Alumnus Ed deZevallos is a lifelong serial entrepreneur, managing risk against reward and sharing his success to provide opportunities for others.
Real estate executive Ed deZevallos, MBA ’67, grew up in Nashville, Tenn. He attended Montgomery Bell Academy, a college preparatory school, “walked about five miles down the road” to attend Vanderbilt University for his undergraduate degree, and intended to “walk a little farther” to work at his father’s printing business.
He also fell in love with a girl, Pamela Hathcock, whom he’d met at a high school party. “She was the only girl in the room I wanted to dance with, and we had an immediate connection,” he recalls.
Building a life in Nashville seemed a fait accompli.
When he started his junior year of college, however, “the road” took an unexpected turn. “My father asked me what I was going to do when I graduated,” deZevallos recalls. “‘I thought I’d stay and work at your company,’ I told him. He said, ‘That’s probably not a good idea.’ A bright light went on. I knew right then that I needed to get serious about school. I changed my ‘major’ from fraternity to studying and ended up making the dean’s list.”
After graduating from Vanderbilt in 1965, deZevallos looked into Washington University’s MBA program. “My good friend Sandy [Claude] Thomas was a student there and told me it was a great school,” he recalls. “I felt as if I needed more education before joining the workforce, so I enrolled.”
At Washington University, deZevallos found engaging professors and learned as much from their offhanded comments as from their courses. “Their life stories were as good as their books, and they talked with their students about making life decisions,” he says. “Professors like Dr. Boyer and Dr. Spiller knew how to connect with students.”
Eventually, deZevallos did return to Nashville — briefly — to marry Pam. Soon after, he left for a two-year tour of duty in the U.S. Marine Corps. The couple moved to Charlotte, N.C., and then to Houston, and Ed settled into a job as an analyst with Exxon. Meanwhile, the real estate boom was taking off in Houston, and Ed was drawn to the action.
“I’d never taken a real estate course, but I could see what was happening,” he recalls. “I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. I thought that I could handle the risk.”
Since then, deZevallos has been involved in numerous real estate investments, including forming a new bank. “Every new investment is like starting a company. We have a plan for each one, but as the phrase ‘men plan, God laughs’ goes, in 40-plus years of doing this, I have never had a plan come to fruition as planned,” he says. “Luckily, the majority of our projects have turned out better than they were planned.”
In one project, his company established Spring National Bank on property it owned in Spring, Texas, and later opened another office in Houston’s Galleria. The banks eventually merged into BBVA/Compass Bank, a leading U.S. banking franchise with operations throughout the Sunbelt region.
DeZevallos attributes much of his success to his Washington University education. “The school gave me a framework for decision-making that I’ve used my whole life,” he says. “When I was chairman of the bank, I analyzed loans using the same analysis model. Our business today is all about analyzing risk, rather than just returns, and turning that analysis and acceptance of risk into profit.
“My son, Chris, joined the business 12 years ago and changed everything for me, including giving me the opportunity to retire,” deZevallos says. “It turns out that he is very, very good at the business.”
For pleasure, the deZevallos family enjoys outdoor sports and hosting friends at their second home in Santa Fe, N.M. Pam is an equestrienne, and Ed, a golfer. Their greatest joy, however, is time spent with their 4-year-old twin granddaughters, Katharine and Sarah. “We love to be with them every chance we get,” Pam says.
Committed to educational opportunities
Pam and Ed deZevallos have supported Washington University for more than 40 years. Ed chairs the Houston Regional Cabinet and the Planned Giving Committee for Leading Together: The Campaign for Washington University. A consummate volunteer, he has served on numerous university committees and has played a key role in boosting scholarship support.
DeZevallos recently established a scholarship at Washington University with former classmate Rob Price, MBA ’67, who became one of his best friends and business partners. He calls Price “one of the finest men I’ve ever met.”
DeZevallos explains: “The Edward P. deZevallos and Robert W. Price Jr. Scholarship in the Olin School says we met at Washington University, received a great education, and want to share that opportunity with others in perpetuity. This scholarship will remind future generations of our two families’ commitment to education.”
The deZevallos’ philanthropy also included funding the endowment at a trade school and supporting additional scholarships at Washington University and at other institutions he and Pam attended.
“We believe in giving people a leg up on life,” Pam says. “We can’t ride the horse for them, but we’ll help them get in the saddle.”
“All of our philanthropic commitments support education,” Ed says. “All campaigns are important, but I believe Leading Together is special because it is a multi-year commitment that is tied to the importance of developing leaders who can help solve the problems facing this country in the future.”
The value of hard work and the ability to start over — whether planning a career or putting the next real estate investment together — have served Ed deZevallos well.
“Entrepreneurs feel comfortable analyzing and taking risks, and making decisions,” he says. “Some people look for safety nets. I look for opportunities.”