Auburn University gave Mike Eckard a chance, and the 1985 business management graduate gave back.
Eckard, principal owner of The Eckard Group, a pharmaceutical sales company in Alpharetta, Ga., chose to donate not just to the Auburn University Athletic Department’s Scholarship Fund, but to the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business.
“I was that kid that barely made Cs, struggled in school and basically begged my way into Auburn,” said Eckard. “I didn’t have the ACT score they were looking for either but I knew the importance of getting a college degree. I just was an average student looking for a chance to succeed. Academics just did not come naturally for me. Auburn gave me a chance though. I said, ‘Hey, I should reach out to them because I know my degree is a big part of why I was able to get to this point in the business world today."
Eckard, an avid Tigers’ football fan, is determined to help Harbert College grow into a leader in business education.
“It (contributions) will only enhance things they have to offer – putting funds in for kids to study abroad, adding buildings, all of this is going to enhance Auburn, more than just athletics,” he said. “We’ll be mentioned with some of the finer schools of business. Auburn graduates should be proud of where they graduated, not just from a sports stand point but also from a business extent. I want to help grow the business school so that kids can say, ‘This is just as good as going to some of the top business schools in the country.’”
His business education at Auburn prepared him for his career, where he cut his teeth for three years as a sales representative for Visitec, a Sarasota, Fla., company that specialized in ophthalmologic surgery needs for hospitals before founding the Eckard Group in 1988 with his father, Hal, a veteran of the pharmaceutical sales industry.
“I was in a car Monday through Friday and it just really got old after three years doing 50 to 60,000 miles per year,” Eckard explained. “That’s when my dad and I sat down and said, ‘Hey, why don’t we give this a try?’ At that time, in the mid to late 80s, the generic pharmaceutical industry was just starting to blossom. It was good timing.”
Today, the company is a leader in representing a number of pharmaceutical companies, both generic and brand-name.
Eckard’s three years on the road at Visitec helped make him a better, seasoned sales representative, he said.
“I think if I came out of school and worked with my dad right away, it probably would not have been a success,” he said. “You’ve got to learn the ropes on the road -- travel, car rentals, expense reports, communicating with customers, and learn your way around cities. You get a lot of people who don’t know how to do that. They have a good product and they have a good degree, but lack the practical experience …”
Eckard said successful sales often revolve around building relationships and trust.
“In our business, it’s almost like selling salt,” he said. “If you’ve got salt and I’ve got salt, what makes my salt better? That’s where it gets down to the person. My dad and I have always based our business on honesty and integrity. Our customers have become our friends. At the end of the day, I go out and see customers – I might be talking golf to one guy or football to another guy, or politics to another. You’ve got to be there for all the different facets of the customer base and that’s what we do. If Auburn hadn't given me a chance, I wouldn't have gotten my business degree. The Auburn degree opened doors for me when I first graduated and continues to do so today."