Turkel Anwar ’15 had a tough decision to make last fall. He could prepare for graduation and head into the world after earning his economics degree from the College of Arts and Sciences. Or he could stick around for an extra semester after graduation, take additional classes, and gain valuable real-world experience running Student Agencies, a $2.5 million operation and the nation’s oldest independent student-run company.
Anwar decided for the latter, and now he’s thrilled to take the helm of the organization that runs seven local businesses, employs more than 200 Cornell undergrads and pays close to $500,000 in wages, bonuses and profit sharing to student employees and managers.
Anwar has been with Student Agencies for nearly three years, starting as a general manager of Big Red Shipping and Storage in 2013 before becoming real estate manager last year. Throughout his time at Student Agencies, Anwar has learned the importance of leading by example.
“You have to be willing to work alongside your employees and get your hands dirty. No one likes the boss behind a desk,” said Anwar, who remembers the arduous yet rewarding experience of working until the wee hours during Big Red Shipping and Storage’s peak seasons.
His goals for Student Agencies businesses are financial as well as personal. Being involved in Student Agencies, he said, is all about learning by doing and the student managers become like a family, spending lots of late nights working on business problems and strategizing growth. Although the businesses of Student Agencies are professional, with coaching, mentoring and oversight provided by the organization’s professional CEO and volunteer board of directors, there’s more opportunity for trial and error than in a regular company, Anwar said.
Along with increasing profits and efficiency, Anwar said Student Agencies is always looking to acquire and start up new student businesses, such as its newest venture, Big Red Bartending, a one-day course that combines TIPS training (Training for Intervention ProcedureS) and mixology training to help students learn how to prepare and safely serve alcohol.
He’s also looking forward to being a part of eHub, a collaboration between Cornell and Student Agencies Foundation that supports Cornell students’ interest in business and entrepreneurship. Currently under development, eHub will have locations on campus in Kennedy Hall and in Collegetown in the Student Agencies building at 409 College Ave. The spaces will contain offices for Student Agencies, eLab, PopShop and Entrepreneurship at Cornell, as well as open working space for student businesses and meeting space.
“eHub will be an amazing asset for the Cornell community, particularly for those students who are interested in learning how to start, grow and manage businesses,” Anwar said, adding that it was another motivation for him to stay an extra semester.
“Although I’m really busy, being a part of Student Agencies adds more structure to my life,” he said. “And it puts me in touch with other like-minded students.”
Student Agencies’ CEO Kyle Karnes ’91 is bullish on Anwar. ”I am really excited for Turk to take the leadership reigns at Student Agencies,” Karnes said. “Given his longstanding involvement in the organization, particularly with some of our largest and most important businesses, there is no student more ready to lead the organization and get the most out of our experiential learning mission. I can’t wait to see him in action.”
Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.