Master’s in Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary
MBA After 50: Walters continuing to mentor, minister, make global impact
For some individuals reaching their 50s or beyond, the word “retirement” might sound a note of finality; for others, the word signals exciting new beginnings. By the time he was 60, Ross Walters had enjoyed a successful career. He is a retired wealth management executive with more than 40 years of experience with BB&T and Bank of America.
Even with that impressive resumé, Walters still had an MBA on his bucket list. Since earning his MBA online from Anderson University, he has enjoyed leadership roles co-leading a nonprofit organization with his wife and serving as chairman for the AVODA Fund, a Christian nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting educational and entrepreneurial endeavors in developing nations around the globe.
Walters is currently an adjunct professor at Anderson University and sister institution North Greenville University in South Carolina. He also is a Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
Tell me about your education at Anderson.
I am probably an unusual student for you to interview. I just turned 69. I was heading up the Wealth Management Division for BB&T in Upstate South Carolina at the time and it was on my bucket list to get an MBA. I really did not need it for my career, but I just wanted it more for my personal benefit but also thinking about after I retired.
I say to my students, “Don't retire from something, retire to something.” I was in my 50s when I got my MBA from Anderson. I got to be friends with Dr. Jeff Moore and Dr. Joe Spencer along with several other professors. Jeff was heading up the MBA program at that point in time. And Dr. Carnes was the dean of the school business. When I graduated, they asked me to come on board and teach business ethics. They said, “Oh, you have a degree in theology. And now you have an MBA. That qualifies you to teach business ethics.” I said, “Well, I am not sure about that, but anyway, I began teaching online courses at Anderson University pretty much right after I got my MBA and was doing that while I was still working.
I was blessed to be able to retire at age 60, so I started teaching a little bit more. I was teaching business ethics along with a few other courses. However, I had a passion to teach personal finance. Approximately 30 years earlier, I had begun working with Crown Financial, previously known as Christian Financial Concepts. I had been counseling people that were in financial difficulties for the past 25-30 years, and thus saw the need and had a desire to help students avoid the trappings of an undisciplined financial lifestyle.
My wife and I also do premarital counseling, so I have a desire for young people learning more about a biblical view of money in hopes of not only helping to keep them out of financial trouble, but to develop in them a heart for generosity. Anderson was gracious to allow me to develop a biblically grounded personal finance course.
I went with Dr. Jeff Moore (AU Business Professor) to Nepal and taught a seminar in Kathmandu to 100 MBA students. We taught leadership to a mostly Hindu group of students, basing our curriculum on the book “Lead Like Jesus.” The seminars were surprisingly well received. Anderson was the first U.S. university to partner with a University in Nepal. We were greeted by the former Prime Minister at the beginning of the seminar, and then the current National Minister of Education at the closing ceremonies. It was quite an honor to represent Anderson in this manner.
Later, I was asked to go to Africa to teach at a business university in Malawi. I have since gone back and taught at the same university in Uganda as well. I was extremely impressed with the school and its leadership and vision. As a result, I am now heading up the fundraising for that school from the United States. So, we have created a 501(c)3 organization here called the AVODA Fund. AVODA is the Hebrew word for “work as ministry” or “work as service.”
The AVODA Fund raises money to send to Uganda to run the AVODA Institute and help subsidize student tuition. The Fund does not take any salaries. I am convinced that the center of Christianity in the next 25-30 years will be Africa. The church in Africa, however, has two challenges which we need to help them overcome. (1) pastors in Africa by and large have minimal theological training, so we need to help provide additional training. (2) The churches in Africa remain financially dependent upon support from Western nations such as the U.S. We Christians in the West need to help raise the economic status of the Christians in Africa in order to help the churches there become self-supporting.
Africa in 30 years will have a greater population than China and India combined. The large international companies are aware of this and are currently building out the infrastructure. Christians have done an excellent job of evangelizing and building churches; however, up until now we have primarily focused on helping to start micro businesses. These are businesses that produce only enough to basically support an individual’s family. That is the small mom and pop business or the sustenance farmer who is just growing enough crops to feed his family.
The core of any developed country’s economy is small to medium sized businesses that hire 25-200 people—that is what Africa does not have. The mission and vision of the AVODA Institute is to take students who already have a bachelor's degree, and train them to become entrepreneurs to start small to medium sized businesses which will in turn change the economic structures of these African nations, beginning in Uganda. The students are taught a curriculum similar to a mini-MBA. Then, what makes AVODA unique is after six months of studies, the students actually start businesses and AVODA continues to mentor them for the next six months while they attempt to meet predetermined agreed upon sales targets. If they attain their sales goals after six months, then AVODA arranges for them to meet with investors and give a presentation similar to a “Shark Tank'' to help capitalize their businesses. So, what we are doing there is critical for the international church in the 30 years. The evangelical church in the U.S. is losing one million people per year while the church in Africa is gaining new believers at a rate of 10 million per year. Along with training the pastors, we must raise up businesses and entrepreneurs in Africa that can help to support the churches so they can be self-supporting.
