Three with SMU ties nominated for 'Texan of the Year'

Three persons with ties to Southern Methodist University have been nominated for Texan of the Year.

TexasThree people with current SMU ties are among this year's nominees for The Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year, which will be announced on December 25.

The SMU contenders include Dallas business and civic leader Carl Sewell, an SMU trustee and past board chair; Al Armendariz, regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency and an associate professor of environmental and civil engineering in the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering; and Rick Halperin, past chair of the board of directors of Amnesty International USA and director of SMU's Embrey Human Rights Program.

Following are the three's nominations published by The Dallas Morning News:

Cheryl Hall nominates Carl Sewell as Texan of the Year

By Cheryl Hall
The Dallas Morning News
December 8, 2011

In this time of economic upheaval, it’s remarkable for any company to celebrate a 100th anniversary.

Carl Sewell at SMUAdd in that it’s still owned by the same family, sells cars and is still at the top of its game, and you have the makings of a Harvard MBA study.

Or in this case, my nomination for Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year: Carl Sewell Jr.

For the last three decades, the 68-year-old (and third-generation) chairman of Sewell Automotive Cos. has been its guiding force, transforming a single-location Cadillac dealership into 12 (mostly luxury) auto dealerships with revenues last year of $1.2 billion.

That’s enough to keep 1,800 people employed.

In today’s economy, there’s nothing more important than supplying paychecks.

Sewell’s impact has had a ripple effect. He’s not just the visionary of a privately held business, he’s helped shape the automotive industry as a whole. And his best-selling business book, Customers for Life, published more than 20 years ago, has influenced retailing worldwide.

“It seemed pretty basic to us,” Sewell told my colleague Terry Box for an article on the company’s 100th anniversary. “If you focus on customers, you will get more customers. And if you can improve your product and productivity, you will earn more profit. The two work together, we think.”

So do the multitude of Sewell disciples.

Sewell has always put customers first. Shortly after he became chief executive of Sewell Village Cadillac, he instituted the revolutionary ideas of offering free loaner cars — a few yellow Chevy Monte Carlos — and opening the service department on Saturdays.

But Sewell didn’t rest on early successes. He continued to evolve the business — leading rather than reacting to change.

Sewell’s car-selling empire is about to grow to 14 dealerships with the addition of an Infiniti store in Fort Worth and a Fisker dealership in Plano — this in a decade in which many family auto dealership names have vanished from the landscape.

A recent indication of how Sewell steps nimbly in a shifting automotive market is his decision to place a Fisker electric-car franchise in his former Hummer dealership in Plano. The Fisker Karma is a stylish, 2-ton, four-door sedan, which has the ability to run solely on electric power.

But there’s a key aspect to this decision. Sewell’s 30-year-old daughter, Jacquelin Sewell Taylor, and 28-year-old son, Carl Sewell III, were instrumental in pushing him to make it.

“They feel strongly that there is a great future for cars like this,” Sewell said.

Too many family-owned businesses die because the next generation has no interest in taking over. Sewell has been able to avoid this by involving his children and giving them their own reins. Carl III is general manager of Sewell Lexus in Dallas, while Jacquelin runs Sewell Cadillac.

There’s another aspect to Sewell that makes him my choice for this year’s Texan of impact.

He’s a community giver. Sewell or his company has been named as a charitable giver in Robert Miller’s column 422 times over the last 27 years for a wide spectrum of causes.

But Sewell doesn’t just spread his wealth. He gives inexhaustible time and expertise.

One huge example: He has been a hard-nosed, major influence at Southern Methodist University — my alma mater and my husband’s employer.

It’s no wonder that SMU President Gerald Turner feels blessed to have Sewell on board.

“As former board chair and ongoing trustee, he [Sewell] has guided our rise in academic quality through his advocacy and generous support for merit scholarships and other essential resources,” Turner says. “As a co-chair of our Second Century Campaign and centennial celebrations, he is at the forefront as an ambassador representing SMU’s bright future.

“We can always count on Carl’s candor and insights to keep us on track and moving forward.”

Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith: Texan of the Year should be EPA chief Al Armendariz

By Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith
Public Citizen’s Texas
November 29, 2011

There is no better nominee for Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year than Al Armendariz, regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency. In his short time at the EPA, he has made enormous strides in improving Texas’ air and water quality, given voice to those living on the fence lines of the state’s most toxic polluters, tightened enforcement and begun to solve some of the toughest permitting issues in the country.

