Mike Dunlap ’86 returned to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as the 2017 College of Business Master, Nov. 1-3. As a part of Masters Week, the founder and executive chairman of the board of Nelnet emphasized the determination it takes to succeed and grow a startup into a viable business. Every year the Nebraska Alumni Association hosts a group of alumni masters who have created lasting impressions in their professional careers. These masters, nominated by each college, come to campus to share their knowledge and experiences with students, faculty and staff.
During his visit, Dunlap participated in a panel discussion with other masters, met with business students and led a college-wide discussion about how businesses can enhance community success. He also spoke in entrepreneurship classes telling stories of his past experiences and giving students advice on their future endeavors.
“Everybody tells you you’re crazy. You can’t do it. It won’t work. Nobody’s done it before. Listen to what people say. There is probably some validity in some of the points they’re trying to make. But don’t let people beat you down to say you can’t do it. Prove them wrong. If you want to make something happen, make it happen. That’d be my number one thought if you try to start a business. Persistence and perseverance is the thing that makes it happen,” said Dunlap.
He also spoke about how larger cities do not always mean better talent. Dunlap believes Nebraska is an ideal location for a business.
“It’s not necessarily true that you can find better applicants in a larger area easier,” said Dunlap. “With offices around the country, we gained a good idea of what the work ethic was and how much it costs to pay people in different areas. Nebraskans’ work ethic is hard to explain if you haven’t experienced it. There is a different view towards work in Nebraska. With the strong work ethic, relatively inexpensive space and relatively low cost of living, Nebraska makes a good place to have a business.”
Dunlap ended one of his class discussions with words of wisdom about work-life balance, telling students to have their priorities in order. His source of joy comes from time with his family, something he puts in front of everything else.
“You’ve got to have a balance between family and work. When I came home at night, I would leave my phone in my car to spend time with my family. I went to almost all their sporting events. The most fun I had was raising my three kids. I like to hunt and fish, ski and surf. During stressful times, there were two things that kept me sane: music and sports. So you’ve got to have your diversions. At work the relationships are great, and it’s enjoyable. But you’ve got to have your priorities. For me family always comes before work,” he said.
Originally from Milford, Nebraska, Dunlap graduated from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 1988. He serves as a member of the board of directors for Union Bank and Trust, and as a director and co-president of Farmers and Merchants Investment Inc. Additionally, he sits on many other boards including Capital Casualty Company, Hudl and Universal Surety. He also served as a key member of the 2015 Vision Group, which promoted the development of Lincoln, Nebraska.