passion with MBA skills to help find a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy.

Focused on finding a cure

Randall and his wife, Shawna, have spent countless hours researching Spinal Muscular Atrophy symptoms, research, and treatment. They established the Cole Parker Randall Foundation with goals of raising awareness and promoting fundraising efforts focused on finding a cure that is projected to be two years out. The Randalls are optimistic and driven – they recently rallied their Oregon community to raise money for SMA research during the foundation’s first fundraising event. Their goal was $10,000. The foundation raised more than $75,000.

“We have a lot to learn about running a foundation and the non-profit environment, but I find myself drawing on my MBA experience frequently. My MBA provided relevant skills and the resourcefulness needed to get the foundation started. We certainly have the passion to represent and honor the life of our son, and with the necessary tools and drive, the rest will fall in place.”

Taking the challenge

Earning an advanced degree, especially one as rigorous as an MBA, is a big life question. How will earning another degree work with life? Is it possible to juggle full-time work and small children with late-night studying and group projects? When Randall began Colorado State University’s Online MBA program, he was a married mid-level manager with a toddler. By the time he graduated, he had a six-month old son, a 3-year-old son, and was en route to executive leadership. Online learning was an ideal option for him. He was able to do the bulk of his coursework during the work week once the kids were in bed.

“‘Can I do this?’ is one of the biggest questions prospective students have about earning an MBA,” says John Weiss, director of the Online MBA program at Colorado State University’s College of Business. “Even for highly flexible online programs, there is a very real concern about do-ability. It’s my goal to reassure students by sharing stories like Dave’s. Yes. Yes, you can do this. And your life will be richer for it.”

It wasn’t easy. It was a challenge from the onset, Randall says. He didn’t even consider himself a strong student going in but, because he was invested and engaged, he graduated with Beta Gamma Sigma honors. The accounting coursework was rigorous and he was initially hesitant about group projects with people in various locations. What he found, though, was that working with virtual teams provided some of the most valuable program experience.

Growing personally and professionally

“The connections I made were not in the classroom, but were still with students. Throughout the program I worked with people from air force pilots, to doctors, to foreign diplomats,” says Randall. “I got to work with business professionals in varying industries across the globe. I still keep in contact with a number of my cohorts. These are relationships that I will have for the long term.”

Randall says the experience of getting an MBA provides an excellent opportunity for tremendous growth, not only professionally, but personally. It helps augment the level of business acumen, while providing the comfort, confidence, and intangibles needed to ensure success on a number of levels. Today, Randall (OPMBA, ’09) is a senior managing director for Arnerich Massena, Inc., an Oregon investment advisory firm that manages more than $22 billion in assets.

“It has been my pleasure to have been acquainted with Dave Randall for more than 13 years,” says Diane Kern, director of human resources for Arnerich Massena, Inc. “Dave is both a trusted colleague and friend. Over the years, Dave has earned my respect by displaying a high caliber of professionalism and integrity at work as well as by the love and commitment he demonstrates for his family and friends. Dave has a thoughtful, quiet demeanor that is both calming and reassuring. He is the kind of person you feel lucky to have on your team.”

Randall honors his son every day through his non-profit work. And he continues to learn with all his heart.

Learn more about this Business Ram’s journey at