Al ArmendarizArmendariz is the perfect government enforcement official because he knows his stuff. He was an engineering professor at Southern Methodist University, has worked for industry in the permitting process and has consulted with environmental groups. As an engineer, he understands pollution controls and has published dozens of studies on environmental issues.

“Dr. Al” first came to my attention in a hearing room at the state Capitol when he testified as a citizen and as a father. He explained clearly how bad the air quality is in Texas and, in particular, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He pointed to the big cement kilns and oil and gas fracking operations as culprits and outlined what should be done to clear the air.

After his EPA appointment in 2009, a firestorm of controversy erupted over the agency’s announcement that Texas’ 15-year-old system of allowing “flexible permits,” where pollution reductions are averaged over an industrial site, was illegal. Gov. Rick Perry called it an “irresponsible and heavy-handed action.” Industry claimed that thousands of jobs would be lost; lawsuits were filed and congressional hearings were held.

Flexible permits had been allowing excessive pollution. For example, two of Texas’ largest refineries were able to emit more than twice the federal permitting limits, imperiling the health of those living downwind and making it harder to meet safe air standards.

Armendariz was able to talk in depth with plant operators and help them comply with the law for emission limits and for operating and monitoring requirements. Permits are being strengthened, and not a single job has been lost as a result of these cleanup efforts.

Last summer, the EPA announced that all 136 industrial plants with state permits that failed to meet federal Clean Air Act requirements have agreed to reapply to come into compliance.

Armendariz’s childhood memories include the acrid taste of sulfur in the air from the Asarco lead smelter near his grandmother’s home in El Paso. He understands the plight of people who live closest to industrial facilities and are all too often exposed to harmful levels of toxic pollution. He brought together environmental justice groups and industry and government leaders at summits in Port Arthur and Corpus Christi to develop measurable plans.

He understands that a clean environment is key to our economic health as well. As he says, “We have an obligation to future generations to be good stewards of our environment. By doing so, we promote our own health, economic growth and long-term sustainability. But it’s also absolutely critical for economic growth. Places without chronic pollution problems are more likely to attract businesses that provide higher-paying jobs.”

Armendariz should be recognized for his dedication, hard work and insightful solutions.

Human rights champ for Texan of the Year?

By Rodger Jones
Dallas Morning News Editorial Writer
October 26, 2011 

We got an email from an SMU student who has put forth a professor's name as a candidate for 2011 Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year.

Rick HalperinHe is Rick Halperin, who has established a major in human rights. He is an agitator, of sorts, fighting for recognition for people who have gotten a raw deal. Some of them are on the other side of the world. Some are in our own backyard, in Texas prisons.

He recently took up the cause of Rais Bhuyian, a race-motivated shooting victim who wanted to save the life of Mark Stroman, his attacker. Stroman was executed this summer for two deaths in his post-Sept. 11 shooting spree, but only after a highly publicized campaign courtesy of Rick Halperin.

Excerpt of the email from Halperin's nominator, Adriana Martinez:

As he's done for 21 years, Professor Rick Halperin works tirelessly at SMU to broaden students' world views and philosophical, historical, and present day understandings of social justice. Halperin, also the former chair of the Board of Amnesty International USA, has been teaching human rights at SMU since 1990, when in many minds, teaching human rights at a college many believe to be ultra-conservative would have been a lost cause.
But it wasn't. His teachings gained so much interest from students and their families that in 2006, when after philanthropist Lauren Embrey attended one of his annual Holocaust tour trips to Poland, the Embrey Family Foundation of Dallas began contributing money (as of 2010, $1.8 million) to help make his vision a program (and with a minor degree).

 And this year, with the Embrey Human Rights Program the fastest-growing one at SMU, it was announced that the program would begin offering a major--the first of its kind in the South, or any place west of the Mississippi. And only the fifth in the nation. (At a university that will be hosting the George W. Bush Presidential Center very soon.)

And the nominees are . . .

The Dallas Morning News editorial board will select “A Texan (or Texans) who has had uncommon impact – either positive or negative – over the past year" and announce their selection on December 25. A complete list of the nominees is available online. You can also read about some of the nominees.

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