Do you travel to Africa?
I have traveled both to Malawi and to Uganda. I was teaching in Uganda in February of 2020, right before COVID broke out. I have not been back since then due to travel restrictions. I have recently made a video recording of a finance class that I taught the last time I was there.
My wife Carole did not go with me when I went to Malawi, but I came back and raved about the school and said, “You need to go.” She does not like those long flights, but we went. We stopped in Paris on the way over for a few days, and on the way back to break up the flight.
She did not care anything about Paris, but she loved Uganda! She loved both the people and the climate, which is wonderful. She has been in fundraising and ministry most of our married life. She at one time ran one of the largest pregnancy centers in the country. I am officially the President of the AVODA Fund, but she is definitely the co-president behind the scenes, handling communications and is very much involved in what we are doing.
What was it like to return to school after so many years?
I took the online version, and I was pleased with the curriculum and what I got out of it. I think because I was more mature, and I had already been in management for a long time; it just clicked with me. I was doing it because I wanted to, and I spent the necessary time studying.
Was there any kind of adjustment?
Obviously, going back to school after a while, and first time being all online were big adjustments. I am a certified financial planner. I am a certified kingdom advisor. I had numerous other brokerage and insurance licenses, so basically I never stopped taking exams, and did not find going back to school to be too difficult.
How did you first become interested in finance?
I grew up working in my father's business from the time I was six years old. I began with putting bikes together. By the time I was 15 my father took summer off and left me to run his business. It was a Firestone tire store, a Texaco gas station and the Greyhound bus station. It was sort of like three businesses in one; it was not a huge business, I usually had only two or three employees. It taught me responsibility at an early age. I enjoyed the business, and I just always thought I would go into business.
You also felt a calling into ministry. How did that fit in with the business part?
About my second year in college, I began to think about going to seminary. I asked my pastor, “What kind of degree do you need to go to seminary? Should I switch to philosophy, or something else?” He said, “No, no, we need pastors to have a good business sense in their head. When you are running a church, you are managing an operation, and management is important.” I stuck with business.
I got my bachelor's degree in finance. Right after graduating, I was told, “You ought to work and see if you still have the calling before you go.” Therefore, I worked in a bank right out of college, and got into their management training program. After a while I still had the desire to go to seminary. One of my mentors was a Christian psychologist named Larry Crabb, who recently passed away. One day I went to Larry. I said, “What do you think about me going to seminary?” He said, “We don't need people going to seminary that aren't good at what they're doing already. Go ask your boss how you're doing, and if you're not doing well, then, just stay with that until you're doing well.” I went to my boss. I said, “How am I doing?” He said, “Oh, you are doing great. We are happy to have you.” Soon afterwards I left for seminary.
I went to Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. I was considering going into the pastorate, but after being there a couple of years, I did not feel I was being called into the pastorate. I earned a two-year degree instead of a three-year degree. But I came back and ended up back in banking.
I took another detour and studied engineering for a while, too. I came close to getting a degree in engineering, but then I ended up getting back into banking. From there, I had an interest in investments within the bank. I moved over into the Trust and Investments area of the bank and Wealth Management.
What encouragement would you give somebody who is over 50 and sitting on the fence about going to school for another degree?
In my Personal Finance class when we discuss retirement planning I tell the students to think about what they will do in retirement. The worst thing to do is to retire and say, “Well, I'm going to hang out on the golf course,” or “I'm going to do nothing today.” I say, “God's not finished with you.” God does not want us to just sit around the pool every day. He has a ministry for us. Think about not “What I am retiring from,” but “What am I retiring to?” “What do I want to do?” “What have I not done in my life that I want to do?” and “What kind of degree or studies do I need to go forward?”
Say you have been in business, and you want to be an artist. You go back and get an art degree. Maybe you have always wanted to study theology, go back and get a theology degree. At that point, you are studying what you want to do and what you are excited about, what you are passionate about, and so that it makes it much easier and much better to go to school at that point.
You have gotten your degree at Anderson University and now teach classes here. I am sure that, like a lot of people, you feel Anderson University fulfills a need for a quality, Christ-Centered education, right?
I am impressed with Dr. Evans Whitaker. It is hard on a university to keep it on the straight and narrow biblically, to be a good, solid Christian university. Evans Whitaker and the Board of Trustees are making every effort to hold Anderson true to its biblical foundation. That is what makes it great to work here at Anderson. We do not know what the next thing is going to be. We need to try to be as proactive as we can, and just uphold the principles we live by.