Rick Lytle is stepping down from his 16 year deanship, but is not disappearing from campus just yet.
Lytle first came to the university 25 years ago and is leaving his longtime position to serve as the CEO of CEO Forum Inc., a non-profit organization whose mission is to create spiritual statesmen and women for the marketplace. The organization works with CEOs from companies such as ExxonMobil, Walmart and FedEx. Lytle will also be the director of CEO Forum Inc.’s Center for Leadership and Faith Development.
Although he is taking a step back from the university, Lytle will still direct the university’s Lytle Center for Leadership Development, which will be in charge of COBA’s annual Leadership Summit conference in Colorado, the Distinguished Speaker series throughout the year and Impact conference in Dallas.
Lytle first felt called to teach when he was finishing up his Master’s in Business Administration at Oklahoma State University. OSU faculty members Dwayne Dowell, Phil Lewis and Lamar Reinsch were leaving OSU for ACU and then COBA dean Bill Petty encouraged Lytle to get his PhD and work at ACU.
“I was flattered, but I wanted to work in the industry first,” Lytle said. “I really liked the professors I had that had their Ph.D, and worked in the marketplace, so that’s exactly what I did.”
Petty and COBA faculty stayed in touch with Lytle over the seven years he worked in the oil and automotive industries, and when they thought the time was right, the Lytles moved from the mountains of Colorado to the plains of Abilene.
“I had a real passion and heard a calling to work with college kids,” Lytle said. “Because my college experience was so powerful for me.
Lytle said he also went into teaching to fight the negative bias that many have toward the business industry, an industry he saw change his parent’s way of life for the better.
Both of Lytle’s parents were deaf, but an encounter Lytle’s father had in the seventh grade reminds Lytle that good can come from the marketplace.
Henry Ford came into Lytle’s father’s classroom at the deaf school in Detroit and told him and his classmates if they worked hard in school and got an education, they could come to the factory and he would give them a job, Lytle said.
Lytle’s father stuck to that promise and went to work for Ford after finishing school, but soon wanted to become a white collar worker. After going to design school, Lytle’s father earned a job on Ford’s design floor, a job he would have for 42 and a half years.
“I saw the power of industry and business and how that impacted my dad-that if he worked hard and had a dream, then he could have a standard of living that could support my mom, my two brothers and I beyond anything they could’ve imagined,” Lytle said.
It was also at this time when Lytle saw how faith and business could influence one another.
Lytle’s maternal grandfather had started a deaf congregation at their church where members could come to worship and gain insight from Lytle’s father on how to be successful in business.
“I saw this merge of the marketplace and faith and how lives could be transformed,” Lytle said. “When I hear people kind of take negative shots at business people it makes me even stronger to say that I want to train godly men and women to go out into the marketplace.”
Since coming to Abilene 25 years ago, Lytle and his faculty have molded COBA into one of the strongest colleges on campus. Under Lytle’s deanship, COBA gained AACSB accreditation in 2004, increased student enrollment in COBA from 650 to almost 900 students and the endowment grew from $5 million to $30 million.
“Accreditation had been a dream of Bill Petty’s and Jack Riggs, and I just thought why not?” Lytle said. “If we say we’re great, let’s go get the credentials and get better in the process.”
Dr. Jack Griggs was the COBA dean before Lytle, and is one of his mentors. He says Lytle’s exceptional communication skills and faith are what has made him a successful educator.
“The Lord has blessed him with exceptional talent,” Griggs said. “Whatever he does, it’ll be where he can best serve the Lord.”
Leaving ACU, Lytle said, has been a difficult decision to make, but with the support of his wife, Jeanne, daughters Kelly, Hannah and Michelle, a senior marketing major, and his faith, he is confident that his transition away from being dean will be a good one.
“My family means everything to me,” Lytle said. “They have been fundamental to everything we’ve done here. I know that God has great things in store moving ahead and I’m thankful that I’ll still get to play some small role at ACU.”