EMBA Profile: Flooring company CEO reflects on Smeal Executive MBA

Entrepreneur Scott Appel reflects on his time in the Smeal Executive MBA program, why he never stops learning, and why he sponsored his current CFO to enroll in the same program.
Touch of Flooring employs more than 160 people at 10 locations that serve seven states across the Northeast.
Touch of Flooring employs more than 160 people at 10 locations that serve seven states across the Northeast.

Scott Appel started his Harrisburg-based flooring company just like many famous Silicon Valley entrepreneurs: out of a garage. Nearly 20 years later, Touch of Color Flooring employs more than 160 people at 10 locations that serve seven states across the Northeast. It’s growth that Appel and his high school friend and business partner Bill Haman are proud of, but it doesn’t mean they’ll ever stop pushing to be better.

“As a former educator and a lifelong learner myself, I'm a firm believer in training and development,” said Appel. “We say that we want to strive to be trusted advisors. We want people to come to us because they know that we’re going to shoot them straight and give them sound advice. But to do that, we have to be experts.”

Appel said that when his company hit $10 million in annual sales revenue, he realized he had a very real company on his hands. He recalls a conversation he had with Jerry Bankes, then Touch of Flooring’s vice president of finance and accounting.

“We were talking about financial statements and I said, ‘Why does this have to balance?’ He gave me a look like I had two heads. I’d never had a course in accounting or finance. I realized at that point, if I'm going to have someone working for me who knows more about this than I do, I at least have to be able to talk intelligently about this. I needed to be a better leader.”

Appel decided on an executive MBA program and toured only two schools in Philadelphia.

Touch of Flooring CEO Scott Appel, left, with Jerry Bankes, who became the first CFO of Appel’s company after completing the Penn State Smeal Executive MBA with Appel’s encouragement and sponsorship
Touch of Flooring CEO Scott Appel, left, with Jerry Bankes, who became the first CFO of Appel’s company after completing the Penn State Smeal Executive MBA with Appel’s encouragement and sponsorship.

“At the first one, I felt like nobody wanted to tell me anything because they were competing against me,” Appel said. “At Smeal, everybody was super cool and nice.”

During his tour, Appel sat in on renowned leadership expert Al Vicere’s class, which he said “blew my mind.” Overall, Penn State was the right fit. “I felt at home,” said Appel.

That feeling is something the EMBA leadership has worked to develop.

“The culture of the program is very collaborative,” said Teresa Avery, EMBA managing director. “The Smeal Executive MBA is an incredible opportunity to advance both your career and your life in a truly transformational way. It’s a face-to-face program over 17 months, so you have the opportunity to get to know the people in your cohort really well. We work to make sure that those cohorts are not only full of incredibly talented, experienced, smart people, but are also full of people from a diverse array of backgrounds, industries, roles, and perspectives so that students who enter our program get their world views challenged in the best possible way.”

The intense but flexible every-other-weekend format means that students can keep their current jobs — and be home to see their families.

“My wife had two babies in that program,” said Appel. “So if somebody says they’re too busy, have them call me. I had three kids in diapers by the end of the program. If I can do it, anybody can do it.”

But it wasn’t just anybody Appel had his eye on to go through the program next.

“I told Jerry, ‘In order for you to be the first CFO of Touch of Color, you have to get an MBA,” said Appel, who sponsored Bankes in the EMBA program.

“I knew what it did for me and I knew it would catapult him as well,” said Appel. “I attribute a lot of his awesomeness to going through the Smeal EMBA program.” As promised, Bankes is now CFO.

Managing director Avery, a graduate of the program herself, also understands first-hand what the Smeal EMBA can do.

“The program not only gave me this incredible skill set and ability to see across the business, but it really awakened my confidence in myself,” she said. “Within very short order I realized I can walk into a room and have an intelligent conversation with C-level people anywhere in the world.”

Appel had a similar realization; he had built his flooring business from the ground up, but, as he says, he only had one lens through which to view his company.

“It was a more narrow focus,” he said. “But now, after getting my MBA, I'm able to look at my business with different lenses, different perspectives, whether it be marketing, accounting, supply chain, management, or leadership. Once you understand all that, you’re able to create a strategy that works for the whole business.”

Posted March 2020